Mark the Evangelist

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MARK THE EVANGELIST , traditionally the author of the second canonical gospel, who wrote in Rome during the emperor Nero's persecution of Christians (early to mid60s). Mark was not one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Whether the evangelist is mentioned in the New Testament depends on the accuracy of the commonly accepted identification of him with the John Mark of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts and Paul's letters.

John Mark first appears in Acts 12:12: Peter is said to go "to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose other name was Mark." (John would have been Mark's Semitic, Jewish name; Marcus is a common Latin, Roman name.) He is referred to in a similar way again in Acts 12:25 and 15:37, but in 15:39 he is called simply Mark. Elsewhere he is called only Mark (Col. 4:10, 2 Tm. 4:11, Phlm. 24, 1 Pt. 5:13). In Colossians, we read that Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, with whom he continued missionary labors after the break with Paul (Acts 15:3839). Significantly, he is there grouped with the Jewish members of Paul's company (Col. 4:11), which fits the identification with John Mark. Since 2 Timothy was almost certainly not written by Paul and the Pauline authorship of Colossians is questionable, Philemon 24 is the only unimpeachable Pauline reference to Mark as one of Paul's fellow workers. Yet all these references are significant because they show the traditional association of Mark with Paul. The same is true for 1 Peter 5:13, which suggests Mark's association also with Peter in Rome (i. e., "Babylon").

The earliest statements about Mark the evangelist by Christian writers, beginning with those of Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in the first half of the second century, do not identify him explicitly with John Mark, but almost unanimously associate him with Peter as Peter's interpreter (cf. Eusebius's Church History 3.39.15). Frequently it is said that Mark and Peter worked together in Rome, and this, of course, accords with ancient church tradition about Peter's final place of abode, as well as with 1 Peter 5:13. A somewhat later tradition recounts that Mark was the first to preach and to found churches in Egypt (Church History 2.16.1), and that he became the first bishop of Alexandria. A recently discovered letter of Clement of Alexandria, which, if genuine, dates from the end of the second century, relates how Mark came to Alexandria with the early canonical gospel and there augmented it for the sake of a special spiritual elite.

That the Gospel of Mark is actually the work of someone of that name is probable; that he was associated with Peter in Rome is possible, although that association would not entirely explain the character and content of the gospel; that he was actually John Mark cannot be said with certainty, nor can it be denied categorically. If Mark the evangelist was John Mark of Jerusalem it is at least striking that in his gospel Jesus' ministry is centered in Galilee (in contrast to the Gospel of John, which centers the ministry in Jerusalem) and that the disciples are encouraged to look to Galilee for the fulfillment of their hopes and plans whether by their own mission or by Jesus' return (Mk. 14:28, 16:7). Moreover, the gospel seems to assume a gentile-Christian rather than a Jewish-Christian readership (cf. Mk. 7:34).

Legend has it that Mark was martyred in Alexandria during Nero's reign and that his remains eventually were moved to Venice. The evangelist's symbol, the lion, became the emblem of that city, in which the cathedral is named for Mark. The symbolism, as old as the second century, is probably drawn from Revelation 4:7 and ultimately from Ezekiel 1:10. Mark's feast is celebrated on April 25.


Aside from the New Testament the most important primary source is Eusebius's Church History, which brings together earlier testimony of Christian writers on the origin and authorship of the Gospels. The most convenient edition is the two-volume "Loeb Classical Library" text and translation of Kirsopp Lake, J. E. L. Oulton, and Hugh J. Lawlor (Cambridge, Mass., 1926).

Vincent Taylor's The Gospel According to St. Mark (London, 1952), pp. 18, cites fully and discusses the patristic evidence on Mark, taking the position that the evangelist was, in fact, John Mark. Werner G. Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament, rev. ed. (Nashville, 1975), pp. 9598, states a more skeptical critical consensus. Old and new evidence of Mark's relation to Alexandria is given and discussed in Morton Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), pp. 1944, 446. Yet the certainty of this consensus is at least questioned by Raymond E. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament (New York, 1997), pp. 158161, and by Joel Marcus, Mark 18 (New York, 2000), pp. 1724. On the identity of Mark, and tradition about him, see C. Clifton Black, Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter (Columbia, S. C., 1994).

D. Moody Smith (1987 and 2005)