An Argument for Early Dating
There are many reasons to believe that the Gospel accounts we have in the Bible are a reliable record of eyewitness observations. Critics often try to claim that these Gospels first appeared late in history and were not written by anyone who actually saw the events with their own eyes. These same critics would like to place the dating of the Gospels in the late second century in an effort to discredit the validity of the accounts. But a simple argument for early dating can be sketched out in the following manner:
We Know That the Book of Acts Was Authored By Luke
Most historians will admit that Luke wrote both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. These two texts contain introductions that tie them together in history. In addition, the Book of Acts contains a number of regional, cultural and geographical details that reflect the fact that the author was present during the period that is being described (more on that HERE)
We Know that the Book of Acts was Completed Prior to 67AD
It is also most reasonable to conclude that the Book of Acts was completed prior to 67AD. This is the most reasonable explanation for the fact that:
Paul is still alive in Rome at the conclusion of the book of Acts
Church history tells us that Paul was killed under the persecution of Emperor Nero in about 67AD
The Temple has not yet been destroyed
In addition, we can see that all the Gospels omit the fact that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD. The most reasonable conclusion is simply that this had not yet taken place at the time of the writing. This is especially reasonable given the fact that Jesus predicted the destruction and we would expect that authors would have mentioned it to affirm the prediction
We Know that the Gospel of Luke was written prior to the Book of Acts
In the introduction to the book of Acts, Luke refers to his ‘former book’ where he ‘wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven’. If it is reasonable to conclude that the Book of Acts was written prior to 67AD, it would also be reasonable to conclude that the Gospel of Luke was written many years prior to this. Paul certainly knew that Luke’s Gospel was common knowledge in about 65AD when Paul penned his letter to Timothy. Note the following passage from his letter:
1 Timothy 5:17-18
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’
Paul quotes two passages as scripture here; one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ refers to Deuteronomy 25:4 and ‘The worker deserves his wages’ refers to Luke 10:7. It’s clear that Luke’s Gospel was already common knowledge and accepted as scripture by the time this letter was written. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that Luke’s Gospel was written in the early 60’s.
We know that Luke quoted Mark often in his Gospel
There are many large portions of Luke’s Gospel that are simply quoted from Mark. This shouldn’t surprise us; Luke told us that he was not an eyewitness but simply a good historian who was consulting the witnesses at the time:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
So, it’s reasonable to believe that Mark’s Gospel was already in circulation prior to Luke’s investigation. If Luke is written in the Early 60’s, it’s reasonable to assume that Mark’s Gospel was written just prior to that, placing it in the late 50’s.
This brief argument is a fair and reasonable representation of the historical facts surrounding the writing of both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Mark. If the Gospel of Mark was written as early as we suspect, it appears that its author either had a personal eyewitness experience or was writing for someone who did. As it turns out, early church history maintains that Mark was actually a scribe for Peter. If this is true, we can have confidence in the early dating of the Gospel of Mark because Peter would have been the source for its narrative. So, let’s see if there are good reasons to believe that Peter was the source for Mark’s Gospel.
The Reasonable Basis
Before we begin to look at some of the evidences for Peter’s influence on the Gospel of Mark, we need to recognize the fact that Peter and Mark did actually have a relationship with one another that is described in the Bible. We know that Mark is traditionally considered to be the “John Mark” mentioned as a companion of Paul in the Book of Acts. If this is true, we also know that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and originally fell from favor with Paul as a young man when he failed to continue on an evangelistic journey with Paul and Barnabas. This caused the two older men to separate, with Barnabas continuing on with Mark and Paul continuing on with Silas (Acts 15:37-40). It is also clear from the Bible that Mark eventually became a close associate of Peter; we know this from two pieces of Biblical evidence. First, it appears that Peter was part of a Christian community (a house church) in Jerusalem that actually met in Mark’s home. When Peter miraculously escaped from jail (assisted by the angel of the Lord), he returned to his home group to tell them the good news:
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
Peter was well known to Mark, therefore, and over the course of time, it appears that Mark became even closer to Peter as he ministered throughout Asia Minor and Rome. By the time Peter wrote his first epistle, Mark had become like a son to him:
1 Peter 5:13
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.
On the basis of this relationship between Mark and Peter, it is reasonable to conclude that the testimony of history accurately describes Mark’s connection to the Apostle. This history records the fact that Mark acted as a scribe for Peter and recorded his teaching and preaching to form the Gospel of Mark.
The External Case
There are two possible ways to determine if Peter provided Mark with the information he needed to write the Gospel. First, we can see if there is any external corroboration from historical sources who make this very claim. If Mark wrote his Gospel from the teaching of Peter, someone should have known about it and reported on it. As it turns out, there are a number of historical references to the Gospel of Mark and to the manner in which it was written. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Papias said that Mark scribed Peter’s teachings
Eusebius (the well respected Church historian) wrote that Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (60-130AD) repeated the testimony of the old presbyters (disciples of the Apostles) who said that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome as he scribed the preaching of Peter himself (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15, Book 3 Chapter 30 and Book 6 Chapter 14). Papias wrote a five volume work entitled, “Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord”. In this treatise (which no longer exists), he quotes someone he identifies as ‘the elder’, (most likely John the elder), a man who held considerable authority in Asia:
“And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.”
Irenaeus said that Mark wrote his Gospel from Peter’s teaching
In his book, “Against Heresies” (Book 3 Chapter 1), Irenaeus (130-200AD) reported that Mark penned the Gospel of Mark as a scribe for Peter, Luke penned the Gospel of Luke from the preaching of Paul, and John penned his own Gospel well after the other two. He also added the following detail:
“Matthew composed his gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome and founded the community. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, handed on his preaching to us in written form”
Justin identified Mark’s Gospel with Peter
Early Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, wrote “Dialogue with Trypho” (approximately 150AD) and included this interesting passage:
“It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’….”
Justin, therefore, identifies a particular Gospel as the ‘memoir’ of Peter and he says that this memoir describes the sons of Zebedee as the ‘sons of thunder’. Only Mark’s Gospel describes John and James in this way, so it is reasonable to assume that the Gospel of Mark is the memoir of Peter.
Clement said that Mark recorded Peter’s Roman preaching
Eusebius reported that Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) wrote a book entitled “Hypotyposeis” (Ecclesiastical History Book 2 Chapter 15). In this ancient book, Clement refers to a tradition handed down from the “elders from the beginning”:
“And so great a joy of light shone upon the minds of the hearers of Peter that they were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally; and they did not cease until they had prevailed upon the man and so became responsible for the Scripture for reading in the churches.”
Eusebius also wrote an additional detail (Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 14) that differs from previous accounts provided by Papias and Irenaeus:
“Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it.
This additional piece of information related to Peter’s reaction to Mark’s work is important, because it demonstrates that Clement is not simply repeating the information first established by Papias, but seems to have an additional source that provided him with something more and slightly different than Papias.
Tertullian affirmed Peter’s influence on the Gospel of Mark
Early Christian theologian and apologist, Tertullian (160-225AD), wrote a book that refuted the theology and authority of Marcion. The book was appropriately called, “Against Marcion” and in Book 4 Chapter 5, he described the Gospel of Mark:
“While that [gospel] which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was.”
The Muratorian Fragment confirmed Mark’s relationship to Peter
The Muratorian Fragment is the oldest known list of New Testament books. Commonly dated to approximately 170AD, the first line reads:
“But he was present among them, and so he put [the facts down in his Gospel]”
This appears to be a reference to Mark’s presence at Peter’s talks and sermons in Rome, and the fact that he then recorded these messages then became the Gospel of Mark.
Origen attributed Mark’s Gospel to Peter
Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 25) quoted a Gospel Commentary written by Origen (an early church father and theologian who lived 185-254AD) that explains the origin of the Gospels. This commentary also attributes the Gospel of Mark to Peter:
“In his first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows: Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language. The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’ 1 Peter 5:13 And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John.”
An Anti-Marcionite Prologue affirmed Peter’s connection to Mark
There are three Gospel ‘prologues’ that appear in many Latin Bibles from antiquity. Known as the “Anti-Marcionite Prologues”, they date to the 4th century or earlier. The prologue for the Gospel of Mark is particularly interesting:
“Mark declared, who is called ‘stump-fingered,’ because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”
Now, it can be argued that Papias’ description of Mark’s collaboration with Peter in Rome is the earliest description available to us. In fact, skeptics have tried to argue that later church sources are simply parroting Papias when they connect Mark to Peter. But there is no evidence to suggest that Papias is the sole source of information related to Peter and Mark, particularly when considering the slight variations in the subsequent attributions (such as Clement’s version). The subtle differences suggest that the claims came from different original sources. In addition, Justin Martyr’s tangential reference to the ‘sons of thunder’ strengthens the support for Peter’s involvement coming from a source other than Papias (who never makes this connection). In essence, a claim of dependency on Papias lacks specific evidence, and even if this were the case, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of Papias’ original claim in the first place.
The Internal Evidence
There is a second way to determine if Peter is the source for Mark’s material. In addition to the testimony of early church leaders, there ought to be internal evidence to support the notion that Peter (who taught Mark in Rome) is the source for material cited in Mark’s Gospel if, in fact, this was the case. As it turns out, there are a number of internal evidences to support the claim:
The writing style is consistent with Mark’s background
The traditional view recognizes Mark as a Palestinian Jew who wrote his Gospel using Peter as his source. Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark demonstrates a writing style and literary syntax that reflects the fact that the author’s first language was something other than Greek. In fact, the writing style seems to indicate that the author’s first language was probably a Semitic language such as Aramaic. This would be consistent with the idea that Mark, a Palestinian Jew (who most likely spoke Aramaic) was the author of the Gospel. In addition to this, the Gospel of Mark includes a number of vivid and tangential details that are not really necessary to the narrative, but seem to reflect the observations of an eyewitness to the events. This would indicate that the author had access to an eyewitness such as Peter.
The outline of the Gospel is consistent with Peter’s outline
Papias maintained that the Gospel of Mark was simply a collection of Peter’s discourses (or his preaching), as this information was received and recalled by Mark. If we examine the typical preaching style of Peter as it is seen in the Book of Acts (look at Acts 1:21-22 and Acts 10:37-41 for example) we can see that Peter always limited his preaching to the public life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Now compare this to the Gospel of Mark. It’s interesting that Mark’s Gospel omits the private birth narrative and other details of Jesus’ private life that are found in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection and ascension. It parallels the public preaching of Peter as we see it summarized in the Book of Acts.
The omissions of the Gospel are consistent with Peter’s influence
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark that reflect Peter’s special input and influence. If we study the Gospel forensically, we will notice that there are many apparent omissions in the Gospel of Mark that specifically deal with Peter himself. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events that involve Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions that pertain to Peter to understand the answer here. As it turns out, the “Petrine omissions” involve an effort on the part of the author to either minimize embarrassment to Peter or to humbly and referentially limit the prominence of Peter.
The Omission of Embarrassing Details
A close examination of these omissions reveals that the vast majority of them are incidents in which Peter did or said something that was rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising then, that these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts). Here are some examples of Petrine Omissions that were grounded in an effort to minimize embarrassment to Peter:
Peter’s shame at the “Miraculous Catch”
Take a look at the way that Luke describes the initial calling of Peter, Andrew, John and James:
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
You may have noticed that Peter finds himself both embarrassed and ashamed that he doubted the power and identity of Jesus until it had to be demonstrated to him with the miraculous catch. If he wanted to tell the same story and leave out the embarrassing part, it might sound a lot like the version found in Mark’s Gospel:
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Peter’s foolish statement at the crowded healing
Let’s examine the passages of scripture that describe Jesus’ healing of the woman who suffered from bleeding. Mark’s version of this story describes a rather rash and sarcastic comment on the part of the disciples:
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
This statement on the part of the disciples seems rather disrespectful, doesn’t it? It’s as if they are saying, “Hey Jesus, you’re asking us to tell you who touched you, but are you blind? Look at all these people! How are we supposed to know who touched you!” Mark fails to mention who actually said this, but the Gospel of Luke tells us who it was:
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
Once again, Mark’s Gospel omits a detail that is embarrassing to Peter, namely his identity as the man who made the statement in the first place.
Peter’s lack of understanding related to the parable
In a similar way, Mark again protects Peter when describing Jesus’ teaching related to a parable:
After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
Notice here that Mark says that all the disciples began to question Jesus about the parable and Jesus then challenged all of them, asking them if they all lacked understanding. Mark also says that the result of Jesus’ proclamation in the parable was that He affirmed that all foods were clean. Now compare this passage to the parallel account in Matthew’s gospel:
After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind and if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Notice here that Matthew tells us that it was Peter specifically who asked the question that drew the disparaging response from Jesus (“Are you (Peter) still lacking in understanding also?”) Mark protects Peter by omitting his name from the account.
But perhaps more interestingly, Mark includes the parenthetical statement “Thus He declared all foods clean “. Why would Mark choose to make this additional remark? Well, think about Peter’s vision described in Acts Chapter 10:
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
Peter clearly had difficulties with the idea that all foods could be considered clean by God, and this passage in Acts describes his hesitancy. It is reasonable to assume that Peter would want to highlight this truth about food for others, and Mark (under Peter’s tutelage) does just that in his gospel, adding the parenthetical phrase to the description found in Mark 7.
Peter’s lack of faith on the lake
We all remember the episode in which Jesus walked on water. The most detailed version of this event occurs in the Gospel of Matthew:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter is an important part of this event, to be sure, but the passage of scripture does not highlight one of Peter’s finest moments. Instead, he is seen to be afraid and to be lacking in faith! Interestingly, Mark’s version of the story omits the embarrassing part for Peter:
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Peter’s rash statement to Jesus
Following Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah (more on that later), Jesus told the disciples that he would have to suffer and die. Their reaction is most vividly described by Matthew:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Once again, Peter is rather rash in this passage, contradicting the very thing that Jesus predicted would happen. As a result, Jesus ends up scolding him. It may not surprise us to find that Mark omits Peter’s foolish words:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Peter’s statement related to money
Following the episode with the “rich young ruler”, Jesus takes his disciples aside and talks to them about the power of money and how difficult it is for people with money to remain focused and dedicated to God. Matthew once again has the most detailed account, including a rather self-focused statement on the part of Peter:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Peter sounds like he is more concerned about what’s in it for him than anything else! Once again, Mark’s version omits the embarrassing part of the statement:
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial
Peter’s denial of Jesus is famous, but it’s interesting to compare the descriptions of Jesus’ prediction of this denial. Take a look at the versions recorded in Luke and John:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
In these two accounts, Peter is the only one who says he would never disown Jesus, and as a result, he’s the only one who would look foolish if he then fled at Jesus’ time of need. In addition, in Luke’s account, Jesus tells Peter that Satan wants to influence him (in essence, Jesus is implying that Satan is behind some of Peter’s actions, just as described earlier in scripture when Jesus says to Peter, ‘get behind me Satan!’). And in John’s account Peter asks a pair of naïve questions about where it is that Jesus is going and why he can’t follow Jesus.
Mark is far more generous with Peter, concealing his naiveté and sparing the connection with Satan. Even more importantly however, is the fact that Mark says that Peter wasn’t the only one who said he would never abandon Jesus:
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
Once again, Mark’s account puts the best foot forward on Peter’s actions and words. While Mark does record that Peter said something foolish, only Mark maintains that all the other disciples also spoke in a similar manner.
Peter’s behavior at the foot-washing
In John’s account of the last supper, we once again see Peter in a less-than-favorable light. He speaks out of turn and initially refuses Jesus’ offer to wash his feet, then when given an ultimatum by Jesus, he backs down completely. All of this happens in front of the men who have been his companions for three years:
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Perhaps this is why Marks account omits the entire episode. The omission certainly spares Peter yet another embarrassment:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Peter’s denial and Jesus’ direct stare
Anyone familiar with the story of the Passion remembers the shameful denial of Peter. It’s a part of the narrative that is difficult to read because certain versions of the story are explicit in the shame that Peter experiences. Look, for example at Luke’s account:
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter’s shame is palpable in this account. His denial is straightforward. He tells the girl at the fire that he doesn’t know Jesus, he denies even being a Galilean, and then claims ignorance. In the end, Jesus looks straight at Peter and causes him even more pain and shame that results in his bitter weeping. Now notice the subtle difference in the Gospel of Mark:
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Instead of flatly denying Jesus, Peter begins with a more interpretable “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. The second denial isn’t even a quote, and the third denial finds Peter calling down curses not on Jesus but on himself! All in all, Peter doesn’t look nearly as culpable in this account and Jesus doesn’t look straight at him to increase his shame. While Peter does weep, he doesn’t weep as bitterly! Once again, Mark’s account is the softer, more forgiving version of the story that put’s Peter in the best possible light, even when he is doing something shameful.
Peter’s admonition after the resurrection
The final verses of John’s Gospel are among the most compelling in all of scripture. At the same time, these final lines don’t always portray Peter in a flattering way:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
There are a number of important details to consider in this exchange between Peter and Jesus. First, it is clear that Peter was hurt by Jesus’ questioning, as John records Peter’s pain for us in his Gospel. We can understand then, why Mark’s Gospel might omit this part of the narrative. Then, we see Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s death. As it turned out, the prediction was very accurate and Peter died with his hands and arms extended, crucified upside down in Rome. If Mark wrote his Gospel while Peter was still alive, this passage may be something that Mark wanted to omit for emotional reasons. Finally, we see John’s claim that someone misinterpreted Jesus and started a rumor that John would never die! Who might this rumor-starter be? Only Jesus, Peter and John are present for this exchange, so it appears that John is talking about Peter! This passage of scripture again describes Peter as someone who makes rash statements and even spreads rumors. It’s reasonable to conclude that Peter would not want to highlight this portion of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
There are a number of places in the Gospel of Mark where details related specifically to the words and actions of Peter have been omitted in what appears to be an effort to protect Peter from embarrassment. This doesn’t mean that Peter never talked about these things. He may very well have made them a part of his sermons and teachings. But Mark, his scribe and close friend, simply chose NOT to include these details related to Peter, either at Peter’s request or on his own initiative.
An Omission Due to Modesty
In addition to the omissions we’ve just described, there is one more important omission that exists in the Gospel of Mark that is focused on Peter’s involvement in the narrative. Unlike the prior omissions, this event appears to be the one place where Peter gets it RIGHT and it would seem to be Peter’s shining moment in all of Scripture. Yet like the embarrassing moments, it has been omitted from Mark’s narrative:
Peter’s identification as the “Rock”
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe that moment when Jesus asks his disciples to tell Him who the crowds think that He is. Let’s take a look at the moment in the Gospel of Matthew:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Now let’s compare Matthew’s version to the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Why would Mark omit the incredibly important statement that Jesus made after Peter’s confession? Jesus describes Peter as the Rock upon which He would build His Church! Wouldn’t Peter be eager and proud to have other’s know that Jesus said this about Him? Maybe not, let’s think about this for a moment.
It appears that Paul was the first to arrive in Rome and spent his early days there imprisoned or confined to his quarters awaiting trial. In spite of this, Paul was incredibly influential in Rome. He preached to those around him, started communities of believers and even wrote many important letters from Rome that eventually became scripture! He was well loved and respected by those who had become believers in Rome by the time that Peter joined him there. Irenaeus tells us that Peter and Paul became co-laborers in Rome (“Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel in Rome”) and we know that they were martyred in close proximity to each other. In addition, the external evidence of Eusebius also tells us that Mark wrote his Gospel while with Peter in Rome (“As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out”).
If this is true, it is reasonable that Peter, out of modesty and respect for Paul and his followers, might omit any portion of the narrative that sought to elevate Peter above Paul’s stature, especially if the Gospel was written while Mark was in Rome with both Peter and Paul. We know that Mark was loved by both these apostles at the end of their ministries. It is reasonable to see this final omission as an effort on the part of Mark (or perhaps Peter) to reflect some humility given the situation at Rome. To do otherwise would only cause the kind of division that Paul often warned against:
1 Corinthians 1:11-12
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
The inclusions of the Gospel are consistent with Peter’s influence
In addition to the omissions we have cited, there are a number of details that have been included in Mark’s Gospel that also demonstrate Peter’s involvement and connection to Mark. As we describe a few of them, notice that these inclusions are relatively minor and don’t seem to add much to the narrative. This incidental nature is an indicator that the author lacked a motive here to include Peter’s perspective in the account. There was nothing to gain by adding the incidental detail. One can reasonably conclude then, that the inclusion of detail is the result of the simple fact that Peter was involved personally in the incident and his involvement was faithfully recorded by his scribe and assistant, Mark. Let’s take a look:
Peter’s search for Jesus
Only Mark’s Gospel has this description of Peter (mentioned specifically) looking for Jesus along with Peter’s companions:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
The incident seems harmless enough, but it is interesting that Mark included the detail and Peter is identified personally. In addition, the disciples are not called ‘disciples’ at all; instead, they are identified as Peter’s companions.
Peter’s house in Capernaum
The healing of the paralytic man also appears only in Mark’s Gospel. Take a look at Marks description:
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
It’s interesting to note that Mark said that Jesus entered into Capernaum and everyone heard that he had come ‘home’. Scripture tells us that the city of Capernaum had become Jesus’ home for a good reason:
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
But where was Jesus living in the city of Capernaum? In whose house? Mark alone tells us:
Mark 1:21, 29-31
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach…
…As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
It’s clear that Jesus lived in Peter’s house while he was in Capernaum. Perhaps this is why the healing of the paralytic in Capernaum is only described in the Gospel of Mark. Once again, Peter’s influence on Mark has been evidenced
Peter’s identification of the fig tree
The incidental nature of passages in Mark’s Gospel that refer to Peter are consistent with Peter’s special influence and contribution to Mark’s work. Another simple example of this can be found in Mark’s description of Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree. Let’s first take a look at the event as described by Matthew:
Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves.
While this passage is an accurate description of the event, Mark’s account includes an additional detail:
In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
This addition is neither important to the narrative nor important to our knowledge of Peter; it neither flatters Peter nor embarrasses him. The incidental nature of the addition by Mark is simply a record of the truth as described to Mark by Peter himself.
Peter’s identification of the disciples
Let’s take one more look at a similar incidental addition found in the Gospel of Mark. Both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark describe Jesus’ teaching related to the destruction of the Temple, and both record a question asked by the disciples:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
It’s clear from these passages that this meeting was private and only those who were present were privy to this question (Jesus, Peter, James, John and Andrew). So we would expect this detail to be found in either, Peter’s, James’, John’s or Andrew’s account. Where do we find it? In Mark’s account! Once again, the additional incidental detail is recovered from Peter who provided it to Mark.
The Archeological Evidence
In addition to the external and internal evidence that supports the claim that Mark wrote his Gospel based on the teaching and preaching of Peter, there is an important (although much disputed) piece of archeological evidence that must be considered. While this evidence does not specifically confirm Peter’s connection to the Gospel of Mark, it does lay the foundation for the early dating of Mark’s Gospel, making it possible for the author of the Gospel to have first hand contact with Peter as a source for his information.
From 1947 to 1956, archeologists and historians uncovered nearly 900 ancient documents from eleven caves in and around Wadi Qumran. These caves were very near the ancient Khirbet Qumran settlement on the northwest shoreline of the Dead Sea, so the documents became known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Most scholars believe that they were collected by an ancient Jewish sect known as the “Essenes” (although some dispute this). Whatever the case, the Qumran caves contain documents that date from 150BC to 70AD, including many Biblical texts from the Hebrew Bible.
In 1972, Jose O’Callaghan (an eminent Spanish Jesuit papyrologist), examined a Papyri fragment discovered in Cave 7 and wrote an article in “Biblica” entitled, “New Testament Papyri in Cave 7 at Qumran?”, in which he made the case that this fragment (called the ‘7Q5’) was actually a piece of Mark’s Gospel. O’Callaghan identified the fragment as a partial excerpt from Mark 6:52-53:
“…for they did not understand concerning the loaves but was their heart hardened. And crossing over [unto the land] they came unto Gennesaret and drew to the shore. And coming forth out of the boat immediately they recognized him.”
Ten years later, the German scholar, Carsten Peter Thiede wrote “The Earliest Gospel Manuscript?” and further argued that the fragment was, in fact, partial text from Mark’s Gospel, just as O’Callaghan had described. Theide then collaborated with Matthew D’Ancona and wrote “Eyewitness to Jesus: Amazing New Manuscript Evidence About the Origin of the Gospels” (New York: Doubleday, 1996), once again making a strong argument that this fragment is a portion of the Gospel of Mark. In addition to this, the Vienna papyrologist, Herbert Hunger, also conducted an investigation that led him to conclude that the fragment was indeed a piece of Mark Chapter 6. Hunger’s work (recorded in an article from the publication of the Eichstätt University Qumran symposium, “Christen und Christliches in Qumran?”), prompted The Department of Investigations at the Israel National Police in Jerusalem to analyze the fragment with forensic tools (electron microscopes). Their work further established some of O’Callaghan’s claims regarding specific Greek letters seen on the fragment and solidified his case that it was indeed a fragment of Mark’s Gospel. Much more recently, a very well known and respected papyrologist, Orsolina Montevecchi (honorary President of the International Papyrological Association) further affirmed the case for 7Q5 as a fragment of the Gospel of Mark. In summary, the strength of the case made by these papyrologists can be outlined in the following manner:
While all the other caves at Qumran contain Old Testament fragments that are primarily written in languages other than Greek, Cave 7 is filled with what appears to be a separate library of Greek papyrus. This would be consistent with the New Testament writings of the time and would be exactly where we might expect to find a scrap of New Testament papyri.
A scroll jar containing the word “Rome” in Hebrew was discovered in the same plateau as the 7Q5 fragment in Cave 7. If this jar did come from Rome (the city where Mark’s Gospel was reportedly written), it is reasonable that it may have held a copy of Mark’s Gospel.
The 7Q5 was written in “Zierstil”, an ornamental style of Greek writing that was used from 50BC to 50AD (according to the Oxford University paleographer, Colin H. Roberts). This time period would be consistent with the reported time in which Mark was written if the early external testimony evidence is reliable.
The fourth line of the 7Q5 has three Greek letters and remnants of a fourth letter that, when considered together, appear to be the middle portion of the name “Gennesaret”. This word is found three times in the New Testament.
The third line has a space before the Greek word for “and”. This space most likely indicates a paragraph break and, if so, this would be consistent with the typical manuscript format and layout of the earliest copies of the Gospel of Mark.
O’Callaghan utilized a sophisticated computer program (known as “Ibykus”) to compare the sequence of Greek letters found in 7Q5 with all known ancient Greek documents, including Mark 6:52-53. He discovered that only Mark 6:52-53 contained the sequence of letters seen in 7Q5.
In addition to identifying 7Q5 with the Gospel of Mark, O’Callaghan identified 7Q4 with 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3 and 7Q8 with a portion of James 1:23. These additional possible New Testament fragments were located in the same cave from which 7Q5 was recovered. The fact that these two additional New Testament manuscripts would be located in the same general vicinity, lend even more credibility to the conclusion that 7Q5 is a fragment of Mark.
While this case may seem significant and persuasive, it has not been unanimously accepted by scholars. In fact, the claim that 7Q5 is a fragment of Mark’s Gospel is vehemently denied by many scholars across the globe who present a number of arguments in an effort to deny the possibility altogether. These opposing scholars argue that O’Callaghan has identified the wrong Greek letters in his reconstruction of the fragment, thereby producing a match to Mark 6:52-53 that is absent with just a few key changes. In addition, they argue that the spacing before the Greek word for “and” may not be a paragraph break, but might instead have nothing to do with the structure of the text. But beyond this, the primary opposition seems to be rooted in the fact that many scholars simply cannot believe that Mark could have been written early enough to be found in a cave used by an Essene Jewish Community dating around 68AD. This possibility seems preposterous to scholars who argue for a later dating of Mark’s work (some continue to claim that Mark’s Gospel was written in the second century). But the reasonable inference for the early dating of Mark can actually be made from the external and internal evidence we’ve already discussed, even before making the case from 7Q5. Early dating alone, therefore, should not be an obstacle as we examine the evidence related to this fragmnent. From the case developed by O’Callaghen and those who followed him, it is reasonable to infer that 7Q5 may be a fragment from Mark’s Gospel or a fragment of a very early version of this Gospel. While O’Callaghan’s case is far from definitive, it is something we can reasonably consider as we examine the totality of the case for Peter’s involvement in Mark’s Gospel. If the Gospel of Mark is a memoir of Peter, we would expect it to appear on the scene in time for it to be found in the caves at Qumran.
The Strength of the Case and Why It Matters
In summary, there is a reasonable, cumulative, circumstantial case that supports the fact that Mark’s Gospel is actually a memoir of the Apostle Peter. Remember that circumstantial evidence is every bit as determinative as physical evidence in a court of law. Cases are prosecuted every day on the basis of nothing more that cumulative circumstantial evidence. The strength of such a case is based on the depth, quantity and quality of the individual pieces. The strength of our case related to Peter’s personal contributions to Mark’s Gospel relies on the following cumulative facts:
A. Biblical Passages Confirm a Relationship Between Mark and Peter
i. Acts 12:12-14 and 1Peter 5:13
B. External Sources from History Tell Us That Mark Wrote Peter’s Memoir
i. Papias said that Mark scribed Peter’s teachings
ii. Irenaeus said that Mark wrote his Gospel from Peter’s teaching
iii. Justin identified Mark’s Gospel with Peter
iv. Clement said that Mark recorded Peter’s Roman preaching
v. Tertullian affirmed Peter’s influence on the Gospel of Mark
vi. The Muratorian Fragment confirmed Mark’s relationship to Peter
vii. Origen attributed Mark’s Gospel to Peter
viii. An Anti-Marcionite Prologue affirmed Peter’s connection to Mark
C. Internal Examinations Tell Us That Mark Wrote Peter’s Memoir
i. The writing style is consistent with Mark’s background
ii. The outline of the Gospel is consistent with Peter’s outline
iii. The omissions of the Gospel are consistent with Peter’s influence
1. The Omission of Embarrassing Details
a. Peter’s shame at the “Miraculous Catch”
b. Peter’s foolish statement at the crowded healing
c. Peter’s lack of faith on the lake
d. Peter’s rash statement to Jesus
e. Peter’s statement related to money
f. Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial
g. Peter’s behavior at the foot-washing
h. Peter’s denial and Jesus’ direct stare
i. Peter’s admonition after the resurrection
2. An Omission Due to Modesty
a. Peter’s identification as the “Rock”
iv. The inclusions of the Gospel are consistent with Peter’s influence
1. Peter’s search for Jesus
2. Peter’s house in Capernaum
3. Peter’s identification of the fig tree
4. Peter’s identification of the disciples
D. Archeological Evidence Supports the Reasonable Inference That Mark’s Gospel was Available at a Very Early Date
i. The 7Q5 fragment in the caves of Qumran is consistent with Mark 6:52-53
There is sufficient cumulative, circumstantial evidence to conclude that Mark did, in fact, form his Gospel from the teaching and preaching of the Apostle Peter. But why should we expend all this energy to make the case in the first place?
If Mark did rely on the recollection, teaching and preaching of Peter to write the Gospel of Mark, we have a Gospel that was written within the lifetime of Mark, and may very well have been written within the lifetime of Peter. This evidential reality dates the Gospel to a point in time between 55AD and 67AD. That’s very early and makes it very difficult to deny that Jesus really lived or that Jesus actually did all that the Gospels say that He did. If the Gospel of Mark was written this early, it would have undergone the scrutiny of those who were actually present and could expose the Gospel if it was a lie. If the Gospel of Mark was written this early, it was the work of an eyewitness to the event, and not the creation of those trying to create a mythology hundreds of years after the fact. If the Gospel of Mark was written this early, we have good reason to trust what it tells us about the life and teaching of Jesus:
2 Peter 1:16
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
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