The Gospel according to St. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. Traditionally, it was believed that St. Matthew wrote first and St. Mark shortened his Gospel, but many scholars today think that St. Mark wrote first. Scholars will continue to study this issue, but such questions do not affect the value of the Gospel.
Traditionally, St. Mark is believed to be St. Peter’s interpreter. St. Peter was a Galilean fisherman and probably he had little or no education, so he would not have had the opportunity to study Greek or Latin. At this time the Jews spoke Aramaic. However, St. Peter was from Galilee. Galilee was more diverse than Judea so there were many non-Jews and these people would have spoken Greek or Latin. People tend to think that people in the Roman Empire spoke Latin. Of course, there were many, many Latin speakers. However, the Roman Empire was quite ethnically diverse. Therefore, most people across the Empire spoke Greek. This was true even inside Rome. The point is this – St. Peter probably spoke at least some Greek or Latin, because of course, as a fisherman he would have to had to speak to non-Jewish customers. However, St. Peter was probably not fluent in Greek or Latin and so St. Mark acted as his interpreter when St. Peter had difficulty expressing himself in Greek or Latin. Because of this, St. Mark knew St. Peter’s preaching very well, and when he came to write his Gospel, he based it on St. Peter’s preaching. Some of the Fathers thought that this Gospel as written in Rome to strengthen the Christian community there when they were being persecuted by Emperor Nero in 64AD. Other Fathers taught that it was written about the year 70, when the Jewish war was being fought. The destruction of Jerusalem during this war made many Christians think that it signaled the end of the world. In either case, St. Mark wrote this Gospel to support the Roman Christians during these horrible events.
Another characteristic in St. Mark’s Gospel is what is called by scholars as the “Messianic Secret”. This theory claims that St. Mark did not say directly that Jesus was the Messiah. Of course, Jesus’ teaching and miracles showed that he was the Messiah. Jesus did not openly claim to be the Messiah, and asked disciples to avoid mentioning this. This was because the popular view of the Messiah was that of a political or even military leader who would end Roman occupation of the Holy Land and establish a Jewish kingdom. Jesus Christ was not this kind of Messiah. It even took a while for the disciples to understand this. It was only after the crucifixion and resurrection that the disciples fully realized what kind of Messiah Jesus was and that He was “true God of true God”, as the Creed says.
It is traditionally thought that the Last Supper took place in the house of St. Mark’s mother. Also, St. Mark is thought to be the young man who fled after Jesus’ arose from the dead.
And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. (Mk 14:51-52)
St. Mark’s Gospel is written ‘on the run’ so to speak. St. Mark did not write long, elegant sentences. For example, rather than write in long, complete sentences he will say things many times as if he is quoting St. Peter’s preaching style, which didn’t use literary elegance. Also, he frequently uses the word “immediately”, “at once”, indicating preaching on the run.
As we can see from the Acts of the Apostles, St. (John) Mark accompanied St. Paul and Barnabas on the missionary journey. However, for some reason chose to leave St. Paul and Barnabas mid-journey:
“Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphyl’ia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13)
This angered St. Paul so much that he did not let St. Mark rejoin them.
“And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphyl’ia, and had not gone with them to the work.” (Acts 15:37-38)
But St. Paul and St. Mark eventually reconciled. We can see this from the final greeting at the end of St. Paul’s letter to Philemon.
“Ep’aphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristar’chus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Phil 1:23-24)