An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark (pt. 2)

[Sermon Audio]

II. Date

The same sources from church history that were used to determine the author of this gospel are considerably less reliable in determining the date this Gospel was written. The testimony of the early church is in disagreement on whether Mark wrote this Gospel before or after the martyrdom of Peter. For instance, Irenaeus dates the composition of this gospel after the death of Peter, while Clement dates the composition before the death of Peter. It is not easy to deal with this disagreement, however there are several factors that can help us determine when Mark wrote this Gospel.
A good starting point in establishing a date for this Gospel is the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70. In 13:1-2 Mark records these words from Jesus:

As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

Here Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple as a future event. Had Mark written this after the Temple had already been destroyed in A.D. 70 you would think that he would have mentioned the fulfillment of this prophecy. However, because Mark does not mention the fulfillment it seems reasonable to assume that Mark wrote this Gospel before the Temple was destroyed.
The destruction of the Temple is not the only clue we have with respect to the date of this Gospel. Even though the early church testimony is not in total agreement on the date, for the most part the testimony is somewhat conclusive that Mark wrote this Gospel during Peter’s last trip to Rome. This means that even if Mark wrote this Gospel before the death of Peter it was probably right around the time of Peter’s death. This is a very helpful clue because we know that Peter went to Rome for the last time in A.D. 63 and that he was martyred in A.D. 64 Thus, we can be relatively confident that Mark wrote this gospel somewhere between A.D. 63 and A.D. 70.

Additionally, there are several arguments that quite convincingly argue that Mark wrote this Gospel after the death of Peter. The two most convincing arguments are as follows:

i. If, as we have already asserted, Mark’s Gospel represents the written record of Peter’s teaching one would have to wonder why Peter did not write this Gospel himself. If Peter was still alive then why did the Christians in Rome ask Mark to write down the teachings of Peter instead of Peter? Most likely the answer is that Peter had been already been martyred when Mark wrote this Gospel. If this is true, then Mark was probably asked to record the teachings of Peter so that they would be preserved despite the death of Peter. Thus, the Gospel of Mark can be seen as the preservation of apostolic teaching. Although this is not an “air tight” argument it is a strong argument for a date after the death of Peter.
ii. There is also internal evidence for a “post-Peter” date. Cranfield puts it this way:
[T]he relentlessness with which the apostle’s failures are recorded [are] most easily understandable on the assumption that he had already died a martyr’s death by the time Mark was writing: Mark’s frankness, which earlier would have seemed malicious, would after Peter’s martyrdom be welcomed as underlining the encouragement it afforded to weak disciples. This gives us A.D. 65 as our terminus a quo, for it is fairly certain that Peter died in the Neronian persecution of 64-5.

Although these arguments are compelling it is impossible to date this Gospel with absolute certainty. However, it can confidently asserted that this Gospel was written somewhere between A.D. 65-70.

III. Place of Writing / Audience

As one reads through Mark’s Gospel it becomes clear that his target audience was primarily Gentile. This can be observed in at least six different aspects of the Gospel:

i. Mark provides a translation of Aramaic terms that would not have been necessary for a Jewish audience (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 10:46; 14:46; 15:22, 34).
ii. Mark uses Latin expressions that would have been foreign to a Jewish audience (5:9; 6:27; 12:15, 42; 14:12; 15:42).

iii. Mark omits distinctly Jewish elements that are found in other Gospels (i.e. genealogies, and detailed critiques of the religious authorities).

iv. Mark alludes to the Old Testament fewer than another other Gospel writer.

v. Mark carefully explains elements of Jewish culture that Gentiles would not have been familiar with (7:3, 4; 14:12; 15:42).

vi. Mark uses a Roman reckoning of time (6:48; 13:35)

Clearly we see that Mark was writing to a Gentile audience. In all likelihood this gentile audience was made up of the believers in Rome. This can be asserted based on four primary evidences:

i. In 15:21 Mark specially mentions that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Most likely this Rufus is the same individual mentioned in Romans 16:13 who would have been well known to the believer in Rome.
ii. Mark’s association with Peter would have placed him in Rome (1 Peter 5:13).
iii. “The prominence given by Mark to sayings about persecution and martyrdom (e.g. viii. 34-8, xiii. 9-13) might perhaps be regarded as a pointer to Rom: at least it would be very understandable, if the gospel was written there soon after the Neronian persecution.”
iv. The earliest witness that we have from the church fathers attests to a Roman audience.