Mark: Peter’s Account

When was Mark likely written? Who wrote Mark? Was the author an eyewitness to Jesus or are they using an eyewitness as a source? You can probably guess what the evidence shows from the title on that one! What themes and literary devices should I look for in Mark?

These are all things I wanted to know when starting an in-depth story. After all, it’s difficult to trust an account if we don’t believe we know who wrote it or who they were getting their information from. If it was written too late, then there would be no eyewitnesses around to talk to, so that’s an important detail to know. And as I read Mark, I’d like to know ahead of time what themes to look for so I can pay particular attention to them.

If you’ve read my other posts on the historical reliability of the Bible, you may recognize some of this information, but there is also a lot of new, Mark specific information as well.

Let’s dive in!

Mark and the Other Gospels

The Gospel according to Mark is considered by most scholars to be the first written of the four Gospels. It is the shortest of the four. Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus and concludes with the Resurrection, leaving out the birth and post-Resurrection events.

Mark is considered part of the synoptic Gospels, which also include Matthew and Luke. These are so-titled because they share a common literary relationship, with many quotes and direct similarities between these three that make it likely they used a common source. The best theory explaining this is that the Gospel of Mark was used as eyewitness source material for Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of John is on it’s own, and, although it does not contradict the other Gospels, John does not seem to use them as source materials, and can’t be used in connection with dating the other Gospels.

Dating of Mark

The Gospel of Mark can be dated to 59AD or earlier. This is based on it’s connection to Acts and the other Gospels. This is a brief summary of the dates for the Gospels. For more in-depth details on the dates for each of these, read Dating the Gospels.

Acts: 62AD

This starts with the dating of Acts and works backwards. Based on internal evidence, Acts was written in 62AD. We know this because Paul was imprisoned by the Prefect, Felix before 59AD. Felix was replaced by Festus in 59AD. This change in leadership is recorded in Acts 24:27, and is also shown by coins found minted in 59AD with Festus’ name. Acts ends stating that Festus sent Paul to Rome in 60AD, where he remained under house arrest (Acts 28:30-31). We know from Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy that Paul was later released and continued preaching before his eventual martyrdom around 66AD. It is logical to conclude that those events had not yet happened when Acts was completed, dating Acts to 62AD.

Luke: 61AD or Earlier

Because of the first verses of Acts, we know that the author Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke before he wrote Acts. This alone is enough to date Luke to before 61AD.  Another piece of evidence that underscores this dating is in 1 Timothy 5:18, where Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke and identifies the quote as a part of Scripture. 1 Timothy was written between 62 and 66 AD, and Luke would have to have been written before this.

Matthew: 60AD or Earlier

Although Luke has much material that is unique to his account, Luke also quotes frequently from both Matthew and Mark. Because of this, it is easy to assert that Matthew was written prior to Luke. We do not have a more specific date than this that can be shown confidently at the moment.

Because of what we know about the dating of Luke and that Luke used Matthew as a source, I would confidently assert that Matthew was written before 60AD.

Mark: 59AD or Earlier

This brings us to our main question. When was the Gospel of Mark written?

Based on the above evidence, and that there is strong evidence that Matthew also used Mark as source material, we can safely say that Mark was written in 59AD or earlier.

Possible Dating of Mark in the 40’s AD or Late 30’s

There is an interesting argument for an even earlier dating of Mark that I’ll mention, but it’s worth noting that I believe this claim needs more evidence to stand on it firmly. Consider it more as another possible window of time for Mark to have been written than an actual argument for this time frame as the firm dating.

We learn from the early church fathers Irenaus that the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome.

“Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome and founded the community. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, handed on his preaching to us in written form (Irenaus, Against Herasies, 3.1)

Eusibius states this again regarding Mark, saying he wrote it down while Peter preached in Rome.

“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. (Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14)

While Emperor Claudius was ruling, he had the Jews expelled from Rome. While obviously not fun at the time, this was incredibly influential in the spread of Christianity. We don’t have an exact dating for this expulsion, but the latest it could have started is in 49AD, and it would have ended when Claudius died in 54AD. (Source on bottom)

So was Mark written before the expulsion or after the Jews were allowed to return to Rome?

The earliest Peter would have been preaching in Rome is after the Gospel sent out to the Gentiles (non-Jews) as recorded in Acts 10. This occurred between 36-40AD. Since this is a range of possibility, we’ll choose the earlier option as our marker.

This would mean that Mark was either written while he and Peter were in Rome between 54-60AD or between 36-49AD.

Now, look at these two possible windows of time and let’s go back to the dating of Luke.

In 1 Corinthians, a letter written between 53-56AD, Paul seems to quote Luke when describing the symbolic act of Communion that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified.

1 Corinthians 11:24Luke 22:19
23  24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[a]you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[b]“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 

This story is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, but Luke is the only one who has the quotation of “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is not a contradiction with the other gospels, but merely that one has more detail than the others.  

This quotation in 1 Corinthians is not a super clear reference to Luke as scripture, and it’s possible that this part of the quotation could have been learned by other means. Perhaps they simply spoke to the same source. Because of this possibility, I do not hold to this idea tightly, but it is worth considering.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If Paul was quoting Luke when he recorded Jesus saying “Do this in remembrance of me”, then Luke was written before 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians was written between 53-56AD. Let’s assume the later of these two, but Luke would have had to have been written and circulated before this time, so a good dating for Luke, if the above information is true, is about 53 or 54AD.

If Luke was written in 54AD and used Mark as a source, Mark would have had to have been written before 54AD. But, Mark could not have been in Rome, the place he is said to have written his account, until after 54AD, unless he wrote his account before the expulsion of the Jews in 49AD.

This would also mean that Mark would have been written during the earlier of those two timeframes between 36-49AD. That would be a mere 6-19 years after the death of Jesus.

Again, this is not a strong argument with the amount of information we have today, but it is worth considering as a possibility. Other than the sources in the early church fathers, we do not have other attestation that Peter taught in Rome. If such evidence was found, it would significantly strengthen this scenario. Additionally, if there was a stronger attestation that Paul was quoting Luke in 1 Corinthians, this would strengthen this dating.

As it stands, we can confidently say that Mark was written before 59AD and possibly much earlier.

Authorship of Mark

Our next question is who wrote the Gospel of Mark?

This might seem like a silly question, but it is a common one that skeptics will bring up. Some say that these documents were simply floating around and then one day someone slapped the names of the apostles on them to make them seem more authoritative. But there are two major problems with this idea:

  1. Why choose Mark? If someone is going to make up an author, you’re likely to choose someone with a prominent name and a seemingly solid claim to authority. One of the 12 disciples would have been a much better choice if someone was simply assigning a name to an anonymous document.
  2. There is no competing evidence whatsoever that the Gospels were ever named anything different than what we know them as today. If someone wants to argue that the Gospels were authored by different people, they will need to provide some evidence to support this.

What other evidence do we have that Mark wrote the Gospel attributed to his name? First, there is the evidence within the rest of the Bible that, although he was not a personal witness of Christ, Mark (also called John Mark) was present with the disciples during the time of the early church. John Mark is mentioned 9 times in the New Testament. (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 13:5, 13:13, 15:37-39, Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11 and 1 Peter 5:13). It is clear that Mark had the opportunity to record eyewitness testimony about Jesus from the Apostles.

There are numerous mentions in the early church father’s attributing one of the four Gospels to Mark. Tertullian (200AD) names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as authors. (Against Marcion 4.2.1-2) Irenaeus (180) names Mark as the interpreter of Peter who gave them in writing what had been preached by Peter. (Against Heresies 3.1.1-2) Finally, Papias (125) tells of Mark, the interpreter of Peter, writing 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 (Papias) said, one of Peter’s.” Papias goes on to say that Mark was careful not to leave out or misstate anything.  (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.14-15)

So to answer this question with an answer that might seem easy and obvious… Mark wrote Mark.

Who is Mark’s Eyewitness?

You have likely inferred from the title that this eyewitness was Peter, the disciple of Jesus and one of the first leaders of the early church. Peter had been a poor fisherman and was likely unable to read and write. He therefore would have used a scribe or friend to transcribe what he said.

Many of the early church fathers make the claim that Mark recorded Peter’s teachings, such as Tertullion, Clement of Rome, Ireneaus, and Papias. Justin Martyr also mentions that one of the Gospels records the memoirs of Peter, but does not specify which one.

There is also an element of the Gospel of Mark that clearly pulls Peter into the center of the story. There are numerous times in the Gospel when Peter is specifically mentioned even when the disciples are spoken of as a group: “the disciples and Peter” or “Peter and his companions.”

Another internal clue is an ancient technique scholars call an “Inclusio”. Essentially, the author places their witness at the beginning and the end of the story without explicitly naming them as a source. We see this here in Mark 1:16 where Simon Peter is named two times and Mark 16:7 where Peter is singled out from the group of disciples.

Based on the external and internal evidence, the case for Peter as the eyewitness recorded in Mark is strong.

Things to Look For

When carefully reading through the Gospel of Mark, here are a few things to pay close attention to:
1.) Claims to Divinity

What are things Jesus says about himself or does that only God could claim to be or do? Skeptics will say that Jesus didn’t claim to be God in the earliest gospel, Mark, but as time when on, the authors of the following Gospels added more elements of divinity with John being the most packed with Jesus as God. While it’s true the Gospel of John very clearly lays out the divinity of Christ, this does not mean that Mark is devoid of claims to divinity.

Pay special attention to titles that Jesus uses about himself, his miracles, and specific actions that draw a reaction.

2.) The Son of Man

This is Jesus’ favorite title for himself, and he uses it 14 times about himself in the Gospel of Mark. The meaning of “The Son of Man” is not automatically understood in our culture. At first glance, it seems like this title is merely denoting the humanity of Jesus, and that is a part of it, but not the whole story.

Part of the meaning behind the title harkens back to Genesis 3:15, and the promise of the coming savior through the seed of Eve.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Jesus is THE Son of Man. He is the offspring of Eve that would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent bruised his heal on the cross. He is the representative of mankind that would defeat evil. (Romans 5:12-21)

But there is so much more to the title of the Son of Man. It comes from Daniel 7:13-14.

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

This vision in context speaks of a man, who will one day sit beside the Father and rule the world forever. He would have authority over everything, including the forgiveness of sins. By choosing this title for himself, Jesus is making a direct claim to have this kind of authority and status: both heavenly and human.

Pay close attention to when Jesus uses this title and how people respond to the title, particularly the Pharisees.

3.) Confusion of the Disciples

A big theme in the Gospel of Mark is the confusion of the disciples from the beginning to the end. Pay attention to what the disciples understand and what they miss. Would you understand and miss the same things?

4.) Peter in the Gospel of Mark

Because of the claim of Peter as the eyewitness Mark used, pay special attention to his roll in the Gospel. When is Peter mentioned while others are not? What details would you expect Peter to know about the events and the area? When Peter is not present, are there other witnesses named pointing to them as a source?

5.) Markan Sandwiches

This is a literary technique that is common in Mark. We know from Luke that Mark did not write in chronological order, and this helps us to see this technique as a literary device rather than the likely actual sequence of events in some situations.

A Markan Sandwich is when Mark takes one event interrupts it with another that doesn’t seem related. It is usually marked by two mirror images on either side of the event as well. A great example of this is the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jesus is on the way to heal her, when suddenly he’s interrupted by a woman who had been bleeding. He heals this woman and then continues to the home of Jairus to heal his daughter. The woman has been bleeding for 12 years, and the daughter is 12 years old. It seems that Mark is making a commentary on both events with the interruption of one with the other and the inclusion of the matching lengths of time.

Scholars have begun to study these Markan Sandwiches as an indicator of theological commentary from Mark. With the story of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman, we see two women who would be considered ceremonially unclean, one dead when Jesus touches her, the other bleeding when she touches Jesus. We also see two people on opposite sides of the economic isles: Jairus has a title and position and likely wealth as a result, the woman is unnamed and poor. The connection is both are desperate for a miraculous healing that only Jesus can give them.

What does Mark intend for us to see by placing the one story within the other?

For more information on Markan Sandwiches visit: https://jbburnett.com/resources/mark/Edwards_Markan-Sandwiches.pdf

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy this study of Mark. There is so much packed into this small Gospel and there is much to discover!

Next up: Week One!