An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark (pt. 3)

[Sermon Audio]

IV. Literary Style

As is the case with any author, Mark employs various literary styles and features to communicate his message about Christ.  Understanding these stylistic features will help one understand Mark’s message.

Vivid Quality

One of the first features of Mark’s gospel that stands out to readers is the vivid quality of Mark’s writing.  Mark, using the eye-witness testimony of Peter, employs vivid descriptions throughout his gospel to give his readers a front row seat for the life and ministry of Jesus.  As on commentator noted, “Typically the Marcan version of a miracle story may be twice as long as the equivalent pericope in Matthew, simply because mark is more vividly descriptive, while Matthew goes straight to the point.” (France, 16)

Examples: 2:4, 3:34, 4:37-38


Action Oriented

Mark’s Gospel is a book of action.  Mark’s focus is on the person and work of Christ rather than the teaching of Jesus. This is evidenced by the numerous examples when Mark records that Jesus was teaching but explains the circumstances surrounding the teaching rather than the content of the teaching.  (i.e. 1:29-34, 38-39)  Additionally, Mark contains only one parable that is unique to Mark (4:26-29) and he omits several extended discourses of Jesus found in the other Gospel accounts.

Jesus is consistently described as being on the go and busy with ministry. Mark contains a higher percentage of miracles stories than any other Gospel. The most obvious example of this literary style is Mark’s use of the term euvquj (immediately).  In 678 verses Mark uses this word approximately 40 times (more than the other three Gospel writers combined).  Mark makes frequent use of the present tense to describe events. With all of this activity Mark is emphasizing the importance of Jesus’ actions.  As Heibert puts it, “The stress is upon the deeds of Jesus.  It vividly portrays the fact that Christ’s work was continuous, persistent, and strenuous.”[1]  This stress upon the activity of Jesus brings out the compact and vivid nature of this Gospel.


Compact Nature

Mark is the shortest of the four Gospel accounts. As a result of the compact and vivid style of Mark his Gospel contains a number of short stories or episodes that reveal specific aspects of Jesus and His ministry.  Because of these short episodes Leland and Philip Ryken have compared Mark’s Gospel to a “docudrama.”[2]  In other words, Mark’s Gospel is a collection of “clips” or episodes from the life of Jesus put together to reveal the glorious life and ministry of Jesus.  Mark took these episodes from the teaching of Peter, and arranged them to make his point about Jesus.



The influence of Peter on Mark’s Gospel is especially evident in the candor of Mark’s account.  Mark is extremely transparent, and at times even blunt, in his description of events.  This is particularly noticeable with respect to the disciples. See 4:40, 6:49-52, 8:32, 9:33-37, 10:35-45, 14:32-42, 66-72.  This is also true in how Mark spoke about Jesus’ own family (3:31-34).  It is clear that Mark was not interested in making anyone into a saint or deifying any person.  Mark provides his readers with a candid portrayal of what it is like to be a follower of Christ—warts and all!



A final feature of Mark’s gospel worth noting is Mark’s emphasis on how people responded to Jesus.  Consistently Mark almost completely ignores the content of Jesus message and focuses on the response to the message.  Whether it was positive, negative, or somewhere in between Mark makes it a point to record how people respond to Jesus and the Gospel.  How much of this was related to Mark’s audience (Roman Christians facing persecution as a result of the reaction to Jesus) it is impossible to know.  It is worth noting that one of the most common responses to Jesus is fearful awe.  This has led one popular teacher to refer to suggest re-titling the book of Mark as the “The Amazing Jesus.” (John MacArthur, “The Fitting End to Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-10, delivered on June 5, 2001).

Examples: 4:41, 5:15, 5:33, 42, 6:51, 9:6, 15, 32, 10:24, 32, 11:18, 12:17, 15:5, 16:5, 16:8

[1] Heibert, The Gospel According to Mark, pg. 12.

[2] Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken, The Literary Study Bible (Crossway, 2007), pg. 1505.