Who Wrote Mark?

One of the things the atheists like to destroy is the New Testament. Without anything positive to offer themselves, they feel obliged to de-construct the authority of the New Testament if they can. A favorite way to do this is to try to show that the New Testament is a much edited, late cut and paste job by people unknown which has very little to do with the historical Jesus.

One of the books they like to attack is the Gospel of Mark. This is because most scholars believe Mark is the earliest gospel written and the one which is closest to the historical Jesus.If they can undermine Mark the rest of the New Testament can be dismissed.

However, it’s not very easy to show that Mark is written by an unknown later editor. There are troublesome details in the gospel which can’t be explained if the gospel is a late composition.

The traditional account is that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark– the companion of Paul (Acts 12:25) the cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10) and the companion of Peter (I Pt.5:13). The traditional account is that the gospel was written to the Christians in the church of Rome, that it recounted Peter’s own eyewitness stories of Jesus, and that it was completed either before Peter’s death in Rome in the persecutions under Nero in the year 65 or just after–before the year 70 AD.

What is the evidence for this? First of all we have what is called the “internal evidence” this is linguistic evidence from the Gospel of Mark itself. The document is written in a non-literary style indicating that it was composed by person of only moderate education. It is a bread and butter document–the author not attempting (or capable of) a high literary style. Had the gospel been composed by a later author it would have been written in a more exalted literary style instead of the ordinary down to earth story telling immediacy we have in the gospel.

Although it is written in koine Greek, the linguistic syntax and usage indicate someone who did not have Greek as a first language. The author’s native tongue was probably Aramaic. This fits with a companion of Jesus and his disciples, and it is something which would be difficult to forge. If the work is a later composition by a Roman Christian we would not expect the Aramaic undertones.

In addition to this, the author interrupts the flow of the narrative to insert vivid details which could only have been known (or considered interesting) to eyewitnesses or to particular people who were part of the church community to whom it is addressed. Why, for example, would a later editor refer to “Rufus and Alexander” (Mk.15:21) being the sons of Simon of Cyrene unless the audience for the gospel knew who Rufus and Alexander were? Even if the author were someone other than John Mark it still shows that the gospel had to have been written within the lifetime of the sons of Simon of Cyrene.

To put the facts together, let’s imagine (for the sake of argument) that Rufus and Alexander were mere boys when their father carried the cross for Jesus. Let’s say they were eight and ten years old. That was around the year 30 AD. By the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD they would have been 48 and 50 years old. They could have lived for another twenty years, but even then the latest date for the gospel’s composition would be the year 90. It’s speculation, but the mention of Rufus and Alexander shows that what the gospel cannot be is a composition later than the turn of the first century.

The “external evidence” is from documentary sources outside the gospel itself. Although the original manuscripts do not say the gospel is by Mark, copies from the 2nd century start to include Marks’ name. The witness to Mark’s authorship, and his link with Peter and his audience being the church at Rome is virtually universal. The earliest of these witnesses is Papias of Hieropolis quoted by the historian Eusebius. Furthermore, Papias is quoting an earlier source than himself. Other witnesses from the church fathers are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Jimmy Akin has more detail on the earliest external witness to Mark’s authorship here.

In addition to these early witnesses to Mark’s gospel we have to take into account certain unusual features. Those who argue for a late date and an authorship other than Mark need to explain why no name was attached to the gospel at first. If the gospel was written by someone else who wanted it to be taken as authentic, then it would have had an apostle’s name attached to it as we see in the gnostic gospels of “Philip”, “Thomas” and “Judas”. There is no name attached. If the gospel was anonymous and later editors wanted to attach a name later to give the gospel weight they would surely have given an apostle’s name–and not the name of Mark who was not an apostle.

Those who argue that Mark was not the author need to explain this anomaly. Read More


Further Reading on the Historicity of the Gospels:

How Do We Know the Gospels are Historical?

What Do Historians Think of the Gospels?

Bultmann’s New Clothes

Are the Gospels Historical?

The Puri-Fire
Is This a Miraculous Image of the Divine Mercy?
Why I Distrust Church Synods
Idol Speculation
  • CatholicGlasses

    Thx 4 Info!

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    A good and useful post, but I’m pretty sure the atheist you’re responding to is a Jesus mythicist, which means he’s impervious to reason. Out past the far fringes of H-C scholarship, way beyond the land where the Jesus seminar dwells, roam the mythicists: barking loons like Bob Price who are so far gone they can’t ever come back. You might as well explain things to a doorknob.

  • http://thewayoutthere1.blogspot.com/ Fr Levi

    ‘those who argue for a late date and non-Marcan authorship need to prove their case. ‘
    Couldn’t agree more.

  • http://www.patheos.com Deacon Tom

    Here is the stick-figure cartoon response by one of our atheist friends over on the atheist channel,
    You should know ( I suspect you are familiar with him) he asserts C.S. Lewis erred in his claim that Jesus was a loon or the Son of God, because Jesus was more likely a mere “legend.” He also posited during election time that Christians essentially oppose homosexual acts because they are “icky,” and that it should be considered no big deal because homosex is found in monkey populations. I don’t think Jimmy Akin’s investigation or your post will get very far in that crowd.

  • Richard M

    If anything, the date of authorship is likely even earlier – in the 50′s.

    The patristic consensus was certainly for a relatively early date of composition. We should be very wary of setting aside that consensus, and not without incredibly strong evidence.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker


  • Charle E. Mac Kay

    Whatever is said its a fabulous read

  • The Deuce

    If their theory that Mark was written later by someone else they must produce someone somewhere in the early years who suggested such a thing, but they can’t. There is no evidence.

    Their “evidence” is exactly the same “evidence” they have than John didn’t write the Gospel of John. Namely, that if it is written by the guy who all the evidence shows it to have been written by, at the time the evidence shows that it was written, and for the reason the evidence shows that he wrote it, then Christianity is true. Since, in their mind, Christianity couldn’t possibly be true, it must have been written by someone else at a later date for a different reason. :-)

  • http://www.netministries.org/see/churches/ch05703 Fr Bill

    My PhD dissertation was on Mark’s Gospel. The answer is clearly: Mark.

  • Dante Aligheri

    I absolutely agree. Have you read Richard Bauckham’s Eyewitnesses of the Gospels by any chance? Other than his case for John’s Gospel, he presents some good arguments in this effect. Actually, I think the real quandary is not so much Mark, Luke, or John but Matthew’s authorship. When you have the chance, could you similarly post on Matthew’s Gospel?

  • Michal

    Thank you for this outstanding article on my favorite gospel and confirmation name – The Gospel of Mark has been my favorite because it is so “meat and potatoes”. I would recommend a reference to Mark 14:52 which some commentators state is a self-reference to himself.

  • Stewart Davies

    Nothing will persuade the deconstructionists as to the authenticity of the Gospels. However, for us Catholics, there is sufficient proof of authorship in the Book of Revelation. In Ch. 4 0f Revelation, St. John describes his mystical visions of the four living creatures around the throne, one with the face of a lion, one with the face of a calf, one with the face of a man, and lastly one with the face of an eagle. These are the four authors of the Gospels. The first one mentioned, the lion, represents St. Mark, the author of the first Gospel. Mark’s Gospel is represented by the lion, because his Gospel focuses on the power of Jesus. The calf is St. Luke, whose Gospel deals more fully with sacrifice. The man is St. Matthew, whose Gospel focuses more on the humanity of Jesus, While St. John’s Gospel ‘soars like an eagle’ to mystical heights that are not present in the synoptic Gospels. The order in which the four creatures are presented in Revelation also denotes the order in which the four Gospels were written. For us Catholics, no further proof than this is necessary.

  • Marlene Lammers

    Peter mentions Mark as his son. Tradition holds, Peter, had three biological children. What keeps Mark, son of Simon Peter, from actually being the biological son of Peter and the actual eyewitness author of , The Gospel of Mark?

  • Clare Anderson

    It is my understanding that for most of the Church’s existence, it was believed that Matthew was the earliest Gospel to be written. Markan priority was initially promoted by 19th C liberal theologians who promulgated a theory about an earlier, lost Gospel called ‘Q’ – for which there is no outside evidence.The great Benedictine scholars Dom John Chapman and Dom Bernard Orchard championed the priority of Matthew into modern times, and neither of those was what you would call a liberal. Questioning the authorship of Mark is another matter – John Mark was the likely author; the words were probably taken from homilies of Peter and written down by John Mark, his amanuensis.

  • Bob Rowland

    Mark wrote it in Hebrew in Palestine in 46 A.D.

  • Bob Rowland

    According to the Mystical City of God a private revelation to Venerable Mother Mary of Agreda that has several approbations:
    Mathew was written in Hebrew in Judea in 42 A.D.
    Luke was written in Greek in Achaia in 48 A.D.
    John was written in Greek in Asia Minor in 58 A.D.