Marks gospel begins with an introduction, then we have Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, followed by his journey to Jerusalem, followed by his ministry in Jerusalem and then his passion and resurrection. This is the shortest gospel.

A Short Outline of Mark’s Gospel
Introduction (1:1-13)
Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

Year B-at-a-Glance (2015, 2018, 2021)
A very rough outline of the lectionary year

January 8 – February 12 – Mark 1
(January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)
February 19 – Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9)

February 25 – Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6)
February 26-March 25 – Five Sundays in Lent:
Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-15)
Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:31-38)
Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so the Son of Man (John 3:14-31)
Greeks: We want to see Jesus (John 12:20-33)

Three Days
April 1 – Palm Passion Sunday (Mark 14 or 15)
April 5 – Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
April 6 – Good Friday (John 18:1-19:42)
April 7 – Easter Vigil

Easter through Pentecost
April 8 – Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)
April 15-May 20 – Easter Season texts from John and Luke
May 27 – Pentecost (John 15: Advocate will bear witness to the truth)

Time After Pentecost
June 3 – Trinity Sunday (John 3: Nicodemus)
June 7-July 15 – Mark 4-6 (4: Parables. 5-6 More Healings)
July 22-August 19 – John 6 “Bread” texts for five weeks
August 26-October 21 – Mark 7-10 (End of Galilee ministry and Journey to Jerusalem)
October 28 – Reformation Sunday (John 8)
November 4 – All Saints
November 11 and 18 – Mark 12 (widow’s coins) and 13 (the end is coming)
November 25 – Christ the King (John 18: My kingdom is not of this world.

Mark does not have many unique stories (stories not recorded by the other gospel writers). Of the 660 verses in Mark’s gospel, 600 are copied into to Matthew or Luke. Matthew and Luke have their own points to make of course, and use the stories differently than Mark.

I like to date the canonical gospels as follows. These are approximations, but they help me make sense of things:

Mark: 70 A.D.
Matthew: 80 A.D.
Luke: 90 A.D.
John: 120 A.D.

John might be a bit earlier, but I favor the later dating, personally. A small group of curmudgeons still argue for the priority of John, but scholarly consensus places the vocabulary and theology of John firmly in the second century.

We have no originals of any of the gospels. We only have copies. Our earliest complete copy of any gospel is dated 150 A.D. Or later. Ironically, the oldest fragment we have is of John. It is a scrap about 2.5 x 3.5 inches discovered in the Egyptian market in 1920. It has a few Greek words from John 18:31-33. The words can barely be made out. On this oldest copy of a gospel, hauntingly, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

The Gospel of Mark is an anonymous document. From the standpoint of internal evidence, we must admit we do not really know who the author is.  No copies of this gospel identify Mark as the author.

Externally though, there is plenty of support. Markan authorship was suggested beginning early in the 2nd century. The first person to suggest Mark was the author of this gospel was Papias in 130 A.D. Then it is mentioned by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome. Papias says that Mark is writing down Peter’s recollections, though he says they are not in chronological order. Justin says basically the same, that Mark is writing Peter’s memoirs. This tradition of Markan authorship is plausible. There would be no motive to assign authorship to Mark. If they were going to make something up, they would have ascribed this gospel to Peter directly, or one of the other apostles. As it turns out, there actually is a gospel assigned to Peter. More on that in a moment.

Matthew is not mentioned until Justin in 150 A.D. Irenaeus is the first to know all four of our canonical gospels. Helmut Koester (a student of Rudolph Bultmann), in his book, “From Jesus to the Gospels: Interpreting the New Testament in it’s Context,” one of my favorite reads, reminds us that the sayings of Jesus on the oldest manuscripts of Ignatius (110 A.D.), Papias (130 A.D.), Polycarp, Marcion (140 A.D.), and Justin Martyr (150 A.D.) are technically older than the quotes on manuscripts of the canonical gospels we have.

The apocryphal gospels complicate things even more. Here are some of the other gospels:

Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Thomas
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of the Egyptians
Gospel of the Hebrews (Mentioned by Clement of Alexandria)
Secret Gospel of Mark
Gospel of the Nazoreans
Gospel of the Ebionites (Irenaeus says the Ebionites used Matthew)
Protevangelium Jacobi
Gospel of Mary (disc 1896, pub 1955, 2nd C. Fragmentary)
Gospel of Truth (quotes Matt.)

There are more. All in all there are about two dozen gospels, that we know of. These above are just the eleven that are mentioned or quoted in the second century.

Koester ups the ante, stretching us: In The Gospel of Thomas 17, Jesus says, “I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.” Paul clearly quotes this in 1 Corinthians 2:9, indicating to his readers that it is scripture. What is Paul quoting? Does Paul have Thomas? Is Paul quoting Thomas? It is doubtful, since most scholars date The Gospel of Thomas much later than Paul. Does Paul have a copy of Q (a collection of Jesus’ sayings that we know existed but is now lost)? Are Thomas and Paul quoting from the same source (Q?)? Do they consider it Scripture with a capital “S”? Or is Thomas quoting Paul? Or are they both writing down some oral tradition?

The Gospel of Thomas also has quotes strikingly familiar: “Come unto me, for my yoke is easy, and my lordship is mild, and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Gospel of Thomas 90) Since most scholars date Thomas before John, it appears John is either quoting Thomas’ gospel as authoritative, or more likely, they are both copying another source we no longer have.

A previously unknown gospel was discovered in 1935, Papyrus Egerton 2. It has sayings of Jesus that are similar to the canonical gospels but clearly not quoted from them. This gives us a window into the mysterious pre-canonical sources for Jesus’ sayings that Matthew, Luke and John seem also to be quoting. There may be more than one source. Koester calls them the “free sayings of Jesus.”

In my mind I have always thought of the gospel writers’ quoting Jesus as more authoritative than Paul’s quoting Jesus. Paul, however, is temporally closer to the events than the gospel writers who are penning things decades later.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are known by Polycarp and Papias in Asia minor and Greece. John is not mentioned until the end of the second century (Melito of Sardis). Irenaeus (also from Asia Minor) knows all 4 canonical gospels by the end of the second century. Justin knows and quotes the apocryphal gospels. Egypt knows John, Thomas, Egyptians, Hebrews, Secret Mark, Protevangelium Jacobi.

The Gospel of Thomas has been known to exist for centuries, because it was mentioned and quoted so often, but we had no copy until in 1945 some farmers discovered 13 Coptic books buried in an earthenware jar in Nag Hammadi, a town half way down the Nile in Egypt. Scholars wept to have the first (and still the only) complete copy of Thomas. After looking it over, scholars realized for the first time that we had fragments of Thomas all along. They were known as “Fragments of an unknown gospel.”

It will be fun to preach from Mark this year imagining that we are perhaps hearing Peter’s memoirs. If these are the recollections of the dying chief apostle, from where are they written? The popular view is Rome. Irenaeus says Mark is written in Rome, but some suggest this is guesswork on Irenaeus’ part, based on 1 Peter 5:13: “Your sister church in Babylon, chosen with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.”

If Rome, why is the gospel written in Greek and not Latin? Additionally, the Gospel of Mark reflects Palestinian concerns. Some scholars prefer Antioch for provenance. The date of 70 A.D. is preferred because Mark mentions events in the siege of Jerusalem (66-70 A.D.), most notably in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” in chapter 13.

Whatever else we may say, Mark is clearly the oldest and shortest of the four canonical gospels. Mark presents Jesus as a healer and exorcist, who is also the “Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

More on Mark

A More Detailed Mark Outline

This is an outline of Mark’s gospel that I have used over the years, adapting it to various needs and group Bible studies. I honestly don’t know where it comes from. I probably robbed several New Testament scholars, renaming things along the way to help me get my mind around the gospel.

There are many outlines of Mark out there. Some are very long and detailed, allowing the reader no perspective on the whole. Some draw the lines in different places. For example, some outlines place 1:14-15 in the first section, as a summary of the preface. Others place 1:14-15 in the second section, as an introduction to Jesus’ Galilean ministry. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. The goal is simply to “see” the scope of the gospel: its plot and movement.

The value of an outline is the ability to see the sweep of the entire book. In Mark, that sweep moves us gracefully from Jesus’ ministry up north in Galilee, to his Judean ministry, then crucifixion and resurrection.


A few interesting things

Mark uses the phrase “and immediately” 42 times.
Mark never uses the word “law.”
Only mark gives the healing phrases of Jesus in the original Aramaic: talitha cum and ephphatha.
In Mark, Jesus is a carpenter (6:3). In Matthew he is the carpenters’ son.
In Mark (6:3) Jesus names his brothers and mentions his sisters.
In Mark, the disciples can carry a staff and sandals. In Matthew and Luke they cannot.
Jewish customs are explained for an apparently Gentile audience.
Jesus declares all foods clean (7:19)

Outline of Mark

I. Introduction (1:1-13)

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

A. The beginning of the Good News: Forerunner John the Baptist (1:1-8)
B. Jesus’ Baptism (1:9-11)
C. Jesus’ Temptation (1:12-13)

II. The Ministry of the Hidden Messiah in Galilee (1:16-8:26)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee…

A. The beginning of the Galilean ministry (1:14-15)
B. The Call of the Four (1:16-20)
C. Exorcisms and Healings in Capernaum
D. More Healing, and Conflict Stories (2:1-3:6)
E. Parables (4)
F. More Healing Miracles (5 and 7)
G. Double Tradition:

6:30-7:37 8:1-26

Feeding 5,000 Feeding 4,000
Crossing the Lake Crossing the Lake (8:10)
Debate with Pharisees Debate with Pharisees
Healing Healing

III. Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi…

A. Gradual Revelation of Suffering (Predictions: 8:31, 9:31, 10:32-34)
B. Pattern 3x
C. Complementary Material

IV. Hidden Messiah to Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)

When they were approaching Jerusalem…

A. Judgment in Action (11:1-26)
B. Judgment in Words (11:27-12:37)
C. The Little Apocalypse (13:1-37)

V. Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread.

A. Jesus Prepares for His Departure (14:1-42)
B. Jesus’ Arrest and Trial (14:43-15:20)
C. Jesus Crucifixion and Burial (15:21-47)
D. Jesus’ Resurrection, Appearances and Ascension (16:1-8, alternative ending)

Contents of Mark’s Gospel

For some, rather than an outline that attempts to identify the structure of the gospel, a list of the contents may be more helpful. I started with but found to be more thorough.

Galilean ministry

John the Baptist (1:1–8,6:14–29)
Baptism of Jesus (1:9–11)
Temptation of Jesus (1:12–13)
Return to Galilee (1:14)
Good News (1:15)
Calling Simon, Andrew, James, John (1:16–20)
Capernaum (1:21–39)
Leper and Paralytic (1:40–2:12)
Calling of Matthew (2:13–17)
On fasting and wineskins (2:18–22)
Sabbath observance (2:23–3:6)
Multitude at the Sea of Galilee (3:7–12)
Commission of the Twelve (3:13–19,6:7-13)
Blind mute (3:20-26)
Strong man (3:27)
Eternal sin (3:28-30)
Jesus’ true relatives (3:31-35)
Parable of the Sower (4:1–9,13-20)
Purpose of parables (4:10-12,33-34)
Lamp under a bushel (4:21–23)
Mote and Beam (4:24-25)
Growing seed and Mustard seed (4:26–32)
Calming the storm (4:35–41)
Demon named Legion (5:1–20)
Daughter of Jairus (5:21–43)
Hometown rejection (6:1–6)
Feeding the 5000 (6:30–44)
Walking on water (6:45–52)
Fringe of his cloak heals (6:53–56)
Clean and Unclean (7:1–23)
Canaanite woman’s daughter (7:24–30)
Deaf mute (7:31–37)
Feeding the 4000 (8:1–9)
No sign will be given (8:10–12)
Beware of yeast (8:13-21)
Healing with spit (8:22-26)
Peter’s confession (8:27–30)
Son of Man (8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:33-34)
Those who want to follow should pick up a cross (8:34-37)
Return of the Son of Man (8:38-9:1,14:62)
Transfiguration (9:2–13)
Possessed boy (9:14-29)
Teaching in Capernaum (9:33-50)

Journey to Jerusalem

Entering Judea (10:1)
On divorce (10:2–12)
The Little Children (10:13-16)
Evangelical counsels (10:17–31)
On the road to Jerusalem (10:32)
Son of man came to serve (10:35–45)
Blind Bartimaeus (10:46–52)

Events in Jerusalem

Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (11:1–11)
Cursing the fig tree (11:12–14,20-24)
Temple incident (11:15–19,27-33)
Prayer for forgiveness (11:25-26)
The Wicked Husbandman (12:1–12)
Render unto Caesar… (12:13–17)
Resurrection of the Dead (12:18-27)
Great Commandment (12:28–34)
Teaching the crowd (12:35-40)
Lesson of the widow’s mite (12:41-44)
Olivet discourse (13)
Plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2,10-11)
Anointing (14:3–9)
Last Supper (14:12–26)
Peter’s denial (14:27-31,66-72)
Arrest (14:32–52)
Before the High Priest (14:53–65)
Before Pilate (15:1–15)
Crucifixion (15:16–41)
Joseph of Arimathea (15:42–47)
Empty tomb (16:1–8)
The Longer Ending and Resurrection appearances (16:9-20)
Great Commission (16:14–18)
Ascension (16:19)

Mark’s Introduction Tells us Much

Mark begins:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Luther Seminary professor emeritus Paul Berge points out that the first sentence of this gospel has no verb. He points out that this is probably Mark’s way of putting a title on his gospel. The missing verb clues us in that this is the title of his gospel:

“The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”

This is just the beginning. Son of God, yes, but throughout most of Mark’s gospel, Jesus will be the Son of Man, a clear statement of the theology of the church from a very early gospel. Jesus is truly human, truly divine. “Son of God” only appears four times in this gospel, I believe (1:1, 3:11, 5:7 and 15:39). The last one I consider to be the climax of the gospel. In 1:1 the author clues us in that Jesus is the Son of God. The second two references are by unclean spirits. No human person in the narrative recognizes Jesus as the Son of God until the very end, and there it is a pagan. The Roman centurion at the cross, after witnessing, no overseeing the crucifixion of gentle, humble, innocent man – after seeing how he died – the Roman centurion is the one to confess who Jesus is: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Not just king of the Jews, as the authorities had posted above his head, as a sign of his insurrection, but Son of God.

I strongly recommend, if you are teaching or preaching on this gospel this year, sit down and read it straight through from beginning to end in one sitting. One feels more clearly the scope and content of the gospel. This is how it was meant to be read anyway.