While John Mark (son of Mary of Jerusalem and cousin of Barnabas) was an ethnic Jew,1 his Gospel appears to have been written for a non-Jewish audience. Aramaic expressions are translated (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:22, 34) and Jewish customs explained (7:3-4; 14:12; 15:42). More specifically, Mark had close connections with Rome (cf. Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Having been summoned to Rome by Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), he was with Peter (presumably in Rome) when 1 Peter was written (5:13). Irenaeus affirms that Paul and Peter were in Rome at the same time (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1), corresponding to Paul’s second Roman imprisonment in conjunction with the great fire of Rome in July 64 and Nero’s subsequent persecution of Christians.Peter sends greetings from "she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you . . ." (1 Peter 5:13). Although some have suggested that "she" is a reference to an actual woman (perhaps Peter's wife), most interpreters understand this to be a metaphoric allusion to the collective members of the church (cf. KJV). It is only natural to interpret "Babylon" symbolically as applicable to Rome.2 In late Judaism "Rome began to take on the name and many of the characteristics of Babylon as a world-power hostile to God . . ." (BAGD 129), and the book of Revelation indicates that first-century Christians understood "Babylon" as a symbolic reference to Rome (cf. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). If Nero’s persecution was looming or in its early stages at the time of writing, Peter’s reluctance to expressly identify the Christian community in Rome is understandable.
According to Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140), Mark was "Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. . . . [he] followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them" (as quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15-16; cf. 6.25.5, trans. K. Lake, LCL).3 It is of further interest that the Gospel of Mark follows a pattern very similar to Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 10:36-41 (see esp. W. L. Lance, The Gospel According to Mark 10-11; also D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 193).
Both Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.2) and Clement of Alexandria (Hypotyposeis; cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.5-7) report that Mark’s Gospel was compiled in Rome. In fact, the Gospel has a definite Roman flavoring. It contains a number of Latinisms: e.g. modus (4:21), legion (5:29), speculator (6:27), census (12:14), denarius (12:15), lepta (12:42), quadrans (12:42), flagellare (15:15), praetorium (15:16), and centurion (15:39, 44-45). Mark uses Roman rather than Hebrew time (6:48; 13:35). And seeing that Mark’s readers were acquainted with Simon’s sons Alexander and Rufus (15:21), it is not without significance that there was a Christian named Rufus among the believers at Rome (Romans 16:13).
Mark portrays Jesus as the suffering servant of God (8:31-32; 9:31; 10:33-34), and his unique focus on suffering (cf. 10:30)4 may be the result of Nero’s persecutions in Rome approximating the time of writing. The message and unique features of Mark’s Gospel make more sense when read from a first-century Roman perspective.
–Kevin L. Moore
1 Colossians 4:10-11; Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37. The author of Mark’s Gospel was familiar with the geography of Palestine (5:1; 6:53; 8:10; 11:1; 13:3), knew Aramaic (5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36), and understood Jewish customs (1:21; 7:2-4). Although one of the arguments against Markan authorship is an alleged ignorance of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs, these criticisms are exaggerated and do not stand up to close scrutiny (see D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 175).
2 There is no evidence that the church was existing in the literal Babylon of Mesopotamia in the mid-first-century AD or that Peter or Mark or Silvanus was associated with the region. Few, if any, would consider Egypt’s Babylon as a possibility either.
3 Note that Mark’s Gospel is arranged more geographically than chronologically. On Mark’s association with Peter in the biblical record, see Acts 12:11-12; 13:13; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13. Comparable early testimonies include Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 106.3); the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (ca. 160-180), Tertullian (Adv. Marc. 4.5), and Jerome (Ad Hedibiam 120).
4 Mark does not include teachings of Jesus on discipleship until after the Lord's description of his own suffering (8:31-33).
Related Posts: Uniqueness of Mark's Gospel, Matthew's Audience, Luke's Audience, John's Audience
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