Why would Mark write a gospel?

I can understand why Paul would write his epistles. There were churches out there needing his instruction and encouragement, his insight and correction. So, of course, it makes sense that he would write letters to these churches and pass on his teachings. “To the church at Corinth …” “To God’s holy people in Colossae …”

I can even understand why John would write the Revelation. He had experienced this moving, panoramic vision of heaven and earth, the battle between good and evil, the past and the future … and he wanted to share the experience with people he loved … people who would be encouraged by his vision … the church scattered around Asia Minor.

But why would you write a gospel? Biographies were not common in the first-century world—much less biographies about carpenters-turned-preachers from the backwaters of the Empire! Why write a book to recount what Jesus said and did, especially (as was probably the case with Mark) you were not an eye-witness to many of the events you wrote about? Why remember Jesus rather than teach practical lessons about being the church or pass on edifying visions of the heavenly realms?

According to tradition, the Gospel of Mark reflects the sermons of Peter—the stories Peter told when he gathered Christians together and offered them words of faith. If that is true—Mark reproduces apostolic sermons—then Peter’s preaching wasn’t a matter of dusty lectures or dry doctrinal lists or collections of three-points-and-a-poem. Peter’s sermons involved telling stories, remembering what Jesus said and did, reflecting on what people thought about Jesus and how they reacted to him. Peter’s sermons helped people understand who Jesus really was.

Peter would sit down with a group of disciples, cock his head to the side, and out would come some recollection of Jesus healing or teaching or confronting the Pharisees. “I remember one day” he would tell them, “when Jesus came to my house. My mother-in-law was sick. She had a fever that burned her up and laid her out…” Or he would recall a parable Jesus told … or confess a time when he himself had said something foolish, something shameful.

And the people in his audience—who had never met Jesus or seen him in the flesh—would hang on his every word. They would listen to these stories with the fervor of starving men staring at platters of food. They would be ravenous for the stories. They would devoured the stories.

If the traditions are correct, you can almost see John Mark on the back row of Peter’s audiences—seated against the wall with a quill in his hand and a scroll on his lap, scribbling for all he was worth as the stories poured out of the old Apostle. Capturing every tale. Noting the “who, what, where, when, why” about each incident Peter described. Capturing with ink on papyrus the ephemeral words that Peter’s failing voice launched into thin air. For Mark knew that Peter’s testimony would not long survive Peter’s body unless words for the ear could be converted to words for the eye.

Those scribblings, those captured stories and sayings, eventually became the gospel we know as “Mark’s good news.” An Apostolic memoir that turned a world upside down. The ABC’s of Christianity. The foundational narrative on which our faith is built.

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