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.

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