John Mark

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John Mark
Frans Hals 085.jpg
St. Mark by Frans Hals, c. 1625.
Bishop of Byblos[1]
DiedFirst Century
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches
FeastSeptember 27[1]

John Mark is named in the Acts of the Apostles as an assistant accompanying Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys. Traditionally he is regarded as identical with Mark the Evangelist, the traditional writer of the Gospel of Mark.

Biblical account[edit]

6th-century Syriac inscription at the Monastery of St. Mark on Zion, beginning, "This is the house of Mary, mother of John Mark."
Lion of St Mark outside Bishop's Palace -- Galveston, Texas

Several times the Acts of the Apostles mentions a certain "John, who was also called Mark" or simply "John":

When [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.Acts 12:12

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John whose other name was Mark.Acts 12:25

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.[Acts 13:5]

Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia.[Acts 13:13–14]

And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.[Acts 15:37–40]

From these passages it may be gathered that John's mother Mary had a large house in Jerusalem to which Peter fled after escaping prison; that John assisted Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Cyprus and as far as Perga in Pamphylia, but then returned to Jerusalem; and that later controversy over receiving John Mark back led to Paul and Barnabas parting ways, with Barnabas taking Mark back to Cyprus and both thereafter disappearing from the narrative of Acts. The reasons for John Mark's departure to Jerusalem and the subsequent disagreement between Paul and Barnabas have been subject to much speculation. Matthew Henry, for example, suggested that John Mark had departed "without [Barnabas and Paul's] knowledge, or without their consent".[2] However, there is simply too little data to regard any explanation with confidence.[3]

Some scholars have argued that John Mark's negative portrayal in Acts is a polemic against the presumptive author of the Gospel of Mark, Luke's primary source for his own Gospel. Adela Collins suggests, "Since the author of Acts also wrote the Gospel according to Luke, it could be that this critical portrait was intended to undercut the authority of the second Gospel."[4] Michael Kok notes that "Mark's Gospel was a bit of an embarrassment to the refined literary and theological tastes of an educated Christian like Luke."[5]


It was common for Jews of the period to bear both a Semitic name such as John (Hebrew: Yochanon) and a Greco-Roman name such as Mark.[6] But since John was one of the most common names among Palestinian Jews,[7] and Mark was the most common in the Roman world,[8] caution is warranted in identifying John Mark with any other John or Mark.

Ancient sources in fact consistently distinguish John Mark from the other Marks of the New Testament and style him Bishop of Byblos.[1][9][10][11] Nor was John Mark identified in antiquity with any other John, apart from rare and explicit speculation.[10][12][13]

Medieval sources, on the other hand, increasingly regarded all New Testament references to Mark as Mark the Evangelist, and many modern scholars have agreed in seeing a single Mark.[14] The very fact that various writings could refer simply to Mark without further qualification has been seen as pointing to a single Mark.[15]

First, there is Mark the cousin of Barnabas, mentioned by Paul as a "fellow worker" in the closings of three Pauline epistles.[16] In antiquity he was regarded as a distinct Mark, Bishop of Apollonia.[11] If, on the other hand, these two Marks are to be identified, the fact that these epistles were written after the departure of John Mark with Barnabas in Acts must suppose some later reconciliation. But a majority of scholars, noting the close association of both Marks with Paul and Barnabas, indeed regard them as likely the same person.

Mark the Evangelist, however, is known only from the patristic tradition, which associates him only with Peter and makes no mention of Paul.[17] Jerome alone suggests that the Mark of whom Paul speaks may be the Evangelist.[18][19] But modern scholars have noted that as Peter fled to the house of John Mark's mother, the two men may have had a longstanding association.[20]

A minority of modern scholars have argued, on the other hand, for identifying John the Evangelist and/or John the Elder with John Mark.[21]

Later sources[edit]

The Acts of Barnabas, apparently an apocryphal work of the 5th century,[22] purport to be written by John Mark and to detail the missionary journey and martyrdom of Barnabas in Cyprus, thus picking up where the account of Acts leaves off.[23]

The Encomium of the Apostle St. Barnabas, written by Alexander the Monk in the 6th century, also gives an extensive account of the activity of Barnabas and John Mark in Cyprus. After the death of Barnabas, John Mark leaves for Ephesus, and the account then continues by identifying him with Mark the Evangelist.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Butler, Alban; Attwater, Donald; Thurston, Herbert, eds. (1956). Butler's Lives of the Saints. 2. p. 162.
  2. ^ Matthew Henry's Commentary, Acts 15 accessed 16 September 2015
  3. ^ Black, C. Clifton (1994). Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter. pp. 26–44. ISBN 0872499731.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. ^ Collins, Adela. Mark: A Commentary. Fortress, 2007, p. 5.
  5. ^ Kok, Michael. The Flawed Evangelist (John) Mark: A Neglected Clue to the Reception of Mark's Gospel in Luke-Acts?. Neotestamentica, 46(2), pp. 257.
  6. ^ Bauckham, Richard (2006). Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. p. 83. ISBN 0802831621.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  7. ^ Bauckham (2006), p. 416.
  8. ^ Boring, M. Eugene (2006). Mark: A Commentary. New Testament Library. p. 11. ISBN 0664221076.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  9. ^ Lee, G. M. (1975). "Eusebius on St. Mark and the Beginnings of Christianity in Egypt". Studia Patristica. 12: 422–431.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  10. ^ a b c Bruns, J. Edgar (1963). "John Mark: A Riddle within the Johannine Enigma" (PDF). Scripture. 15: 88–92.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  11. ^ a b Pseudo-Hippolytus, On the Seventy Apostles, for example, disguishes "Mark the Evangelist, Bishop of Alexandria" from "Mark cousin of Barnabas, Bishop of Apollonia" and from "Mark, who is also John, Bishop of Bibloupolis".
  12. ^ Dionysius of Alexandria, apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 7.25.15, speculates in passing on what other Johns there were besides John the Evangelist who might have written Revelation. John Chrysostom, In Acta Ap., Hom. xxvi, seems to suggest that John Mark was the John who accompanied Peter in Acts.
  13. ^ Bruns, J. Edgar (1965). "The Confusion Between John and John Mark in Antiquity" (PDF). Scripture. 17: 23–26.
  14. ^ Black (1994), pp. 15–16.
  15. ^ Bauckham (2006), p. 206.
  16. ^ Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11.
  17. ^ Black (1994), pp. 185–186.
  18. ^ Jerome, Comm. in Philem. 24.
  19. ^ Black (1994), p. 165.
  20. ^ Black (1994), p. 28.
  21. ^ Culpepper, R. Alan (1994). John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend. p. 87. ISBN 0872499626.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  22. ^ Czachesz, István (2007). Commission Narratives: A Comparative Study of the Canonical and Apocryphal Acts (PDF). Studies on Early Christian Apocrypha. 8. pp. 184–207. ISBN 9042918454. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-07-03. Retrieved 2014-04-02.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  23. ^ Acts of Barnabas.