Mark, Interpreter for Peter
Mark’s Gospel seems like the fairy tale style stepchild of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus of Nazareth. Shortest of the four and probably the least quoted by Christians and skeptics alike, that does not mean the Gospel is less than credible or authentic.
Assessing the merit and authenticity of Mark can be approached in two ways – historical and uniqueness. How far back in history can the source of Mark’s Gospel be traced? What information is exclusive to Mark and does not appear in any other Gospel?
Experts date the writing of Mark to around 60 AD possibly making it the oldest Gospel written, although there is debate that Matthew preceded it. Key evidence to the dating timeframe – the Gospel does not mention the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 AD. Add to this, Mark 13:2 refers to the destruction of the Temple in future tense suggesting it had not yet happened.
Origins of the Gospel’s author can be traced outside the Bible back to some of the original Disciples. Papias, an astute man born in 70 AD, in his writings made a direct reference to books “already written” which would have been just a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Setting aside such books as his primary source of information, rather, Papias made it his personal mission to seek out the actual elders of the early church to ascertain the truth from them directly:
“If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,-what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say.”
Identified by name as sources, Aristion and the presbyter John, both personally knew seven of the Disciples. At the conclusion of his investigation, Papias provided a matter-of-fact report, saying in part:
“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”
Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp who himself was personally mentored by the Disciple John. Like Papias, Irenaeus identified Mark as the author of the Gospel, the traveling interpreter for the Disciple Peter:
“…Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
“…Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative…” – Papias
Not just casual acquaintances, Luke and Mark were part of Paul’s ministry, yet neither were eyewitnesses to the life and times of Jesus. Instead, Mark’s Gospel reflects the knowledge gained during his years spent traveling with Peter and Paul, his interactions with the other Disciples and listening to eyewitness accounts.
Several times in the New Testament Mark is mentioned. Peter referred to Mark as “my son.” The Book of Acts, written by the author of Luke, mentions his name three times identifying him as “John called Mark.”
Some differences between Mark and the other Gospels are readily apparent. Mark begins by immediately declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, then ties an Isaiah prophecy to his introduction of John the Baptist. Matthew has 28 chapters and Luke 24 whereas Mark has only 16 chapters. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark did not provide any genealogical details of Jesus.
Miracles by Jesus solely reported in Mark are two, the healing of the deaf mute and healing the blind man at Bethsaida. Exclusive to Mark is one parable, the seed growing in secret, and perhaps another (or was it an analogy?), the slaves in charge of a house.
Mark is the only Gospel reporting activity the night before the Resurrection event. He named three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who purchased and prepared aromatic spices and anointing oils to be used the following morning at the tomb of Jesus.
Both Mark and Luke pick up the Resurrection story at the tomb after the stone had been rolled away. Mark reveals a very specific detail not described in the other Gospels: “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right.” Further, he reports the witnessing women trembled, were amazed and afraid – details not reported in the other three Gospels.
Digging deeper reveals more differences. Nearly 8% of Mark, 51 verses in all, are unique content. Writing analysis strongly suggests Mark had the special ability to interpret both Aramaic and the Roman Greek.
In the world of investigators, identical or nearly identical statements can be a clear indication of collusive deception as are alleged by some Gospel critics. Whether Mark referenced Matthew or vice versa, in their era it was common and acceptable writing protocol to copy information from other sources without any formal references.
Literary analysis, performed by anyone reading and comparing the two Gospels, can determine if the differences in Mark are enough to say it is not identical to the other Gospels. Does Mark’s Gospel about Jesus of Nazareth bear the marks of credibility and authenticity?
Updated March 2, 2022.
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