The Gospel according to Mark
Who is the Author?
All the internal and external evidence points to the author of the Gospel being Mark himself with no competitive tradition. We have no early Heretics or critics of Christianity claiming he wasn’t the author. The church fathers is where we can establish the external evidence for authorship. Now a case can be made for internal evidence in Matthew that he is indeed the tax collector Jesus speaks of, but we’ll get to that in another article elsewhere.
Clement of Rome 95 AD
The first of our sources dips within the first century, a time not long after John penned his Gospel supposedly. According to church historian Eusebius who preserves his works (Eusebius, where he can be checked, is quite reliable), Clement records that Mark took down Peter’s teachings and when Peter heard about this, he approved of it.
Papias of Hierapolis 125 AD
Papias the ancient bishop of Hierapolis (located in western Turkey), claimed that Mark penned his gospel in Rome as Peter’s scribe. He reported that
“This too, the elder used to say: Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers but later as I said one of Peters. Peter used to adapt his teaching to the occasions without making systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it.”Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16 preserving Papius in Hierapolis 125AD
Justin Martyr 150 AD
Justin Martyr was the famous early church apologist from Rome who converted to Christianity. He also mentioned an early “memoir” of Peter and described it in a way that is unique to the gospel of Mark.
Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 67
Irenaeus 180 AD
Irenaeus, a student of Ignatius and Polycarp (two students of the apostle John) and the eventual bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon, France) wrote:
“Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”Against Heresis 3.1.1-2
Clement of Alexandria 180 AD
Clement of Alexandria, the historic leader of the church in North Africa, recorded by Eusebius wrote:
“When Peter had preached publicly in Rome and announced the gospel by the spirit, those present of whom there were many besought Mark. Since for a long time he had followed him and remembered what had been said to record his words and did this to communicate the gospel of those who made requests of him. When Peter knew of it, he neither actively prevented it, nor encouraged the undertaking”.Clement of Alexandria, Adumbrationes in Epistolas Canonicas
Tertullian 200 AD
Tertullian around 200AD tells us:
…that the documents of the Gospels were written by the Apostles Matthew and John and Apostolic men of Luke and Mark.”Against Marcion 4.2.1-2
Muratorian Fragment 170 AD
Now this is our first canonical list with reference to Mark and we find it in the Muratorian fragment dated to the middle of the second century. The first page of this fragment is now lost but virtually all scholars agree that it referred to Matthew and Mark to begin with. This is earliest official canonical list from a non-heretic (that being Marcion). The second page begins with “…at which nevertheless he was present, and so he placed [them in his narrative]’.” It continues “The third book of the Gospel Is that according to Luke. Luke, the well known physician…”
then... “The fourth of the gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write]...” the keyword here is “forth”. So John is forth, Luke is listed third and Mark is inferred before Luke, then there is one book before Mark and all the historical records tell us that individual is Matthew. Virtually all scholars agree Matthew was first in this list, and Mark is inferred based on all the quotes about Mark being present with Peter and adding his preaching to his narrative.
These early church leaders and students of the apostles (from diverse geographic regions and generations) were “closest to the action.” They repeatedly and uniformly claimed that Mark’s gospel was a record of Peter’s eyewitness observations.
Audience & Location
Our 2nd century sources confirm Mark was writing to Roman Christians, being in Rome recording Peter’s preaching. At request he recorded Peter’s preaching which Peter was happy with. The language suggests this was before the Roman persecution by Nero in 64AD but likely after the expulsion of the Jews by Emperor Claudius in 49 AD (which would’ve ended in 54AD when Claudius died which would’ve allowed Peter to go to Rome to preach). There is no ill mention of the Romans, only Jewish sects at this time.
Mark’s intent was to encourage Christian believers Of what Jesus said and did especially in a culture of Jewish intimidation of new christians from gentile and Jewish backgrounds.
The Gospels do not come with particular dates rubber stamped onto them, though some Christian traditions (by tradition we mean church father documentation) do give them specific dates — all (except for some traditions about the Gospel of John) dating the Gospels before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The Table 2.4 shows here the date ranges proposed by some non-Christian scholars: (1) By some Jewish scholars, (2) by a Jewish historian, Shaye Cohen, and (3) by a prominent agnostic scholar, Bart Ehrman.
Table 2.4. Proposed dates of Gospel composition
These dates are rather typical among scholars, but we should note that if the traditional view of authorship of the Gospels is correct, Matthew and John were written by people already active as disciples of Jesus in AD 33, Mark was by someone who was able to be an assist to Barnabas and Paul no later than about 50, and Luke was by someone who accompanied Paul in the 50s and early 60s on journeys to Turkey, Greece, Judaea, and Rome.
Peter J Williams, Can We Trust The Gospels?
Arguments for the traditional authors are therefore likely to provide indirect support for significantly earlier dates, unless one is inclined to suppose that the authors wrote toward the ends of unusually long lives, especially when life expectancy was shorter than now. The sorts of dates given by the scholars above are often based in part on Gospel references, from the lips of Jesus, to the destruction of Jerusalem or the temple in AD 70. However, if we allow that Jesus could predict future events, a major objection to earlier dates is removed. Most forms of modern Judaism or agnosticism are belief systems that, by definition, deny the Gospels’ presentation of Jesus as the long-prophesied, miracle-performing Son of God, who was ultimately raised from the dead. They’d deny the destruction of the temple, virgin birth, the resurrection and so on anyway.
However, the dates given above show that mainstream scholars who disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah nevertheless date the Gospels within the time limits of reliable memory. If one is open to the possibility that the portrait of Jesus’s identity in the Gospels is actually true, there are few strong reasons why the Gospels could be considerably earlier. Earlier dates are much more appealing over all those given above.
So rather than just presuming what the dates would be based on presuppositions, what evidence for the dates can be discovered from the witnesses and are there any internal features in the text that would suggest a rough date? And what signals are there that Matthew was written before 70AD (which is where the real battle is)
The language and sympathy towards Romans suggests this [Mark] was written before the Roman persecution by Nero in 64 AD but likely after the expulsion of the Jews by Emperor Claudius in 49 AD (which would’ve ended in 54 AD when Claudius died which would’ve allowed Peter to go to Rome to preach). There is no ill mention of the Romans, only Jewish sects at this time. We know from Josephus that Peter
Early Church Tradition says that Peter probably died by the year 64. This took place three months after the disastrous fire that destroyed Rome for which the emperor (Nero) wished to blame the Christians. Tacitus confirms the war started by Nero against the Christians.
Nero fastened the guilt … on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of … Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome….Tacitus, Annals 15.44,
This “dies imperii” (regnal day anniversary) was an important one, exactly ten years after Nero ascended to the throne, and it was ‘as usual’ accompanied by much bloodshed.
The death of Peter is attested to by Tertullian in the end of the 2nd century, in his Prescription Against Heretics, noting that Peter endured a passion like his Lord’s (crucifixion).
Origen (184–253) in his Commentary on the Book of Genesis III, quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History (III, 1), said: “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.”
Peter of Alexandria (311), who was bishop of Alexandria and died around A.D. 311, wrote:
“Peter, the first of the apostles, having been often apprehended, and thrown into prison, and treated with ignominy, was last of all crucified at Rome”.Peter of Alexandria
Jerome (327-420) wrote that
“At his Nero’s hands Peter received the crown of martyrdom being nailed to the cross with his head towards the ground and his feet raised on high, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.”Jerome. On Illustrious Men, Ch1
If Mark records the preaching of Peter while he was in Rome, and Peter dies in 64AD but it’s likely after 54 AD, we are narrowing the window of writing. But we can narrow it further by Looking at Paul’s letter to the Romans which is dated 56AD where he sends greetings to those in Rome. It would be bizarre to forget about Peter! Luke the physician and author of Luke and Acts mentioned he gathered sources in Luke 1:2-3 and this would’ve most likely happened while Paul was in prison in Judea (57-59AD). This would allow Luke to gather material for his gospels and meeting with the early church. Luke likely drew from Mark as a source so he could finalise his own Gospel and Acts in 60-62AD (see Article on Luke for more.
So to narrow the window
- Likely after 49-54AD which was when the Jews were expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius
- Peter was killed under Emperor Nero in 64AD (so somewhere between 54-64AD)
- Paul’s letter in 56AD makes no mention of Peter in Rome yet (now 56-64AD)
- Luke gatherers sources while Paul was in prison in 57-59 AD with Mark possibly being a source (Now 57-59AD)
So although we don’t say with extreme confidence it was written between 57-59AD as Luke may not have used Mark, to say between 54-64AD we can be more confident in. Some would say earlier than 49AD (Like agnostic scholar James Crossley & Atheist Maurice Casey). Eusebius cites a tradition that Peter went to Rome in the 40’s under Claudius to deal with the heretic Simon Magnus (Ecclesiastical History 2.14 4-6). It is possible Mark was with him there and Mark could’ve written as early as the 40’s. This could tentatively move Luke back as well. As fascinating as this approach is, it lacks extensive data, but we can be confident of a pre-64AD date.
Internal text signals
Non-theological geographical comments
There are some details within the text of Mark’s gospel suggesting it’s earliness. The first of which Is Mark captures details of a time and place, not something a latter scribe would even notice, nevermind bother with. When it comes to the feeding of the 5,000 Mark mentions that the grass is green, it is springtime in Israel and there is only green grass in Israel for a few months of the entire year. He also mentions timing details such as those who came to Jesus after “sunset”. And that it would take “half a years wages” to feed a crowd (Mark 6:37). These details do not appear theologically motivated yet are included and are details that could easily be lost or forgotten post 70AD
Mark has the highest percentage of Aramaisms (terms in Greek that are simply transliterated from their underlying Aramaic like “sons of thunder”; “Talitha cumi” “Abba” words as such seemingly put him closest to the early Jesus
Unfulfilled vs fulfilled prophecy
Mark’s Gospel is teeming with predictions, which are then later fulfilled. Like the other synoptics, when it mentioned an event, it often mentions it’s fulfillment. One clear example is with Judas. All 4 gospels mentioning Judas for the first time indicate that later he will became a traitor (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:9; Luke 6:16; John 6:71) and we see as such fulfilled. Likewise, it is clear Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6), yet they do not indicate this as already happening. This is inconsistent with their style. If they mention an event then they expect it’s fulfillment even if it be beyond the lifetime of their gospels. As well as seeing this in the synoptic gospels, we also see it in John 2:19-22 we see Jesus talks about God raising him up from the dead. And then it later happens. Johns style also in contrast to Mark and the other synoptics is reflective in language, Mark’s is not when talking of the temple’s destruction.
Not only does it not mention the destruction of Jerusalem, but it fails to mention the siege of Jerusalem of 67-70AD putting Mark prior to this. The Roman Titus surrounded the city with four large groups of soldiers and eventually broke through the city’s “Third Wall” with a battering ram. After lengthy battles and skirmishes, the Roman soldiers eventually set fire to the city’s walls, and the temple was destroyed as a result. No aspect of this three-year siege is described in any New Testament document, in spite of the fact that the gospel writers could certainly have pointed to the anguish that resulted from the siege as a powerful point of reference for the many passages of Scripture that extensively address the issue of suffering.
The language of the gospels and Acts indicates they were written in a pre-persecution time. In 64AD the first great Christian persecution began. Christians were fed to wild animals, tortured and crucified. Works like the Apocalypse of John and the forged Apocalypse of Peter were produced which put the Romans in a bad light. New Testament Scholars note that these represent the anguish Christians were feeling during and after Great persecutions. However in the Gospels and Acts, we don’t see the same attitude to Romans. Luke often paints romans in a good like such as: In Mark 15:39 the Roman centurion was one of the few at the cross who realises Jesus is the Son of God, this is potentially the first sign of Jesus leading a gentile to belief in him. The time Mark is written is when Jewish sects hold power and are a problem. No Jewish sect had any power after 70Ad and already began to loose some of their rights much earlier (They had to ask Pilate to kill Jesus as they were no longer permitted to carry out capital punishment. If Mark was written later, there would be a bit more destain towards the Romans as there is towards Jewish leaders.
Many readers of Mark’s gospel have observed that there are a number of unidentified people described in his account. These anonymous characters are often in key positions in the narrative, yet Mark chose to leave them unnamed. For example, Mark’s description of the activity in the garden of Gethsemane includes the report that “one of those who stood by [the arrest of Jesus] drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Mark 14: 47). Mark chose to leave both the attacker and the man attacked unnamed in his description, even though John identified both (Peter as the attacker and Malchus as the person being attacked, John 18:10) in his gospel account. Similarly, Mark failed to identify the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper (Mark 14: 3–9), even though John told us that it was Mary (the sister of Martha), who poured the perfume on Jesus’s head. While skeptics have offered a number of explanations for these variations (arguing, for example, that they may simply be late embellishments in an effort to craft the growing mythology of the Gospels), something much simpler might be at work. Mark was likely just interested in protecting the identity of Peter (as Malchus’s attacker) and Mary (whose anointing may have been interpreted as a proclamation of Jesus’s kingly position as the Messiah), it makes sense that he might leave them unnamed so that the Jewish leadership would not be able to easily target them. In fact, Mark never even described Jesus’s raising of Mary’s brother, Lazarus. This also makes sense if Mark was trying to protect Lazarus’s identity in the earliest years of the Christian movement, given that the resurrection of Lazarus was of critical concern to the Jewish leaders and prompted them to search for Jesus in their plot to kill him. If Mark wrote his gospel early, while Mary, Lazarus, Peter, and Malchus were still alive, it is reasonable that Mark might have wanted to leave them unnamed or simply omit the accounts that included them in the first place. Scholars generally acknowledge John’s gospel as the final addition to the New Testament collection of gospel accounts. It was most likely written at a time when Peter, Malchus, and Mary were already dead. John had the liberty to identify these important people; they were no longer in harm’s way. Gerd Theissen states
“Only in Jerusalem was there reason to draw a cloak of anonymity over followers of Jesus who had endangered themselves through their actions. A date could also be pinpointed: Parts of the passion account would have to have been composed within a generation of the eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, that is, somewhere between 30 and 60 CE.”The Gospels, p188-199
Richard Bauckham in his book Jesus and the eyewitnesses named several other times were named are left anonymous for their protection (Mark 14:51; Mark 11:1-7; Mark 14:12-16; Mark 14:3-9)
Mark had Peter as his main source
It is well attested that Peter died at the hands of Nero in 64AD (Tacitus combined with Tertullian; Origen; Peter of Alexandria & Jerome details mentioned earlier). With the early death of Peter, we can learn something as to the authorship dating as Mark is said to use Peter. Here are some of the signals to suggest Mark used Peter.
First, Mark mentioned Peter with prominence. Peter is featured frequently in Mark’s gospel. For example, Mark referred to Peter 26 times in his short account, compared to Matthew, who mentioned Peter only three additional times in his much longer gospel (almost double the length but not mentioned twice as much).
Second, Mark identified Peter with the most familiarity.Interestingly, Mark is the only writer who refused to use the term “Simon Peter” when describing Peter (he used either “Simon” or “Peter”). This may seem trivial, but it is key. Simon was the most popular male name in Palestine at the time of Mark’s writing, despite that, Mark made no attempt to distinguish the apostle Simon from the hundreds of other Simons known to his readers (John, by comparison, referred to Peter more formally as “Simon Peter” 17 times). Mark consistently used the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.
Third, Mark used Peter like a set of bookends to his works. Unlike in the other gospel accounts, Peter is the first disciple identified in the text (Mark 1:16) and the final one mentioned in the text (Mark 16:7). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” [GET SOURCE 26] and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness.
Forth, Mark shows the highest respect for Peter. Mark repeatedly painted Peter in the kindest possible way, even when Peter made a fool of himself. Matthew’s gospel, for example, describes Jesus walking on water and Peter’s failed attempt to do the same (Matt. 14: 22–33). Also in that account, Peter began to sink into the sea; Jesus described him as a doubter and a man “of little faith.” Interestingly, Mark respectfully omitted Peter’s involvement altogether (Mark 6: 45–52). In a similar way, Luke’s gospel includes a description of the “miraculous catch” of fish in which Peter was heard to doubt Jesus’s wisdom in trying to catch fish when Peter had been unsuccessful all day. After catching more fish than his nets could hold, Peter said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5: 1–11). Mark’s parallel account omits this episode completely (Mark 1: 16–20). While other gospels mention Peter directly as the source of some embarrassing statement or question, Mark’s gospel omits Peter’s name specifically and attributes the question or statement to “the disciples” or some other similarly unnamed member of the group. When Peter made a rash statement (like saying that Jesus’s death would never occur in Matthew 16: 21–23), the most different and least embarrassing version can be found in Mark’s account (Mark 8: 31–33). Over and over again, Mark offered a version of the story that is kinder to Peter likely with respect to him and perhaps Peter’s focus to him when narrating also.
Fifth, Mark includes details that can be best attributed to Peter. Only Mark included a number of seemingly unimportant details that point to Peter’s involvement in the shaping of the text. Mark alone told us that “Simon and his companions” were the ones who went looking for Jesus when He was praying in a solitary place (Mark 1: 35–37). Mark is also the only gospel to tell us that it was Peter who first drew Jesus’s attention to the withered fig tree (compare Matt. 21: 18–19 with Mark 11: 20–21). Mark alone seemed to be able to identify the specific disciples (including Peter) who asked Jesus about the timing of the destruction of the temple (compare Matt. 24: 1–3 with Mark 13: 1–4). While Matthew told us (in Matt. 4: 13–16) that Jesus returned to Galilee and “came and settled in Capernaum,” Mark said that Jesus entered Capernaum and that the people heard that He had “come home” (see Mark 2: 1). Mark said this in spite of the fact that Jesus wasn’t born or raised there. Why would Mark call it “home,” given that Jesus appears to have stayed there for a very short time and traveled throughout the region far more than He ever stayed in Capernaum? Mark alone told us that Capernaum was actually Peter’s hometown (Mark 1: 21, 29–31) and that Peter’s mother lived there. Peter could most reasonably refer to Capernaum as “home.”
Sixth, Mark used Peter’s rough outline. It has been noted by many scholars that Peter’s preaching style (Acts 1: 21–22 and Acts 10: 37–41, for example) consistently seems to omit details of Jesus’s private life. When Peter talked about Jesus, he limited his descriptions to Jesus’s public life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Mark also followed this rough outline, omitting the birth narrative and other details of Jesus’s private life that are found in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels. Mark used specific titles to describe Peter, gave him priority in the narrative, uniquely included information related to Peter, and copied Peter’s preaching outline when structuring his own gospel.
These circumstantial facts support the claims of the early church fathers who identified Peter as the source of Mark’s information.
Cold Case Christianity, J Warner Wallace, P92-93
Luke could’ve quite easily used Mark
Luke, when writing his own gospel, readily admitted that he was not an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus. Instead, Luke described himself as a historian, collecting the statements from the eyewitnesses who were present at the time: “
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught”.Luke 1: 1–4
As a result, Luke often repeated or quoted entire passages that were offered previously by either Mark (350 verses from Mark appear in Luke’s gospel) or Matthew (250 verses from Matthew appear in Luke’s account). These passages were inserted into Luke’s gospel as though they were simply copied over from the other accounts. It’s reasonable, therefore, to conclude that Mark’s account was likely recognised, accepted, and available to Luke prior to his authorship of the gospel (potentially MAtthew also.
Mark’s Gospel has the appearance of urgency
His Gospel is brief and focused on the essential elements. There will be time later to add additional details, sort out the order of events, and write lengthy reports. Although Mark’s gospel contains the important details of Jesus’s life and ministry, it is brief, less ordered than the other gospels, and filled with “action” verbs and adjectives. There is a sense of urgency about it. If this is Peter’s recorded preaching then how Mark’s gospel is composed is likely to have urgency. From beginning to end, Mark is giving the overview, the details and conclusions for what the Christian needs to essentially know.
Papias confirmed this in his statement about Mark’s efforts:
“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.Papias. 1st century – 2nd century
So our eight internal arguments for the early dating relate to
- Non theological geographical comments.
- Unfulfilled vs fulfilled prophecy
- Pre-persecution language..
- Pre-70AD community.
- Signs Mark used Peter as a priority source.
- Luke could’ve used Mark and if Luke is pre-70AD then Mark would have to be.
- Mark’s Gospel has a sense of urgency.
What was the acceptance rate of Mark’s Gospel as canonical? The Heretic Marcion objects to it because of the Jewishness of Jesus presented in such a gospel and Ignatius doesn’t mention it but his 1st century colleague Polycarp does use it.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
So does Mark fit the criteria of being written be an apostle of a colleague of an apostle? What we derive From Clement of Rome, Papius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian & the Muratorian fragment is that Mark, the associate of Paul (see book of Acts) is the author and was well acquainted with Peter the lead disciple also (see book of 1 Peter). Mark is not said explicitly to be an eyewitness, though we are told his family did live in Jerusalem (Acts 12). He has clearly documented eyewitnesses testimony however and he’s also the cousin of Barnabas. So he fits this criteria of being an apostolic associate that is well attested externally with multiple connections.
Another argument for Mark can be made in the fact that why not call the Gospel according to Mark the Gospel according to Peter? Peter is one of the three closest to Jesus, becomes the lead disciple, whereas Mark has a fallout with Paul (Acts 15:36-41) and is not an eyewitness. Peter has the better cv but it seems the church have been honest and stuck with Mark. This adds to authenticity as it wasn’t just about slapping a name on a book to make it popular.
Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview? Yes, Jesus is still the Messianic fulfillment spoken of in Isaiah, his teaching is inline with Christian thinking such as the earliest creeds, the church fathers, Paul’s letters and the other Gospels. It is consistent with what we know to be Christian teaching.
Was Mark widely agreed upon?. Well we have noted in Clement of Rome (95AD), Papias of Hierapolis (125AD), Justin Martyr (150AD), Irenaeus (180AD), Clement of Alexandria (180AD), Tertullian (200AD) and the Muratorian Fragment (170AD) all affirm this Gospel attributed to Mark and they agree these from northwest Africa to Rome to France to Alexandria to Turkey all in similar spans of time. As with all four gospels, there is wide agreement to their acceptance.
The teachings of Mark were considered relevant also. Mark’s Gospel is a biography of Jesus and the “early gentile version” of the Christian message as Matthew’s is very tailored for the Jew or the familiar gentile. Mark has all the essentials when it comes to the life of Jesus displaying his deity through what he taught and did, his death and his resurrection. So yes, it is relevant.
Through accreditation’s we know Mark is the author and the one who took the words of Peter which we would argue were divinely inspired and the story for us to take to the world. Mark has always been accepted without hesitation with being on par with other scriptures and seen in the earliest Christian Canons.