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John Mark

MARK, JOHN (Gr. Markos, from Lat. Marcus, a large hammer, Gr. Iōannēs, from Heb. Yôhānān, the Lord is gracious). Mentioned by name ten times in the NT. John was his Jewish name, Mark (Marcus) his Roman. In Acts he is twice (Acts.13.5, Acts.13.13) referred to simply as John, once (Acts.15.39) as Mark, and three times (Acts.12.12, Acts.12.25; Acts.15.37) as “John, also called Mark.” In the Epistles he is uniformly (four times) called simply Mark (kjv calling him Marcus three times).

The first allusion to John Mark may be in Mark.14.51-Mark.14.52. The most reasonable explanation for the passing mention of this incident is that it was a vivid personal memory in the mind of the author of the second Gospel. The first definite reference to John Mark is Acts.12.12. Peter, when delivered from prison, went to the home of John Mark’s mother, where many believers were praying for him. When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from their famine visit at Jerusalem (Acts.11.27-Acts.11.30), they took along John Mark (Acts.12.25). This opened the opportunity for him to accompany them on their missionary journey as “their helper” (Acts.13.5).

The missionaries first evangelized the island of Cyprus. When they reached Perga in Pamphylia, John returned home to Jerusalem. This decision was probably due to a mixture of homesickness, fear of perils in the mountainous country ahead, and displeasure that Paul had become the leader of the expedition (Acts.13.13, “Paul and his companions”). Whatever his motive, Paul distrusted him and refused to take him on the second journey (Acts.15.37-Acts.15.38). The result was that two missionary parties were formed. Barnabas took Mark and revisited Cyprus, while Paul chose a new associate, Silas, and went overland to Asia Minor.

Mark next appears in Rome, where he is a fellow worker with Paul (Phlm.1.24). Paul recommended him to the church at Colosse (Col.4.10). Here he was called “the cousin of Barnabas.” That John Mark had fully reinstated himself with Paul is shown by the latter’s statement in 2Tim.4.11. Peter refers to him as “my son Mark” (1Pet.5.13). This may be a mere expression of affection, or it may indicate that Mark was converted under Peter’s ministry.

An early tradition says that Mark founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt, but this is uncertain.——RE

MARK, JOHN (Μάρκος, ̓Ιωάννης). Son of Mary, cousin of Barnabas, assistant to Paul and Barnabas and traditionally the author of the second gospel.

Concerning the family of John Mark, his mother was named Mary (Acts 12:12) and he was the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10), who, according to Acts 4:36, 37, was a Levite, a native of Cyprus and a land owner. The household of Mary is pictured also as being of considerable means, boasting at least one servant girl and having sufficient space to accommodate a sizeable prayer meeting (Acts 12:12, 13). Of the father of Mark, nothing is known with certainty, but in view of the fact that the house is called Mary’s, one may assume that he was, by this time, dead. The fact that Peter, upon his miraculous release from prison, knew where to find the praying church, implies that the household held a position of some prominence among the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Concerning the early life of Mark, there is no direct information. However, judging from the fact that Peter was welcomed at the house of Mary and from information in the first epistle which bears that apostle’s name (1 Pet 5:13), one may say that Mark had a particularly close relationship with Peter, prob. dating from the early days of the church in Jerusalem. Later traditions likewise bear out a close association between Peter and Mark. The young man who fled naked from the betrayal scene in Gethsemane often is thought to have been John Mark (see Mark 14:51, 52). None of the known facts are against this suggestion and it was certainly the custom for an author not to mention his own name in his writings (cf. John 21:24).

Mark now drops out of the account of Acts, it being wholly concerned with the further activities of Paul. The Pauline correspondence indicates that within a decade or so of the rift over Mark, the relationship between Paul and Mark had improved greatly. In Colossians 4:10 Paul includes Mark among the few of the circumcision who labored with him and provided him with some little comfort. Indeed, Mark appears to have been chosen by the great apostle to make some representation to Colossae. Paul makes further mention of Mark as his fellow worker in Philemon 24. By the time of the writing of Timothy, Mark and Timothy are together, prob. in Asia Minor, and Paul expresses his final, gratifying tribute for the young man: “he is very useful in serving me” (2 Tim 4:11).

Beginning with Papias in the first half of the 2nd cent., the Early Church consistently ascribed to Mark the task of having interpreted for Peter in Rome and of having written the second gospel (see the various traditions in Eusebius, EH, 2.15f.; 3.39; 5.8; 6.14). Mark also is said to have established churches in Alexandria in Egypt (Eusebius, EH, 2.16). A later and somewhat legendary tradition states that early in the 9th cent., Mark’s remains were taken from Alexandria and placed under the church of St. Mark in Venice.


See the various commentaries on the second gospel, esp. H. B. Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark (19093), xiii-xxviii. Cf. also E. M. Blaiklock, The Young Man Mark (1965), 9-21; W. Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist (1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mark, John (Ioannes) represents his Jewish, Mark (Markos) his Roman name. Why the latter was assumed we do not know.

1. Name and Family: Perhaps the aorist participle in Ac 12:25 may be intended to intimate that it dated from the time when, in company with Barnabas and Saul, he turned to service in the great Gentilecity of Antioch. Possibly it was the badge of Roman citizenship, as in the case of Paul. The standing of the family would be quite consistent with such a supposition.

His mother’s name was Mary (Ac 12:12). The home is spoken of as hers. The father was probably dead. The description of the house (with its large room and porch) and the mention of the Greek slave, suggest a family of wealth. They were probably among the many zealous Jews who, having become rich in the great world outside, retired to Jerusalem, the center of their nation and faith. Mark was "cousin" to Barnabas of Cyprus (Col 4:10) who also seems to have been a man of means (Ac 4:36). Possibly Cyprus was also Mark’s former home.

2. His History as Known from the New Testament:

When first mentioned, Mark and his mother are already Christians (44 AD). He had been converted through Peter’s personal influence (1Pe 5:13) and had already won a large place in the esteem of the brethren, as is shown by his being chosen to accompany Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, a little later. The home was a resort for Christians, so that Mark had every opportunity to become acquainted with other leaders such as James and John, and James the brother of the Lord. It was perhaps from the latter James that he learned the incident of Mr 3:21 which Peter would be less likely to mention.

His kinship with Barnabas, knowledge of Christian history and teaching, and proved efficiency account for his being taken along on the first missionary journey as "minister" (huperetes) to Barnabas and Saul (Ac 13:5). Just what that term implies is not clear. Chase (HDB) conjectures the meaning to be that he had been huperetes, "attendant" or chazzan in the synagogue (compare Lu 4:20), and was known as such an official. Wright (English translation, February, 1910) suggests that he was to render in newly founded churches a teaching service similar to that of the synagogue chazzan. Hackett thought that the kai of this verse implies that he was to be doing the same kind of work as Barnabas and Saul and so to be their "helper" in preaching and teaching. The more common view has been (Meyer, Swete, et al.) that he was to perform "personal service not evangelistic," "official service but not of the menial kind"--to be a sort of business agent. The view that he was to be a teacher, a catechist for converts, seems to fit best all the facts.

Why did he turn back from the work (Ac 13:13)? Not because of homesickness, or anxiety for his mother’s safety, or home duties, or the desire to rejoin Peter, or fear of the perils incident to the journey, but rather because he objected to the offer of salvation to the Gentiles on condition of faith alone. There are hints that Mark’s family, like Paul’s, were Hebrews of the Hebrews, and it is not without significance that in both verses (Ac 13:5,13) he is given only his Hebrew name. The terms of Paul’s remonstrance are very strong (Ac 15:38), and we know that nothing stirred Paul’s feelings more deeply than this very question. The explanation of it all may be found in what happened at Paphos when the Roman Sergius Paulus became a believer. At that time Paul (the change of name is here noted by Luke) stepped to the front, and henceforth, with the exception of 15:12,25, where naturally enough the old order is maintained, Luke speaks of Paul and Barnabas, not Barnabas and Saul. We must remember that, at that time, Paul stood almost alone in his conviction. Barnabas, even later than that, had misgivings (Ga 2:13). Perhaps, too, Mark was less able than Barnabas himself to see the latter take second place.

We hear nothing further of Mark until the beginning of the second missionary journey 2 years later, when Paul’s unwillingness to take him with them led to the rupture between Paul and Barnabas and to the mission of Barnabas and Mark to Cyprus (Ac 15:39). He is here called Mark, and in that quiet way Luke may indicate his own conviction that Mark’s mind had changed on the great question, as indeed his willingness to accompany Paul might suggest. He had learned from the discussions in the council at Jerusalem and from subsequent events at Antioch.

About 11 years elapse before we hear of him again (Col 4:10 f; Phm 1:24). He is at Rome with Paul. The breach is healed. He is now one of the faithful few among Jewish Christians who stand by Paul. He is Paul’s honored "fellowworker" and a great "comfort" to him.

The Colossian passage may imply a contemplated visit by Mark to Asia Minor. It may be that it was carried out, that he met Peter and went with him to Babylon. In 1Pe 5:13 the apostle sends Mark’s greeting along with that of the church in Babylon. Thence Mark returns to Asia Minor, and in 2Ti 4:11 Paul asks Timothy, who is at Ephesus, to come to him, pick up Mark by the way, and bring him along. In that connection Paul pays Mark his final tribute; he is "useful for ministering" (euchrestos eis diakonian), so useful that his ministry is a joy to the veteran’s heart.

3. His History as Known from Other Sources:

The most important and reliable tradition is that he was the close attendant and interpreter of Peter, and has given us in the Gospel that bears his name account of Peter’s teaching. For that comradeship the New Testament facts furnish a basis, and the gaps in the New Testament history leave plenty of room. An examination of the tradition will be found in MARK, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO (which see).

Other traditions add but little that is reliable. It is said that Mark had been a priest, and that after becoming a Christian he amputated a finger to disqualify himself for that service. Hence, the nickname kolobo-daktulos, which, however, is sometimes otherwise explained. He is represented as having remained in Cyprus until after the death of Barnabas (who was living in 57 AD according to 1Co 9:5 f) and then to have gone to Alexandria, founded the church there, become its first bishop and there died (or was marthyred) in the 8th year of Nero (62-63). They add that in 815 AD Venetian soldiers stole his remains from Alexandria and placed them under the church of Mark at Venice.


Chase, HDB, III, 245 ff; Rae, DCG, II, 119 f; Harnack, Encyclopedia Brit; Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, II, 427-56; Lindsay, Salmond, Morison and Swete in their Comms.