Good Reasons to Believe Peter Is the Source of Mark’s Gospel
by J Warner Wallace
The authorship of Mark’s Gospel is of great importance to those of us making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. Mark isn’t mentioned as an eyewitness in any of the Gospel accounts. How did Mark get his information about Jesus? Why should we consider his information to be reliable? There are several good reasons to believe Peter is the trustworthy source of information for Mark, beginning with the historical attributions of the early Church Fathers who affirm the relationship Mark and Peter had in the 1st Century. Beyond this, however, there are additional evidences within Mark’s text supporting the claim Peter (Mark’s mentor in Rome) is the source for Mark’s information. I’ve described the evidential case in much more detail in Cold-Case Christianity, but this brief summary may be helpful:
The Writing Style Is Consistent With Mark’s Background
The traditional view recognizes Mark as a Palestinian Jew who wrote his Gospel using Peter as his source. Most scholars believe the Gospel of Mark demonstrates a writing style and literary syntax exposing the author’s first language as something other than Greek. In fact, the writing style seems to indicate the author’s first language was probably a Semitic language such as Aramaic. This would be consistent with the idea Mark, a Palestinian Jew (who most likely spoke Aramaic) was the author of the Gospel. In addition to this, the Gospel of Mark includes a number of vivid and tangential details unnecessary to the narrative, but consistent with observations of an eyewitness to the events. This would indicate the author had access to an eyewitness such as Peter.
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The Outline of the Gospel Is Consistent With Peter’s Outline
Papias maintained the Gospel of Mark was simply a collection of Peter’s discourses (or his preaching) as this information was received and recalled by Mark. If we examine the typical preaching style of Peter in the Book of Acts (1:21-22 and Acts 10:37-41 for example) we see Peter always limited his preaching to the public life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel omits the private birth narrative and other details of Jesus’ life described in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection and ascension, paralleling the public preaching of Peter as we see it summarized in the Book of Acts.
The Omissions of the Gospel Are Consistent With Peter’s Influence
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence, including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts). Here are some examples of Petrine Omissions grounded in an effort to minimize embarrassment to Peter…