8 things to know and share about St. Mark and his gospel
April 25 is the feast of St. Mark, one of the companions of the apostles and the author of one of the gospels.
Who was he, and what do the Bible and the Church Fathers record about him?
Here are 8 things to know and share . . .
1. Who was St. Mark?
St. Mark is commonly identified as:
- The figure John Mark from the book of Acts
- The figure referred to in St. Paul's epistles simply as "Mark"
- The figure in St. Peter's epistles also referred to simply as "Mark"
- The author of the second gospel
- The first bishop of Alexandria, Egypt
2. What does the book of Acts tell us about Mark?
We first meet him in chapter 12, just after the martyrdom of James the son of Zebedee (the first of the apostles to be martyred).
At this time, Peter was captured and his martyrdom scheduled, but he was miraculously freed from prison. When this happened, Luke records:
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying [Acts 12:12].
Mark then began to play a prominent role in the life of the Church, becoming the travelling companion of the apostles Paul and Barnabas:
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John whose other name was Mark [Acts 12:25].
3. How did Mark cause an argument between Paul and Barnabas?
Mark did not complete his travels with these apostles, though, which eventually caused a significant falling out between Paul and Barnabas:
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord [Acts 13:36-40].
One reason Barnabas may have been more favorably disposed to Mark is that he was his cousin, as we learn from Paul's letters.
4. Did Mark and Paul ever reconcile?
They did. In Colossians, one of Paul's prison epistles, he writes:
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, receive him) [Col. 4:10].
This shows Mark at a later point as a functioning member of the circle of Paul's companions, indicating an eventual reconciliation.
The reconciliation was apparently long-lasting, because he mentions mark again in 2 Timothy, written shortly before his death in A.D. 67, where he says:
Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me [2 Tim. 4:11].
His is also briefly mentioned in Philemon, where Paul describes him as a fellow-worker:
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers [Phlm 23-24].
5. What does Peter say about him?
At the end of 1 Peter, the apostle mentions him briefly in the same passage where he indicates he is writing from Rome (i.e., "Babylon"):
She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen [i.e., the church of Rome], sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark [1 Pet. 5:13].
This indicates that Mark had become not only a valuable member of Paul's circle but also someone personally close to Peter--a theme picked up on in the Church Fathers.
Shortly before his resignation, Pope Benedict commented on this passage and how it signifies the convergence of Peter and Paul's circles in Rome:
Then I think it is important that in the conclusion of the Letter Silvanus and Mark are mentioned, two people who were also friends of St Paul.
So it is that through this conclusion the worlds of St Peter and St Paul converge: There is no exclusive Petrine theology as against a Pauline theology, but a theology of the Church, of the faith of the Church, in which there is — of course — a diversity of temperament, of thought, of style, between the manner of speaking of Paul and that of Peter.
It is right that these differences should also exist today. There are different charisms, different temperaments, yet they are not in conflict but are united in the common faith [Address, Feb. 8, 2013].
6. What do the Church Fathers say about Mark?
A good summary is provided by St. Jerome in is De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men):
Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell.
When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record.
Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon
She who is in Babylon elect together with you salutes you and so does Mark my son.
So, taking the gospel which he himself composed, he went to Egypt and first preaching Christ at Alexandria he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continence of living that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example.
Philo most learned of the Jews seeing the first church at Alexandria still Jewish in a degree, wrote a book on their manner of life as something creditable to his nation telling how, as Luke says, the believers had all things in common at Jerusalem, so he recorded that he saw was done at Alexandria, under the learned Mark.
He died in the eighth year of Nero and was buried at Alexandria, Annianus succeeding him [De Viris Illustribus 8].
7. What is the earliest testimony we have linking St. Mark to the second gospel?
We actually have a first century source on this!
According to a first century figure known as John the Presbyter:
Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not 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 heremembered 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.
Pope Benedict, as well as other scholars, think this John the Presbyter may have had a hand in writing some of the books of the New Testament. If so then we have not just first century testimony regarding the authorship of Mark's Gospel but testimony coming from one of the New Testament authors.
8. Is Mark mentioned in his own gospel?
Possibly. Although he did not apparently follow Jesus throughout his travels, as indicated by John the Presbyter, many have thought that Mark did have at least some contact with Jesus during the time of his Passion and that, as a result, he may be mentioned anonymously in his own gospel.
Specifically, some have proposed that he is the man who carries the water jug in this passage:
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?"
And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, `The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?' [Mk. 14:12-14]
It has also been proposed that he is the man that Mark curiously records as running away naked when Jesus is arrested:
And they all forsook him, and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked [Mk. 14:50-52].
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