Who was Mark?
John Mark is one of the most important figures in the New Testament, in part, because of his writing of the Gospel of Mark. "John" represents his Jewish, "Mark" his Roman name. Why the latter was assumed we do not know. Perhaps the aorist participle in Acts 12:25 may be intended to intimate that it dated from the time when, in company with Barnabas and Paul, he turned to service in the great Gentile city 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 (Acts 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 (Colossians 4:10) who also seems to have been a man of means (Acts 4:36). Possibly Cyprus was also Mark's former home.
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 the personal influence of Peter (1 Peter 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 Paul 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 Mark 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 (Acts 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 Luke 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 (Acts 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 (Acts 13:5,13) he is given only his Hebrew name.
The terms of Paul's remonstrance are very strong (Acts 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 (Galatians 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 (Acts 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 (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 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 1 Peter 5:13 the apostle sends Mark's greeting along with that of the church in Babylon. Thence Mark returns to Asia Minor, and in 2 Timothy 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.
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. 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 1 Corinthians 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.
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The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.G.H. Farmer International Bible Encyclopedia