The gospel of Mark is the most translated book of the Bible in all the world. No other book appears in as many languages. Almost all Wycliffe translators, after they have reduced a language to writing, begin their translation of the Scriptures with this gospel. I am sure that the fact that Mark is the shortest of the gospels has something to do with that decision! But it is also a fact that Mark is particularly suitable for introducing people of all backgrounds, classes, and tribes to the Scriptures. It is the one gospel of the four that is aimed at the Gentile ear.
A study of the gospel of Matthew reveals that it is written for the Jew, especially with its focus on the Old Testament and Jewish customs. But Mark was written for the Roman world, for the Gentile, for those who do not know the background of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is an instructive and helpful gospel to use in the initial approach.
Many scholars think that the gospel of Mark is the earliest New Testament Scripture we have. It was probably written sometime in the sixties of the first century, which would make it very early, going back to the beginnings of the Christian story. Scholars differ, however, as to whether Matthew or Mark wrote first, because it is hard to tell who borrowed from whom—Matthew from Mark, or Mark from Matthew.
We do know that this gospel was written by a young man named John Mark. His mother was named Mary, and she was a rather wealthy woman who had a big house in Jerusalem. In Acts 12, we are told that the early disciples held a large church prayer meeting in her house for Peter when he was imprisoned. We know that young John Mark was taken by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, traveling with them to the island of Cyprus. But for some reason Mark refused to go with them when they went on to the mainland of what today is Turkey. Instead, he went back to his mother's house. Paul was upset about that and evidently felt that Mark was a quitter. When it came time for them to go out again, although Barnabas wanted to bring Mark, Paul would not let him come. So they separated. Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas went back to the areas where they had gone before. Then Mark drops out of sight for a time.
The next we hear of him, he is an associate of the apostle Peter, who speaks affectionately of this young man, calling him "my son Mark" in his first letter (1 Peter 5:13). Early church tradition tells us that Mark became the companion of Peter. Eusebius, a church father writing in the third century, says that the early Christians were so entranced with all the things Peter told them that they asked Mark to write them down. Perhaps that is how we got the Gospel According to Mark, for it reflects much of Peter's memories and experiences with Jesus.
Mark is fascinated with two qualities of Jesus that he gives to us in the first words of this gospel: "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter, the human Jesus—but also the Son of God, the divine one. Mark seems to be fascinated by that combination: the Ruler who manifests His ability to serve, and the Servant who knows how to rule.
That, by the way, is how the book is organized. Mark is easy to outline, because the author gives us certain natural divisions, as we will see as we go along. It falls readily into two halves.