Who Was Mark?

A few months ago my father asked me about the connection between Mark and Luke, writers of two of the gospels, and Jesus. Here is the answer I sent him.

You asked what the connection was between Mark and Luke and Jesus. Unlike the writers of the books of Matthew and John, Mark and Luke were not among the original 12 disciples of Jesus. Mark is a little easier to talk about, because he is mentioned by name in the scriptures a lot more than Luke, so I will start with Mark.

Mark was known as John Mark part of the time, but eventually the “John” is dropped. Apparently Mark was a Roman name and John was a Jewish name. His mother whose name was Mary was Jewish but the Bible reveals nothing of his father.

The first place we see Mark by name is in Acts 12:11-13. Peter had just been released from jail by an angel.

And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. (Acts 12:11-13)

This is an interesting story, because the people praying here don’t believe that it when Rhoda told them that Peter has been released from jail and he had to stand outside for a while trying to get in.

The next thing we learn of Mark is that he went on a missionary journey with the apostles Barnabas and Saul who was later called Paul.

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark. (Acts 12:25)

Apparently, Mark left and went home early because the next time Barnabas and Saul are ready to go on a trip, they got into an argument about whether or not to take Mark.

Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; (Acts 15:39)

I think it’s interesting that the Bible would mention an argument between two men and the fact that it was so severe they could not work together. The Bible doesn’t hide the bad to create some false image. It would appear that one reason Barnabas took Mark was because they were related. Some translations call Mark the cousin of Barnabas, and some just say they are relatives.

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him). (Colossians 4:10)

From Acts 12, we know that Mark knew Peter. In Peter’s writings, he mentions Mark by name, calling him his “son.” Mark was not Peter’s natural son, but what we today would call a “son in the Lord,” or one of Peter’s disciples, converted to Christ because of Peter’s ministry.

She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. (1 Peter 5:13)

Mark’s name never appears in the book that bears his name. However, there is good evidence that he is in fact the author of the book from early sources. For example, I have a set of books (on CD) called the Anti-Nicene Fathers which is a collection of writings of men who lived before the Council of Nicea. Here is a quote from one of them called Fragments of Papias. “Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”

This indicates that Mark wrote down the things Peter taught when he was preaching. The book of Mark is not like so many of the books roaming around purporting to tell about the life of Jesus, but it was taken from eye witness testimony of what Jesus said and did. Mark is writing things from Peter’s perspective. Each of the gospel writers gives a slightly different point of view. Kind of like a group of witnesses at a trial, each one tells what he saw. Mark was telling primarily what Peter saw and remembered. I often wondered how the writers of the gospels had details of things that were done and said by people who were apparently alone. Obviously, if I’d stopped to think about it, the writers were telling things from their memories, but also from the interviews and accounts of the very people who experienced these events.

So, the short answer to your question is that Mark is related to Jesus through Peter, who spent over three years living with Him.

One other thing, at the end of Paul’s life, he had something very good to say about Mark:

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him). (Colossians 4:10)

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

Mark, who as a young man, didn’t get to go with Paul on his missionary journey, was trained up by Barnabas, his cousin or other kinsman, and Paul says that he is “useful to me for ministry,” and that the Colossians should welcome him if he should go there. Paul had a different attitude about Mark when he was older than when he was younger.

Paul also mentions Luke in 2 Timothy 4:11, but that is for another time. I am including a quote below from Easton’s Bible Dictionary which I thought you might find interesting.

Mark:

The evangelist; “John whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:12, 25). Mark (Marcus, (Col 4:10)) was his Roman name, which gradually came to supersede his Jewish name John. He is called John in Acts 13:5, 13, and Mark in 2Ti 4.

He was the son of Mary, a woman apparently of some means and influence, and was probably born in Jerusalem, where his mother resided (Acts 12:12). Of his father we know nothing. He was cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10). It was in his mother’s house that Peter found “many gathered together praying” when he was released from prison; and it is probable that it was here that he was converted by Peter, who calls him his “son” (1Pe 5:13). It is probable that the “young man” spoken of in Mark 14:51, 52 was Mark himself. He is first mentioned in Acts 12:25. He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey (about A.D. 47) as their “minister,” but from some cause turned back when they reached Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13). Three years afterwards a “sharp contention” arose between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40), because Paul would not take Mark with him. He, however, was evidently at length reconciled to the apostle, for he was with him in his first imprisonment at Rome (Col 4:10; Phm 1:24). At a later period he was with Peter in Babylon (1Pe 5:13), then, and for some centuries afterwards, one of the chief seats of Jewish learning; and he was with Timothy in Ephesus when Paul wrote him during his second imprisonment (2Ti 4:11). He then disappears from view.
— Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary
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