THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES
What do the Scriptures tell us about the Author of Mark’s Gospel?
The universal and unanimous church tradition is that Mark authored this Gospel as a collection of Peter’s teachings as one of the twelve appointed witnesses to all that Jesus taught and did.
And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them. Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD)
There is nothing in the scriptures which contradicts this tradition and some attributes of the Gospel which support it. This Gospel focuses on the events that Peter was part of and tends not to include other information, like the birth narrative, that Peter had not directly witnessed. It has the fast paced narration of someone with an engaging preaching style. It is not necessarily in chronological order but more like a collection of different narrations than one single story. It contains explanations of Jewish customs and uses some Latin terms, suggesting that the intended audience was not only the Jews that Peter’s ministry had focused on. This would fit with someone who had also ministered with Paul and so had in mind both Jewish and Gentile readers. (24) (25)
Does what we know of John Mark from the rest of scripture fit with him having a close relationship with Peter and having authored this Gospel to convey Peter’s testimony of Christ? We first learn of John Mark in Acts 12:12. His mother Mary owned a house in Jerusalem that had been frequented by Peter the apostle. Many gathered together in this house for prayer. When Peter had been miraculously released from prison by an angel he came first to this house to let the brethren praying there know of his release and instruct them: “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren”, indicating a hand over of responsibility as he had to leave Jerusalem for a time. Clearly there had been a close relationship between John Mark’s family and the apostle Peter from the earliest days of the church and Mark probably got to hear Peter tell the same stories again and again as he recounted his journey with Jesus. Mark may have travelled with Peter to Antioch and then stayed there with his cousin Barnabas when Peter moved on to encourage the other scattered believers.
In Acts 13:5 Mark joins Barnabas and Saul as their assistant on their first missionary journey from Antioch, but left them in Perga to return to Jerusalem where his mother lived (Acts 13:13). That is a long way for a young man to travel by himself and it is likely that he was joining others from that city in their journey to Jerusalem. We know that Peter was back living in Jerusalem by Acts 15 – could Mark have left Barnabas and Paul to travel back there with Peter? In Acts 15:36-41 we note that Mark travelled with Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch after the Jerusalem Council, and Barnabas wants to take him with them as they do a return trip to see how the new believers in every city are doing, but Paul refuses to allow Mark to join them on this missionary journey because of his leaving them last time so they split up and Barnabas takes Mark to Cyprus to encourage the brethren there. Over the next few years that rift was healed and Paul came to greatly appreciate Mark and his ministry. By the time Paul writes Colossians (about 10 years later) he is referring to Mark as his fellow worker for the kingdom of God and a comfort to him (Col. 4:10-11), and instructs the believers at Colossae to welcome Mark if he goes to them. Then in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul instructs Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Peter records Mark being with him when he wrote 1 Peter 5:13, which was after Paul wrote Colossians, and refers to Mark as “my son”. Mark has a long and close association with Peter, from times in his mother’s house until the latter years of Peter’s life. He was also closely associated with Paul and his mission to the gentiles. Everything that we know about Mark fits with the church tradition of him having written the Gospel bearing his name, and having done so from Peter’s perspective as one who walked with Jesus and witnessed what He said and did. (25) (26)
24. —. The Gospel of Mark. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/intros/mark.cfm.
25. ZA Blog. Who Wrote the Gospels and How Do We Know for Sure? Zondervan Academic. [Online] 20 Sept 2017. [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-wrote-gospels.
26. International Bible Society. Introduction to NIV Study Bible 1 Peter. Biblica. [Online] [Cited: 5th Sept 2019.] https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-peter/.