Peter and the Gospel of Mark

According to the early Christian leader, Papias, when John Mark wrote his gospel he used stories and memories  about Jesus and the disciples which heard from Peter. In the gospel of Mark there are clues which suggest this is true.

 

Papias was a Christian leader in the town of Hierapolis in south west Turkey. Hot springs established it as a spa town that many retired to for health reasons. Philip the Evangelist, one of the Seven appointed to look after the poor of the Jerusalem church, lived there with his daughters towards the end of the 1st century (Acts 21 : 8). Papias collected eye-witness accounts of Jesus and his disciples and wrote them down around 100 - 120 AD. Some fragments still survive and describe how he collected them. He only took heed of memories of those who had known Jesus or his closest disciples, such as Philip the Evangelist, though very few were still alive in Papias' day. The other witnesses he listened to were known as 'the Elders', Christian teachers of standing who had themselves known Jesus, or his closest disciples, or those who had had personal dealings with them.

 

Papias wrote that the Gospel of Mark was based on Peter's personal accounts of Jesus' missionary journeys.

 

John Mark is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. A travelling companion of Paul his mother's home was a house church in Jerusalem and one Peter was attached to.

 

Papias wrote that Peter's accounts were written down by John Mark but not in chronological order.

Within the gospel of Mark there are a number of clues that indicate it was written from Peter's perspective.

'INCLUSIO'

 

Using eye-witness accounts to write history was regarded as essential by the best ancient historians. One way of indicating who the prime witnesses were was to name them first and last in the history - referred to as 'inclusio'. In the gospel of Mark Peter is the first and last named disciple. He is even named twice in Mk 1 : 16 -

'...he saw Simon and Andrew

the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea.'

 

'PLURAL TO SINGULAR '

Mark's gospel contains a number of sentences with odd grammatical construction - beginning with a plural followed by a singular verb e.g.

 

'They came to the other side of the sea...

And when he had stepped out of the boat...

(Mk 5 : 1 -2)

...when they came from Bethany,

he was hungry...

(Mk 11 : 12)

 

There are over 20 such examples in Mark's gospel usually describing the movement of Jesus and some of his disciples. The grammatical construction of the sentences would be improved by using a first person plural verb i.e.

'We came to the other side of the sea..

And when he had stepped out of the boat...'

Such sentences usually introduce passages where Jesus is seen from his disciples perspective. They suggest the stories were first told by an eye-witness disciple who was present at the time.

The Petrine Perspective

Mark's gospel names places more frequently than Matthew or Luke.

The stories in Mark's gospel centre on or around the Sea of Galilee.

 

Capernaum, Peter's home, is central to the geography of Mark's gospel.

Many of the places named are on the north end of the Sea around Capernaum.

 

There are six boat journey's in Mark's gospel with precise descriptions of route and passage.

When the gospel describes events away from the Sea of Galilee location is vague.

The term 'Sea of Galilee' is the local name for the body of water which is really a lake - Mark nearly always refers to it as 'the Sea'.

For these reasons Mark's gospel can be said to reflect the world of a Galilean fisherman.

 

For a number of years some scholars have doubted Papias' claims about Peter's involvement with the gospel of Mark. However, recent research by New Testament historians such as Richard Bauckham has restored confidence in Papias and shown that there are good grounds for accepting that Peter was a principal eye-witness source for the accounts Mark used for his gospel.