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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

- Mark

by Joseph Sutcliffe


OF St. Mark, Papias writes, as he had heard from John the elder, that “Mark being the interpreter or scribe of Peter, accurately wrote whatever he remembered, but not exactly in the order in which the words were spoken, or the actions done; for he was not a hearer of the Lord, nor yet an immediate follower. But he afterwards accompanied Peter, who preached the doctrine of the gospel profitably to those that heard him, though not as a regular history of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark committed no error in having written some things as he had heard them; for he made one thing his chief design, to omit nothing that he had heard, nor yet to introduce any thing on secondary evidence.” Eusebius.

Origen varies from this opinion of Papias. He contends that Mark was one of the seventy two disciples, and that he had seen Christ in the flesh, and heard him preach. Now, as Origen spent his whole life in Alexandria, the final seat of Mark’s labours, he had the most extensive means of knowing these facts, which he boldly asserts.

Jerome has left us the subsequent life of Mark, to the effect that “Mark, the disciple and interpreter, or amanuensis of Peter, being desired by the brethren at Rome, wrote a concise gospel, as he heard Peter preach and verbally declare the words of Christ. This gospel, after being examined by Peter, was approved, and published under his authority, that it might be read in the congregations, as St. Clement records in his book entitled Dispositions.” Before Jerome’s time, Tertullian had ventured to call it the gospel of Peter.

Peter also in his first epistle, 1 Peter 5:13, under the name of Babylon, figuratively put for Rome, has these words: “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” “Wherefore,” continues Clement, “he took the gospel which he himself had written, and went into Egypt, and was the first of all men to preach Christ in Alexandria, where he raised a church [ecclesia] founded on such pure doctrine and perfect discipline, as induced all who professed Christ to follow his example.” Philo also, the elegant writer of the jews, perceiving that the first christians of Alexandria still persevered in the Hebrew religion, wrote a book of their good conversation, delicately ascribing the praise to his own nation. And as Luke records how all things were common among the faithful in Jerusalem, so Philo gave an impartial memoir of whatever he saw in the church of Alexandria, while Mark taught and preached in that city. Mark died there in the eighth year of the reign of Herod the third, and was buried in Alexandria. He was succeeded by Ananias.

Dr. Nathaniel Lardner, who spent the latter part of his life in writing the Credibility of the Gospel History, is decidedly of opinion that there was but one John Mark, though others have thought that John and Mark were distinct persons. Paul makes honourable mention of him in two places. In Colossians 4:10, he says, “Salute Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas, touching whom ye received commandments; if he come to you, receive him.” He requests Timothy to bring Mark along with him, as a fellow- labourer, adding, “For he is profitable to me for the ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11. Truly, this is a high and honourable testimony.

The first essays of Mark’s labours among the gentiles of which we read, was with his uncle Barnabas, and with St. Paul. With the former of whom he sailed to Cyprus, after Paul had preferred Silas as a fellow-labourer. His first name was John, Acts 15:37, his surname Mark, always accounted the first name after its assumption for reasons rounded on custom. Thus Barsabas is surnamed Justus; and Simeon, Niger: Hebrew names being barbarous to a Greek and Roman ear.

Eusebius, after stating that St. Peter had arrived at Rome, and preached the gospel of Christ with admirable success, adds, “that those who heard him were so enkindled with the love of the truth, that they could not contain themselves. They therefore prayed him to leave with them in writing the gospel which they had heard him declare. For this reason, he prayed Mark, who was his disciple, to leave them the manuscript of the gospel, in order that they might have it always at hand as they had heard it preached; nor did they desist from their entreaties till they had obliged Mark to write the gospel, which now bears the name of this saint.” Demon. Evang. lib. 2. cap. 15.

The Lord Jesus having had twelve apostles, Chrysostom asks, “Why there were but two who had undertaken to write the gospel; St. Mark, as well as St. Luke, being but disciples of the apostles?” He rejoins, “it was because men so holy did nothing for glory, but in all things conducted themselves by the movements of God, and with a view to edify the church.”

Eusebius says, “that St. Mark wrote his gospel in the third year of Claudius, which was the forty third year of Christ, and ten years after his death.”

The church from the beginning abounded with gospels, and some of them of great merit; but they are seldom quoted by the fathers, except for some collateral expletives, because they were not canonized, nor delivered to the churches as written under the influences of the Holy Ghost. Augustine asserts that Mark has followed Matthew, as it were foot by foot, and is apparently his abbreviator. Marcus Matthæum subsecutus tanquam pedissequus et breviator ejus videtur. Though this assertion may seem true, yet Mark has added many things not in Matthew, and related others with greater minuteness, and placed in better order as to juxtaposition.

To these we may add another testimony, as collected by Professor Du Pin, in the introductory volume to his ecclesiastical history. St. Gregoire de Nazianze dans ses Poëmes, 34 et 44, ecrit que St. Marc, &c. That is, St Gregory Nazianzen, in his poems 34 and 44, writes that St. Mark composed his gospel for Italy, from the dictations of St. Peter. The author of the Synopsis, attributed to Athanasius, affirms “that it was this apostle [Peter] who dictated the gospel according to St. Mark.” Tertullian therefore had strong reasons for the efforts he made to have it called the Gospel according to St. Peter.

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