According to church traditions about the Gospel of Mark, the evangelist Mark recorded Peter’s preaching about the words or deeds of Jesus for the benefit of the Christ believers in Rome. If you are interested in how these traditions developed over time, you can check out my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century and my shorter article “Why Did the Gospel of Mark Survive?” for the website Bible and Interpretation. You can also see my own introductory notes on the authorship, date, and audience of the Gospel of Mark at this blog post.
In this post, I want to take a brief look at the relevance of the tradition about Mark’s Gospel to the topic we have been exploring over the past month about Peter’s ministry and death in Rome.
- Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, records the tradition that the evangelist Mark served as Peter’s “interpreter” or “translator” who put Peter’s preaching into writing (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). Papias is silent about where Peter’s preaching activity or Mark’s writing activity took place, but Eusebius tells us that Papias was familiar with 1 Peter (in Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17). The question is whether Papias thus presumed that Mark and Peter were in “Babylon” (i.e. Rome)?
- Irenaeus, a bishop, theologian, and heresiologist in Lyon, puts the tradition about all four Gospel evangelists into writing (Against Heresies 3.1.1). He primarily elaborates on Papias in two ways: he includes the tradition from another source about Peter’s (and Paul’s) evangelistic efforts in Rome and he dates the publication or dissemination of Mark’s Gospel after Peter’s “departure” or death. While this helps to date Mark’s Gospel, Irenaeus is not explicit about whether or not Mark composed the Gospel in Rome.
- Clement, an Alexandrian Christian scholar and teacher, gives much more detail about the circumstances that lead Mark to publish the Gospel (in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6-7; see also 2.15-1-2). Peter’s hearers in Rome entreated a reluctant Mark to publish his notes about Peter’s preaching without the apostle’s initial awareness. Clement explicitly ties this in with his interpretation of 1 Peter 5:13 and, in his commentary on this verse elsewhere, he identifies Mark’s aristocratic audience as “Caesar’s equestrians.”
My view is that the external church tradition on the provenance of Mark’s Gospel in Rome is inextricably tied to the tradition about the authorship of the Gospel and the (originally separate?) tradition about Peter’s presence in Rome. Inasmuch as I have argued that these traditions were attached to legitimate the Gospel for second century Christians, I am more inclined to locate the actual text of Mark in the eastern part of the Empire, perhaps in Syria-Palestine.