Is “The Gospel of Mark” largely from Peter?

  • Clarifying the question

    Often biographies have at sources which are used in order to acquire information. In ancient Greco-roman biographies especially, it was important to ground the information in an eyewitness source. Is the Gospel of Mark sourced in Peter as an eyewitness? Was Peter's testimony behind the material used in this gospel? Perhaps even, is the gospel a record of Peter's memoirs?

  • [Note: article under construction]

“Yes, after all…
  • Christians would not spin lies that Mark wrote Mark

    Maurice Casey (Professor of NT literature & language at Nottingham): “The early church would not have attributed its first gospel to someone simply called Marcus, who was not a follower of Jesus, unless both points were known facts.” [Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark, 2010), 67.]

  • The author was known

    The author of the gospel of Mark was known to early Christians. This several early souces identify Mark as the author, and there is no trace of an alternative author.

    1. We know this for three reasons:
      FIRST: Ancient biographies fairly consistently had known authors.

      Ben Witherington (Asbury professor of NT): “…ancient biographies almost invaraibly had known authors, whether we think of Plutarch's Lives, or Seutonius's narratives about the Caesars, or Tactitus's Agricola, or Josephus's autobiography. Though internally Mark's Gospel does not reaveal the name of the author, the predication kata Markon very likely has some foundation in fact.” [The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans, 2001), 8-9.]
      Martin Hengel: “…as a rule, a title should contain a reference to the author, unless authorship was universally known, as in the case of the Pentateuch. Hebrews was only passed on because it was included in the collection of the Pauline letters, i.e., the question of authorship had already been raised in the second century.” [“Eye-witness memory and the writing of the Gospels” in The Written Gospel, eds. Bockmuehl & Hanger (Cambridge, 2005), 80.]
      Robert Stein: "The unanimity of the [kata Markon] superscription in one form or another argues against a mid-second century origin, and the Papias quotation (see above) seems to presuppose its existence both for Mark and for Matthew… so that the association of [kata Markon] with the Second Gospel already existed in the late first century… Therefore some sort of title was probably associated with Mark from the very beginning. [Mark BEC (2008), 2-3.]
      This is relevant because Mark belongs to the genre of ancient Greco-Roman biography. If one is skeptical that Mark is biography, it is enough to say that it is sufficiently like biography that its natural to expect its author was known.

      SECOND: The book was widely circulated, and trusted by multiple contemporary biographers.
      Martin Hengel (NT professor at SBU): “Behind such a ‘revolutionary work’ an authority must stand. Only thus is it explained that Luke and Matthew relied upon it massively and that it was not lost despite the existence of more comprehensive Gospels such as Luke and Matthew and the ‘apostolic’ authority of the latter, which reused 80 percent of it. (Hengel 1985a.)” [“Eye-witness memory and the writing of the Gospels” in The Written Gospel, eds. Bockmuehl & Hanger (Cambridge, 2005), 91-92.]
      THIRD: The author was a companion of Peter's.

  • (AD 80) The Elder John said so

    “The Elder [John] (AD ??-100)1reported that Mark got his information from Peter,” and Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60-130) approvingly quoted him.

    But so what? Plausibly…
    …the Elder lied.
    …Papias lied. [See response]1
    …Papias fell for a lie.2

    1. As quoted by Eusebius, in History of the Church 3.36.15

      Papias: “And the Presbyter used to say this, ‘Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.’” [Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles]

      It seems unlikely that Papias lied here.
      Ben Witherington (NT professor at Asbury): “Here is not the place to get into a lengthy discussion about the Elder John, but the point to be made is that Papias is relying on first-century testimony that claims to be connected with the original apostolic testimony. Papias did not dream up the summary he offered, and indeed it is hard to imagine anyone making up the notion of Mark, a noneyewitness, nonapostle, as the author of this important and earliest Gospel. The burden of proof must lie with those who deny that some early Christian named Mark wrote this work. [The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans, 2001) 24.]
      It also seems unlikely that he was mislead.
      Richard Bauckham (NT professor, senior scholar at Cambridge): “Papias was collecting traditions about Jesus originating from named disciples of Jesus, a few of them still alive and resident not from from his hometown, in the late first century, around the time when the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John were being written. He wrote (or at least completed) his book some years later, but it was in the late first century that he assembled his material. (I have argued this in ibid., pp. 12-21). So he was in a position to know something about how the Gospels originated,.” [_Jesus Research: Methodologies and Perceptions eds. Charlesworth & Pokorny (Princeton, 2007), 499.]

    2. But Papias is unreliable. Eusebius calls him stupid, and some of his reports are unbelievable. Consider his account of Judas (Fragment 4) and an alleged teaching Jesus gave on the milennium on earth Frament 1, 3) Similarly,

      Thomas R. Hatina: “most scholars are skeptical about Mark's dependence on Peter chiefly because some of the language ("made no mistake in writing," "careful," "left nothing out," "nothing falsely) strongly suggests apologetic attempts to vindicate the trustworhiness of the Gospel in the face of opposition. [The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus ed. Evans (Routledge, ), 252.]

  • (AD 150) Justin Martyr said so

    Justin Martyr identifies the Gospel of Mark as “the memoirs of Peter.”

    1. Read:

      Justin Martyr: “And when it is said that [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in his memoirs that this so happened, as well as that he changed the names of two other brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder.” [Dialogue with Trypho 106.3]

      This is relevant because, compare:
      Mark 3:17 ―James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder.
      Specifically, notice:
      Maurice Casey (NT professor of lit. & language atNottingham): Justin refers not to the Gospel according to Mark, but to the ‘memoirs’ of Peter. One reference to Peter's memoirs has the sons of Zebedee called ‘Boanerges,’ which is “sons of thunder”’ (Dial. 106). The word ‘Boanerges’ is known only from Mk 3.17, where Mark says that Jesus gave Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee, ‘the name “‘Boanerges”, which is “sons of thunder”’. This reference is not merely unique. The term ‘Boanerges’ is a mistaken attempt to transliterate into Greek letters the Aramaic words BeNERe'EM, which means ‘sons of thunder’. The possibility that two independent sources made almost identical mistakes in the transliteration of these words is negligible. It follows that by ‘the memoirs of Peter’ Justin met the Gospel of Mark. [Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clar, 2010), 66.]
      Note also that elsewhere Justin writes: “The Apostles in their memoirs, which are called Gospels, have handed down what Jesus ordered them to do” [First Apology 66]

  • (AD 170) Anti-Marcionite Prologue said so

    The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (A.D. 160-180) testifies that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark.

    1. The passage, which is fragmentary, reads: “… Mark declared, who is called ‘stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter's interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”
  • (AD 180) Irenaeus said so

    Irenaeus (c. 130-202) testified that Mark wrote his Gospel from Peter’s teaching. This is relevant because Irenaeus's belief was justified.

    1. Irenaeus (130-200AD): “Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome and founded the community. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, handed on his preaching to us in written form” [“Against Heresies” 3.1]

  • (AD 200) Clement said so

    Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) testified to knowing that Mark got his information from Peter

    But so what? Plausibly… …Clement is simply repeating Papias's information? [See response]1

    1. Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215): [On a tradition passed down from “elders from the beginning”] “And so great a joy of light shone upon the minds of the hearers of Peter that they were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally; and they did not cease until they had prevailed upon the man and so became responsible for the Scripture for reading in the churches.”[“Hypotyposeis” Church History 2.15]

    2. It is unlikely that Clement is simply repeating Papais's information. Consider:

      Eusebius: “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.” [Church History 6.14]

  • The Muratorian Canon

    The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 200) says so.1

    1. The first line reads: “at which he was present so he wrote them down.” The immediate context of the line makes it clear that "he" refers to Mark and “which” refers to the preaching of Peter.”
  • The gospel has vivid details when Peter is involved

    There is a noticeable correlation between being a section in which Peter is involved, and being described in an unusually detailed or vivid way.1

    Mark 1:16-20,29-31,35-38; 5:21-24,35-43; 6:39,53-54; 9:14-15; 10:32,46; 14:32-42

    1. Mark 1:35-37 -- In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.

    2. Mark 2:1-5 -- When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.

    3. Mark 1:21, 29-31 -- They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. ... And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

    4. Mark 11:20-21 -- As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21 Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.
      J. Werner Wallace (Famous homicide detective): “notice these inclusions are relatively minor and don’t seem to add much to the narrative. Their incidental nature is an indicator the author lacked a motive other than to simply include Peter’s perspective in the account. Peter’s involvement appears to have been faithfully recorded by his scribe and assistant, Mark: • Peter’s search for Jesus (Mark 1:35-37) • Peter’s house in Capernaum (Mark 2:1-5 and 1:21, 29-31 compared to Matthew 4:13-16) • Peter’s identification of the fig tree (Mark 11:20-21 compared to Matthew 21:18-19) • Peter’s identification of the disciples (Mark 13:1-4 and Matthew 24:1-3)

  • The gospel is bracketed with Peter's name (Inclusio)

    The Gospel of Mark forms an inclusio1 around Peter's name (intentionally ensuring it appears first2, and last).3 This is relevant because the technique was used by biographers to denote its primary eyewitness source.

    1. An inclusio is a literary evidence which brackets a work with similar words (like “the Law and the Prophets” in Matthew 5:17 + 7:12.).

    2. Peter's name is deliberately placed first in the gospel and given emphasis.

      Mark 1:16-18 -- As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon [Σίμωνα καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος],… Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
      Richard Bauckham: “There is a particular emphasis here on Simon's name. Mark could have written ‘Simon and his brother Andrew,’ just as in the following verse he refers to ‘James the son of Zebedee and his brother John’ (1:19). Elsewhere Mark does indeed say, ‘James and John the brother of James’ (5:37; cf. 3:17), and so the repetition of the first brother's name seems to be an aspect of Markan style. But he does not always follow this practice, and in 1:16 it helps to give particular prominence to Simon.[Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 125.]

    3. Peter's name is deliberately placed last in the gospel and given emphasis (i.e. even though it is disruptive/superfluous).

      Mark 16:7 -- But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
      Richard Bauckham: “The rather surprisingly specific mention of Peter (who after all was one of the disciples) surely points ahead to the resurrection appearance of Jesus to Peter individually. Both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Luke 24:34) refer to such an appearance, so that its presence very early in the traditions is certain, but oddly it is nowhere narrated. Mark's reference to it, in the penultimate verse of his Gospel, pointing beyond the end of his own narrative, is designed to place Peter as prominently at the end of the story as at the beginning. The two references form an inclusio around the whole story, suggesting that Peter is the witness whose testimony includes the whole.[Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 125.]

  • The gospel matches Peter's preaching style


  • The gospel emphasizes Peter's words and deeds

    8:29,32-33; 9:5-6; 10:28-30; 14:29-31,66-72

    1. Notice too the inclusion of the unique words “and Peter” in 16:7.
  • The gospel resembles Peter's sermon in Caesarea

    Compare broad outlines: Galilee, Jerusalem, Passion, Resurrection, Commission See Acts 10:34-43

  • The gospel omits facts embarrassing to Peter

    There is a noticeable tendency in the gospel of Mark to omit or tone down parts of the narrative which are especially embarrassing to Peter.1

    1. J. Werner Wallace (Famous homicide detective, interrogates witnesses): “I had been interviewing and studying suspect and eyewitness statements for many years before I opened my first Bible. … It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts). Here are some examples of Petrine Omissions grounded in an effort to minimize embarrassment to Peter… • Peter’s shame at the “Miraculous Catch” (Mark 1:16-120 compared to Luke 5:1-11)
      • Peter’s foolish statement at the crowded healing (Mark 5:21-34 compared to Luke 8:42-48)
      • Peter’s lack of understanding related to the parable (Mark 7:14-19 compared to Matthew 15:10-18 and Acts 10:9-16)
      • Peter’s lack of faith on the lake (Mark 6:45 compared to Matthew 14:22-33)
      • Peter’s rash statement to Jesus (Mark 8:31-33 compared to Matthew 16:21-23)
      • Peter’s statement related to money (Mark 10:23-31 compared to Matthew 19:23-30)
      • Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:27-31 compared to Luke 22:31-34 and John 13:34-38)
      • Peter’s behavior at the foot-washing (Mark 14:22-26 compared to John 13:2-9)
      • Peter’s denial and Jesus’ direct stare (Mark 14:66-72 compared to Luke 22:54-62)[See Cold Case Christianity (David C Cook, 2013), 93.]

  • The gospel was seen as reliable/authoritative

    The Gospel of Mark was seen as reliable/authoritative.

    • Raymond Brown (NT professor at NY): “Papias could, then, be reporting in a dramatized and simplified way that in his writing about Jesus, Mark reorganized and rephrased a content derived from a standard type of preaching that was considered apostolic. That could explain two frequently held positions about Gospel relationships; first, that the Marcan Gospel was so acceptable within a decade as to be known and approved as a guide by Matthew and Luke writing in different areas; second, that John could be independent of Mark and still have similarities to it in outline and some contents.” [An Introduction to the New Testament (Yale, 1997), 161.]