Peter and the Gospel of Mark
It was well attested in the early church that Peter was the source of Mark’s Gospel. Papias of Hierapolis (modern Turkey), a man born around the time of Peter’s martyrdom, recorded what he had heard from the apostle John’s followers:
The Elder [the apostle John] used to say this also: Mark became the interpreter of Peter and he wrote down accurately, but not in order, as much as he remembered of the sayings and doings of Christ. For he was not a hearer or a follower of the Lord, but afterwards, as I said, of Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of the moment and did not make an ordered exposition of the sayings of the Lord. And so Mark made no mistake when he thus wrote down some things as he remembered them; for he made it his especial care to omit nothing of what he heard, and to make no false statement therein.1
Peter’s first epistle corroborates his strong relationship with Mark, as he sent greetings in it from “Mark my son” (1 Pet. 5:13).
Although we cannot be dogmatic on this point, we can presume that, as Peter’s disciple, Mark’s use of the Tanakh bears Peter’s instruction and influence. Ultimately, it was the Holy Spirit who guided these men to look back at their Hebrew Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). Mark’s Gospel immediately looks to Malachi and Isaiah regarding predictions of John the Baptist’s ministry (Mk. 1:2–3).
Because in Psalm 2 the Father calls His Messiah “My Son,” Mark justifiably referred to Jesus as the “Son of God” (1:1, 11). Mark’s account references Israel’s hardness of heart toward the Messiah, about whom both Psalms and Isaiah prophesy (Mk. 4:12; 7:6–8; 12:10–11).
Furthermore, the written Law of Moses is pivotal in a variety of events in Mark’s Gospel, such as the cleansing of a leper (1:44), Sabbath gleaning laws (2:23–28), healing on the Sabbath (3:4), divorce (10:1–12), eternal life (vv. 17–22), the resurrection of the dead (12:23–26), and the two greatest commandments (vv. 28–31). It is difficult to miss the Gospel’s dependence on the Psalms and Isaiah.
Though Jesus spoke more about an eternal hell than anyone else in the Bible, Mark’s Gospel is unique in that it is the only Gospel to demonstrate that hell is an Old Testament concept (9:43–48).
A Word From the Wise
The great 19th-century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wisely said, “I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of his own words.”2
The world always has been full of false teachers skilled in crafting bogus meanings from Scripture to blind people to the truth. Peter was not one of them. He forthrightly conveyed his own weaknesses and embarrassments to Mark as the Gospel was being recorded, and he maintained that the events he witnessed were not conjured up out of his own imagination but were rooted firmly in the Jewish Scriptures.
- Papias, Bishop of Heirapolis (ca. 130), Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, in Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed., ed. Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 29.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews,” June 16, 1864, in the Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary