Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Why is the Gospel of Mark called after 'Mark' - a more than personal question for somebody who is called Mark(us)

This is a first interesting fruit of my follow-up book to 'Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity' that I am writing at this moment and which is testing the hypothesis that Marcion had started off Gospel writing alltogether and that Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and other Gospels are based and dependent on Marcion's Gospel.

Now, what about the name of the author of Mark's Gospel?

Mark’s text gives as author or title – normally the opening of a text in antiquity – not ‘Mark’ – his name is never mentioned in this Gospel and the text never refers to the writer – unlike, for example, the author of Luke who does not mention his name, but explicitly introduces himself in the first person: ‘It seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account’ (Luke 1:3). Mark’s anonymous nature could of course be theologically motivated and point to ‘the authority of the Word’ (J. Gnilka, Das Evangelium nach Markus (1978), 32), although this has no basis in the text.

For the first time in Christian writings, Mark’s name appears once in Paul, in his Letter to Philemon (24), where Mark is mentioned in the beginning of a series of four collaborators of Paul that, interestingly, begins with Mark and ends with  - Luke: ‘Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my collaborators’ (Philem. 24). Is it a pure accident, that we find two Gospel author's name at the opening and finish of this list? Interestingly, in most commentaries on Mark we do not read anything about Luke being present in the same instance where Mark is named for the first time, and conversely in commentaries on Luke we do not read anything about Mark being present together with Luke. Maybe this is due to another oddity that despite so many commentary series on New Testament writings, we are still lacking a scholarly synoptic commentary that looks at the Synoptic Gospels together rather than at each of the Gospels individually. 
We can hardly find out more about the background to Paul's note in his letter to Philemon, but it seems to form the basis for another note in one of the Pastoral Letters, written not by Paul, but if Hans von Campenhausen is right, dates from the middle of the second century AD - 2Tim. 4:10-11: Having mentioned that Paul had been deserted by a certain Demas ‘who loved the present age’, the pseudonymous author relates: ‘Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry’. 2Tim. is making the connection between Mark and Luke, and sees Mark as the one who pursued Paul’s course, and even brings Luke to Paul.
The name ‘Mark’ is also known from 1Peter 5:13 (which links Mark and Babylon = probably a symbolic expression for Rome), a verse that is quoted and linked by Clement of Alexandria and Origen to our Gospel author (see Clem. Alex, Adumbr. Ad 1Petr. 5:13; Orig., Comm. in Matth. I in: Euseb. Caes., Hist. eccl.  VI 25,5; Papias himself introduces 1Peter, but it is not clear whether he thinks of linking Mark and 1Petr. 5:13 ).
Mark re-appears in the Pseudo-Pauline Letter to the Colossians who’s author obviously picks up the information of Philem. 24, and adds a family relation to Paul’s other co-worker, Barnabas: ‘Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas’ (Col. 4:10). And it is this relation to Barnabas that puts Mark into a crucial position that is mentioned in Acts. He is first introduced as John Mark, the son of Mary, who is visited by Peter, immediately after Peter had a visionary encounter with the Lord (which reads like a counter-vision to the one Paul had) and an angel in prison. He was led out of the cell and rescued from the hands of Herod.
When Peter realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:12)
Mark is, then, soon after, mentioned again as assistant of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) in Salamis, but we are told a little later that John (Mark) did not stay with the other two, after they had come to Perge in Pamphylia, but that he left them for Jerusalem:
When they arrived in Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. (Now they also had John as their assistant.) (Acts 13:5)
Then Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia, but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13)
What sounds like a minor incident, only indicates at what must have happened in this story and to what Acts comes back without giving a fuller account: It was at the end of the dispute between Paul and Barnabas with Peter, James and John in Jerusalem on the crucial issue of circumcision and whether or not circumcision of male members needs to be practiced amongst Jesus’ followers, or more broadly to what extent and how these should adhere to the Jewish law, that Mark is introduced by Acts. Mark is seen as the key or decisive factor for Paul breaking up his co-operation with his companion Barnabas. Indicated by Mark’s visit to Jerusalem and him leaving the preaching tour with Barnabas and Paul, and the subsequent dispute in Jerusalem, and subsequently Barnabas insisting on Mark joining them again for the continuation of the preaching mission, Acts insinuates that Mark has taken sides with Paul’s opponents in Jerusalem or in Antioch (in Gal. 2:4 Paul is speaking of spies) or that he was one of the Jews who together with Barnabas sided with Peter when he gave up eating with non-circumcised members because of opposition from James in Jerusalem. Whatever the precise background was and irrespective of the historicity of the information that is given, Acts’ report about Paul’s ‘sharp disagreement’ with Barnabas and his resistance against taking Mark on their new journey, and them parting company highlights the profile that Mark has in Acts:
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers in every town where we proclaimed the word of the Lord to see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to bring John called Mark along with them too, but Paul insisted that they should not take along this one who had left them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company. Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters. He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)
Although we do neither know more details about the background to this story, nor even whether there is any historical truth behind this information, Acts concurs with Papias of Hierapolis in relating Mark to Peter. Moreover, whether historically correct, or building on the information of Papias (or the other way around), or using third party’s traditions, the close relation between Mark and Peter leads in Acts to trademarking Mark as a stumbling block for Paul. By making Mark a translator of Peter (and not of Paul) and the author of a Gospel was pointing out this Gospel’s Petrine origin, and did not connect it with Paul’s. If we combine the two traditions, we have a double indication that Mark could have been positioned as the more mature, broadened non-Pauline Gospel, over and against The Apostle’s Gospel of Marcion. Hence, 'Mark' was a programme rather than just a name that indicated what people could expect from this Gospel - yes, there was a relation between Mark and Paul, as there was a dependency of Mark on Paul's pupil Marcion, but Mark's Gospel is not just a reproduction of Paul (or Marcion), but instead a Petrine version of it.

[1] The latter is suggested by R. Pesch, Das Markusevangelium (1976) I 8.


  1. "yes, there was a relation between Mark and Paul, as there was a dependency of Mark on Paul's pupil Marcion, but Mark's Gospel is not just a reproduction of Paul (or Marcion), but instead a Petrine version of it."

    Of course the question is whether the Petrine gospel represents an orthodox redaction of the gospel of Marcion which is identified as a 'Gospel of Mark' (Philosophumena 7.18)

  2. I also want to give you something to flatter your ego. You may not be aware of this but the Samaritans connect your name Marcus with Moses and thus the name of the one who will come (= Shilo etc.). The Samaritans to this day note the numerology associated with the name Marqe = 345. Why the strange ending to the name (the letter he)? A suggestion by Moshe Florentin. The reason that names from Greek and Latin have the suffix [e] in Samaritan Aramaic as in Marqe Tûte (= Titus) and others is that the they were taken over in the form of the vocative case. I think would explain some of the Jewish Aramaic forms. I can think of an analogy. The name Hamish has been borrowed into English in the vocative form. Hamish (proper Gaelic spelling Shéamais) is the vocative case of Seamus (proper Gaelic spelling Séamas) meaning James = Jacob. You might well wonder about the forms.

  3. Dear Stephan,
    thanks so much for your comments - on which I have not responded, yet, because I need to study more on this topic of Samaritanism. As you will see from my forthcoming book, there are paragraphs on Samaritan Christianity, as it dawned to me that a) too little has been worked on this topic, and b) that Samaritan theology was more important than usually assumed by most people. Already Michael Goulder has repeatedly hinted at this desideratum, and I can only agree. One of my PhD students is now working on early Christianity and Samaritanians. Beyond what I have done in the book, I certainly will come back in more detail on what you mention above and the many observations which I have also made (Christians, for example, follow the Samaritan, not the Phariseic calendar; Justin Martyr called himself a Samaritan by birth;there exists a Samaritan form of a Gospel etc.).

  4. Are our pastors telling us the truth about who really wrote the Gospels? Are Christian pastors honest with their congregations regarding the evidence for the Resurrection?

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    You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the
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    ---A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the

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    and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)