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Evidence for the Roman Provenance of Mark

Evidence for the Roman Provenance of Mark

Evidence for the Roman Provenance of Mark

Introduction

For hundreds of years, the Bible has held up to the burning scrutiny of people who admire and people who despise its existence. There have been countless attempts to disprove the Bible’s significance and reliability, yet none are successful. In fact, if those who are attempting to undermine the Bible’s truth are consistent in their examinations, their criticizing flames of their world view are soon smoldered to a heap of ash.

The emphasis of this paper is to present the evidence for the Roman Provenance of the Gospel of Mark. In dealing with the origin of Mark’s Gospel, this paper will discuss the (1) Authorship, (2) Dates Compiled, (3) Setting and Spectators, (4) Theological Themes, and (5) Structure.

Authorship

The author of the Gospel of Mark does not identify himself, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that John Mark is the author.[1] Like the other Gospels, the title “According to Mark” – which is KATA MARKON in Greek – is found in the earliest manuscripts. While there are only ten verses in the New Testament that directly discuss John Mark, it is quite astonishing that there is enough information to make an adequate bibliographical sketch of him. In the Book of Acts, John Mark is said to be the son of Mary, who provided a meeting place for early Christians to pray. Mark’s family must have been of considerable affluence if the house was large enough for many people in which to gather.[2] Colossians 4:10 (ESV) states that John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. Some historians even speculate that the young man at the Garden of Gethsemane during the betrayal of Jesus was John Mark – wearing nothing but an expensive linen tunic, and fleeing naked upon the capture of Jesus.[3] In addition, others theorize that the Last Supper may have taken place in John Mark’s parent’s home.

Paul also references John Mark. In fact, John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary mission, but departed early for Jerusalem.[4] Before the second missionary journey, Barnabas and Paul got into a disagreement about whether they should take John Mark with them. Barnabas suggested that they should and Paul did not agree because Mark had left them on the previous mission. Ultimately, Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark.[5] The separation in groups did not cause a separation between brothers in Christ. It simply shows that Paul viewed John Mark as a “fellow worker” in the kingdom. Paul also urged Timothy to “Get Mark and bring him” along because Paul said that he was very useful to him in the ministry.[6] Simon Peter also discussed how dedicated John Mark was to the work of the Gospel. In the book of 1 Peter, Simon Peter calls John Mark “his son” and says that he, John Mark, and those in Babylon send their greetings.[7] These Biblical references do not confirm the authorship of Mark’s Gospel; however, some extra-Biblical sources do.

To properly understand the authorship of Mark, writings of the early church fathers must be examined. A famous quote from the Bishop of Hierapolis, named Papias, who was most likely the earliest source of the Marcan Authorship, was recorded by Eusebius. He stated:

And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.

The “Elder” mentioned in the quote is commonly noted to be a reference to the Apostle John. Also, by saying that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, Papias does not mean that he translated Peter’s speech into a different language, but only that he wrote down what Peter told him regarding Peter’s eye witness testimony of Jesus.[8]

Eusebius is also accredited with the recording of some external evidence that has been attributed to John Mark. This evidence is found in the works of Clement of Alexandria. Stating:

And so great light of piety shone upon the minds of the hearers of Peter that they were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally; and they did not cease until they had prevailed upon the man and so became responsible for the Scripture for reading in the churches.

Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies, reported that Mark was a scribe for Peter and recorded his Gospel. Stating: “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.”

When the early Church father Tertullian refuted the theologies of Marcion in his book titled Against Marcion, he affirmed Peter’s influence on the Gospel of Mark. Stating: “[w]hile that [gospel] which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.”

Many ancient Latin Bibles include a source called the Anti-Marcionite Prologues. Not only do these texts introduce the idea that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark after Peter’s death, but the texts also include some physical attributes of John Mark. Stating: “[m]ark declared, who is called ‘stump-fingered,’ because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”[9]

Many historical sources claim that John Mark’s gospel was written in Rome. These sources claim that the writing took place while the Apostle Peter and John Mark traveled through the region. As Peter preached, John Mark transmitted the preaching of Peter’s accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, to preserve them for the church in Rome. John Mark and Peter wanted to ensure that these teachings would be available to the people once they departed.

Though extra-biblical information is sometimes helpful in interpreting the context of scripture, it is important to remember that extra-biblical information is not Scripture. Therefore, it can be refuted. It is unreasonable to state that the Gospel of Mark is undoubtedly written by Mark himself because Scripture alone does not reveal that. However, there is strong evidence that first and second century historians and Church fathers held to a Roman origin and a Marcan Authorship.

Date Complied

The word synoptic basically means “to see together with a common view.” The similarities among the Synoptic Gospels have led some to wonder if the Gospel authors had a common source from which they obtained the material for their Gospels. The question of how to explain the similarities and differences among the Synoptic Gospels is called the Synoptic Problem. The Gospel of Mark is commonly dated to around AD 64, which was during Nero’s persecution of the Christians.[10] The Synoptic Problem arises and can be solved if the Gospel of Mark was written first, followed by Matthew and then Luke. This order would ensure that all the Gospels were written before the Book of Acts. In the year AD 64, the persecution of the church was taking place, however, there are no references to the persecution in the Book of Acts. Therefore, Acts must have been written prior to AD 64.

New Testament Scholar William Hendirksen suggests that “[m]anuscripts found contain the uncials or the large separate letters and cursives inform us that the Gospel according to Mark was written in the tenth or twelfth year after Christ’s ascension.” There is also archeological evidence found in cave #7 near Qumran that belonged to Mark’s Gospel and the date AD 50 has been ascribed. [11]

Though not certain, all evidence points to the Gospel of Mark being written anywhere from AD 40-65.[12]

Setting and Spectators

Generally, the books within the Cannon of Scripture, including the Gospel of Mark, were written in a specific location and for a specific people. The evidence compiled regarding the Provenance of Mark points directly to a Roman setting and to Roman spectators. The Bible itself makes an obscure reference that indicates that Mark was with Peter in Rome. As stated above Peter himself refers to John Mark in 1 Peter 5:13 using the apocalyptic tile of Rome “Babylon.” There are many internal evidences in the writing of Mark that indicates a genital audience.  The explanation of Jewish customs[13], the translation of Aramaic words into Greek[14], and the use of the Latin language. While these aspects of the Gospel do not require a Roman audience they suggest at minimum a genital audience.

The historical analyses of the writer shows that the early church fathers agreed with the location and audience being of Rome. That is, all but one account which may have been misunderstood by the writer. Chrysostom located the writing of Mark to Egypt. This misunderstanding most likely occurred in his reading of Eusebius when he made the statement “[t]hey say that Mark set out for Egypt and was first to preach there the gospel which he composed.”[15]

While writing the Gospel, Mark considered the setting and social dynamics in the region of Galilee and Judea. Both regions disliked the followers of the Way, whether it be the Jews from whom the persecution was once led by Mark’s now Brother in the Faith, Saul, or it is the Romans who wanted no part in the worship of any god but Caesar. The persecution spread from both regions and as Mark is compiling the teachings directly from Jesus.

These reasons for the writing of Mark’s Gospel are insufficient to the many benefits Peter, Mark and more importantly the Spirit of God intended. It is evident through the Biblical teaching and proper exposition of the passages that the Gospel, with confidence, can be understood as being intended for the Roman citizens and written in or very close to the city Rome.

Theological Themes

If in fact the Gospel of Mark is the first Gospel written, then it is the first place that the Greek word εὐαγγελίου or “Gospel” is introduced. This word is then used by the other writers of the Gospels as a sort of technical term that categorizes the theme of their writings.[16]

The Roman audience of Mark were familiar with the emphasis as men being gods, but there are only the Christians who understood that Jesus was truly God and truly man not one or the other – both. Mark masterfully presents Jesus’ humanity and His divinity. As early as the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, the Pharisees are outraged when they observe Jesus healing the paralytic and forgiving his sin. The Pharisees say, “Who can forgive sin but God alone?”[17] Jesus then reads their minds and demonstrates not only his authority over the flesh, but also his authority of the Spirit by forgiving sins.

Some scholars claim that Mark is “trying to juxtapose Christ’s “successes and his failures.”[18] However, the completion of the Gospel of Mark provides the readers with a balanced view of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. In the climax of the book Jesus asked the penetrating question: “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question to which all must have an answer. With this question, Mark presents to his readers a consistent view of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Mark makes a known the lack of understanding within the Apostles of Jesus. As Jesus is disciplining the Twelve, Jesus is often confronted with their own disbelief. The Parables that Jesus used are not easy for the Twelve to understand. The Apostles are presented as spiritually blind. Peter is quickly rebuked after making a hearty profession of who Jesus is, yet Peter ultimately denies Jesus. Judas, one of the twelve, betrays him for a sack of silver and all the other Apostles scatter.[19] This theme of the disbelief of the Apostles can be presented to the Roman audience to understand that they, too, struggled with understanding who Jesus truly is. However, once they did understand they became bold witnesses of the Gospel.

Most scholars suggest the audience to which the Gospel was transcribed benefited from the writings in three ways: as Catechetical, as Pastoral, and Theological. The Catechetical means would be to preserve the teaching and in written form. Although the culture did allow and have many forms of oral tradition, the influence from the Jews and the written Torah most likely played a part in the writing of the Gospel. The Pastoral aspect is shown in the comfort of the resurrection and the life of Christians is manifested in the taking up of one’s cross in the face of persecution. The theological aspect of the Gospel of Mark is to guard the church from the false teaching that quickly arose concerning the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.[20]

Dealing with a brief theology of the Gospel of Mark it must conclude with a quote from the book itself: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45) Jesus is, in fact, presented by Mark as the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, Mighty God, and the Suffering Servant who gave His life as a ransom for many.

Structure

The structure of the Gospel of Mark is concrete truth. The structure may be classified in different ways, however, regardless of the structure, readers must never impose too much structure when attempting to outline a book. This can result in a misunderstanding of the author’s intention.[21] The linguistic style that Mark uses is a way in dealing with the structure. He has a limited vocabulary of only 1,270 different words, and 80 of those words are unique to only Mark. The words that Mark used are said to be common of the lower-class citizens of Rome – most likely the immigrants who originated from the regions surrounding Jerusalem.

Another structure technique that Mark uses is “sandwiching.” For example, Mark places the clearing of the temple in the middle of the story of cursing the fig tree.[22] In understanding the general structure of Mark’s Gospel, it is important to see that it falls into two main sections: the first eight chapters deal with the ministry of Jesus using the workings of miracles and proof of His Divine Nature, and the second eight chapters focus on the Passion narrative and the events leading up to the Cross.[23]

Mark also uses a technique of structuring his thoughts and intentions around sets of three. Some examples are: the use of boats, each time dealing with the Apostles lack of faith and inability to comprehend the truth of Jesus, the three times Jesus predicted his death, and the three teachings Jesus used to explain to his disciples about servant leadership. During the Olivet discourse, there are three times where Jesus requested for his disciples to stay watchful. Jesus found three of the Apostles – Peter, James and John – sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, and wakes them three times. Peter disowns Jesus three times. Additionally, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is broken up into three hour intervals. This structure of threes shows the conciseness and intention of the writing of Mark.

One of the most intriguing structural characteristics that supports the authorship of Mark is the sermonic structure. This structure is the same used in the preaching of Peter in Acts 10: 36-43:

As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Conclusion

Evidence for the Roman Provenance of Mark can be attested to by Biblical exegeses. With the attestation of the various early church fathers’, today’s readers can rest assured that the authorship is and audience is secure. Regardless of your view, it is a secondary issue when it come to the life of a Christians. That, however, does not stop the fuel of speculations and deceitfulness blazing within the human heart.

Works Cited

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and The Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.

Black, David Alan., and David Alan. Black. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 views. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008.

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007.

Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. Nottingham: Apollos, 2009.

Crossley, James G. The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insights from the Law in Earliest Christianity. London: T. & T. Clark, 2004.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. Mark, Let’s Study. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon Kistemaker. The Gospel of Mark, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2007.

Hurtado, Larry W. Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981.

Ladd, George Eldon. The Presence of the Future; The Eschatology of Biblical Realism. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1993.

Longman, Tremper, David E. Garland, D. A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel, and Mark L. Strauss. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Matthew & Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Robinson, James MacConkey. The Problem of History in Mark and other Marcan Studies. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982.

Stoldt, Hans-Herbert, and Donald L. Niewyk. History and Criticism of The Marcan Hypothesis. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1980.

Trocmé, Etienne. The Formation of the Gospel According to Mark. London: S.P.C.K, 1975.

Vickers, Paul V. Person to Person: The Gospel of Mark. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

Weeden, Theodore J. Mark–Traditions in Conflict. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.

Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.

[1] Ferguson, Sinclair B. Mark, Let’s Study. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), P xiv.

[2] Ibid., at P xv.

[3] See Mark 14:51

[4] See Acts 12:25; 13:5.

[5] See Acts 15:36-41

[6] See Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11

[7] That use of the phrase Babylon is most likely referencing Rome. (See Ferguson, Mark Let’s Study).

[8] Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and The Eeyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), P 203.

[9] Ferguson, Sinclair B. Mark, Let’s Study. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), P xiv.

[10] Vickers, Paul V. Person to Person: The Gospel of Mark. (West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998), P xvi.

[11] Hendriksen, William, and Simon Kistemaker. The Gospel of Mark, New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2007), P 15.

[12] Crossley, James G. The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insights from the Law in Earliest Christianity. (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), P 209.

[13] See Mark 7:2-4, 15:42.

[14] See Mark 3:27; 5:41; 7:11,34: 15:22

[15] Longman, Tremper, David E. Garland, D. A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel, and Mark L. Strauss. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Matthew & Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), P 683.

[16] Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), P 65.

[17] See Mark 2:7-8

[18] Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and The Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. Nottingham: Apollos, 2009), P 133

[19] Ibid., P 133

[20] Longman, Tremper, David E. Garland, D. A. Carson, Walter W. Wessel, and Mark L. Strauss. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Matthew & Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), P 688.

[21] Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and The Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. Nottingham: Apollos, 2009.

[22] Ibid, P 688.

[23] Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and The Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009), P 131.

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