Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Gospel of St. Mark, the Gospel of St. Peter

St. Peter preaches, while St. Mark writes his Gospel

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
The second Gospel, that written by St. Mark, will be the primary Gospel used in the Church’s Liturgy (in the Novus Ordo) during the coming year. In the daily Mass readings, St. Mark’s Gospel is used consistently up till Lent; while, for the Sunday Gospel, Mark will be used throughout Ordinary Time (excepting this Sunday, January 15th).
In preparation for the Church’s use of this Gospel in the Sacred Liturgy, we will consider first the Petrine authority of the Gospel, and then (in a later article) the structure and style of the book.

St. Peter’s Gospel
According to an ancient tradition, which is rooted in manifold sources and quite beyond dispute, the Gospel according to St. Mark is very much the Gospel of St. Peter. The Prince of the apostles did not compose his own Gospel, but instead left it to his close disciple St. Mark to put his preaching into text.
All the Gospels are founded upon the authority of one or other of the apostles: Sts. Matthew and John were themselves among the Twelve, while St. Luke wrote with the authority of St. Paul. St. Mark, then, not an apostle himself, writes what he heard preached by St. Peter.
The witness of the tradition
We reproduce (in an abridged form) the scholarship of the Catholic Encyclopedia [“The Gospel of St. Mark”, here]:
“All early tradition connects the Second Gospel with two names, those of St. Mark and St. Peter, Mark being held to have written what Peter had preached. […] So Irenæus says: ‘Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing what was preached by Peter’ (Against Heresies III.1 and III.10.6). St. Clement of Alexandria, relying on the authority of ‘the elder presbyters’, tells us that, when Peter had publicly preached in Rome, many of those who heard him exhorted Mark, as one who had long followed Peter and remembered what he had said, to write it down, and that Mark ‘composed the Gospel and gave it to those who had asked for it’ (Eusebius, Church History VI.14). Origen says (ibid., VI, xxv) that Mark wrote as Peter directed him, and Eusebius himself reports the tradition that Peter approved or authorized Mark's work (Church History II.15).
“To these early Eastern witnesses may be added, from the West, the author of the Muratorian Fragment, which in its first line almost certainly refers to Mark's presence at Peter's discourses and his composition of the Gospel accordingly; Tertullian, who states: ‘The Gospel which Mark published is affirmed to be Peter's, whose interpreter Mark was’ (Contra Marc., IV, v); St. Jerome, who in one place says that Mark wrote a short Gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome, and that Peter authorized it to be read in the Churches (De Vir. Ill., viii), and in another that Mark's Gospel was composed, Peter narrating and Mark writing (Ad Hedib., ep. cxx).
“In every one of these ancient authorities Mark is regarded as the writer of the Gospel, which is looked upon at the same time as having Apostolic authority, because substantially at least it had come from St. Peter.”
The evidence in the text
Further, beyond the tradition of the Church, there is internal textual evidence which leads us to believe that the Gospel comes from the authority of St. Peter. As we shall shortly see (in a post later this week), this Gospel contains more details than any of the other Gospels (with the possible exception of St. John’s), and this indicates that an eyewitness was an immediate source for St. Mark (since no one claims Mark to have been an eyewitness himself). Further, this Gospel tells of the weaknesses of the apostles more clearly than any of the others, and particularly of the deficiencies of St. Peter – but, if any other than Peter had been the source, there would have been a tendency to brush these aside out of charity for the Prince of the apostles (just as St. Matthew alone states his name clearly as the tax-collector, while Sts. Mark and Luke give his other name Levi).
We do not claim that this textual evidence alone proves that Peter is the source for this Gospel, but we do say that it corroborates what has been maintained in the tradition of the Church, most probably from the later part of the first century (and no later than by Papias around the year AD 150).
 St. Mark and St. Peter, Pray for us! 


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...


I just read the first eight words of your piece and had to stop and cheer.

You do know that those words will set on edge the teeth of the Marcan Priority Crowd, right? :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Not Spartacus,
In fact, I had been considering writing about this matter ... defending that Matthew wrote first (in Aramaic), then Mark (in Greek, though some ancients do hold for Latin), etc.
In the end, I decided that it would require more work that I feel up for right now.

Hopefully some day!

[fyi, a biblical professor at the Jesuit university in Rome very strongly defended the Aramaic Matthew written first, so that is a good sign!]

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. When you do, I am ready to jump-in with evidence that the Marcan Priority sham derived from protestant ideology specifically in service to the Kulturkamp in Germany which wanted to put Mark first because of the obvious import of Matt 16:18.19

Marco da Vinha said...

Father, do you know of any orthodox books which treat the history of the New Testament (which book came first, etc.)? I'd like to read more on this, as I have only read about it in a small chapter in the introduction to a book called The Life of Christ, written back in the 50's if I'm not mistaken.

Tom L said...

Dom Bernard Orchard devoted a great deal of study to the question of the chronology of the gospels. He eventually concluded that the most likely chronological order was Mt-Lk-Mk-Jn, and that the traditional ordering had to do with the reasons each gospel was written. In short, that Mt was written first for the Church of Jerusalem; then Lk was written at Paul's request for his Churches; and Mk was written as a "bridge" between the two.

It's an interesting theory. You can read more about it here:

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Pontifical Biblical Commission:

5. Chronological Order -Whether, with regard to the chronological order of the Gospels, it is lawful to abandon the opinion, supported as it is by the most ancient as well as constant testimony of tradition, which testifies that, after Matthew, who first of all wrote his Gospel in his native language, Mark wrote second and Luke third; or is this opinion to be regarded as opposed to that which asserts that the second and third Gospels were composed before the Greek version of the first Gospel.

Answer: In the negative to both parts.

I have a copy of Dom Orchard's "A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture" and it has a lot of useful information but it does not supplant Lapide's great work

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Tom L and I am not Spartacus,
I have not read Dom Orchard's work - though I have heard good things about it.
I will say that I am suspicious of any claim which upsets the traditional acceptance of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

However, as the answer from the PBC indicates (if I understand properly), it could be held that the Greek version of Matthew is later than Mark.

What I would be interested to think more about is the tradition of an ancient (and lost) Latin edition of Mark's Gospel - supposedly composed by Mark himself and (according to some of the ancients) even before he wrote in Greek [personally, I think that the Greek is the original, as does Lapide].
How would this Latin stand in relation to Luke? Or, if the Latin was first, how would the Greek relate to Luke?
These seem to be open questions -- as much as the relation of the Greek Matthew to Mark is still open.

Well, it's always good to see a quote from the PBC in its glory days (and back when it had actual magisterial authority) ... it is a bit sad when we consider the current state of affairs, how the mighty have fallen!

Praise God that there is a renewal underway ... though it will take no little time. +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Through your own work you are helping to restore that which fell into desuetude.

It is to be greatly regretted that Holy Mother Church suffered a lack of self-confidence in the face of an enormous and persistent protestant assault against Tradition and Ecclesiastical tradition at the head of which assault was the General, "Presumed Expertise."

I am all for a restoration of a healthy Catholic Triumphalism but it must begin in each of our own hearts first because the Magisterium seeks friendship and accommodation with it's implacable enemies.

The Counter-Revolution has begun in the Domestic Church of the Catholic Traditionalists but I am wandering far off topic here.

Thank you for all of your great work, Fr. Erlenbush.

Irenaeus of New York said...

Hello Father,

There is one church father in St Epiphanias who says that St. Mark was among the 72 disciples, and that he walked away from our Lord at the teaching on the Eucharist. Only to be reconverted later by St. Peter. I am not sure where he received that from, but it is interesting. I read this in the commentary by Fr. Haydock.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, apparently Origen and Dorotheus thought likewise. Whether any others held this, I do not know.
Interesting that Haydock still keeps the tradition of St. Peter ... very clever!
[still, I'm holding with Lapide on this one]

Also, some think he was John Mark, the nephew of Barnabus and friend of St. Paul ... but this seems at odds with the fact that Mark was with St. Peter at Rome.
Hence, according to Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, it is better to consider Mark and John Mark to be two.

Thanks for the info! +

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that for a survey of the Synoptic Problem one should read the section in AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT by Raymond E. Brown, SS. This deals with the question of the priorty of Mark or Matthew. Flamen

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


I would suggest that Fr. Raymond Brown is not to be trusted when it comes to Sacred Scripture.
He is an excellent example of what is wrong with modern "Catholic" biblical exegesis.
Indeed, at the end of his life, he himself admitted of the great limitation of his work because of the inherent problems of the historical-critical method.

Rather than Brown, better to trust the saints -- Fr. Brown very intentionally breaks from the Catholic tradition of biblical study ... you would think that he was the first to have ever read the Bible and that the Fathers, Doctors, and saints were entirely ignorant of the Sacred Books.

[end of story on Fr. Raymond Brown ... no more comments will be posted on his works ... it would be a waste of time, I and would spare us all of that!] +

Anonymous said...

The last comment in response to something from Flamen seems to imply that the historical-critical method is somehow alien to Catholic biblical exegesis.

For the proper use and setting of that method (and for its authentic value in Catholic exegesis) see Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (2010) at, e.g. nn.32-34.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The problem with many (nearly all) modern exegetes is that they don't realize that the roots of "historical-critical" come from the Dominican school of biblical work done in the scholastic period.

Most certainly, study of language, geography, ancient history, etc. etc etc ... are all very beneficial.
Studying the literal sense is essential. Consideration of the human author, very important.

However, people like Fr. Ray Brown act as though there was no real biblical exegesis before the 1900's (or maybe late 1800's) ... and this is what is wrong with the modern world of "Catholic" Bible study.

Why, reading Ray Brown, you would think that Jerome didn't know either Hebrew or Greek, that he hadn't read the Bible, that he hadn't lived in the Holy Land ... at least, you would come to the conclusion that St. Jerome must not have had anything important to say, since he is completely ignored!
[and I need not even mention the dismissal of the scholastic Doctors]

Let me be clear: If a "scholar" reads the Bible without taking the commentaries of the Church Fathers and Scholastic Doctors as normative (and of equal [if not greater] value as the conclusions of modern exegetes), that "scholar" is no scholar at all ... and he certainly isn't reading the Bible as a Catholic.

Frank said...

Available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, The last chapter of Abbe Constant Fouard's book St. Peter and the First Years of Christianity, the last chapter is entitled The Gospel of St. Mark.

Gary said...

Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your comment shows that you don't really understand anything of the traditional Christian beliefs regarding the authorship of the Gospels. You state that most Christians assume that "eyewitness wrote the Gospels"... um, no. Actually, we don't assume that. In fact, we have always maintained that St Mark and St Luke were not eyewitnesses to the events they record.

As to the rest of your comment, it smacks of that bigotry which presumes that what heretics thought up in the past 100 years is automatically better that what the saints preached for 2,000 years, simply because the recent heretics happen to live closer that that golden age of your own existence.

Gary said...


The claim that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and that Luke the physician wrote the Gospel of Luke are only traditions. The Church has never officially confirmed the authorship of these books. But I still contend that my original statement is correct: Many Christians (not all) assume that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospel.

What about my second assertion? Any comment?

"The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


You still are unable to understand the simple point: No Christian claims that all four Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The whole tradition of Luke and Mark are that they were not eyewitnesses. It's amazing to me that you are still bold enough to make assumptions about what most Christians believe, when it is obvious that you are totally off base.

Your second assertion: Not only is it true that some eyewitnesses would have still been alive when the Gospels were distributed, but I also add that many immediate descendants of eyewitnesses would have been alive -- and even as you or I can remember certain eyewitness accounts given by our grandmothers, so too would many of the first readers of the Gospels be able to compare these texts with the eyewitness accounts of their parents and grandparents (as well as many of others of the previous generation).


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