Mark, John ( Ἰωάννης , Iōánnēs ) represents his Jewish, Mark ( Μάρκος , Márkos ) his Roman name.
Mark is the author of the second Gospel, the son of Mary, Barnabas’ sister, who ministered to Christ, and whose house in Jerusalem was a place of resort for the disciples of Christ after the resurrection; accompanied Paul and his uncle on their first missionary journey, afterwards accompanied Peter, who calls him “my son,” and to him it is thought he is indebted for his Gospel narrative;
Name and identity.
One, two, and even three Marks have been discovered in the NT. But the identity of the ‘John Mark’ of Acts with the ‘Mark’ of St. Paul’s Epistles is clearly proved by Colossians 4:10, where he is called the cousin of Barnabas, and his identity with the ‘Mark’ of 1 Peter is clearly proved by Acts 12:12.
These two passages show that in all the nine places where the name occurs ( Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36 ff., Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24, 1 Peter 5:13) the same person is referred to. The curious notion has widely prevailed that the ‘young man’ of Mark 14:51-52 was the Evangelist himself, but there is no evidence whatever in its support.
Mark (from the frequent Latin surname Marcus) was his Latin surname. His Jewish name was John, which is the same as Johanan, (The Grace Of God). We can almost trace the steps whereby the former became his prevalent name in the Church. “John, whose surname was Mark” in Acts 12:12, Acts 12:25, Acts 15:37 becomes “John” alone in Acts 13:5 and Acts 13:13, “Mark” in Acts 15:39, and thenceforward, there is no change. Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11.
From Acts 12:11 we gather that Mark occupied a position of some prominence socially in the Church at Jerusalem. His mother’s house was evidently a well-known rendezvous for believers. When St. Peter is released from prison, he turns naturally to this place, and on his arrival finds a company of Christians at worship. Several slight indications in the description suggest the house of a person of means (the porch, the slave-girl, the large upper room). The only other information we possess as to Mark’s family history is his connexion with Barnabas, who seems to have been a man of standing in the Christian community.
Mark was a Jew brought up in Jerusalem. His parents were reasonably wealthy, as they owned a large house and had servants ( Acts 12:12-13). (Also, at least one of Mark’s close relatives was wealthy enough to own land; Acts 4:36-37; Colossians 4:10.) Mark’s house must have been a regular meeting place for the apostles and other Christians in Jerusalem, as Peter, on escaping from prison, knew that he would find the Christians there ( Acts 12:12). If this was the house usually used by the apostles as a meeting place, it was the house of ‘the upper room’ where Jesus had earlier gathered with his disciples ( Luke 22:11-13; Acts 1:13; cf. also John 20:19; John 20:26).
There is a further point in favor of the suggestion that Mark’s house was the house of the upper room. This is the reference Mark himself makes to a certain young man who had followed Jesus and the disciples from the house to the Garden of Gethsemane, clothed only in his nightwear ( Mark 14:51-52). It was a common practice for an author to include a brief personal detail or story but not to mention his own name directly (cf. John 13:23; 2 Corinthians 12:2).
With Paul and Barnabas
Whether the house of the upper room was Mark’s home or not, Mark certainly would have known Peter and the other leading Christians who often visited his home ( Acts 12:12-14). When Paul and Barnabas visited Jerusalem with an offering from the church at Antioch, they met Mark. They were so impressed with him that they took him back to Antioch, and later took him with them on what has become known as Paul’s first missionary journey ( Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5).
After only a short time, Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem ( Acts 13:13). To Paul this showed that Mark was not reliable, and he refused to allow Mark to go with him and Barnabas on their next missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas quarreled over the matter and parted. Paul went ahead with his planned journey, but with a new partner, while Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus ( Acts 15:36-41).
In Rome and Asia Minor
The Bible has no record of Mark’s activities over the next ten years or so. But there is evidence in other early records that he spent some time with Peter, helping Peter to evangelize the provinces of northern Asia Minor where God had not allowed Paul to preach ( 1 Peter 1:1; cf. Acts 16:6-8).
Peter and Mark then visited Rome and taught the Christians there. When Peter left Rome, the Roman Christians asked Mark (who had stayed behind) to preserve the story of Jesus as they had heard it from Peter. In due course Mark produced the book known as Mark’s Gospel, a book that strongly carries the flavor of Peter (see Mark, Gospel Of )
Mark was still in Rome when Paul arrived as a prisoner the first time (Philem 1:23-24). Mark had matured over the years, and Paul readily acknowledged this. He bore no grudges, and recommended Mark to the Colossian church as one who could be of help to it ( Colossians 4:10).
On leaving Rome, Mark most likely went to Colossae as planned. He was probably still there when Paul later wrote to Timothy (who was in Ephesus, not far away), asking him to get Mark and bring him to Rome. Paul was back in prison after a brief time of freedom and travel, and he wanted to see Timothy and Mark before he was executed ( 2 Timothy 4:11).
Whether the two reached Rome before Paul’s execution is uncertain, but Mark was certainly in Rome at the time of Peter’s visit soon after. Over their years of working together, Mark and Peter had become so close that Peter called Mark his son. Mark may even have been converted through Peter, back in the days when Peter frequented Mark’s house in Jerusalem. Now, as Peter neared the end of his life, he linked Mark’s name with his own in writing a letter to the churches of Asia Minor that together they had helped to establish ( 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 5:13).
Relations with Paul and Barnabas.
When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, whither they had gone with the offering for the poor, they took Mark with them as assistant, perhaps owing to his kinship with Barnabas ( Acts 12:25).
A little later, he again accompanies them on their first missionary journey as their ‘attendant’ ( Acts 13:5). This word (ὑπηρέτης) emphasizes his secondary position and function. Probably his work was of the nature of business management. He had to look after such matters as lodging, routes, conveyance, and the like.
At Perga, Mark withdrew from the mission, for what reason is not stated. That Paul deeply resented his conduct is shown by the refusal to employ his services on a later occasion. It has been assumed that he shirked the dangers of the enterprise, or that he tired of the work. Barnabas, at any rate, judged Mark’s conduct more leniently than Paul, and later on Paul himself modified his attitude. At the outset of the second missionary journey, however, his objection to Mark’s co-operation was so strong that it led to a separation between himself and Barnabas ( Acts 15:36).
The latter took Mark with him on a mission to Cyprus, and we hear no more of him in the Book of Acts. When Mark next appears (Col. and Philem.), it is as the ‘fellow-laborer’ of Paul, who had by this time become completely reconciled to him, and had found him a comfort (παρηγορία, Colossians 4:11) in his imprisonment. Paul speaks in Colossians 4:10 of a projected visit of Mark to the Colossian Church, and urges his friends there to receive him kindly, ‘if he comes’ to them. If is probable, therefore, that Mark’s previous desertion had created an unfavorable impression over a wide area. Harnack thinks the visit was paid, and that, when St. Paul wrote to Timothy to bring Mark with him ( 2 Timothy 4:11), Timothy was to pick him up at Colossae on his way from Ephesus. Paul had evidently missed the attentions which Mark had been able to give.
Relations with Peter
St. Peter refers to Mark in his First Epistle ( 1 Peter 5:13) as ‘my son.’ This may imply only a peculiarly close intimacy, but more probably it means that Mark had been converted through Peter’s influence. Peter was evidently a frequent visitor at Mark’s home (Acts 12), and the friendship had begun there which afterwards became so deep and fruitful.
St. Peter’s reference in his letter shows also that at this date Mark was with him at ‘Babylon,’ which most writers now consider to mean Rome. From the familiar words of Papias (see Mark [Gospel acc. to], Mark 2:1) we learn that Mark had become the ‘interpreter’ of Peter, and that Mark ‘accompanied’ or ‘attended’ him. Swete thinks he acted as Peter’s dragoman, and translated the Apostle’s words for his audiences. Peter, it is supposed, would not be fluent in Greek. It is not easy to fit in this ministry to Peter in Rome with the ministry to Paul. Swete thinks it occurred after Paul’s death; but it is at least doubtful whether Peter survived Paul. Harnack and Lightfoot may be quoted to the contrary. It is by no means impossible, of course, that Mark may have ‘attended’ Peter in Rome, and transferred his services to Paul. It would be much simpler, however, to suppose that the ministry was exercised much earlier, and in the real, not the spiritual, Babylon.
In any case, Mark’s association with Peter was a fruitful one, as it resulted in the composition of the Second Gospel. In this matter Mark seems to have been little more than an amanuensis. According to Papias, the Gospel is really Peter’s, and Mark was simply his ‘interpreter’ on this as on other occasions.
Character and position in the Apostolic history.
Mark was thus associated with three notable men in turn, and always in the same subordinate capacity. Jülicher calls him ‘Apostelschüler.’ Swete thinks this humble position decidedly implied in the terms used of him in Acts and the Epistles.
The συνπαραλαβόντες of Acts 12:25 suggests an assistant ‘of inferior rank.’ The ὑπηρέτης of Acts 13:5 indicates personal and not spiritual service. Ramsay ( St. Paul the Traveller , p. 71) holds that Mark’s subordinate character is displayed by the ‘haphazard reference’ to him in Acts 13:5. The same conclusion may be drawn from St. Paul’s language in 2 Timothy 4:11 (‘he is useful to me εἰς διακονίαν’). His services to the Apostle in prison probably concerned his comfort and convenience. If, again, Mark was Peter’s dragoman, he exercised very much the same ‘ministry’ for Paul also.
We gather, then, from these references, that Mark was a person with a large capacity for being useful in practical matters, but without any special spiritual gifts, and probably without any very great force of character. This opinion may be regarded as receiving confirmation from his conduct at Perga, on the most charitable view of that incident. He does not appear to have been fitted for heroic enterprise, or for a separate responsibility, or for spiritual functions. It is only fair to say, however, that a more favorable opinion has been expressed by writers like Westcott ( Introd. to Study of Gospels ) and Jülicher (in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ). Jülicher points out that St. Paul ultimately came round to the lenient judgment of Barnabas, that Mark never lost his missionary zeal, and also that he remained unaffected by the prevalent party spirit, serving both St. Paul and St. Peter with equal loyalty.
Tradition has been busy with Mark’s name. The most widely spread is that which assigns to him a mission in Egypt, and the evangelization of Alexandria. This mission is regarded as occupying the gap between the history in Acts and the later ministry to the Apostles. It was also widely believed that he died at Alexandria, receiving (according to some versions) the crown of martyrdom. These traditions cannot be traced back further than a hundred years after the supposed events. One curious fact is preserved in some of the Western traditions. Mark is said to have been κολοβοδάκτυλος, which means either mutilated or stunted in one or more of his fingers. Explanations of this deformity have been offered which possess no probability. But the reminiscence itself may quite possibly preserve a genuine fact; and it is not impossible that this defect may have had some influence in determining the possibilities of Mark’s career.
Literature.—The best accounts of Mark are given by Swete ( Gospel acc. to St. Mark , 1898) and Lindsay (‘St. Mark’ in T. & T. Clark’s Handbook series) in their introductions. The following may also be consulted: Harnack, art. ‘Mark’ in EBr [Note: Br Encyclopaedia Britannica.] (esp. for its good account of the traditions concerning the Evangelist); Jülicher, art. ‘Marcus’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Morison and Salmond in introd. to their Comm. on this Gospel.
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