The Earliest Gospel

by Frederick C. Grant

Frederick C. Grant was Edwin Robinson Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York, and President of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanstaon Ill. He was a member of the Revision Committee for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Published by Abingdon Press, New York and Nashville, 1943. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) In this important work, Dr. Grant provides a dozen vivid chapters on Mark, the earliest gospel — how it came to be, and what its main teaching are.


  • Preface

    What essentially is the gospel? It is Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the apostolic proclamation of this message of salvation with the added emphasis and fresh meaning given to it by the resurrection of Jesus and the continuing work of the holy Spirit in the church. But this all requires understanding and interpretation.

  • Chapter 1: The Oral Gospel

    The gospel was first of all an oral gospel and was essentially an eschatological proclamation about the nature of the end of the world, spoken in Aramaic and later written in Greek.

  • Chapter 2: The Origin of the Gospel of Mark

    What Mark put together was a narrative of the mighty works and death of Jesus — a book largely devoted to explaining why Jesus had died — and he had to write it in haste in the midst of danger, not for Jews, but for Gentile converts.

  • Chapter 3: The Evangelic Tradition

    There was no such thing as a gospel in Mark’s day. He was only writing a little book about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, gathering up the current information about his life and death, endeavoring to prove that he had already been the Messiah or “Son of Man” while he lived on earth, and explaining why he had died on the cross. Jesus’ teaching is taken for granted, but it is not quoted extensively nor expounded by Mark.

  • Chapter 4: The Apostolic Preaching

    Mark is not writing history or biography, not even giving an account of Jesus’ teaching. He is writing an apology, an explanation of the death of the Messiah. It was not circulated among the littérateurs, but privately among the oppressed, despised, and persecuted handful of Christians . Only later was it carried to other Christian communities.

  • Chapter 5: Was Mark Written in Aramaic?

    The Gospel arose in a Semitic milieu. Jesus spoke in Aramaic; his Bible was the Hebrew scriptures. The evidence seems to fall somewhat short of demonstrating the existence — or even the probability — of an Aramaic Gospel. Nevertheless, other possibilities raised are by no means without value or significance.

  • Chapter 6: Jerusalem or Galilee?

    Where did the earliest resurrection appearances take place, in Galilee or in Jerusalem? We cannot find the answer. We do not even know where the appearance to Peter took place.

  • Chapter 7: The Theology of Mark

    Mark takes for granted the apostolic faith; for he writes as a Christian, a believer, not as an outsider or critic — not even as an historian or biographer. Hence his “theology,” so far as he has a theology, is not his own, but merely the theological interpretation — as far as it had gone in his day — of the tradition as held by the contemporary church.

  • Chapter 8: Mark’s Passion Narrative

    The inference seems to be that the Marcan passion narrative was already in fairly stable form when Mark wrote, and that it continued to be told and retold in practically this form — possibly at the Christian services of worship and quite apart from the written Gospels, indeed before The Gospels were compiled

  • Chapter 9: Was Mark a Pauline Gospel?

    Paul’s Judaism was not of the orthodox Palestinian type, which later became normative. Early Gentile Christianity, both before Paul and also outside the area of his influence, was far more substantial than the Book of Acts and the surviving Pauline letters have led many to assume.

  • Chapter 10: Was Mark Anti-Semitic?

    It’s difficult to determine if Mark was anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Relations between Jews and Christians in the East remained friendly for at least five centuries. The whole of the teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, and likewise that of Paul and of the rest of the New Testament, presupposes a background of intense, informed, earnest, and consecrated Judaism.

  • Chapter 11: Mark and the Social Gospel

    Was Jesus’ teaching “social?” Yes and no! It was not in our modern sense of sociological utopianism; but it was something vastly profounder, a religious ethic which involved a social as well as a personal application, but within the framework of the beloved society of the Kingdom of God. The rest of the New Testament and most of the other early Christian literature takes this for granted.

  • Chapter 12: Epilogue

    What is the meaning of this earliest Gospel for our time? It set forth the message of salvation to men and women who lived in a world not unlike our own. Indeed the “world,” that is, human society, has not changed very much in nineteen centuries, and the message of salvation is as greatly needed now as then, or ever.