Why Markan Authorship Wouldn’t Be Fabricated

by Jason Engwer

Here are some of the reasons why Christians who were lying or speculating about the authorship of the second gospel probably wouldn’t have come up with Mark as the author:

“Moreover, in almost every early tradition that we know, both within and beyond the New Testament, ‘Mark’ cuts a decidedly second- or third-rate figure. Among the fascinating characteristics of the early traditions about Mark are their proliferation and oddity: relative to their references to the other Evangelists and Gospels, patristic texts seem to discuss Mark more yet use his Gospel less. Furthermore, in their comments about the Evangelist, the majority seem noticeably awkward, apologetic, and sometimes even pejorative….Less important than adjudicating among these interpretations of kolobodaktylos [a title applied to Mark by patristic sources], all of which are unavoidably speculative, is observing that which they hold in common: the nuance of diminished integrity, whether in regard to physical or moral capacities. A term like kolobodaktylos, with its connotations of deformity or cowardice, probably would have registered among listeners or readers in Mediterranean antiquity as a slur or (at best) as a lament, not as a compliment….First, for Eusebius the figure of Mark is of only minor concern, secondary to other historical preoccupations. Although the Church History has proved to be a mine of traditions about Mark and other personalities of the apostolic age, nowhere in that work does Eusebius devote a section to Mark as a leading character in his own right….On the teeming stage of Christian antiquity Mark is little more than a bit player.” (C. Clifton Black, Mark: Images Of An Apostolic Interpreter [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2001], 11-2, 118, 158, 254)

So, Mark was a relatively minor figure who was remembered for some disreputable behavior and/or an embarrassing physical deformity.

You could try to lessen the weakness of Mark as a potential author by denying that he’s the Mark who’s criticized in Acts 13:13 and 15:36-40. But even if Mark’s disreputable behavior is taken off the table, the other two problems – his minor role in early church history and his physical deformity – remain. And even if we were to conclude that the Mark of Acts 13 and 15 is some other Mark, the view of the early Christians is more important in this context, and they didn’t make that distinction between two Marks…

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Triablogue: Why Markan Authorship Wouldn’t Be Fabricated