The Wikipedia page on the Gospel of Mark claims (emphasis added):

Most scholars also reject the tradition which ascribes it to Mark the Evangelist, the companion of Peter, and regard it as the work of an unknown author working with various sources including collections of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, and a passion narrative.

This paraphrases the reference given, a textbook by Burkett, 2002, which states:

Most critical scholars do not accept Papias' claim that the Gospel [of Mark] was based on Peter's preaching [which Mark wrote down].

In the early twentieth century, form critics theorized that the Gospel of Mark was formed [by an unknown Evangelist] from various sources, such as collections of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, a passion narrative, and other traditions that were handed down by word of mouth in the early church... Most scholars today hold this theory.


  1. What is the "consensus view" on the author of Mark, and how is this consensus established?
  2. What available evidence is there for each theory of authorship?
  • 5
    It seems most of the objection to Mark (or Matthew, Luke, John) actually writing it is because it 'just can't be' that a credible or contemporaneous historian recorded what people claimed they heard and saw about Jesus because of the matter involved (truth claims being made, miraculous events). This heavily taints any unbiased research into the authorship; as if consistent, exclusive ascription of the books to the respective authors did not constitute reason enough to believe that they were in fact written by them. There also exist no 'anonymous', 'unascribed' copies. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:53

4 Answers 4


The Gospel's attribution to John Mark

It might first help for us to understand how the Gospel came to be named for John Mark.

John Mark is introduced at the end of Acts 12 as a companion of Paul and Barnabas (John Mark was apparently Barnabas' cousin; cf. Col 4.10), though earlier in the chapter his mother's home became a place of refuge for Peter. John Mark remained with Paul and Barnabas as they traveled. But John Mark eventually returned to Jerusalem before their planned trip was over, which soured his relationship with Paul. In Acts 15, John Mark was evidently still in Jerusalem, as was Peter.

By the late first century, a tradition had arisen that John Mark had become a close traveling companion of Peter (1 Pet 5.13). By the early second century, this tradition identified John Mark as the writer of Peter's memoirs.1 Around AD 110-120, Papias wrote:

Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote down carefully what he remembered, both the sayings and the deeds of the Christ, but not in chronological order, for he did not hear the Lord nor did he accompany him. At a later time, however, he did accompany Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs, but not with the object of making a connected series of discourses of our Lord. So, Mark made no mistake in writing the individual discourses in the order in which he recalled them. His one concern was not to omit a single thing he had heard or to leave any untruth in this account.

This identification of John Mark as the author of Peter's recollection of Jesus is reiterated by Irenaeus in Against Heresies 3.1, in the now traditional order of the four canonical Gospels:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

The point of contention raised by modern scholarship, however, is this: Irenaeus wrote this nearly seventy years after Papias, and what Papias wrote does not make clear that he's talking about the text we call 'the Gospel of Mark'. Rather, Papias' description of John Mark transcribing an unorganized collection of discourses does not well fit the Gospel of Mark as we have it, which is a narrative with deliberate shape.2 (Likewise, Irenaeus' claim that Mark was written after Matthew is rejected by the vast majority of scholarship (even among Christians), since Mark was a source for Matthew, and neither originated in Hebrew.)

Internally, the Gospel's author does not self-identify. Because the earliest certain identification of the book's author doesn't come until the second half of the second century, scholars determined that was too late to be historically reliable.

If not John Mark, then who?

The majority consensus of the identity of the author the Gospel of Mark is that we don't know the person or persons who wrote the book. Their identity is unknown and unknowable.

However, scholars do make an effort to pin down the approximate time and location of the book's origin. This can help us understand what kind of person the author was, if not their specific identity.

While the prophecy in Mark 13 likely goes back to authentic apocalyptic teaching from Jesus, the careful arrangement of these teachings into a single chiastic structure, and its accentuation of war in Judea is believed to reflect the authors' awareness of the (First) Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-73. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (ed. Michael D. Coogan) prefaces the Gospel of Mark with this:

Because of the vague references to the destruction of Jerusalem in Mark 13 (contrast Mt 22.7; Lk 19.32), the Gospel is thought to have been composed just prior to the widespread Jewish popular revolt that began in 66 CE and the Roman reconquest and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE. The language of the Gospel is that of popular spoken Greek.

The narrative in Acts presents Christians as meeting in the synagogues up through the early 60s. Sometime after the war, however, Christians and Judaism began to separate; no longer was the Christian movement considered a sect within Judaism, but a religion apart from it. Mark 13's prophecy contains a warning that Jesus' followers will suffer punishment within the synagogue setting (13.9); this would be consistent with the period before 'Christianity' and 'Judaism' separated, again suggesting a time of authorship before the end of the war.

As to its location of origin, though, various places have been suggested. Rome is common for the traditional view, given Peter's association with the city.3 Eckhard Schnabel, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, outlines the evidence for this view:

Frequent Latinisms in Mark's text can be taken as internal evidence for Rome as provenance of the Gospel (e.g. 2:4, 9-12 krabattos, 'mat'; Lat. grabatus; 2:23 hodon poiein, 'make their way; Lat. iter facere; 3:6, 15:1 symboulion didonai, 'form a plan, plot'; Lat. consilium capere/dederunt; 3:6, 6:27 spekoulat r, 'courier, executioner'; Lat. speculator). Since many of these Latinisms are found in Koine Greek and also in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, they do not prove that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome, but their frequency in Mark favours a Roman origin.

Another common suggestion is Syria. Camille Focant, The Gospel According to Mark: A Commentary, pushes back:

If the Roman origin of Mark seems the most likely, another hypothesis has often been defended lately: that of a Syrian origin (Kee, Community, 102-3; Myers, Binding, 41; Schenk, Markusevangelium, 45-48). Defended notably by Kümmel (Einleitung, 70), it has been taken up recently by an American exegetical group according to which Mark betrays an interest turned not toward an urban population, but rather toward a rural world of illiterate peasants born in villages or small towns, either from Upper Galilee or from the south of Syria (Rohrbaugh, "Social Location"). This thesis has been supported by Theissen (Lokalcolorit, 248-61). His arguments have been justly criticized by van Iersel (36-39). The thesis has been taken up by Marcus (30-37): for him, if Mark 13 has made allusion to the Neronian persecution we would have expected to find there the figure of a pagan king as this emperor, a sort of beast as in the book of Daniel or in Revelation. On the other hand, according to him, the formulation of Mark 13 is completely adapted for people near the events of the Jewish War.


To summarize the thought process of modern scholarship:

  • The traditional attribution of John Mark as the author of this Gospel narrative rests on evidence that is scant and late. The earliest piece of evidence (Papias) describes a text that does not resemble the Gospel of Mark.
  • All things being equal, critical scholarship cannot favor one religion's claims of the supernatural or miraculous over another religion's (e.g. as 'impartial' historians, they cannot accept Christian claims of authentic prophecy over Muslim claims of authentic prophecy). Hence, even if Jesus made authentic predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem and its temple, the specific arrangement of that material in the Gospel of Mark suggests the author was aware of the Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-73.
  • Despite that awareness, the lack of specificity suggests the author was writing contemporary to the war. This is reinforced by Mark 13's implication that Christians are still accepted within the synagogue, albeit with tension.
  • Latin-based vocabulary and idioms may indicate the book was written in Rome, while the author's concern with the Jewish-Roman War (and a total lack of concern for Nero's persecution of Christians in Rome) may instead place the author in or near the Levant.

Who wrote the Gospel of Mark? We don't know. But we think he wrote circa AD 66-70, either in Rome or in the Levant, with some concern for the Jewish-Roman War and the people caught up in it.


1 Contrast Hippolytus' list of the Seventy Disciples, which identifies the Gospel-author, the cousin of Barnabas, and the one named 'John Mark' as three completely different men. This would be plausible, since 'Mark' was a common Greco-Roman name at the time.

2 It introduces John as the herald of the Messiah. Jesus is introduced, then goes on to teach Torah, dispense wisdom, heal the sick, exorcise demons, and even raise the dead. These culminate at the halfway point of the book, the end of chapter 8, where Jesus is identified for the first time as 'the Messiah', which is immediately connected with the revelation that he must die at the hands of Jerusalem's elite. This revelation is then brought up twice more in the next chapters, followed by his arrival in Jerusalem. Jesus disrupts the temple activities, then predicts its destruction. This leads into the crucifixion narrative and the empty tomb. The Gospel of Mark has a carefully constructed 'plot', with recurring themes, and even a chiasmus in chapter 13.

3 cf. 1 Peter 5.13 again, where Peter and Mark are associated with 'Babylon', a cipher for Rome that originated after the Jewish-Roman War. See here for more information.


The 'consensus view' you ask about is that, "In the early twentieth century, form critics theorized that the Gospel of Mark was formed [by an unknown Evangelist] from various sources, such as collections of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, a passion narrative, and other traditions that were handed down by word of mouth in the early church."

You ask how this view was established. It was a group of scholars, known as "form critics" who came up with this theory. They did that by stumbling over this striking fact about the shortest gospel, traditionally attributed to Mark (companion of Peter, and an evangelist):

"The whole of Mark, save for some fifty-five verses, appears in Matthew and Luke. That is to say, Mark is almost completely incorporated in Matthew and Luke, the two other synoptic gospels.

Almost the entire substance of the gospel according to Mark appears in Matthew. Again, nearly half of Mark is to be found in Luke, who follows Mark's order, and records a greater proportion of the actual words of Mark." (Mark, p19 John Metcalfe)

Then the point is made that Matthew and Luke contain much material peculiar to each of those gospels. Matthew presents Christ as the Messiah in terms of the kingdom of heaven. No other gospel has this distinctive teaching. Likewise Luke has his emphasis. But Mark does not have such information; he has very little that distinguishes it from the other synoptics. There's hardly anything in it that distinguishes it. And that is the problem form critics have stumbled over. It is difficult to define Mark; this author seems to be so elusive, and thus grasping at straws becomes so tempting.

Because attention has been moved from Jesus Christ as the subject and object of this gospel to who did the writing, the point of the writing is lost. The peculiar emphasis in Mark is on the immediacy of what Jesus did - some 40 times occur the words 'straightway', 'immediately', 'forthwith' etc. There is not so much mention on what Jesus said. Mark's opening verse is key: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark focuses on

"...the uniqueness of [Christ's] person, his peerless works, his appalling rejection, and, beyond all, his breathtaking vindication that are most conspicuous. It is himself, his witness in the gospel, that is so striking." (Ibid. p 28)

Why is this important in weighing up the claims of the form critics? Simply because in drawing all attention to discrediting Mark as the author, they have inserted the thin end of the wedge of doubt and disbelief. They have succeeded in cold, analytical consideration of an ancient document resulting in the contents of the document being shoved off-stage, into the wings. They have turned the spot-light off of Jesus Christ, and on to a shadowy, unclear, flitting-about apparition on the stage. This, they think, is important!

The theory of the form critics does not provide us with a theory of authorship (as many seem to think) but gives us a theory of non-authorship, because they have no idea who could have written it, after dismissing Mark. But, job done, they are satisfied that their focus has removed any certainty and left the world with a pile of doubt. They would have readers believe that it was just an anonymous "collection of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, a passion narrative, and other traditions that were handed down by word of mouth in the early church" (as in the Burkett quote you give).

The author of Mark maintained a sharp focus on Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and what he did, as such. By reducing this to ephemeral stories and verbal accounts, the form critics have shoved the thin edge of their wedge firmly into the New Testament, with more such theories following. No wonder people today hardly ever read the Bible, when they listen to such form critics, whose influence has spread like yeast throughout society.


Being approved of both Peter, the Chief Apostle, and of Paul, who found him profitable for the ministry, a singular approbation, Mark stands out.

The unique account of a young man who leaves his garment in the hands of others and flees; and the unique account of the young man, clothed, in the sepulchre - specifically on the right side, ready to serve - allude to Mark, the young man who departed from the work, yet was later restored and profitable.

I have no doubt about the authenticity of Mark having written the book of Mark. And nobody can prove he did not write Hebrews as well, I believe, for the heading of his book indicates that its content relates to the Messenger of the Covenant in Malachi and bears strong association with Hebrews' content.

  • Nigel, is it possible for you to use paragraphs (i.e. leave a blank line at the end of each distinct idea you are expressing)? If this answer adds something to the debate about the authorship of Mark, then it not clearly being expressed.
    – enegue
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 23:34
  • Duly noted and duly edited.Nigel.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 22:57
  • It matters because you have textbooks like Burkett's. Which get used as sources on Wikipedia. Which gets read by thousands of people seeking answers. So unless there is something scholarly to stand in their way, the Burketts of the world control the message.
    – Pete
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 15:53
  • @Pete I was hoping to see you answer your own question about Mark. I was looking forward to it.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 3:43

Because Mark's Gospel was written anonymously, we can never know who wrote it. The very strong consensus of critical scholars is that the gospel was written around 70 CE, which would make a contemporary of the apostle Peter possible as author, but unlikely.

What we can tell from the text is that the person who wrote Mark was a gifted author, quite skilled in Greek rhetoric. For example, his use of chiastic and parallel structures and literary sandwiches. He was also familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and also the Greek classics.

  • 3
    How does Burkett get from "anonymously written" to, essentially, fabricated by an evangelist from collections of stories? And is there any evidence for or against Papias' claim?
    – Pete
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 3:33
  • 4
    First on a general note: both modern times and history are full of examples of things written anonymously where the authors have been sleuthed out by one means or another and their identities relieved. Your blanket statement of impossibility is kind of weak sauce. Additionally zero mention of the historic character whose name the book bears and is the likely author makes this a weak answer. Similarly the subset of scholarship among which 70AD dating is strongly advocated is by no means a strong consensus among all scholars, many of whom date the book to the mid 50s and a few more to the 60s.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    @Caleb: if an ancient book was written anonymously and if all attempts so far to establish the name of the author have come to naught, it is a truism, not a blanket statement, that we can never know who the author was. I am sure that in our own lifetimes the answer will not yet be known. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 23:15
  • @Caleb On the question of "a strong consensus" I can cite the views of numerous scholars, as well as the understanding of some who would know the consensus among their peers, which is far better than an anecdotal belief that most scholars still believe otherwise. bc.edu/schools/stm/crossroads/resources/birthofjesus/intro/… minicourse: "Although some scholars disagree, the vast majority of researchers believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70." /... Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 23:32
  • .../ Likewise, John Carroll says in The Existential Jesus, page 255, that a large majority of biblical scholars assume that Mark’s Gospel was written around 70 CE, or a few years earlier or later. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark (citing Perkins): "It was probably written c. AD 66–70, during Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, as suggested by internal references to war in Judea and to persecution." Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 23:36

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