John Mark

As we give ourselves to the study of this Gospel, let us prepare our hearts to hear the words as though they were spoken just yesterday. Just as this Gospel begins with the preparations of John the Baptist; so let us ask God to prepare our hearts in a similar way. Part of this preparation should consist of reading through this Gospel repeatedly and prayerfully. In doing this, keep in mind that the text for this series is the Authorized Version.

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

Let’s begin with the place of John Mark in Scripture. All the manuscripts we have of this book contain the name of Mark in the title. So what do we know of this man from the pages of Scripture? He was a relative of Barnabas — “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas” (Col. 4:10). We also know that he was son of a certain Mary. “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:12). Although he was probably from the Hellenistic Dispersion, the family at least had a residence in Jerusalem. This also indicates some measure of wealth. He worked with Paul for a time. “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:25). When they left Antioch, “they had also John to their minister” (Acts 13:5). This was on the first recorded missionary journey of Paul.

John Mark was the occasion for a falling out between Paul and Barnabas. “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (Acts 15:37-38). The next verse records a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over this. The good news is that Mark was reconciled with Paul later: “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). And, “touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him” (Col. 4:10). We are not told who was right in the initial dispute; we are told that it was resolved. Years later, we know that Mark was Peter at Rome. “The church that is at Babylon [probably Rome], elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son” (1 Pet. 5:13). As we can see, the relationship between Peter and Mark was close. It is likely that Mark’s gospel is his rendition of Peter’s account.

There are other places where John Mark’s presence is hinted at. A few passages in Scripture may be applied to our writer, although we cannot be dogmatic about it. It is possible that he was the famous rich, young ruler. This Gospel is the only one to record the fact that when Jesus confronted the wealthy young ruler, he “loved him” (Mk. 10:21). If this is Mark, then we may conclude that the rich, young ruler was converted later. He may also have been the one who fled the night Jesus was arrested. In Mark 14:51-52, we find the odd inclusion of an odd detail — a young man who fled naked at the arrest of Christ. This also may be John Mark. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with anything. And last, it appears that John Mark was initially in sympathy with the Judaizers. John Mark left the entourage of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey immediately after the gospel was preached to Sergius Paulus, a Gentile (Acts 13:13). This may account for the depth of Paul’s opposition to him (Acts 15:39).

We have a few details about from church history as well. The historical accounts concerning John Mark are remarkably consistent, and early. First, his nickname — the prologue of an early Latin version of the Gospel records that Mark’s nickname was “stumpy-fingers.” We can only speculate . . . As indicated earlier, his main source was the apostle Peter. This Gospel is written as a collection of Peter’s accounts of the works and teaching of Christ. We learn this from Papias (c. 60-130), bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, from Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), and Irenaeus (c. 115-202), who was from Gaul. The church uniformly received this Gospel as apostolic precisely because of its connection to Peter. The early sources are also uniform in telling us that Mark was the founder of the church at Alexandria, and that he was the first bishop there. He died in 62 AD, and was succeeded there by Annianus.

Mark begins his account with an unambiguous statement of the identity of the one is who preached in the gospel. In this setting, the title “Son of God” meant Deity to Jewish ears (John 5:18). We cannot know what Jesus did unless we affirm who He is. The words the beginning are reminiscent of Genesis, and we are hearing the account of a new creation.

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