Tag Archives: eusebius

An Apology for Mark’s Gospel?

I was reading the series “Was the Apostle Peter a Source for Mark’s Gospel?” over at Earliest Christianity (parts 1, 2, 3) this morning. In part 1, Tim quotes the oft-repeated refrain from Eusebius (quoting Papias, who quotes John the Apostle) about Mark’s authorship of the gospel attributed to him:

“And the elder [i.e. John?] used to say this: ‘Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving and ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or to make any false statement in them.’” (Eusebius, Church History 3.39; translation of Michael W. Holmes)

It seems to me that John was making an apology for Mark’s gospel. Notice several implicit charges that this passage answers:

  • The events of Jesus’ life in Mark’s gospel are out of order: “Mark . . . wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ.”
  • Mark was not an apostle, so his gospel is not authoritative: “he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter”
  • Mark’s gospel doesn’t include enough on Jesus’ teachings: “Mark . . . followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving and ordered account of the Lord’s sayings.”

“Consequently,” John concludes, “Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or to make any false statement in them.” In other words, don’t cast blame on Mark for the shape of his gospel; he was just following Peter! In fact, John asserts, far from being an untrustworthy source of teaching about Jesus, Mark’s gospel is actually an accurate and authoritative collection of Peter’s apostolic teaching.

The implications of all this, of course, are very interesting. First, it would mean that in the late apostolic era, Mark’s gospel was at least a little controversial for its scope and subject matter (mostly the Passion, rather than Jesus’ teachings). It also explains why later authors (like those of Matthew, Luke, and John) saw fit to expand on Mark, because they were unsatisfied with the scope of that gospel.

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