Review of Chapter 6 of Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke

In this chapter Wenham will look at ancient testimonies concerning the Gospel of Mark. There is a solid core to the tradition that links Mark to Peter’s teaching in Rome.

As was the case with Matthew, we start with Papias (Eusebius, HE 3.39.14-15):

But now we must add to the words of his [Papias] which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark, the author of the Gospel. “This also the presbyter [John] said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.

It is not possible to know for certain where the words of the presbyter begin and end. Wenham is of the opinion that they consist of only the one sentence (“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ”) and that “I said” indicates Papias is speaking once again. This passage states that Mark was the “interpreter” of Peter. The Greek word translated “interpreter” means one who interprets, expounds, or explains. In other words, it is not restricted to the translation of one language into another. It is likely that Peter spoke Greek (e.g., Acts 10:34; Gal. 2:12). Papias stresses that Mark wrote accurately and fully. Finally, he notes that Mark did not give a connected account of the Lord’s discourses. This contrasts Mark with Matthew, who has a very ordered arrangement of the Lord’s sayings.

Irenaeus writes (Adv. Haer. 3.1.2): “After their [Peter and Paul’s] departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” While the Greek translated “departure” is unusual it most likely refers to the deaths of Peter and Paul (cf. Luke 9:31; 2 Pet. 1:15). Irenaeus merely says that Mark handed down his writing. He does not mention whether his writing was written before or after the death of Peter.

In about 40 manuscripts of the Vulgate are short introductions to the gospels. These introductions were probably originally written in Greek. They may date to about the time of Irenaeus or considerably later. The prologue to Mark agrees with Irenaeus that Mark was the interpreter of Peter.

Clement of Alexandria made a couple statements about Mark that have been preserved by Eusebius:

And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon [Magus] was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done, was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias. And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” (Eusebius, HE 2.15.1-2)

Again, in the same books [the Hypotyposes], Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters . . . The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. (Eusebius, HE 6.14.5-7)

The first passage says Peter gave the sanction of his authority to the gospel while the second passage implies he was lukewarm to the gospel. Wenham suggests that the revelation to Peter caused Peter to warm to the idea. Unfortunately, he does not elaborate on this point. Since Eusebius is referring to the same book (the Hypotyposes) in both passages you would think the two passages are compatible with each other in their original contexts. In a comment on 1 Peter 5:13 Clement also wrote:

Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter publicly preached the Gospel at Rome before some of Cæsar’s equites [knights], and adduced many testimonies to Christ, in order that thereby they might be able to commit to memory what was spoken, of what was spoken by Peter, wrote entirely what is called the Gospel according to Mark.

Eusebius also preserves the view of Origen (HE 6.25.5): “The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son.”

All these testimonies point to a solid core of tradition, which makes Mark the author of the gospel, which makes him a fellow-worker with Peter, and which makes his book a faithful record of what that apostle taught in Rome. The tradition is not entirely clear as to whether he wrote before or after the apostle’s death. Clement specifically states the former. Irenaeus, though frequently cited on the other side, is in fact entirely neutral. (p. 142)

Wenham closes the chapter by discussing the Mar Saba fragment allegedly discovered by Morton Smith in 1958. The fragment was said to be a letter from Clement of Alexandria. The letter states that there were two versions of Mark: one for the general public and one for the use of those who were being initiated into the great mysteries. Many scholars believe it to be a modern forgery. Wenham notes (p. 145): “Eusebius tells us that Clement in his Hypotyposeis ‘has given concise explanations of all the canonical scriptures without omitting the disputed books’ (6.14.1), and he gives no hint there were two versions of Mark, let alone that there was a version containing advanced material for the initiated, which would of course have provided grist to his expository mill.” And even if the fragment is authentic, few scholars believe it goes back to Mark himself. It could go back to a second-century apocryphal gospel. For what it’s worth, the fragment does state that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome while Peter was still alive.


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