Who Was Mark? Look to Acts
Let's be up front. There is no clear identification of the man who wrote the gospel of Mark within the text of that gospel. This can be explained a several ways, some of which will be discussed here. However, even without a clear identification within the gospel, there are a few scriptures in the book of Acts and other parts of the New Testament that help give us a clue of who the writer really was.
The most likely candidate for authorship is John Mark, a young man who served in the early church. He is mentioned throughout the book of Acts and even in a couple of epistles. The scriptures that reference him lead us to believe that he is the best possible candidate. These scriptures reveal the character and progression of the man and how that may relate to the writing style found in the gospel of Mark. Let's examine.
A Family Devoted
John Mark came from a family that was devoted to the early church. We know this because Peter goes to their home when he is released from prison by the angel (Acts 12:12). He could have gone back to Galilee or in search of his apostle friends. Instead, Peter chose to go to this home. It must have been a place that he felt comfortable with and a place he knew believers would be at. Aside from this background information, we get strong evidence for John Mark as Mark of the Gospel through this story. The gospel of Mark is believed to have been transcriptions of Peter's testimony about Jesus. This is backed up by the straightforward tone and direct approach of the gospel, which mirrors Peter's method of witnessing.
Involved in Spreading the Gospel
John Mark is mentioned twice as going on missions trips with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25 and 13:5). To be connected with two leading purveyors of the gospel, Mark must have either had experience spreading the gospel or had a like passion for witnessing, possibly both. This also lends to the idea that he was related to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). If he was already used to mission work this early on and related to a man who was known to have followed Christ, it is likely he was a member of the 70 that Christ sent out (Luke 10:1). This probably means that he was one of those who turned away from God when things got rough (John 6:6). This theory gains credence when we examine the next part of John Mark's character.
Abandoned When Things Got Tough
John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnagas (Acts 13:13-14). This was a major deal as they were in the midst of breaking into new territory for the Kingdom. Suddenly, John Mark decides to run home. No reason is given. He just left. Perhaps, like in John 6, the task before him seemed too much to take on. Like many Christians, even today, he was willing to go and do to a point. But full investment? There were bills to pay, fields to tend, people to bury and marry. Surely Christ didn't intend for this calling to be forever, did He?
Schism Reopens The Door
Some time later, John Mark comes to his senses and returns to his calling. He decided that he wanted to be all in for Jesus. However, he was not well received by all (Acts 15:37-39). Paul wanted nothing to do with him. Thankfully, especially if he is the writer of the gospel, Barnabas refused to abandon him. It even caused the parting of arguably the most effective tag team in Christianity. Perhaps it was the familial connection that led Barnabas to stick up for Barnabas. Maybe, though, it was the same intuition that Barnabas used with Paul (Acts 9:27). John Mark had talent and ability. He wouldn't have been asked to come along in the first place if he didn't. Barnabas knew there was something in this young man that could benefit God's Kingdom. He chose to invest in him rather than abandon him by the wayside.
Barnabas' decision seems to have paid off. According to Christian tradition and the first epistle of Peter (1 Peter 5:13), John Mark would meet up with Peter on his way to Rome. He would stay with him until Peter's death in that city, helping him to write all of his letters. With this evidence and the character development we find about him throughout the scriptures, we can safely say that John Mark is most likely the writer of the gospel of Mark. He penned the most direct and plainspoken gospel of the four. There's not a lot of history or flowing speeches. He gets straight to the point and the heart of the matter. For many, this makes it the most accessible and easier to read of the gospels. Without a man like Barnabas, this wishy-washy Christian wouldn't have had a pathway back in and we would have missed out on God's word through his pen.
We can take a lot away from this study on Mark. We can know that our pathway to calling isn't always easy and there are times where we may want to quit. It may be a major issue or just life getting in the way. Maybe it's even just that it seems to much for us to take on. We may find ourselves in these situations responding like Mark and throw our hands up and walk away. However, Christ doesn't quit on us. He's waiting for us to return to our commitments and to His cause. Once we come back, there won't be a judgmental rebuke but a warm and welcoming embrace. From there, we'll find ourselves used in ways we never imagined because we chose to go all in and follow Christ.
A final note of hope and consideration. By the end of their lives, Paul and John Mark would reconcile. He is mentioned favorably in Colossians (4:10) and Paul calls him his fellowlabourer in Philemon (1:24). Reconciliation can happen even out of the most contentious of relationships.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.