So, hmm. This is interesting. You may recall that in my Matthew review, I mentioned that among most Bible scholars, it’s thought that the Book of Matthew uses Mark as its source material. Matthew doesn’t have a known author, and I went into Mark thinking that its author and origin would be more clear. But, as it turns out, we’re not really sure who Mark’s author is either. Wikipedia states that Mark was likely written in 66-70 A.D., and it “appears as the second New Testament gospel because it was traditionally thought to be an epitome (summary) of Matthew, but most scholars now regard it as the earliest written gospel.”
It seems that some guy named Mark the Evangelist is traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was apparently a companion and interpreter of the apostle Peter. But Wikipedia and my Google searches are indicating to me that modern scholars are doubtful of this and regard the author as anonymous, or basically unknown. The other interesting thing that Wikipedia points out (and that I observed while reading Mark) is that there are many phrases and passages of Mark that are identical or nearly identical to Matthew (and maybe Luke but I still have to get there). So these books are clearly based on each other, using one another as source material, but it’s hard to figure out which came first. It’s all a guessing game based on clues and evidence … which seem to point to Mark possibly or probably having been written first.
I read Mark side-by-side with Matthew, and matched every story in Mark up with the same story in Matthew. Almost all of the material overlaps, with only a couple stories in Mark not existing in Matthew. Of the overlapping stories, some are given a bit more detail in Mark, and some less. The sequence of several of the stories seem to be different between the two books. Mark is also a significantly shorter book, at 16 chapters vs. Matthew’s 28, so there are a good number of stories and passages from Matthew that are not present in Mark at all. There are also some conflicting details between Mark and Matthew, many of them minor, and some a bit more significant.
Because nearly all of the stories overlap, there is thankfully no need for me to type out a recap of Mark. Whew! I probably won’t even need to call out a Good Stuff and Bad Stuff section … this review will mostly focus on notable differences between the two books, which should cover the bad stuff and good stuff as well. So let’s get into it.
Difference #1: No Baby Jesus
I mentioned in my Matthew recap that I was surprised how little detail was given to Mary and Joseph and Jesus’ birth story, especially considering some of the more elaborate details I remember of the story from when I was a kid. And, you know, all those Christmas plays. Very few of those details were in Matthew, so I expected to see more of them in Mark. But sadly, no dice. Not only does Mark not give further details to this part of Jesus’ story, Baby Jesus does not exist in Mark at all. Mark starts right out of the gate with John the Baptist baptizing the adult Jesus. Mark’s version of this story is a bit tamer than Matthew as well, with no mention of the Pharisees or Sadducees showing up to get reamed and threatened with hellfire by John. Borrrring.
Difference #2: Jesus Has Social Anxiety
It strikes me as kind of funny that in Mark, Jesus seems to have a real problem with large crowds boxing him in and making him feel claustrophobic. I don’t think this aspect was nearly so pronounced in Matthew. Chapter 2 has a story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man, which is also in Matthew. Mark takes care to note that whatever house or building they are in during this story is so packed in with people that the crowds have to make an opening in the roof and lower the paralyzed man down through the opening, just to get him to Jesus. Jesus’ feelings on the sitch aren’t given here, but it’s the first indication that this book focuses a lot on crowd size. It’s not always in a braggy Trump way though; often it’s in a way that almost regards the crowds as a nuisance.
In chapter 3 we get our first indication that the masses of people are causing some logistical issues for Jesus. Jesus withdraws with his disciples to a lake, but big crowds of people from Galilee follow him. “3:9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 3:10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.” Don’t smother him, people!! Jesus needs his personal space. A little later in chapter 3, in a story that also exists in Matthew, Mark takes care to note this extra detail: “3:20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. ” The man is hungry, jeez, can you just lay off and let him eat, please??
Difference #3: Jesus Has A Slight Excuse For Dissing His Family
Remember how mad I was at that story in chapter 12 of Matthew where Jesus pretends he doesn’t know his mom and siblings while they are waiting to talk to him? Mark gives a few extra details to this story that give Jesus a slightly better excuse for this rude behavior. During the chapter 3 story I mentioned above, when Jesus is in this very crowded house and already annoyed that it’s too packed to even eat a meal in peace, his family gets word of what Jesus is going around doing. Rather than be proud of him for going around and helping people, they question his sanity: “3:21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'”
They don’t say this to Jesus’ face, mind you, but maybe Jesus has already had this argument with his family before. And he is magic, after all; maybe he can read their minds. The Pharisees are already at this house telling Jesus he’s possessed by Beelzebub, so he’s already in the middle of getting taunted when his family shows up to collect him and take him to the loony bin. It’s at this time that the people tell him his fam is there and he says the infamous line, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then points to his followers and says “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” He’s still being a pretty bratty son, mind you, but at least he has a little bit more of an excuse to be irritated and provoked into talking smack in this version of the story.
Difference #4: Who is the Taxman?
Remember how the book of Matthew claimed its author to be a disciple named Matthew who had been a tax collector before deciding to devote himself to Jesus? Yeah, well, about that – The same character exists in Mark too, he’s just not named Matthew:
2:13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 2:14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
The whole rest of the story is the same as Matthew, only the dude is named Levi this time. There’s no disciple named Matthew in the book of Mark. So that’s … awkward. And also kind of funny that whoever wrote Matthew apparently didn’t think his little book would take off widely enough that this discrepancy would ever be found out.
Difference #5: Why Does Jesus Teach in Parables?
You may recall that the biggest issue I had with the book of Matthew was the concept of “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” It’s mentioned late in Matthew in the context of money/gold, which makes it seem terrible. But it’s also mentioned earlier in Matthew during the Parable of the Sower, when Jesus is telling his disciples why he teaches in parables.
(Matthew) 13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 13:11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 13:12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”
It doesn’t seem so controversial here in the context of seeking knowledge, which is why I didn’t fully notice it until later in the book when it took on a context of money/wealth. But the funny thing is that when Mark tells the Parable of the Sower and Jesus gives this same explanation of the parable to his disciples, he adds this line:
(Mark) 4:11 “… But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 4:12 so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!‘”
LOL uhh … come again? Are you being sarcastic, Jesus? Or are you serious rn? You don’t want your people to be forgiven? Oddly enough, Matthew calls this a prophecy from Isaiah, and if you read the referenced passage in Isaiah, it is just as fucked up as it is here. I’m actually mad at myself because I have this marked in red with a “WTF” comment in my Isaiah notes, but it apparently never made it into my Isaiah review. I think I’m gonna need to add it in now.
Difference #6: Who Wants to Kill John the Baptist?
The book of Matthew states that King Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist resurrected from the dead. This doesn’t make sense, because it seems that John the B is still alive at this point in the story. However, Mark is written (or at least translated) in a way that makes this far more clear: The story of the beheading of John the B is actually a flashback, it doesn’t happen at the exact time the story is being told. Aha.
This story in Matthew paints Herod’s wife Herodias as the evil villainous bitch who insists that John’s head be brought to them on a platter. But at the very least, it does admit that Herod also “wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.” Mark, however, has an even more misogynist bent to it than Matthew, as it never even states that Herod has any desire to kill John. It places 100% of the blame on Herodias: “6:18 For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 6:19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him.” Herodias then demands John’s head on a platter like the wicked witch she is.
Difference #7: Jesus’ Special Powers Require A Li’l Something Extra
As I recall from Matthew, Jesus’ miracles never really required much more than him reaching out his hands and saying the magic words. In Mark, however, Jesus’ magical powers seem to require a little extra ingredient to work properly: slobber. That’s right, there are 2 stories Mark that are also told in Matthew, but in the Mark version of them, Jesus has to spit on the sick/disabled person in order to heal them.
7:32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 7:33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 7:34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 7:35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
In the second story, Jesus tries to heal a blind man with his spit, but it doesn’t work right away:
8:22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 8:23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” 8:24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 8:25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
I guess sometimes even Jesus has to use the trial and error method. Relatable.
Difference #8: Jesus’ Resurrection Story Details
The last chapter of Mark is chapter 16, and the original manuscripts of Mark apparently ended at chapter 16 verse 8, which is right after Mary & Mary are told by the angel at the tomb that Jesus has risen from the dead. The angel gives them the instructions to go tell Jesus disciples to meet him in Galilee, Mary & Mary obey and run off to go carry out their mission, and that’s it. Mark was apparently content to end the story there. It seems that it was only at some later point in time (I’m not sure when) when they brought in a script doctor to give the story a more satisfying ending.
There are differences in the story too – In Mark, there’s actually a third woman participating in all the tomb and resurrection hijinks with The Two Marys: a woman named Salome. Salome is never given any description except that she’s just another one of Jesus’ groupies who have been following him around with Mary and Mary and a bunch of other ladies. Another difference: In Matthew, when the ladies come back to the tomb after Sabbath, there’s a violent earthquake and the ladies see the angel move the stone “door” to open it up, and then he sits on it. But in Mark, when the ladies get to the tomb, the stone has already been moved and the angel is just chilling inside the tomb waiting for them. There are other differences as well, including the details of who Ghost/Zombie Jesus appears to when they first run into him, and Mark also mentions that Jesus had previously “driven 7 demons” out of Mary Magdalene.
OH! And here’s the best part! Mark’s “new” ending includes some pretty amazing stuff that completely and entirely explains where Pentecostals get their insane rituals from:
16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 16:18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 16:20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Wow. Nothing like this is in Matthew at all. Whoever added the new ending to Mark really had a flair for the fantastical. Though I have a feeling some of this stuff might show up again in later books. Let’s see.
Difference #9: Where’s the Good & Bad Stuff?
One major difference between Mark and Matthew is that Mark, a much shorter book, sticks a lot more to just following the plot and the actions of the characters, without a lot of frills or fluff in between. This results in a book that has a lot less of the specifically good stuff and less of the specifically bad/disturbing stuff than Matthew.
To start with, most of the Sermon on the Mount – a passage which takes up 3 whole chapters in Matthew and provides so many of the good verses there – is almost entirely missing from Mark. The only pieces of it that are present in Mark are the ones about Jesus’ updated rules on divorce, and … err … I think that’s it actually. Well o.k. I do see one other minor thing: the “salt of the earth” analogy which shows up in Mark chapter 9. I’m not seeing anything else. That means the Lord’s Prayer is gone too. But Mark mentions nothing whatsoever about blessed are the poor or meek or any of that, nothing about turning the other cheek, nothing about not judging others, nada.
Outside of the Sermon on the Mount, Mark does contain the verses about selling everything you have to give to the poor in order to get into heaven, and it contains a reference to forgiving others as well. It also contains one of Jesus’ favorite lines from Matthew: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” That is mostly it though in terms of the feel-good verses in Mark.
So that may be lame, but on the flipside of this, Mark contains only a small amount of the bad stuff from Matthew as well. You may recall from my Matthew review that Matthew loves to talk about all the terrible stuff that will happen to you in hell if you don’t follow God’s commandments that Jesus is laying out for you. Mark has almost none of that. A few of the same disturbing passages and verses as Matthew are here, but the obsession with hell is nothing like it is in Matthew. Here is a quick listing of the “Bad Stuff” in Mark:
- The verse about how people can be forgiven for anything except blaspheming is here in chapter 3.
- The “otherwise they may turn and be forgiven” verse which is actually unique to Mark, is described in the “Difference #5” section above.
- The punishment for “causing children to stumble” is still there in Mark chapter 9 (“… it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out … etc.”)
- Jesus’ temper tantrum with the fig tree is here in Mark chapter 11.
- The creepy Parable of the Tenants is here in chapter 12.
- The End Times verses are here in chapter 13.
- The end of Mark does remind us that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
So, hell does exist in Mark, it’s just not nearly such an elaborate focus as it is in Matthew. And as one example of some of the angry flair from Matthew that’s missing in Mark: In Matthew when Jesus first sends out his disciples and instructs them on what to do, he tells his disciples to take no money with them and find a worthy house to take them in. If any home does not welcome them, they are to “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” In Mark, Jesus tells his disciples the same thing, except for unwelcoming homes he says to “leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Much more subtle.
There are a lot of minor differences between Mark and Matthew that are not important enough to even be worth mentioning. So I’m not gonna bother with those. But here are a few more simple yet important differences to close this review out:
- There’s a story in Matthew that refers to Jesus as the son of a carpenter. In the same story in Mark, Jesus himself is the carpenter. It’s just a slight difference in the same sentence written in the same story in both books. Are they both carpenters or was this a typo in one of the books? Not sure.
- Matthew has a story about Jesus healing a boy who is “lunatick” (i.e. he has seizures). Mark expands on this story a little, with Jesus telling the boy’s dad, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Like, I think in the miracle-performing sense. That’s a strong statement. And when Jesus’ disciples ask him why they couldn’t drive out the spirit on their own, Jesus chides them in Matthew saying they just don’t have enough faith. In Mark though, Jesus offers a much more straight-forward answer: Eh, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Oh o.k. Noted.
- In Matthew chapter 20, James and John’s mom asks Jesus if her sons can sit on either side of him in the kingdom of heaven. In Mark (chapter 10), James and John ask for it themselves rather than sending mommy to do their dirty work. Jesus basically reacts the same way in both versions.
- You may recall in my Matthew review that I called out a silly detail in chapter 21 where Jesus somehow rides both a donkey and her colt into Jerusalem. This is probably a translation or interpretation error from a prophecy in Zechariah. In Mark, Jesus only rides one donkey.
- When the chief priests and elders’ band of thugs come to arrest Jesus after Judas leads them to him, one of Jesus’ ride-or-dies takes his sword and slices off an ear of one of the thugs. In Matthew, Jesus tells his buddy to chillax and put away his sword. In Mark, he doesn’t bother. In Mark he’s probably thinking to himself, “Fuck yes take THAT, BITCH!!”
- When Jesus is crucified in Mark, the rebels being crucified with him don’t mock him like they do in Matthew.
- The story of the transfiguration (where Jesus talks to Moses and Elijah on a mountain) is there in both Matthew and Mark, but Mark adds one extra hilarious detail: “9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave [his disciples] orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 9:10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” LMAO. Only in Mark do you realize that Jesus just throws this in nonchalantly with no explanation whatsoever. And the disciples are like “O.k. sounds g- wait WTF??”
O.k. whew. That is it. That is Mark for ya. Rating this one is weird because while it’s missing a ton of the good stuff from Matthew, it’s also missing a lot of the bad stuff. Which kinda evens everything out and makes me think I should just rate Mark the same as Matthew.
Yeah. I’m gonna rate this the same as Matthew because it’s mostly the same story with a bit less flair. There’s nothing so different in Mark that it would change the overall rating. Next up: Luke. It’s a longer book again. With similar stories again, I think. Wish me luck. Err … pray for me? Heh.