The Title Of The Gospel Of Mark (by Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg)

Title of Mark's Gospel Eli LizorkinMost Christians are surprised when they first come to the understanding that in line with the Biblical tradition of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels are anonymous documents. It is clear that they are early works of Christ-following Jews, written and approved by the figures with apostolic authority, but there is nothing in the canonical Gospels themselves that gives a clear and unambiguous statement about the authorship of any of the four Gospels. (Canonical Gospels are John, Mark, Luke and Matthew. Those are  the four gospels that were accepted by overwhelming majority of God’s people worldwide.) The situation is very different with the non-canonical gospels. The majority of the non-conical Gospels display a wholly different approach. The author of the non-canonical gospel is usually identified and clearly declared to be the author of the book. The trouble is that non-canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Thomas, etc.) were authored after all their purported authors had already died. So we have an interesting irony here: the true apostolic Gospels do not state the names of the authors, while the false Gospel always do.

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But you may say, “Wait a minute,” our Bibles have titles that are rather clear. The Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to John, and so on. Yes, this is indeed what we have in our Bibles. But some things in our Bibles were not there from the beginning. For example, if your Bible has a built in concordance (that helps you to see where the same words or ideas were mentioned in other parts of the Bible) or footnotes (if it is a study Bible) we quickly understand that these additions are not in the original text and that they were added by publishers for the benefit of modern readers. In addition, we have also pages that identify sections entitled, “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament.” We understand that those pages did not exist in the original.

There are also other things in the Bible including superscriptions in the Book of Psalms, such as “a Psalm of Moses” or “a Psalm of David.” Scholars know that these superscriptions were not original, but were added to the text at a much later date. I think we must understand the titles of the Gospels in a similar way. They are statements of authorship that may be true; just like it is probably true that King David was the author of many of the psalms. After all, almost every gospel’s authorial identity was known as early as the second century (scholars use a fancy language indicating that they are “attested very early”).

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My point is not  that John Mark, Peter’s assistant, did not write down the Gospel of Mark according to Peter’s testimony (as such early attestation has it). He most probably did. Rather, I am saying something altogether different – since the superscription “According to Mark” (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ) was not part of the original manuscript of the Gospel, the four matching titles no doubt were assigned to the four Gospels sometime after composition. If this is so, we need to ask a very important question, “what was the original title of the Gospel?”

My answer may or may not surprise you. There are a couple of possibilities here. For one, it is possible that this Gospel simply does not even have a title. It is not at all clear that ancient documents did have titles, though various theories were suggested such as the first word functioning as the title.

But even if most other ancient works had titles, it does not mean that the Gospel of Mark also must have had one. Please, let me explain. There are other things about this Gospel that are strange. None of course are stranger than its ending.

While many Bibles include (with an explanatory note) Mark 16:9-20, two of the most ancient and most reliable manuscripts of this Gospel do not contain these verses. This means that it is almost 100% certain that either the original gospel ended with vs. 8 or its original ending was somehow lost. After all, we have at least one letter that we know the Apostle Paul wrote that is not in our Bible. What we call First Corinthians is really already the second letter that the apostle wrote to the Church in Corinth since he himself mentions it in 1 Cor. 5:9.

After Jesus’ death and burial, we are told that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome collected special burial oils and spices together on Saturday night (literally when Sabbath was over), and early Sunday morning they set out for the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest. When they arrived at the tomb, they saw a man dressed in white who told them that Jesus had risen and that He was already on the way to the Galilee, where he would meet them and the disciples. After this, we read, “they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).

Now this is where the Gospel ends!

If this is not strange, I do not know what is. Speaking of an anticlimactic ending, we are so used to the other Gospels’ almost Hollywood like endings! But it is simply not so in this Gospel.

I am not the only one who feels this way. I think most Christ-followers do. This was likely the reason why early copyists (scribes) of this Gospel added Mark 16:9-20. This addition is probably not a fabrication, but is based on what they saw happening in the Early Jesus movement.

When the textual and grammatical styles of the sections are compared, it becomes clear that this addition was made later and was not authored by the same person that wrote the Gospel itself.

We should not come to the Gospel of Mark with preconceptions about what it should and should not say, and what it should and should not look like. The beauty of our approach is to let the text speak for itself. We must allow this Gospel to shape us and not the other way around.

If the Gospel had no title, this is certainly legitimate. After all, the title should concisely tell the readers what the book is all about. There is one sentence that’s pregnant with a variety of Jewish Royal concepts from the Hebrew Bible. This may come close to functioning as the title; and that of course is the very first verse of the Gospel:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).


Aveinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King,

Free us to read, free us to think, free us to believe.


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  1. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    It is noteworthy that this structure of Mark ‘s Gospel as a whole confirmed and proves that it founds its end in Mark 16, 1-8 , without the so-called Long End.
    The structure opens and ends at all commentators with this opening and end:

  2. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    The author of this Gospel has been credited to be no more than a collector of materials, with worse command of Greek. However , commentators did note his very creative way of using the rhetorical device known as chiasm. They found all the structure of Mark’s Gospel as a whole, putting forward the conclusion it’s indeed the work of one author.

  3. gustavo vargas angel

    Jesus comes to us by faith,not for the bigger amount of readings about Him,in the same way,miracles are done by faith,not because I or you or anyelse expect one “to believe for”.I do not know you,what is your job,if you are atheistic,pastor,or anything:I can say for me that is the same one or other: if makes rest his “faith” on readings,are zero.

  4. gustavo vargas angel

    Saviour Jesus Christ comes from BELIEVE and feel in my heart His presence, although there are many as said before, who only say “I believe.”(in a good bussines matter), and do of else people faith just that,in this way,the so called pastors etc.,lives very well,and the believers as better they can.No offense,nothing personal,but re-read my words.

  5. gustavo vargas angel

    Ramon Antonio: About if I want to believe , I think you should rethink your words, my belief is based on faith, and yours seems to be based in an extensive reading , prepared for preachers, pastors, priest or some, please, remember which Paul wrote about: Too letter kills the spirit, however, I have read, and my small knowledge about the Lord and

  6. RamonAntonio

    Our good friend Gustavo has touched a sensitive and very important issue. The Gospels are what they are mostly because they are testimonies. However does this equates to a direct requirement that we value the Gospel because of its testimony or because of what it really is, that is, an ancient document that narrates a story?
    Luke is in fact a distant document in relation to it being a first account testimony on the contrary of the others which seem to be closer to a direct account by their authors. However what is a testomony?
    We must remember that the Gospels are one of a kind documents as such in historiography. They were modeled after literary use of their times but their actual form is different to previous redaction usage of ancient authors. The Gospels are not letters, not novels and not stories as such. They are close to being homilies for liturgy use but not formal prayer forms as such. However, they are very close to legal testimonies of events that were in the memory of many of the audience and as such they complied with Jewish requirements of acceptable testimony and attestattion. In various ways, most of them mentioned names of known persons in the stories they narrate as a way of proving beyond doubt that the events narrated were certain and attestable.
    A very interesting thesis has been advanced on the basis of statistical analysis that supports that there were sufficient live witnesses that could verify the Gospels stories throughout most of the first century.
    From this point of view, Luke is as good as it gets. For even though he was not the perfect witness, he assembled (and this is critical, assembled, ie. Took NOTES) cautiously and methodically the testimony of most of the usual suspects that were actual witness of the events. Thus, Luke’s Gospel may be in fact, the most credible one as a document.
    No other historical figure has so much testimony of his existence in so ancient times as Jesus. The Gospels are the main reference. But the surrounding documents that even deny his existence use as arguments for his non existence assertions that can only be true if he actually existed or if a majority of people actually knew who they were talking about.
    So Gustavo, believe if you want to believe. The Gospels are meant to cause that. That is their reason. For that they were written. To make people believe…

  7. gustavo vargas angel

    I am okey about the datas given for you, I am only saying that the memory is a fragile glass, nothing more, thence, could have had any mistake, lapsus, whatever matter affecting it, no matter the amount of information received, or the happenings on their lives; In the other hand, I have seen persons healing in the moment (I am one of them), none resuscitated(I have not had that blessing by now), and listened wisdom about else people( for instance, the mother of one healed). That is all I say, however, each day there is a big amount of people being healed everyday. The most reliable(for me) are the three first, but I do not take importance off from the research done by Paul , it gives some more light, and also, indoctrination to the new believers. Stay fine, shalom¡

  8. alfredo

    I think that you are going in the wrong direction with your arguments. Now you are saying that you are contending about the memory of first hand witnesses that Luke reached during his research. Some scholars think that Luke was written around: 80-100 AD, with most arguing for somewhere around 85 AD, or 80-85 AD; Mark being the earliest around 68-73 AD or 65-70 AD; Matthew around 70-100 AD, 80-85AD; and the fourth Gospel attributed to John being the latest at 85 to near 100 AD or 50s to 70 AD. So, all accounts were written when at least 30 years had passed.

    According to your line of thinking, how long does it takes for witnesses to be reliable? Which gospels are then reliable?

    You see, the problem is that we are not living in those times. Our minds get all kinds of information and get overloaded in our times. But back then, that was not the case. Living was not about math formulas but about experiences. And the experiences that those witnesses had were very important in their lives. Have you seen people being healed from all kinds of diseases every day, all day long? Have you seen a man being resuscitated after four days? What kind of impact such events would make in their hearts?

    On the other hand, Jewish people were (and some are now) accustomed to learn the scriptures by memory, since they didn’t use the Bible as a reference as we do nowadays. You have to keep in mind that the Torah is the Law that governs their lives. So they were accustomed to use their memory instead of using other cognitive elements that we use in 21st century.

  9. Fred Aguelo

    Dear Friends,

    While it is true that memories are fragile, let’s not forgot that these men of G-d were not merely relating on their volition but they were carried along by the Holy Spirit and thus spoke the word of Hashem. The other gospels purported to be written by Thomas, Judas, Magdalene, etc. Were written on dates way past their lifetime and were therefore considered bogus and not part of the whole counsel of Hashem.

    Shalom alecheim!


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg


  10. gustavo vargas angel

    My intention is not to contending about the exactitude of Luke writings, but about the memoryes of the persons who gave the wisdom: memory is a fragile glass, and may be you know this by your own and natural experience. Best for you.