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Dating Mark

This post was originally published on this site
This is a sequel to my previous post:


1. Due to Markan priority, which is the mainstream view in NT scholarship across the theological spectrum (liberal, moderate, conservative), the date of Mark is a lynchpin for dating Matthew and Luke. Liberals usually assign Mark a post-70 AD date. Moderates and conservatives usually date Mark to the 60s, although some date it to the 50s, and a handful to the 40s. NT introductions by Guthrie (81-86) and Carson/Moo (172-82) have a useful overview of the patristic evidence and respective positions on dating and provenance.

Among conservative and some moderate scholars, a key factor in dating Mark is the way patristic testimony tethers Mark to Peter. This goes back to the testimony of Papias, who says Mark was Peter’s “interpreter”. Variations on this testimony are found in other early church fathers. However, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria apparently disagree on whether Mark’s Gospel was written during or after Peter’s lifetime. This raises a number of methodological issues:

1. If Peter is Mark’s sole informant, the question is when and where Mark and Peter cross paths. Rome? Caesarea? That affects dating schemes. 

2. Even if Peter is Mark’s informant, it doesn’t ipso facto follow that he wrote his Gospel at the time he met with Peter–although he might take notes. 

3. To what extent is subsequent patristic testimony independent of Papias? Do they have their own sources of information, or are these secondary notices, dependent on Papias? Are they simply repeating and passing along the tradition of Papias? Or does it dovetail with other available information? 

4. How early in church history would there be a constituency for a biography about Jesus? Seems to me people would be interested in the life of Jesus from the outset. And as the Christian movement rapidly radiated out across the far-flung Roman Empire, there’d be a need for a written life of Jesus.

5. I’m struck by the neglect of Acts 12:12 is discussions of Mark’s Gospel. There’s an entrenched scholarly tradition that takes patristic testimony as the starting-point, but while that’s important, evidence gleaned from the Book of Acts is more important. That should be the point of departure. 

Scholarship often gets stuck in a rut. Scholars influence other scholars, so that has a conditioning effect what how the issues are framed–which in turn, selects for the range of answers.

But according to Acts 12:12, Mark’s mother hosted a house-church in Jerusalem, which was known to Peter. That carries a number of highly suggestive implications:

Jerusalem was Mark’s hometown. Presumably, he was living in Jerusalem during the public ministry of Christ. In addition, he had access to apostles living in Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem was a polyglot city, and Mark himself came from a Greek-speaking family (immigrants from Cypress). 

6. If we run with Acts 12:12, Peter might well be one of Mark’s informants, but Mark would have access to other informants. 

7. It’s quite likely that Mark first met Peter in Jerusalem, early on. 

8. In addition, it’s stands to reason that Mark was an eyewitness to some events involving the public ministry of Christ.

9. Therefore, I see no good reason to tether the date of Mark’s Gospel to the whereabouts of Peter. And even if Peter was his primary informant, Mark could have gotten his information from Peter when they were both living in Jerusalem–back in the 30s. But the inertia of mainstream scholarship makes it hard to turn the ship. 

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