Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel

May 28, 2011

The Latin words in Mark have sometimes been used to argue for a Roman provenance of the gospel.

The Latin words in Mark are census (κῆνσος, “poll tax,” 12:14), centurio (κεντυρίων, “centurion,” 15:39, 44, 45), denarius (δηνάριον, a Roman coin, 12:15), legio (λεγιών, “legion,” 5:9, 15), modius (μόδιος, “peck measure,” 4:21), praetorium (πραιτώριον, “governor’s official residence,” 15:16), quadrans (κοδράντης, a Roman coin, 12:42), sextarius (ξέστης, quart measure, “pitcher,” 7:4), speculator (σπεκουλάτωρ, “executioner,” 6:27), and flagellum (φραγελλόω, “to flog,” 15:15).

Cadbury 1958, 88–89, argues that when these specific words are considered, using them to argue for Rome appears to be unjustified since these “are precisely those [Latin words] which would be adopted outside of Italy in any of the Greek-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire.” His evidence for this claim is that these words all occur in Aramaic or late Hebrew, citing Krauss, Griechische und lateinische Lehnwörter [loanwords] in Talmud, Midrash und Targum (1899).

To the contrary, however, Incigneri, 101 n.169, responding to a similar argument by Achtemeier, points out that this is evidence from a later period when Latin was more widespread. Incigneri, 101–02, also suggests other instances of Latin influence higher than the word level (syntax, idiom, etc.), concluding that “the most likely place for Latinisms to predominate is in the city of Rome, where the Latin and Greek languages were closely intermingled as nowhere else at that time…. It was in Rome most of all that the ordinary person was forced to deal with both languages in daily life.”

Smith, 58, gives a summary list of such Latinisms: iter facere (ὁδὸν ποιεῖν, “to make one’s way,” 2:23); consilium dederunt (συμβούλιον ἐδίδουν, “to give counsel,” 3:6); hoc est (ὅ ἐστιν, “that is,” 3:17; 7:11, 34; 12:42; 15:16, 42); satis facere (ἱκανὸν ποιῆσαι, “to satisfy,” 15:15); genua ponentes (15:19, τιθέντες τὰ γόνατα, “bending the knees”). Except for ὅ ἐστιν, these occur only in Mark and not elsewhere in the NT or LXX.

I would be leery of claiming ὅ ἐστιν as a Latinism since it occurs frequently elsewhere in the NT without apparent Latin influence.

A caveat is also in order for ὁδὸν ποιεῖν: “here used in the sense of the middle ὁδὸν ποιεῖσθαι, which is used in classical Greek in the sense ‘to journey’ ” (Cranfield, 114; see also Guelick, 119 n. c, citing as || Judg 17:8 LXX).

Although such arguments are not conclusive, it appears that such Latin influence is best accounted for on the basis of a Roman provenance for Mark’s gospel.

I just found some earlier notes that I had made from Gundry, 1044, along this same line, so these may be added to the above. (He cites a few others concerning which I am less confident.)

Latin loanwords: herba (χόρτος, in the sense “blade of grass,” 4:28); causa (αἰτία, but only as a v.l. in 5:33)

Latin idiom: in extremis esse (ἐσχάτως ἔχει, 5:23); verberibus eum acceperunt (ῥαπίσμασιν αὐτὸν ἔλαβον, 14:65)


  • Cadbury, Henry C. The Making of Luke-Acts. 2d ed., 1958. Reprint. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999.
  • Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel. Biblical Interpretation 65. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  • Smith, Barry D. Introducing the New Testament: A Workbook. Moncton, NB, Canada: Crandall Univ., 2010 Accessed 5/28/2011.

3 responses to Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel

  1. This is a fascinating subject. I think the Latinisms are really there and I think there are some striking Latinisms elsewhere in the gospels too ( think of Luke 9.58 ὁ δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ — “non habet ubi caput deponat”). But I’m leery of the argument that this points to Rome as the place of composition; it may just as well argue for an author whose native language was Latin (and of course, the authorship of “Mark’s” gospel is a pretty vexed question.

    • I’m glad to hear a classicist say these Latinisms “are really there”! I agree that this sort of argument is not definitive is for a Roman provenance since there are other possible explanations. That’s why I’ve tried to be cautious in not overstating the conclusion. As I put it, “Although such arguments are not conclusive, it appears that such Latin influence is best accounted for on the basis of a Roman provenance for Mark’s gospel.” But maybe that’s even a bit too strong with “best accounted for.” Perhaps it ought to be, “is compatible with”—but that might be too safe since it does appear that Mark has a unique frequency among the gospels in this regard. Authorship would need to be argued on other grounds, but this feature is one of a number of supplementary features which fit well with some conclusions which involve Roman provenance.

  2. You bring up an interesting question, Professor Decker,

    I had a professor who admitted that he always leaned toward the conclusion that when Pilate said “ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα” (jn 19:22), he was most likely saying something like “quod scriptum, scriptum est.” Pilate’s response was a very Roman way of speaking.

    Since then, I’ve been sort of wondering where there might be some more Roman influences. Thanks for the post. It made me think a little more.