(c. ?–62)

Cousin of Barnabas; companion to both Paul and Peter; author of the second Gospel

A member of a Jewish family in Jerusalem who were early believers in Jesus Christ, John Mark bore both a Jewish and a Roman name. The Roman name "Mark" was perhaps a badge of Roman citizenship, as in Paul’s case, or was adopted when he left Jerusalem to serve the Gentile church in Antioch (Acts 12:25). When an angel of the Lord freed Peter from prison, the apostle went directly to "the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark" (Acts 12:12, nrsv). This house, described as having an outer gate, being of adequate size to accommodate a gathering of many believers, and served by a slave named Rhoda (Acts 12:12-13), was obviously the dwelling of a wealthy family. By the time of this event (c. a.d. 44) Mark may have already been converted through the personal influence of Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). The fact that he was chosen to accompany Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to Antioch indicates that Mark was held in high esteem by the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:25).

John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul to "assist them" (Acts 13:5, nrsv) on their expedition into Asia with the gospel. He soon left the apostles, however, and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Scripture does not reveal the cause of this desertion. Perhaps the rigors and hardships of the journey overwhelmed the young man. Another possible explanation was that at Paphos, shortly into the journey, Paul stepped to the front as leader and spokesman (Acts 13:13). Thereafter Acts (with the natural exception of Acts 15:12, 25) speaks of Paul and Barnabas rather than Barnabas and Paul. Perhaps it offended Mark to see his kinsman Barnabas, who had preceded Paul in the faith (Acts 4:36-37) and had ushered him into the apostles’ fellowship (Acts 9:27), take second place in the work of the gospel.

But there may have been a deeper and more significant cause for Mark’s withdrawal. Like Paul, Mark was "a Hebrew born of Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5, nrsv). Because of this Mark may have objected to Paul’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles based only on faith without the prerequisite of keeping the Jewish law. It is noteworthy that the Bible uses only the Hebrew name "John" when recording Mark’s presence on the Gospel journey (13:5) and his departure at Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). Also important is the fact that John Mark returned, not to the Gentile church in Antioch, the site of his former service, but to the Jewish church in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Luke’s history records that later "the disagreement [between Paul and Barnabas over Mark] became so sharp that they parted company" (Acts 15:39, nrsv). Nothing stirred Paul’s feelings more than the question of justification by faith, and Barnabas had already demonstrated his weakness on this point (Gal. 2:13). Therefore it may have been the cause of their separation: Barnabas and Mark to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas into Asia to strengthen the new churches (Acts 15:39-41).

About eleven years pass before Mark again appears in the biblical record. In Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24, he is in Rome with "Paul the aged," who is there as "a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Philem. 19). The fracture has been healed, such that Paul says that Mark and others are "the only ones of the circumcision [the Jews] among my co-workers for the kingdom of God" (Col. 4:11, nrsv). Paul, in his last epistle, pays Mark his final tribute. He tells Timothy, "Do your best to come to me soon. . . . Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry" (2 Tim. 4:9, 11, nrsv, italics added). Although all had deserted Paul in his trial before Caesar Nero (2 Tim. 4:16), Mark, who in his youth had also deserted the apostle, traveled from Ephesus to Rome, endeavoring to come to the beloved Paul with Timothy.

In 1 Peter 5:13 the apostle Peter sends Mark’s greeting along with that of the church in Babylon (signifying Rome), indicating Mark’s close relationship with the apostle to the circumcision (Gal. 2:9). The most important and reliable extrascriptural tradition concerning Mark is that he was the close attendant of Peter. The early church Fathers said this association produced the Gospel of Mark, inasmuch as Mark took account of Peter’s teachings about Jesus and then used them to shape his Gospel—perhaps written in Rome between a.d. 55 and 65.

D. Partner

Taken from:   Who’s Who in Christian History
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