The Dating Game and St. Mark’s Gospel

Insisting that the date for Mark’s Gospel is later than A.D. 70 just because of a single detail is very tenuous.

Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece
Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece (photo: Register Files)

One of the most commonly held conclusions from modern New Testament scholarship is that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest gospel to have been written and that Luke and Matthew draw on Mark (and an earlier supposed document named ‘Q’) for their source material.  

Wikipedia asserts that most scholars believe Mark’s Gospel to have been written in the second half of the first century by an unknown Christian who took the name “Mark” to boost his authority.

People read this theory and take it as… gospel. But what very few people realize is that this comparatively late date for Mark’s gospel is suggested almost entirely by the foundational assumption that Jesus could not have prophesied the future. 

It works like this: in the Gospel Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was indeed destroyed in A.D. 70. The scholars read Jesus’ prediction of the Temple being destroyed and assume that the author had knowledge of the destruction of the Temple, which took place in A.D. 70. Therefore the document in question could not have been written before A.D. 70.

The problem with this is that it assumes that Jesus could not have predicted the future.

If Jesus was who he said he was, then he could have predicted the future along with many other miracles. However, you don’t even have to be the Son of God to accurately predict the future. Jesus could have simply read the signs of the times–seen the Jewish revolt already brewing, seen the impatience of the Romans with the Jews, seen the Jewish longing for their own king and simply seen it coming. In other words, it was more of a prediction than a prophecy.

Insisting that the date for Mark’s Gospel is later than A.D. 70 just because of this one detail is very tenuous. Not only that, but they insist on this detail being the turning point of their later date argument despite much more evidence that is clearer and unambiguous for an earlier date. 

We should look at the evidence not only from Mark’s Gospel, but from all the evidence we have. First, consider a few basic facts: 

The most obvious thing to consider when dating Mark’s gospel is its relationship to the other gospels. It is a foundation stone of modern New Testament scholarship that Luke and Matthew used Mark’s gospel as a source. Some people dispute this, but let’s take it as a given for the sake of argument. 

We assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. But the crunch comes with the gospel of Luke. Scholars agree that Luke and Acts are by the same author–indeed that they are two volumes of a single work. The Book of Acts ends with St. Paul and St. Peter still living.

We know that Sts. Peter and Paul died in the Neronian persecutions around A.D. 67. Because they are still living at the end of the Acts of the Apostles it must have been written before A.D. 67. If Acts was written before A.D. 67, then the gospel of Luke is even earlier because it was written before Acts. 

But if Luke used Mark as a source, then Mark must also have been written well before Paul’s death in 67.

Finally, the question I have never heard addressed is this: If Mark really was written in the second half of the first century by an anonymous Christian who took the pen name of “Mark” in order to boost his writings’ authority, then why would he take the name “Mark” and not that of Peter? 

Many people think this is what exactly what happened with the Second Epistle of Peter, and it is most certainly what happened with the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. If the anonymous writer wanted to boost his credentials why would he choose a second string character like Mark and not choose the top guy?