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MARK, JOHN (PERSON) [Gk Ioan(n)es Markos Ἰοαν(ν)ες Μαρκος]. An early Jewish Christian who assisted with the 1st-century missionary activities of Paul, Peter, and Barnabas and who is associated by tradition with the gospel of Mark. The name is a combination of two appellations, the Heb yōhānān (“Yahweh has shown grace”; cf. 2 Kgs 25:23) and the Latin “Marcus” (or the Greek Markos). Dual names commonly were employed during the period as a common custom within Hellenistic Judaism (see Acts 1:23, Joseph-Justus).
The NT provides scant information about the figure of John Mark. He initially is introduced at Acts 12:12, a scene in which Peter returns from prison to the home of Mary, “the mother of John whose other name was Mark.” Both the house itself and the household of Mary probably were significant for the early Christian community in Jerusalem, since Peter seems to have known that Christians would be gathered there for prayer. Thus the role of John Mark in early Church tradition often is associated with the presumed wealth and prestige of Mary, who was a homeowner with a maidservant (Rhoda) and who could support gatherings of early Christians for worship. The common, though most likely errant, belief that John Mark was the “young man” who escaped capture by the Romans at the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:51–52) rests upon the assumption that the Garden of Gethsemane was owned and tended by the family of Mary. According to this view, John Mark perhaps would have been stationed at the garden as a guard during the night watch. Another tradition, which maintains that the Last Supper (Mark 14) was held in the home of Mary, assumes that the household was familiar with the work of Jesus and was receptive to his activity. Papias of Hierapolis argues against a close relationship between Jesus and the family, however, since he notes specifically that Mark “had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him” (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15).
The only clear comment upon the activities of John Mark that is provided in the NT is the observation that he was one of numerous evangelistic missionaries who circulated during the 1st century (one of the 70 missionaries who are mentioned in Luke 10:1?). Accordingly, he is listed as an assistant to Paul and Barnabas during the first Pauline missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:5). Though the nature of that assistance is not specified, he may have served as a recorder, catechist, and travel attendant. Because of his status as the son of a prosperous Jewish-Christian family in Jerusalem and as the cousin of the wealthy landowner Barnabas (Col 4:10; Acts 4:36–37), John Mark would have been a natural selection for such a role. He later separated from Paul and Barnabas “in Pamphylia” (along the coast of S Anatolia), perhaps as the result of some unspecified disagreement. Paul thereafter refused to include him in subsequent travels (though Barnabas took him onward to Cyprus; Acts 15:37–39), and the account of Acts records his activities no further.
Apart from the testimony of Acts, his name (now listed only as Mark) reappears throughout the Pauline literary tradition as a reconciled missionary companion of Paul. Here he is remembered as one who labored faithfully for Christianity (2 Tim 4:11 and Philemon 24). The association of Barnabas with John “who is called Mark” in the record of Acts, on the one hand, and of Barnabas who was the “cousin” of Mark in the witness of Colossians, on the other hand, is an “undesigned coincidence” which suggests that the accounts of Acts and the Pauline Epistles in fact make reference to the same person (Taylor 1955: 29).
Though the figure of John Mark became a casualty of disputes within the Pauline missionary thrust, the Petrine tradition soon adopted an association with the name that has stood for centuries in ecclesial history. The initial evidence for this association appears in 1 Pet 5:13 where John Mark (again listed only as Mark) is mentioned by the author of the letter as “my son.” While the name Mark in 1 Peter cannot be identified definitively with the figure of Mark who appears in the Acts narrative, a consistent picture of the role and activities of John Mark would result if such an association can be accepted (Martin ISBE 3: 260). From the testimony of Papias (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.16) we learn that common ecclesial tradition recognized Mark as the “interpreter” of Peter who recorded the words of the apostle as the foundation for a written gospel (cf. also Iren. Haer. 3.1.1). There is no question that Papias here refers to the gospel of Mark as we know it. And again, while the association of Mark (as recorded by Papias) with John Mark of Jerusalem is not above suspicion, this consistent caricature has been preserved by subsequent Christian tradition.
Numerous traditions about the person and activities of Mark soon arose among the Church Fathers. Hippolytus, for example, refers to Mark as “stump-fingered” or “shortened.” The former translation may indicate that the historical figure of Mark possessed some peculiar physical characteristic (as is suggested by the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the gospel from the 2d century). Modern scholars, however, often prefer to use the latter translation as a reference to the abbreviated nature of the gospel text itself (when compared to the other NT gospels) or in support of the manuscript tradition that concludes the gospel at Mark 16:8. Several early Christian traditions suggest that a close association existed between the figure of John Mark and the congregations of Alexandria, based upon the belief that he traveled to Egypt from Rome after the martyrdom of Peter (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 2.16.1). There is little information about the death of Mark. The claims for the martyrdom of Mark that appear in the Paschal Chronicle and in the Acts of Mark probably do not predate the 4th century (Swete 1909: xxvii–xxviii). For further discussion see Pesch Mark HTKNT.
Hendricksen, W. 1975. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids.
Holmes, B. T. 1935. Luke’s Description of John Mark. JBL 44: 63–72.
Jones, E. D. 1921–22. Was Mark the Gardener of Gethsemane? ExpTim 33: 403–4.
Swete, H. B. 1909. The Gospel according to St. Mark. 3d ed. London.
Taylor, V. 1955. The Gospel According to St. Mark. London.
CLAYTON N. JEFFORD
AYBD, s.v. “MARK, JOHN (PERSON),” 4:556-557.