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The Date of Mark’s Gospel

  • The earliest manuscript evidence comes from the Chester Beatty papyri (p45) in the 3rd century that contains all four gospels until it is independently confirmed that there is an earlier fragment of Mark’s text possibly dating to the first century (see the article in Live Science).
  • Irenaeus (ca 180 CE) has a specific tradition on the evangelist Mark along with the other three evangelists (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and explicitly cites the text of Mark’s Gospel (e.g. 3.10.5; 3.16.3).
  • Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (ca 150 CE) cites Mark 3:17 for it alone refers to Zebedee’s sons by the name Boangeres, which is translated by Mark as ‘sons of thunder’ (Dialogue 106.3).
  • The Longer Ending of Mark (16:9-20) is written some time in the first half of the second century by a scribe dissatisfied with the abrupt ending at Mark 16:8 and wanting to harmonize it with the resurrection narratives of the other three New Testament Gospels. For the dating and theological interests of the longer ending, see the definitive study by James A. Kelhoffer, Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark.
  • In the first quarter of the second century, likely around 110 CE (cf. Bartlet, Schoedel, Körtner, Gundry), Papias refered to Mark as “Peter’s interpreter” (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). I accept that Papias was referring to our Gospels of Mark and Matthew in 3.39.15-16, despite some critical issues over matching his traditions with the Greek Gospels in the New Testament. Papias received his traditions from the Elder John’s disciples, so this tradition can at least be traced back to the turn of the century.
  • It is arguable that Mark influenced the Gospel of John (cf. Barrett, Neirynck) and the passion narrative in the Gospel of Peter 50-57.
  • Accepting the consensus on Markan priority, Matthew and Luke copied Mark’s Gospel and it must have achieved fairly wide circulation to be used (independently?) by both authors in different locales. The Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and Ignatius (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2) knew Matthew, so Mark must be earlier still. A few conservative scholars date Luke-Acts to the 60s while Paul was still under house arrest in Rome (cf. Robinson, Hemer), but Luke 19:33-34 and 21:24 seems to presuppose the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Acts ends its narrative at the point where the Gospel has gone forth from Jerusalem to the capital of the Empire. Most scholars date Luke-Acts to the last quarter of the first century and a growing minority to the first quarter of the second century CE.
  • The Patristic tradition is divided between the view that Mark was written after Peter died (e.g., Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1.; anti-Marcionite Prologue) or while still alive (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7). A few scholars dispute that the use of exodos in Irenaeus is a euphemism for death, thinking it merely means that Peter “departed” or left Rome, and insist that Irenaeus is speaking about the dissemination of Mark’s Gospel rather than its composition (Chapman, Ellis). I think the more straightforward reading is that Irenaeus dates the publication of Mark’s Gospel after Peter’s death and later authors move it back into Peter’s lifetime out of apologetic interests.
  • The internal evidence from Mark’s text:
    • Is the focus on the downfall of the Temple (13:1-2; cf. 11:12-14, 20-25; 14:57-59, 15:29) prophecy after the fact or a genuine prediction in there is no mention of fire and 13:14 could be interpreted as a future antichrist figure who desecrates the temple?
    • Does Mark 13 reflect the events of the Jewish War or are the vague hints of wars, natural disasters, persecution, and desolation apocalyptic tropes?
    • How much time is needed for oral traditions to be translated from Aramaic to Greek and developed into their present written form?
    • Does Mark believe that Jesus’ generation will be the last one before the coming of the Son of Man and have most, but not all, of Jesus’ disciples passed away (Mark 9:1; 13:30)? Notice how the extended “time of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24 seems to move away from the earlier expectation that the eschatological judgment would be imminent.
  • Most scholars date Mark between 65-75 CE with the divide over whether it dates before or after the Temple destruction in 70 CE. Maurice Casey and James Crossley date it earlier to the 40s by correlating Mark 13:14 with the Caligula crisis when the emperor threatened to set up his statue in the Temple, proposing that Mark’s translations of Aramaic sources was still unrefined, and insisting that Mark assumes Torah observance before major debates on the issue (e.g. Jerusalem Council).
  • Misguided arguments: The case that a Gospel fragment was found at Qumran (cf. José O’Callaghan, ‘New Testament Papyri in Qumran Cave 7? JBLSup 91.2 [1972]: 1-14 and Carsten Peter Thiede, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript: the Qumran Papyrus 7Q5 and its Significance for New Testament Studies [Exeter: Paternoster, 1992]; The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity [New York: Palgrave, 2000]) has been debunked. See Robert H. Gundry, “No NU in Line 2 of 7Q5: A Final Disidentification of 7Q5 With Mark 6:52-53“. JBL 118 (1999): 698–707; Hans Förster, “7Q5=Mark 6:52-53 A Challenge for Textual Criticism?JGRChJ (2001-2005): 27-35; Gordon Fee, “Some Dissenting Notes on 7Q5=Mark 6:52-53” JBL 92.1 (1973): 109-12; Graham Stanton, “A Gospel Among the Scrolls?” BAR; Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?”  All that remains of this “parallel” is the insignificant Greek particle kai!
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