Who wrote the Gospel of Mark (Part III)

Modified from original published on September 18, 2009

John MarkIn the first two posts on the Gospel of Mark we have examined the historical records of Papias (110) and Irenaeus (180). Both men were from Asia Minor who provided information regarding the author and dating of the book. They are two of the earliest pieces of information that we have.

Combining the two accounts we observed the following regarding the Gospel of Mark:

  1. Mark was the author.
  2. Mark wrote down what Peter was teaching and proclaiming.
  3. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus (while Jesus was alive).
  4. Mark wrote after Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.

Another source of information regarding the Gospel of Mark is found in the Anti-Marcionite Prologues. These prologues were included with the Gospels in many Latin manuscripts and would have served a purpose similar to the summaries that precede a Biblical book in Bibles today. They provided the reader with information about the book.

All the prologues except for the Gospel of Matthew are still extant. The Anti-Marcionite Prologues are generally dated from the 2nd to the 4th century.

Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there. It was of such teaching and continence of life that it compels all followers of Christ to imitate its example.

The prologue confirms that Mark was the author and a disciple of Peter, however it does add some additional information:

  1. The book was written in Rome at the request of believers.
  2. Peter approved of the writing.

This information does seem to contradict the account in Irenaeus that the gospel was written after Peter was martyred.

We learn from this prologue another important piece of information regarding Mark. That after Peter died he went to Alexandria, Egypt and founded the church there. A fact that Eusebius (around 325) also records.

And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria. (Eccl Hist 2.16)

Eusebius also confirms that the church of Rome requested Mark to write down Peter’s preaching and that Peter approved the content.

And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches.
(Eccl Hist 2.15)

The fourth century historian cites Clement of Alexandria as a witness regarding the authorship of the “Gospel according to Mark”. Clement was a bishop of Alexandria and prolific author. Eusebius quotes from Clement of Alexandria’s (180-200) work:

Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. (Eccl Hist 6.14)

Clement also tells us that the believers in Rome requested Mark to write down what Peter was teaching. However we have a discrepancy in this account as Peter did not approve (nor did he disapprove) the content.

Origen, a student of Clement, affirms that Mark is the author who wrote what Peter was teaching in his commentary on Matthew (215-220):

“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew,… The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his [universal] epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, saluteth you, and so doth Marcus, my son…. (Eccl Hist 6.25)

Origen, also ties together the earliest attestation we have that Mark was with Peter. This occurs in a letter written by Peter himself in the mid 60’s AD (1 Pet 5:13).

With the addition of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Clement, and Origen we get another line of information coming primarily from Alexandria, Egypt. What makes this information interesting is that history records that the author Mark was the founder of the church there and its first bishop. Their information may be better, even if it is later than Papias and Irenaeus, since it would likely be derived from the author of the book.

Note: Other early affirmations of Mark recording Peter’s preaching include Tertullian (208) in his books Against Marcion 4.5, however this account does not include information that helps us determine Peter’s involvement in the creation of the work.

[Continue reading through the series: part 4]

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