MARK’S GOSPEL AND THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

In this post I will cite the unanimous testimony of the early church fathers of the first four centuries that Mark wrote the Gospel attributed to him while in Rome, and that he essentially wrote down the Apostle Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel, having been taken on by the blessed Apostle as his spiritual son and protégé. All bold emphasis will be mine.

PAPIAS (60-130 AD)

15. This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. (Eusebius, Church History, Book III, Chapter 39. The Writings of Papias)

JUSTIN MARTYR (100-165 AD)

Chapter 106. Christ’s resurrection is foretold in the conclusion of the Psalm

Justin: The remainder of the Psalm makes it manifest that He knew His Father would grant to Him all things which He asked, and would raise Him from the dead; and that He urged all who fear God to praise Him because He had compassion on all races of believing men, through the mystery of Him who was crucified; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren the apostles (who repented of their flight from Him when He was crucified, after He rose from the dead, and after they were persuaded by Himself that, before His passion He had mentioned to them that He must suffer these things, and that they were announced beforehand by the prophets), and when living with them sang praises to God, as is made evident in the memoirs of the apostles. The words are the following: ‘I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church will I praise You. You that fear the Lord, praise Him; all you, the seed of Jacob, glorify Him. Let all the seed of Israel fear Him.’ And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel, and Oshea called Jesus (Joshua), under whose name the people who survived of those that came from Egypt were conducted into the land promised to the patriarchs. And that He should arise like a star from the seed of AbrahamMoses showed before hand when he thus said, ‘A star shall arise from Jacob, and a leader from Israel;’ Numbers 24:17 and another Scripture says, ‘Behold a man; the East is His name.’ Accordingly, when a star rose in heaven at the time of His birth, as is recorded in the memoirs of His apostles, the Magi from Arabia, recognising the sign by this, came and worshipped Him.(Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapters 89-108)

Justine quotes the following passage from Mark, thereby identifying this Gospel as the memoirs of Peter:

“He went up into the mountain and called to Him those whom He desired, and they came to Him.He ordained twelve to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach,and to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:Simon, whom He named Peter; James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges (meaning Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas; and James the son of Alphaeus; and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” Mark 3:13-19 Modern English Version (MEV)

IRENAEUS OF LYONS (130-202 AD)

The apostles did not commence to preach the Gospel, or to place anything on record until they were endowed with the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. They preached one God alone, Maker of heaven and earth.

1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge, as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1)

TERTULLIAN (155-240 AD)

Chapter 5. By the Rule of Antiquity, the Catholic Gospels are Found to Be True, Including the Real St. Luke’s. Marcion’s Only a Mutilated Edition. The Heretic’s Weakness and Inconsistency in Ignoring the Other Gospels.

On the whole, then, if that is evidently more true which is earlier, if that is earlier which is from the very beginning, if that is from the beginning which has the apostles for its authors, then it will certainly be quite as evident, that that comes down from the apostles, which has been kept as a sacred deposit in the churches of the apostles. Let us see what milk the Corinthians drank from Paul; to what rule of faith the Galatians were brought for correction; what the Philippians, the Thessalonians, the Ephesians read by it; what utterance also the Romans give, so very near (to the apostles), to whom Peter and Paul conjointly bequeathed the gospel even sealed with their own blood. We have also St. John’s foster churches. For although Marcion rejects his Apocalypse, the order of the bishops (thereof), when traced up to their origin, will yet rest on John as their author. In the same manner is recognised the excellent source of the other churches. I say, therefore, that in them (and not simply such of them as were founded by apostles, but in all those which are united with them in the fellowship of the mystery of the gospel of Christ ) that Gospel of Luke which we are defending with all our might has stood its ground from its very first publication; whereas Marcion’s Gospel is not known to most people, and to none whatever is it known without being at the same time condemned. It too, of course, has its churches, but specially its own — as late as they are spurious; and should you want to know their original, you will more easily discover apostasy in it than apostolicity, with Marcion forsooth as their founder, or some one of Marcion’s swarm. Even wasps make combs; so also these Marcionites make churches. The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage — I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew — while that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters. Well, then, Marcion ought to be called to a strict account concerning these (other Gospels) also, for having omitted them, and insisted in preference on Luke; as if they, too, had not had free course in the churches, as well as Luke’s Gospel, from the beginning. Nay, it is even more credible that they existed from the very beginning; for, being the work of apostles, they were prior, and coeval in origin with the churches themselves. But how comes it to pass, if the apostles published nothing, that their disciples were more forward in such a work; for they could not have been disciples, without any instruction from their masters? If, then, it be evident that these (Gospels) also were current in the churches, why did not Marcion touch them — either to amend them if they were adulterated, or to acknowledge them if they were uncorrupt? For it is but natural that they who were perverting the gospel, should be more solicitous about the perversion of those things whose authority they knew to be more generally received. Even the false apostles (were so called) on this very account, because they imitated the apostles by means of their falsification. In as far, then, as he might have amended what there was to amend, if found corrupt, in so far did he firmly imply that all was free from corruption which he did not think required amendment. In short, he simply amended what he thought was corrupt; though, indeed, not even this justly, because it was not really corrupt. For if the (Gospels) of the apostles have come down to us in their integrity, while Luke’s, which is received among us, so far accords with their rule as to be on a par with them in permanency of reception in the churches, it clearly follows that Luke’s Gospel also has come down to us in like integrity until the sacrilegious treatment of Marcion. In short, when Marcion laid hands on it, it then became diverse and hostile to the Gospels of the apostles. I will therefore advise his followers, that they either change these Gospels, however late to do so, into a conformity with their own, whereby they may seem to be in agreement with the apostolic writings (for they are daily retouching their work, as daily they are convicted by us); or else that they blush for their master, who stands self-condemned either way — when once he hands on the truth of the gospel conscience smitten, or again subverts it by shameless tampering. Such are the summary arguments which we use, when we take up arms against heretics for the faith of the gospel, maintaining both that order of periods, which rules that a late date is the mark of forgers, and that authority of churches which lends support to the tradition of the apostles; because truth must needs precede the forgery, and proceed straight from those by whom it has been handed on. (Against Marcion, Book IV)

HIPPOLYTUS (170-236 AD)

Chapter 18. Source of Marcionism; Empedocles Reasserted as the Suggester of the Heresy.

When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark. But (the real author of the system) is Empedocles, son of Meto, a native of Agrigento. And (Marcion) despoiled this (philosopher), and imagined that up to the present would pass undetected his transference, under the same expressions, of the arrangement of his entire heresy from Sicily into the evangelical narratives. For bear with me, O Marcion: as you have instituted a comparison of what is good and evil, I also today will institute a comparison following up your own tenets, as you suppose them to be. You affirm that the Demiurge of the world is evil— why not hide your countenance in shame, (as thus) teaching to the Church the doctrines of Empedocles? You say that there is a good Deity who destroys the works of the Demiurge: then do not you plainly preach to your pupils, as the good Deity, the Friendship of Empedocles. You forbid marriage, the procreation of children, (and) the abstaining from meats which God has created for participation by the faithful, and those that know the truth.1 Timothy 4:3 (Do you think, then,) that you can escape detection, (while thus) enjoining the purificatory rites of Empedocles? For in point of fact you follow in every respect this (philosopher of paganism), while you instruct your own disciples to refuse meats, in order not to eat any body (that might be) a remnant of a soul which has been punished by the Demiurge. You dissolve marriages that have been cemented by the Deity. And here again you conform to the tenets of Empedocles, in order that for you the work of Friendship may be perpetuated as one (and) indivisible. For, according to Empedocles, matrimony separates unity, and makes (out of it) plurality, as we have proved. (Refutation of All Heresies, BOOK 7)

ORIGEN (184-253 AD)

Chapter 25. His Review of the Canonical Scriptures.

1. When expounding the first Psalm, he gives a catalogue of the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament as follows:

It should be stated that the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them down, are twenty-two; corresponding with the number of their letters. Farther on he says:

2. The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following: That which is called by us Genesis, but by the Hebrews, from the beginning of the book, Bresith, which means, ‘In the beginning’; Exodus, Welesmoth, that is, ‘These are the names’; Leviticus, Wikra, ‘And he called’; Numbers, Ammesphekodeim; Deuteronomy, Eleaddebareim, ‘These are the words’; Jesus, the son of Nave, Josoue ben Noun; Judges and Ruth, among them in one book, Saphateim; the First and Second of Kings, among them one, Samouel, that is, ‘The called of God’; the Third and Fourth of Kings in one, Wammelch David, that is, ‘The kingdom of David’; of the Chronicles, the First and Second in one, Dabreïamein, that is, ‘Records of days’; Esdras, First and Second in one, Ezra, that is, ‘An assistant’; the book of Psalms, Spharthelleim; the Proverbs of Solomon, Meloth; Ecclesiastes, Koelth; the Song of Songs (not, as some suppose, Songs of Songs), Sir Hassirim; Isaiah, Jessia; Jeremiah, with Lamentations and the epistle in one, Jeremia; Daniel, Daniel; Ezekiel, Jezekiel; Job, Job; Esther, Esther. And besides these there are the Maccabees, which are entitled Sarbeth Sabanaiel. He gives these in the above-mentioned work.

3. In his first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows:

4. Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.

5. The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’ 1 Peter 5:13

6. And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.

7. In the fifth book of his Expositions of John’s Gospel, he speaks thus concerning the epistles of the apostles: But he who was ‘made sufficient to be a minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit,’ 2 Corinthians 3:6 that is, Paul, who ‘fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum,’ Romans 15:19 did not write to all the churches which he had instructed and to those to which he wrote he sent but few lines.

8. And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,’ Matthew 16:18 has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful.

9. Why need we speak of him who reclined upon the bosom of Jesus, John, who has left us one Gospel, though he confessed that he might write so many that the world could not contain them? And he wrote also the Apocalypse, but was commanded to keep silence and not to write the words of the seven thunders.

10. He has left also an epistle of very few lines; perhaps also a second and third; but not all consider them genuine, and together they do not contain hundred lines.

11. In addition he makes the following statements in regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews in his Homilies upon it: That the verbal style of the epistle entitled ‘To the Hebrews,’ is not rude like the language of the apostle, who acknowledged himself ‘rude in speech’ 2 Corinthians 11:6 that is, in expression; but that its diction is purer Greek, any one who has the power to discern differences of phraseology will acknowledge.

12. Moreover, that the thoughts of the epistle are admirable, and not inferior to the acknowledged apostolic writings, any one who carefully examines the apostolic text will admit.’

13. Farther on he adds: If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s.

14. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows. The statement of some who have gone before us is that Clement, bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, and of others that Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Acts, wrote it. But let this suffice on these matters.

(Eusebius, Church History, Book VI)

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (150-212 AD)

Chapter 14. The Scriptures mentioned by Him.

1. To sum up briefly, he has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, — I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter.

2. He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts.

3. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.

4. Farther on he says: But now, as the blessed presbyter said, since the Lord being the apostle of the Almighty, was sent to the Hebrews, Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance.

5. Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:

6. The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. 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.

7. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement. (Eusebius, Church History, Book VI)

ANTI-MARCIONITE PROLOGUES TO THE GOSPELS (2nd – 4th Centuries)

Mark

… Mark recorded, who was called Colobodactylus 1, because he had fingers that were too small for the height of the rest of his body. He himself was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, the same man wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy. 

Luke

Indeed Luke was an Antiochene Syrian, a doctor by profession, a disciple of the apostles: later however he followed Paul until his martyrdom, serving the Lord blamelessly.  He never had a wife, he never fathered children, and died at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit, in Boetia. Therefore — although gospels had already been written —- indeed by Matthew in Judaea but by Mark in Italy —- moved by the Holy Spirit he wrote down this gospel in the parts of Achaia, signifying in the preface that the others were written before his, but also that it was of the greatest importance for him to expound  with the greatest diligence the whole series of events in his narration for the Greek believers, so that they would not be led astray by the lure of Jewish fables, or, seduced by the fables of the heretics and stupid solicitations, fall away from the truth. And so at once at the start he took up the extremely necessary [story] from the birth of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was a companion in the perfecting of the people, likewise in the introducing of baptism and a companion in martyrdom. Of this disposition the prophet Malachi, one of the twelve, certainly makes mention. And indeed afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Later the apostle John wrote the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, and then the Gospel in Asia. 

John

The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while still in the body, just as Papias of Hieropolis, the close disciple of John, related in the exoterics, that is, in the last five books. Indeed he wrote down the gospel, while John was dictating carefully. But the heretic Marcion, after being condemned by him because he was teaching 2 the opposite to him [John], was expelled by John.  But he [Marcion] had brought writings or letters to him [John] from the brothers which were in Pontus.

The translation was made from the text published by De Bruyne in Revue Bénédictine 40 (1928), p.193ff.

1. The nickname means “stumpy finger.”

2. Lit. sentiebat: he was thinking. (English translation by Roger Pearse)

EUSEBIUS (260-340 AD)

Chapter 16. Mark first proclaimed Christianity to the Inhabitants of Egypt.

1. And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria.

2. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life.

Chapter 17. Philo’s Account of the Ascetics of Egypt.

1. It is also said that Philo in the reign of Claudius became acquainted at Rome with Peter, who was then preaching there. Nor is this indeed improbable, for the work of which we have spoken, and which was composed by him some years later, clearly contains those rules of the Church which are even to this day observed among us. (Eusebius, Church History, Book II)

JEROME (340-420 AD)

(2) The first of all is Matthew, the tax collector, who is also named Levi, who published a Gospel in Judea in the Hebrew language, chiefly for the sake of those from the Jews who had believed in Jesus and who were by no means observing the shadow of the Law, since the truth of the Gospel had succeeded it. Mark is the second, the interpreter of the apostle Peter and the first bishop of the Alexandrian church, who indeed did not himself see the Lord and Savior, but he narrated the things which he heard his master preaching in accordance with the reliability of the events rather than their sequence. The third is Luke, the physician, a Syrian by birth from Antioch whose praise is in his Gospel, who also himself, a disciple of the apostle Paul, composed his book in the regions of Achaia and Boetia, tracing out certain matters more deeply, and as he himself admits in the preface, describing things that had been heard rather than seen. The last is John the apostle and evangelist, whom Jesus loved very much. While reclining upon the Lord’s breast, he drank in the purest of doctrines. He alone deserved to hear from the cross: “Behold your mother.”

When he was in Asia, even then the seeds of the heretics were already sprouting, of Cerinthus, of Ebion, and of the others who deny that Christ came in the flesh. John himself in his epistle calls them antichrists, and the Apostle Paul frequently smites them. At that time John was compelled by nearly all the bishops of Asia and delegations from many churches to write more deeply concerning the divinity of the Savior and to break through, so to speak, unto the very Word of God, through a boldness that was not so much audacious as blessed. This is the source of the church’s historical tradition that when he was compelled by the brothers to write, he answered that he would pray to the Lord. When this had been carried out and he had been abundantly filled with revelation, he poured forth that heaven-sent prologue: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (Commentary on Matthew, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, translated by Thomas P. Scheck [The Catholic University of America Press, 2008], Preface, pp. 53-55 https://books.google.com/books?id=j0UmWBivNJgC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false)

2 thoughts on “MARK’S GOSPEL AND THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

  1. AWESOME!!! If the Gospel of Mark was not considered anonymous to the Early Church, then there’s no reason why anyone today should treat it as anonymous. These references prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mark is the author of Mark, who was writing Peter’s memoirs. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

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