Imagine a stranger ran up to you shouting, “An alien spaceship just landed nearby!” You’d likely doubt their story.
Now, imagine the person you’re closest to—a spouse, parent, friend—running up to you and, in all seriousness, saying, “Something strange just landed in the yard.” Assuming the person you imagined isn’t prone to practical jokes, chances are, you’d respond to them differently. The source matters for important information.
Maybe you’ve peeked ahead into the scripture we’ll be studying and noticed that Mark never declares himself the writer. While this gospel is technically anonymous, the early church had a strong tradition that claimed Mark as the author, and most modern scholarship agrees.
He wasn’t one of the twelve disciples but he was a leader in the early church. We see references to him all through the New Testament. Primarily, he followed Peter throughout his ministry and served as his assistant. The gospel of Mark is based on Peter’s teaching and eyewitness account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Peter was one of the three disciples closest to Jesus during His life.
What else do we know about Mark? He was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). We know that early on he helped share the gospel and plant churches with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25). At one point, however, he abandoned them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). He apparently had a change of heart and wanted to rejoin the pair later on. Barnabas wanted to bring him along on their journey but Paul did not, and this caused the two men to go their separate ways after a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36–39). We don’t know exactly how it happened, but Paul reconciled with Mark and later asked Timothy to bring Mark to him because he was “very useful” in ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Many scholars believe Mark was the earliest gospel, written only a few decades after Jesus’ life (the equivalent of breaking news in the first century). The latest Mark could have written his gospel would have been AD 70, when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. In Mark 13:1–4, Mark records Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction, so it would have been natural to mention how this prophecy was fulfilled. The absence of this detail leads many scholars to believe Mark wrote his gospel between AD 63 and 70, during Peter’s lifetime and before the fall of the temple.
Early church tradition also helps us learn about Mark’s audience: all signs point to the church in Rome. It’s likely that Peter was martyred there (so Mark would have likely been in Rome with him). Mark also translates Aramaic words (the language Jesus spoke) and explains Jewish customs; we can tell he wrote to a primarily Gentile audience. Last, his emphasis on suffering for the sake of the gospel fits with persecution the Roman church faced under Emperor Nero.