We know Mark as the author of the oldest and the shortest Gospel in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St. Paul and St. Peter together with Marks Gospel help us to get a fair idea of Mark the Evangelist.
Acts mentions that freed miraculously from Harods Prison Peter went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying for Peter (Acts 12, 12). Mark the Evangelist is usually identified as John Mark.
Mary, mother of John Mark was the owner of a big house in Jerusalem which became the meeting place of the Apostles and the first Christians. A tradition has identified the house with the Upper Room. Jesus ate the Last Supper with his apostles in the Upper Rome. Then, the Apostles and other disciples with Mary, the Mother Jesus, met and prayed there after the ascension of Jesus.
Marks Jewish name was John, and Mark or Markus must have been his adopted Roman name just like Jewish Saul adopted the Roman name Paulus or Paul. According to Ronald Brownrigg in Whos Who the New Testament, Some have suggested that he was the young man who fled naked from the Garden of Gethsemane at the time of Jesus arrest.
But we know more about Mark as the travelling companion of Paul and Barnabas in their missionary journeys. Paul and Barnabas took John Mark along their first missionary journey. Acts says, Barnabas and Soul finished their mission and returned from Jerusalem taking John Mark with them (Acts 12, 25).
As Ronald Brownrigg says, in about the year 46 Paul and Barnabas took the Palestinian John Mark then a young man, another first journey from Antioch to Cyprus and Perga in Pamphylia where Mark decided to return home to Jerusalem.
Acts has recorded that John Mark had not stayed with them (Paul and Barnabas) to the end of their mission, but had turned back and left them in Pamphylia (Acts 15, 38).
As the Acts says, Barnabas and Paul had John Mark with them to help in the work (Acts 13, 5). The same original word to help used here is also used in Luke 4, 20 and is translated as attendant.
There must have been something displeasing to John Mark either with his job of helping or attending to Paul and Barnabas or with his relationship with them. The fact is that John Mark left them before completing the mission. This fact displeased Paul a great deal.
Then, on the second journey of Barnabas and Paul, the question arose about taking again John Mark with them. Acts notes, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul did not think it was right to take him, because he had not stayed with them to the end of their mission, but had turned back and left them in Pamphylia (Acts 15, 37-38).
Paul was strongly against taking John Mark with them. So Acts notes, There was a sharp argument, and they separated: Barnabas took Mark and sailed off for Cyprus (Acts 15, 39).
Their quarrel and separation did not last long. Paul and John Mark got reconciled with each other. So we see John Mark serving Paul in his prison (house arrest) in Rome. Paul in the end of his letter to Colossians adds John Marks greetings and that of other two disciples and said, These three are the only Jewish believers who work with me for the Kingdom of God, and they have been a great help to me (Colossians 4, 11).
Then, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul asks for Mark and pays his a tribute to his usefulness: get Mark and bring him with you, because he can help me in the work (2 Tim 4, 11).
Peter has referred John Mark as my son Mark in his first letter from Rome. In the closing greetings Peter writes, your sister Church in Babylon, also chosen by God, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark (1 Peter 5, 13). From this reference biblical scholars like Ronald Brownrigg concludes that it is possible that Mark was the companion and spiritual son of Peter, before and after his attendance on Peter in Rome.
Marks life was lived in the company close disciples of Jesus such as Barnabas, Paul and Peter and their lives and preachings helped Mark to write his Gospel.
Marks symbol is a winged lion. Fr. Leonard Foley, O.F.M. who gifted me his two-volume book Saints of the Day in 1977 says in the first volume The lion derives from Marks description of John the Baptist as a voice crying in the desert (Mk 1, 3), which artists compared to a roaring lion. The wings come from the application of Ezechiels vision of four winged creatures to the evangelists.
Biblical scholars hold that the Gospel of Mark is the first published account of Jesus life, work and death. As a Jew, Mark knew Aramaic, the colloquial language of Palestine. But he wrote his Gospel in Greek. He knew his Scripture, the Old Testament and in his Gospel he has quoted Scriptural texts from the Greek Septuagint.
Marks Gospel was the common source for the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. Brownrigg says, Of the 660 verses in Marks Gospel 600 are to be found in Mathews Gospel, and 350 in Lukes Gospel, and only 60 in neither.
In Marks Gospel we can note, as William Barclay has pointed out in The Daily Study Bible the Gospel of Mark, five unique characteristics.
First, Marks Gospel has the great characteristic of realism. Mark has narrated Jesus life in a simple and dramatic way. His language too is the simple Greek used throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century.
Second, right from the beginning Mark is unambiguous in the declaration of his faith: This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1, 1).
Third, Marks Gospel gives a very humane picture of Jesus. Mark introduces Jesus simply as the carpenter (Mk 6,3) while Mathew and Luke seen to be afraid to call Jesus the Carpenter; so they say of him the carpenters son (Mt 13, 55). Mark has portrayed the emotions of Jesus as no other evangelists. Only Mark says, He (Jesus) was greatly surprised, because the people (of his home village, Nazareth) did not have faith (Mk 6,6). Again, only Mark says describing the encounter of the rich young man and Jesus: when Jesus looked at the rich young ruler he love him (Mk 10, 21).
Fourth, Mark gives vivid details of some scenes in his Gospel as if he himself was an eye-witness to the scene. For instance, Mathew and Luke give a good picture of the scene of Jesus with children. But only Mark says, Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them (Mk 10, 13-16; see also Mt 19, 13-15 and Lk 18, 15-17).
Fifth, Marks realism and simplicity come through his simple Greek style and through his use of simple Aramaic expressions. Only Mark gives words and expressions like Talita, Koum which means, litle girl, I tell you to get up! (Mk 5, 41) and on the cross Jesus cry Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani? Which means, My God my God, why did you abandon me? (Mk 15, 34).