External evidence regarding the authorship of Mark’s gospel

November 15, 2008

(Added note: I just realized that the heading styles are all messed up, at least in Mac Firefox. I’ll tweak a bit and see if I can make it readable.) (OK, I think the headings are legible now.)

The following summarizes the most significant external evidence regarding the origin of Mark’s gospel. Not all of it is credible and there is some contradictory material included, but the overall thrust is in general agreement and is likely reliable. The geographical and chronological range is such as to make it unlikely that all these writers are simply parroting the same account (as it might be if it, e.g., mostly followed Eusebius). (There is some additional minor evidence that I’ve not included here. The format is not entirely consistent as this is taken from notes I’ve compiled from various sources over the years.)

1. Papias

(Lived: AD 60–130, pastor of Hieropolis in Asia Minor; student of John and perhaps the amanuensis of the Gospel of John; between AD 95–110 he wrote a 5-vol. commentary on Jesus’ teaching.)

The following citation comes from Eusebius who cites Papias.

There are said to be five books of Papias, which bear the title “Interpretation of our Lord’s Declarations.” Irenaeus also, makes mention of these as the only words written by him, in the following terms: “These things are attested by Papias, who was John’s hearer and the associate of Polycarp, an ancient writer, who mentions them in the fourth book of his works” [Eusebius: EH 3.39].

… concerning Mark, who wrote the gospel. He [Papias] expounds with these [words]: “And the presbyter [i.e., John] also said this: ‘Mark, being the interpreter of Peter [Μάρκος μὲν ἑρμηνευτὴς Πέτρου γενόμενος], wrote accurately all that he remembered [ἐμνημόνευσεν*] (but not, however, in order [οὐ μέντοι τάξει]) [of] the things which were spoken or done by our Lord,’ for he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, [he followed] Peter (who provided instruction according to the need [ὅς πρὸς τὰς χρείας ἐποιεῖτο τὰς διδασκαλίας], but not as to make an arrangement [orderly account] of the Lord’s discourses); so that Mark did not err in anything in thus writing some things [“individual points”? so Loeb transl.] as he remembered them; for he was attentive to one thing, not to leave out anything that he heard or to make any false statements in them.” So then these things were recounted by Papias concerning Mark [Eusebius, EH 3.39, my translation].

For the Greek text I have used the Loeb ed. of Eusebius, 1:296–97; see also D. Theron, Evidence of Tradition, 66–67 (Greek and translation). I have also revised the punctuation from that given in the Loeb edition to reflect what I think is a more accurate reading of the text. The most difficult question is where the quotation from “the presbyter” ends. I have made my best guess, but it is only that. The initial words cited above are those of Eusebius, who then quotes from Papias’ (“…”) who quotes “the presbyter” (‘…’) and then resumes his own [i.e., Papias’] explanation; the text cited concludes with Eusebius’ closing comment. I have taken the “…later, as I said …” to indicate that Papias is again speaking at this point, and it would then make best sense to see the γάρ clause as beginning his statement (“for he neither heard…”).

* Some translate ἐμνημόνευσεν “recorded” (Baker’s ed.) but that is not an option in BDAG (655) for μνημονεύω, though perhaps “mentioned” is similar. BDAG does suggest “mentioned,” but “w. focus on dramatic aspect of remembering” (655.1) which doesn’t seem to fit here.

Papias’s statement says that the author of the Gospel of Mark: was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry; accompanied Peter; wrote accurately and reliably Peter’s remembrances of Jesus’ ministry, though not chronologically; and was Peter’s “interpreter” (= explained his message to a larger audience by writing it down).

2. Justin Martyr (ca. AD 100–165), Dialogue with Trypho, 106.3

Justin Martyr was a second century apologist who had an itinerant ministry in Rome and Ephesus as well as Palestine. He appears to identify the Gospel of Mark as the “memoirs of Peter,” though this depends on identifying the antecedent of an αὐτος as referring to Peter rather than Jesus—something which the vocabulary involved does support. The statement occurs in a passage in which J.M. is arguing that Jesus is Messiah, here particularly that Jesus had authority parallel with God in the OT.

And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel…. (Dialogue with Trypho, 106.3; translation given here from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Roberts & Donaldson, 1885, p. 252, col. 2, ch. 106).

Καὶ τὸ εἰπεῖν μετωνομακέναι αὐτὸν Πέτρον ἕνα τῶν ἀποστόλων, καὶ γεγράφθαι ἐν τοῖς ἀπομνημονεῦμασιν αὐτοῦ γεγενημένον καὶ τοῦτο, μετὰ τοῦ καὶ ἄλλους δύο ἀδελφοὺς υἱοὺς Ζεβαδαίου ὄντας μετωνομακέναι ὀνόματι τοῦ Βοανεργὲς, ὅ ἐστιν υἱοὶ Βροντῆς, σημαντικον ἧν τοῦ αὐτὸν ἐκεῖνον εἶναι, διὸ καὶ τὸ ἐπώνυμον Ἰακὼβ τῷ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπικληθέντι [?ἐοδθη? > ἐδοθη ?]…, (Migne, PG, v. 6, col. 724).

They key phrase (underlined above) refers to “his memoirs”—which the published translation refers to Jesus (note the capitalization). But this is not only an unnecessary conclusion, but does not seem consistent with the terminology. A “memoir” (ἀπομνημόνευμα, ατος, τό) is written by the individual himself; it is not a biographical account by someone else. It seems to make much better sense if this refers to Peter’s memoirs. Additional support comes from the fact that the Gospel of Mark is the only gospel to record together the two events referenced here: the renaming of both Peter and the sons of Zebedee (Mark 3:16–17), and it is the only one of the gospels to record the second event. If this is a proper assessment, then Justin Martyr reflects an early (2d C.) testimony to the Gospel of Mark being a written record of Peter’s memoirs. It does not identify Mark as the author, but it does connect what we know as Mark’s gospel with Peter.

3. “Anti-Marcionite Prologue” (AD 160–180, Rome)

This is a preface attached to the Gospel of Mark in a number of Old Latin MSS.

“Mark … who is called ‘stump-fingered,’ because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body, was the interpreter of Peter…, he [i.e., Mark] wrote down this gospel in various parts of Italy” [cited in Ellis, MNTD, 359; also found in Lane, Mark, 9].

Mark’s authorship is assumed and the place of writing would likely be Rome or at least in Italy.

4. Irenaeus (AD 180), Against Heresies 3.1.1–2

Originally from Asia Minor, Irenaeus was active in second half of 2d C. as bishop of Lyons, France. As a child he heard Polycarp preach (and Polycarp had heard John teach).

Ὁ μὲν δὴ Ματθαῖος ἐν τοῖς Ἑβραίοις τῇ ἰδίᾳ αὐτῶν διαλέκτῳ καὶ γραφὴν ἐξήνεγκεν εὐαγγελίου, τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ τοῦ Παύλου ἐν Ῥώμῃ εὐαγγελιζομένων καὶ θεμελιούντων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν· μετὰ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἔξοδον Μάρκος, ὁ μαθητὴς καὶ ἑρμηνευτὴς Πέτρου, καὶ αὐτὸς τὰ ὑπὸ Πέτρου κηρυσσόμενα ἐγγράφως ὑμῖν παραδέδωκεν· καὶ Λουκᾶς δέ, ὁ ἀκόλουθος Παύλου, τὸ ὑπ’ ἐκείνου κηρυσσόμενον εὐαγγέλιον ἐν βίβλῳ κατέθετο. ἔπειτα Ἰωάννης, ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου, ὁ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ ἀναπεσών, καὶ αὐτὸς ἐξέδωκεν τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τῆς Ἀσίας διατρίβων.

“What [the apostles] at first preached, they later delivered to us in writings…. Matthew … also produced a written Gospel…; Peter and Paul, however, were in Rome preaching the gospel and founding the church. After their departure (ἔξοδον), Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also delivered to us in writing the things that were then being preached (κηρυσσόμενα) by Peter. And Luke also, the follower of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel that was then being preached (κηρυσσόμενον) by that [apostle]. Afterwards, John … also did himself publish a Gospel while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia” (cited in Ellis, Making of NT Documents, 360–61; see also Lane, Mark, 9 and Theron, Evidence of Tradition, 42–43).

Some take ἔξοδον in this quote to refer to the death of Peter and Paul; Following F.F. Bruce, I think this is better understood as their departure to another place.

5. Clement of Alexandria (AD 195)

Clement, Outlines, according to Eusebius, EH 6.14.5–6

Αὖθις δ’ ἐν τοῖς αὐτοῖς ὁ Κλήμης Βιβλίοις περὶ τῆς τάξεως τῶν εὐαγγελίων παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνέκαθεν πρεσβυτέρων τέθειται, τοῦτον ἔχουσαν τὸν τρόπον. προγεγράφθαι ἔλεγεν τῶν εὐσγγελίων τὰ περιέχοντα τὰς γενεαλογίας, το δὲ κατὰ Μάρκον ταύτην ἐσχηκέναι τὴν οἰκονομίαν. τοῦ Πέτρου δημοσίᾳ ἐν Ῥώμῃ κηρύξσαντος τὸν λόγον καὶ πνεύματι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐξειπόντος, τοὺς παρόντας, πολλοὺς ὄντας, παρακαλέσαι τὸν Μάρκον, ὡς ἂν ἀκουλουθήσαντα αὑτῷ πόρρωθεν καὶ μεμνημένον τῶν λεχθέντων, ἀναγράψαι τὰ εἰρημένα· ποιήσαντα δέ, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον μεταδοῦναι τοῖς δεομένοις αὐτοῦ· ὅπερ ἐπιγνόντα τὸν Πέτρον προτρεπτικῶς μήτε κωλῦσαι μήτε προτρέψασθαι [text from Loeb edition, 2:46–49; Clement’s Outlines are sometimes cited as his Institutions].

And again in the same books Clement has inserted a tradition of the primitive elders with regard to the order of the Gospels, as follows. He said that those Gospels were first written which include the genealogies, but that the Gospel according to Mark came into being in this manner: When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome, and by the Spirit had proclaimed the Gospel, that those present, who were many, exhorted Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of what was said; and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel among those that asked him. And that when the matter came to Peter’s knowledge he neither strongly forbade it nor urged it forward [translation from Loeb edition].

Clement, Outlines, book 6, according to Eusebius, EH, 2.15,

But a great light of religion shone on the minds of the hearers of Peter, so that they were not satisfied with a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine proclamation, but with every kind of exhortation besought Mark, whose Gospel is extant, seeing that he was Peter’s follower, to leave them a written statement of the teaching given them verbally, nor did they cease until they had persuaded him, and so became the cause of the Scripture called the Gospel according to Mark. And they say that the Apostle, knowing by the revelation of the spirit to him what had been done, was pleased at their zeal, and ratified the scripture for study in the churches. Clement quotes the story in the sixth book of the Hypotyposes, and the bishop of Hieropolis, named Papias, confirms him [translation is from Loeb ed., 1:143–45].

6. Origen (AD 230, Alexandria)

[per Eusebius, EH 6.25.5]

But in the first book of his [i.e., Origen’s] Commentaries on the gospel of Matthew, following the Ecclesiastical Canon, he attests that he knows of only four gospels, as follows: “As I have understood from tradition, respecting the four gospels, which are the only undisputed ones in the whole church of God throughout the world. The first is written according to Matthew, the same that was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who having published it for the Jewish converts, wrote it in the Hebrew. The second is according to Mark, who composed it, as Peter explained to him [δεύτερον δὲ τό κατὰ Μάρκον, ὡς Πέτρος ὑφηγήσατο αὐτῷ, ποιήσαντα], whom he also acknowledges as his son in his general Epistle, saying, ‘The elect church in Babylon, salutes you, as also Mark my son.’ And the third, according to Luke, the gospel commended by Paul, which was written for the converts from the Gentiles, and last of all the gospel according to John [Baker English ed. of Eusebius, 245–46; Greek text from Loeb ed. of Eusebius, 2:74].

7. Jerome (AD 340–420)

Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, and the first bishop of the church of Alexandria, who himself has not seen the Lord, the very Saviour, is the second [who published a Gospel], but he narrated those things, which he had heard [his] master preaching, more in accordance with the trustworthiness of the things performed than [in accordance with their] sequence [from Jerome’s introduction to the Gospels, cited from Theron, Evidence of Tradition, 52–53; the bracketed words are from Theron also].

8. Monarchian Prologue to Mark (4th C.?)

“Mark, an Evangelist of God and by baptism the son of Peter and also his disciple in the divine word … wrote a Gospel in Italy…” [cited in Theron, Evidence of Tradition, 63].