Friday, September 18, 2009

Who wrote Mark Part III?

In the first two blogs on the Gospel of Mark we have examined the historical records of the Papias (110) and Irenaeus (180). Both men are from Asia Minor and preserve information regarding the author and dating of the book. They are two of the earliest pieces of information that we have.

Combining the two accounts we learned the following regarding the Gospel of Mark:
  1. Mark was the author.
  2. Mark was a disciple of Peter recording what he preached.
  3. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus (while Jesus was alive).
  4. Mark was enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Mark wrote after Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.
  6. The Gospel of Matthew was written before the Gospel of Mark.
Another source of information regarding the Gospel of Mark is found in the Anti-Marcionite Prologues. These prologues were included with the Gospels in many Latin manuscripts and would have served a purpose similar to the summaries that precede a Biblical book in Bibles today. They provided the reader with information about the book.

All the prologues except for the Gospel of Matthew are still extant. The Anti-Marcionite Prologues are generally dated from the 2nd to the 4th century.
Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there. It was of such teaching and continence of life that it compels all followers of Christ to imitate its example.
The prologue confirms that Mark was the author and a disciple of Peter, which is also confirmed by Peter (1 Pet 5:13). However it does add some additional information:
  1. The book was written in Rome at the request of believers.
  2. Peter approved of the writing.
However, this information does contradict the account in Irenaeus that the gospel was written after Peter was martyred.

We learn from this prologue another important piece of information regarding Mark. That after Peter died he went to Alexandria, Egypt and founded the church there. A fact that Eusebius (around 325) also records.
And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria. (Eccl Hist 2.16)
Eusebius also confirms that the church of Rome requested Mark to write down Peter's preaching and that Peter approved citing Clement of Alexandria and Papias as witnesses.
And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches.
(Eccl Hist 2.15)
Given the extant information of Papias' writings Eusebius may have gone too far in stating that Papias confirms much more than Mark being the author and follower of Peter. He gives no information related to Peter's approval or when the text was written. Clement was a bishop of Alexandria and prolific author. Eusebius does quote from Clement of Alexandria's (180-200) work:
Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. (Eccl Hist 6.14)
Origen, a student of Clement, who later succeeded him as bishop of Alexandria himself confirmed this same thing (215-220) quoting his commentary on Matthew:
“Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew,... The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter,... (Eccl Hist 6.25)
With the addition of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Clement, and Origen we get another line of information coming primarily from Alexandria, Egypt. What makes this information interesting is that history records that the author Mark was the founder of the church there and its first bishop. Their information may be better even if it is later than Papias and Irenaeus since it would likely be derived from the author of the book.

However there is a possibility that all of the historical information presented is correct in regards to the time of the writing. When one examines 2 Peter, we see that Peter knows that he is close to his death and is writing to remind the readers of many things including the removal of sin (2 Pet 1:9), our being allowed into the Kingdom (2 Pet 1:11), and the power to live for Christ now (2 Pet 1:3). He includes as one of his goals to make sure they have a record of these things.
Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.
(2 Peter 1:12-15 NET)
Could it be that Peter (as well as the church of Rome) wishing to make sure that the gospel of Jesus that he was sharing was preserved after he was gone helped Mark get started on the project of writing the Gospel of Mark. However before the work was completed Peter was martyred leaving Mark to finish it. This would allow the tradition that Mark wrote the gospel after Peter died be accurate (per Irenaeus) since that would be when the work was completed while also allowing the strong tradition from Alexandria (where Mark founded the church) that Peter was involved with the work be true as well.

Note: Other early affirmations of Mark recording Peter's preaching include Tertullian (208) in his books Against Marcion 4.5, however this account does not include information that helps us determine Peter's involvement in the creation of the work.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who wrote Mark Part II?

As we continue to look at the history of the early church to learn what we can about the gospel of Mark, we next can look at the works of a man named Irenaeus. His information regarding the book is ultimately tied to the same sources that Papias had since Irenaeus knew about Papias' works (Ad Haer 5.33.4) and both he and Papias knew Polycarp (Ad Haer 3.3.4; 5.33.4). Polycarp,bishop of Smyrna, is said to have learned about the Christian faith from the apostles (Ad Haer 3.3.4).

Irenaeus was an apologist defending the Christian faith against the Gnostic heresies writing 5 books (Against Heresies) dealing with them. He also wrote a book Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, describing Christian teaching. All of these works are available to us today. In Against Heresies Book 3 (circa 180), Irenaeus describes how the gospel message was handed down from the apostles first through preaching, then by writing the Scriptures all with the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.
(Ad Haer 3.1.1)
From this passage we learn the following regarding the Gospel of Mark:
  1. Mark the disciple of Peter wrote what Peter preached.
  2. Mark was enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Mark wrote after Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.
  4. The Gospel of Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching, and therefore was written before the Gospel of Mark.
All of this lines up with the account that Papias gave us (70 years earlier). It also helps us start to give us a range of dating for Mark as between 65-69 AD (at least until we consider additional information). This is based on the fact that Peter and Paul were martyred around 65-67 AD. The end of the range is based on the fact that Mark does not note the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the book. This would likely have been used to bolster the account in Mark 13.

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?(Mark 13:1-4 KJV)
It is strongly argued (and I have to agree) that Mark would certainly have mentioned the fulfillment of the prophecy here if it had already occurred.

That is all for tonight...

Edit: added link highlighting Irenaeus knew Polycarp in his youth.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who wrote Mark?

We are getting ready to study the gospel according to Mark in Sunday school and I have been preparing for the first class where we will deal with the introduction and overview of the book. In this class one of the things we want to deal with are the questions 1) who wrote the book, 2) when was the book written, 3) where was the book written, and 4) why was the book written.

The book is technically an anonymous work, as are all of the gospels. In no part of the original text is the author identified. So how do we know who wrote the book that we know as "the Gospel according to Mark"? To answer that question we have to turn to the history of the early church for it not only has preserved the text of the book, but also the history about the book. While the records and documents that we have from the early church are valuable, it is worth stating up front that they are not Scripture and they are not free from error.

The early church is unanimous in claiming that the author of the book is Mark, who served alongside Peter and recorded the things that he taught. The earliest such testimony is found in the writings of Papias. He wrote 5 books that were called Expositions of Oracles of the Lord (circa 110). These books are no longer extant, but they were available to Irenaeus (180) and Eusebius (325) the latter having preserved most of what we have today in his Church Histories.

Papias was a bishop of Hierapolis (in Asia Minor near Colossae and Laodicea). According to Eusebius, who had access to his full works, stated that Papias heard much of his information second hand from those who studied under the apostles.
But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends. ... And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.(Eccl Hist 3.39.2,7)
There is some debate today as to whether Papias himself was a student of the Apostle John or an elder named John. It is the elder John (possibly the Apostle John) who passed on to Papias the earliest information we have about the author of the gospel.
"This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. (Eccl Hist 3.39.15)
From this passage we learn the following:
  1. Mark was the author, recording what Peter preached.
  2. Mark was not a disciple of Jesus (while Jesus was alive).
  3. Mark wrote his account without error.
From this account we do not learn anything about when Mark may have written the book. For that we have to check out some other early church writers.