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Encyclopedia of The Bible – John Mark
John Mark

MARK, JOHN (Μάρκος, ̓Ιωάννης). Son of Mary, cousin of Barnabas, assistant to Paul and Barnabas and traditionally the author of the second gospel.

The name ̓Ιωάννης, G2722, is derived from the Heb. יﯴחָנָנ׃֙ or יהﯴחָנָ֥ן meaning “Yahweh is gracious” and points to his Jewish heritage. Μάρκος, on the other hand, is the common Gr. form of the Lat. Marcus and served as John’s “other name” (e.g. Acts 12:12). Other examples of Jews bearing Gr. (e.g. Acts 10:18) or Rom. (e.g. Acts 1:23) names in addition to their Heb. names are common in the NT and in some cases may indicate Rom. citizenship, in others perhaps a previous life of slavery to a Rom. family. The nickname κολοβοδάκτυλος, or “stump-fingered,” was applied to John by some western authorities. While various explanations have been advanced for this, it is most natural to take the nickname as referring to an actual physical impairment, due to either congenital or accidental reasons.

Concerning the family of John Mark, his mother was named Mary (Acts 12:12) and he was the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10), who, according to Acts 4:36, 37, was a Levite, a native of Cyprus and a land owner. The household of Mary is pictured also as being of considerable means, boasting at least one servant girl and having sufficient space to accommodate a sizeable prayer meeting (Acts 12:12, 13). Of the father of Mark, nothing is known with certainty, but in view of the fact that the house is called Mary’s, one may assume that he was, by this time, dead. The fact that Peter, upon his miraculous release from prison, knew where to find the praying church, implies that the household held a position of some prominence among the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Concerning the early life of Mark, there is no direct information. However, judging from the fact that Peter was welcomed at the house of Mary and from information in the first epistle which bears that apostle’s name (1 Pet 5:13), one may say that Mark had a particularly close relationship with Peter, prob. dating from the early days of the church in Jerusalem. Later traditions likewise bear out a close association between Peter and Mark. The young man who fled naked from the betrayal scene in Gethsemane often is thought to have been John Mark (see Mark 14:51, 52). None of the known facts are against this suggestion and it was certainly the custom for an author not to mention his own name in his writings (cf. John 21:24).

As far as the more explicit record of the NT is concerned, the first significant event in the life of John was the fact that, when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from their famine relief mission to Jerusalem in c. a.d. 46, they brought him with them. Shortly after, Paul and Barnabas set out on the first missionary journey with Mark as their ὑπηρέτης, G5677, or “assistant” (Acts 13:5). The young man’s ministry with the two great missionaries often has been taken as being roughly equivalent to that of a modern day business manager serving a traveling team. The term generally indicates an official assistant quite distinct from what is implied by δοῦλος (“slave”) for example. Interestingly, Luke uses the phrase ὑπηρέται τοῦ λόγου (Luke 1:2) seemingly to indicate those who were committed to writing the events of the gospel or otherwise paid careful attention to them. It is precisely this type of function, the note taking from the preaching of Peter, which Papias assigns to Mark (see Eusebius, EH, 3.39). Indeed, A. Wright argued that Mark’s ministry was that of an official catechist (see “Professor Stanton on the Synoptic Problem,” ET, XXI [1909, 1910], 211-216; “Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem,” ET, XXII [1910, 1911], 358-362). Whatever the specific nature of Mark’s assistance may have been, the record does indicate that Mark left the two senior men at Perga, the capital of the religion of Artemis in Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No one can know the reason for Mark’s return. In any case, Paul was later to regard Mark’s action as desertion, for when the time came for the second journey, Barnabas desired that his younger cousin should accompany them again, but Paul steadfastly refused (Acts 15:37, 38). So sharp was the contention between the two elder missionaries that, in the end, Paul departed with Silas while Barnabas took Mark and set sail for his native Cyprus.

Mark now drops out of the account of Acts, it being wholly concerned with the further activities of Paul. The Pauline correspondence indicates that within a decade or so of the rift over Mark, the relationship between Paul and Mark had improved greatly. In Colossians 4:10 Paul includes Mark among the few of the circumcision who labored with him and provided him with some little comfort. Indeed, Mark appears to have been chosen by the great apostle to make some representation to Colossae. Paul makes further mention of Mark as his fellow worker in Philemon 24. By the time of the writing of Timothy, Mark and Timothy are together, prob. in Asia Minor, and Paul expresses his final, gratifying tribute for the young man: “he is very useful in serving me” (2 Tim 4:11).

Beginning with Papias in the first half of the 2nd cent., the Early Church consistently ascribed to Mark the task of having interpreted for Peter in Rome and of having written the second gospel (see the various traditions in Eusebius, EH, 2.15f.; 3.39; 5.8; 6.14). Mark also is said to have established churches in Alexandria in Egypt (Eusebius, EH, 2.16). A later and somewhat legendary tradition states that early in the 9th cent., Mark’s remains were taken from Alexandria and placed under the church of St. Mark in Venice.

Bibliography See the various commentaries on the second gospel, esp. H. B. Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark (19093), xiii-xxviii. Cf. also E. M. Blaiklock, The Young Man Mark (1965), 9-21; W. Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist (1969).