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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. Name and identity.—One, two, and even three Marks have been discovered in the NT. But the identity of the ‘John Mark’ of Acts with the ‘Mark’ of St. Paul’s Epistles is clearly proved by Colossians 4:10, where he is called the cousin of Barnabas, and his identity with the ‘Mark’ of 1 Peter is clearly proved by Acts 12:12. These two passages show that in all the nine places where the name occurs (Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36 ff., Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24, 1 Peter 5:13) the same person is referred to. The curious notion has widely prevailed that the ‘young man’ of Mark 14:51-52 was the Evangelist himself, but there is no evidence whatever in its support. Indeed, the words of Papias, ‘he neither heard the Lord, nor accompanied Him,’ would seem to exclude this and other similar suggestions. In accordance with a well-known custom (cf. ‘Jesus Justus,’ Colossians 4:11), Mark had both a Hebrew and a Latin name, and the Roman prœnomen Marcus is of frequent occurrence. From Acts 12:11 ff. we gather that Mark occupied a position of some prominence socially in the Church at Jerusalem. His mother’s house was evidently a well-known rendezvous for believers. When St. Peter is released from prison, he turns naturally to this place, and on his arrival finds a company of Christians at worship. Several slight indications in the description suggest the house of a person of means (the porch, the slave-girl, the large upper room). The only other information we possess as to Mark’s family history is his connexion with Barnabas, who seems to have been a man of standing in the Christian community.

2. Relations with Paul and Barnabas.—When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, whither they had gone with the offering for the poor, they took Mark with them as assistant, perhaps owing to his kinship with Barnabas (Acts 12:25). A little later, he again accompanies them on their first missionary journey as their ‘attendant’ (Acts 13:5). This word (ὑπηρέτης) emphasizes his secondary position and function. Probably his work was of the nature of business management. He had to look after such matters as lodging, routes, conveyance, and the like. At Perga, Mark withdrew from the mission, for what reason is not stated. That Paul deeply resented his conduct is shown by the refusal to employ his services on a later occasion. It has been assumed that he shirked the dangers of the enterprise, or that he tired of the work. But Ramsay (Ch. in Rom. [Note: Roman.] Emp. p. 61 f.) has taken a more favourable view of his conduct. He holds that there was a change of plan at this point, that the journey into the interior was not in the original arrangement, and that Mark might consider this a good ground for refusing to go on. He had not the same necessity laid upon him as those who had been solemnly designated by the Spirit for this service. He was an ‘extra hand,’ taken on for casual labour. Barnabas, at any rate, judged Mark’s conduct more leniently than Paul, and later on Paul himself modified his attitude. At the outset of the second missionary journey, however, his objection to Mark’s co-operation was so strong that it led to a separation between himself and Barnabas (Acts 15:36 ff.). The latter took Mark with him on a mission to Cyprus, and we hear no more of him in the Book of Acts. When Mark next appears (Col. and Philem.), it is as the ‘fellow-labourer’ of Paul, who had by this time become completely reconciled to him, and had found him a comfort (παρηγορία, Colossians 4:11) in his imprisonment. Paul speaks in Colossians 4:10 of a projected visit of Mark to the Colossian Church, and urges his friends there to receive him kindly, ‘if he comes’ to them. If is probable, therefore, that Mark’s previous desertion had created an unfavourable impression over a wide area. Harnack thinks the visit was paid, and that, when St. Paul wrote to Timothy to bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11), Timothy was to pick him up at Colossae on his way from Ephesus. Paul had evidently missed the attentions which Mark had been able to give.

3. Relations with Peter.—St. Peter refers to Mark in his First Epistle (1 Peter 5:13) as ‘my son.’ This may imply only a peculiarly close intimacy, but more probably it means that Mark had been converted through Peter’s influence. Peter was evidently a frequent visitor at Mark’s home (Acts 12), and the friendship had begun there which afterwards became so deep and fruitful. St. Peter’s reference in his letter shows also that at this date Mark was with him at ‘Babylon,’ which most writers now consider to mean Rome. From the familiar words of Papias (see Mark [Gospel acc. to], Mark 2:1) we learn that Mark had become the ‘interpreter’ of Peter, and that Mark ‘accompanied’ or ‘attended’ him. Swete thinks he acted as Peter’s dragoman, and translated the Apostle’s words for his audiences. Peter, it is supposed, would not be fluent in Greek. It is not easy to fit in this ministry to Peter in Rome with the ministry to Paul. Swete thinks it occurred after Paul’s death; but it is at least doubtful whether Peter survived Paul. Harnack and Lightfoot may be quoted to the contrary. It is by no means impossible, of course, that Mark may have ‘attended’ Peter in Rome, and transferred his services to Paul. It would be much simpler, however, to suppose that the ministry was exercised much earlier, and in the real, not the spiritual, Babylon. In any case, Mark’s association with Peter was a fruitful one, as it resulted in the composition of the Second Gospel. In this matter Mark seems to have been little more than an amanuensis. According to Papias, the Gospel is really Peter’s, and Mark was simply his ‘interpreter’ on this as on other occasions.

4. Character and position in the Apostolic history.—Mark was thus associated with three notable men in turn, and always in the same subordinate capacity. Jülicher calls him ‘Apostelschüler.’ Swete thinks this humble position decidedly implied in the terms used of him in Acts and the Epistles. The συνπαραλαβόντες of Acts 12:25 suggests an assistant ‘of inferior rank.’ The ὑπηρέτης of Acts 13:5 indicates personal and not spiritual service. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveller, p. 71) holds that Mark’s subordinate character is displayed by the ‘haphazard reference’ to him in Acts 13:5. The same conclusion may be drawn from St. Paul’s language in 2 Timothy 4:11 (‘he is useful to me εἰς διακονίαν’). His services to the Apostle in prison probably concerned his comfort and convenience. If, again, Mark was Peter’s dragoman, he exercised very much the same ‘ministry’ for Paul also. We gather, then, from these references, that Mark was a person with a large capacity for being useful in practical matters, but without any special spiritual gifts, and probably without any very great force of character. This opinion may be regarded as receiving confirmation from his conduct at Perga, on the most charitable view of that incident. He does not appear to have been fitted for heroic enterprise, or for a separate responsibility, or for spiritual functions. It is only fair to say, however, that a more favourable opinion has been expressed by writers like Westcott (Introd. to Study of Gospels) and Jülicher (in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ). Jülicher points out that St. Paul ultimately came round to the lenient judgment of Barnabas, that Mark never lost his missionary zeal, and also that he remained unaffected by the prevalent party spirit, serving both St. Paul and St. Peter with equal loyalty.

5. Traditions.—Tradition has been busy with Mark’s name. The most widely spread is that which assigns to him a mission in Egypt, and the evangelization of Alexandria. This mission is regarded as occupying the gap between the history in Acts and the later ministry to the Apostles. It was also widely believed that he died at Alexandria, receiving (according to some versions) the crown of martyrdom. These traditions cannot be traced back further than a hundred years after the supposed events. One curious fact is preserved in some of the Western traditions. Mark is said to have been κολοβοδάκτυλος, which means either mutilated or stunted in one or more of his fingers. Explanations of this deformity have been offered which possess no probability. But the reminiscence itself may quite possibly preserve a genuine fact; and it is not impossible that this defect may have had some influence in determining the possibilities of Mark’s career.

Literature.—The best accounts of Mark are given by Swete (Gospel acc. to St. Mark, 1898) and Lindsay (‘St. Mark’ in T. & T. Clark’s Handbook series) in their introductions. The following may also be consulted: Harnack, art. ‘Mark’ in EBr [Note: Br Encyclopaedia Britannica.] (esp. for its good account of the traditions concerning the Evangelist); Jülicher, art. ‘Marcus’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Morison and Salmond in introd. to their Comm. on this Gospel.

Frederick J. Rae.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mark'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Mark (John)