The Gospel According to Mark

Summary of the Tradition

    Papias: Mark was the interpreter (translator) of Peter, and he was very careful to record the true story (Eusebius's Church History 3.39.15).

    Muratorian Fragment: The fragment indicates that there are four Gospels, but the surviving text only names the Gospels of Luke and John.

    Irenaeus: Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, wrote after the death of Peter and Paul (Against Heresies 3.1.1).

    Clement: Mark wrote Peter's teachings while Peter was alive. Peter did not urge this on or forbid it. He wrote after Matthew and Luke, but before John (Eusebius's Church History 6.14.5-7).

    Tertullian: Mark was the interpreter of Peter (Against Marcion 4.5).

    Origen: The second Gospel was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to Peter's instructions. Peter also acknowledged Mark as his son in his general letter, saying in these words: "She who is in Babylon, chosen with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark" (1 Pt 5:13; Eusebius's Church History 6.25.5).

    Jerome: Mark was a disciple and interpreter of Peter. He wrote a Gospel that Peter approved of, as Clement and Papias said. Peter mentioned Mark (1 Pt 5:13). Mark died in the eighth year of Nero (61 AD) and was buried in Alexandria (Illustrious Men 8).

    Augustine: Mark wrote second and summarized what Matthew wrote (Consensus of the Gospels 1.2.4).


    Here we can see the evolution of tradition that I described in my model. Note that Irenaeus and Clement, who were contemporaries, agree about who wrote the Gospel, but not when. Because they do not agree completely, we know that they are not quoting the same source. They also have information that does not come from Papias, so their traditions are independent of Papias. However, they do agree on who wrote the text. This tradition is very wide, which is to say that all branches of the tradition point back to it, and very early. Because the traditions must intersect, they intersected before the time of Papias. Because the tradition that Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote the Gospel was started before Papias, it must have existed before the end of the first century. As I will defend momentarily, this is only a little later than when the Gospel was written. Therefore, we can be confident that it is true. By the time of Jerome and Augustine, the tradition had diverged still further. Because they are rather late in their testimony, I disregard what they say in favor of the earlier sources.


    Now, when was this Gospel written? The confusion about whether it was written before or after the deaths of Peter and Paul implies that it was written around the time that they died in A.D. 67.[*] If he wrote both well before or after this time, there should not be any confusion in the tradition. Based on this, I date the Gospel as being written sometime between A.D. 55 and 75. The same constraint applies to Luke (discussed in the next section). That is, it was written before A.D. 75, and Mark was written before Luke (by the two source hypothesis), so we must change the dating of Mark to between A.D. 55 and 70.

Some Weak Alternative Theories

    It used to be widely believed by the church that the author of Mark is the John Mark of Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 13:5, 13:13, 15:36-40; Col 4:10; 2 Tm 4:11). There is no strong evidence for this. As you can see from the summary above, there is no early tradition saying that John Mark is the author of Mark. John Mark was an inhabitant of Jerusalem and an associate of Peter and Paul. John Mark's association with Peter was probably the source of this tradition, but there is no reason why Peter could not have two associates named Mark.

    Many non-Christian scholars assert that it is impossible that Mark wrote before A.D. 70, because in the Gospel Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple that occurred in A.D. 70 (Mk. 13:1-2). I have two problems with this. The first is this assumes that prophecy, a fairly weak form of miracle, is not possible. This is assuming what we are trying to establish – whether God ever interacts directly in human affairs – to be no. This is a bad assumption. The second problem I have with this belief is that it did not take a miracle to make this prediction. It could widely be seen that the Jews and the Romans were headed for a collision, and the Jews were not going to win any confrontation. The evidence of the tensions between the Jews and the Romans is substantial both in biblical and in non-biblical sources.

[*] Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, § 672

This page was last changed on 2011/08/28