There is more than one John mentioned in the New Testament, and sometimes readers find it challenging to distinguish one from the other. John Mark is an important person in the Gospels and the book of Acts. Paul also mentions him in Colossians and Philemon. Who was he?
John Mark is the author of the second Gospel in the New Testament. He was a Jewish Christian from the city of Jerusalem. John Mark is the cousin of Barnabas, a missionary in the early church, and he may have been present at Jesus’ arrest. John Mark later accompanied Paul on his first mission trip.
What biographical details does the New Testament reveal about John Mark? In what way did he participate in Paul’s ministry? Why did Paul reject him from going on his second mission trip? Who are the other Johns mentioned in the New Testament? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
John Mark: A Concise New Testament Biography
The Gospel of Mark doesn’t provide much detail about its author. In fact, the second Gospel is anonymous. Yet many scholars of the Gospels believe that John Mark, who is commonly referred to as just “Mark,” was Peter’s biographer.
Some also believe that Mark may have inserted himself into the Gospel, identifying him as the nameless young man who escaped from the authorities at the time of Jesus’ arrest (more below).
Mark’s early life
As the table below reveals, John Mark’s mother’s name was Mary. There are several Marys in the New Testament, so it’s important to note that this isn’t Mary, the mother of Jesus.
John Mark’s mother is also not Mary, the mother of James and Joses (Matt. 27:56). It’s not Mary Magdalene or Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus (John 11:1). The mary mentioned in Acts 12:12 is commonly identified as Mary, mother of John Mark.
|Named John Mark||“When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” Acts 12:12|
|Cousin of Barnabas||“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him).” Colossians 4:10|
|Mark may have fled when Jesus was arrested||“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Mark 14:51-52|
Why did John Mark have two names? John is the English adaptation of his Hebrew name. Mark (or Marcus) is the English adaptation of the Latin name. It was common for Jews in the first century to have a Hebrew name and a Greek or Latin name. (For another example, see Acts 1:23.)
How was Mark related to Barnabas? Colossians 4:10 states that the men were cousins. There is general agreement among Bible scholars that the Mark that Paul mentions in this verse is John Mark. Barnabas was a highly-respected man in the early church, and his reputation may have opened the door for Mark to participate in Paul’s ministry.
Why is Mark 14:51-52 anonymous? Is Mark the “young man” who flees from the authorities? It wasn’t common for an author to insert himself into a story, but this situation may be unique.
- Was he an eye-witness? Some speculate that these two verses are, in part, Mark covertly telling the reader that he was an eye-witness to the events he is described. If this is true, the inclusion is an act of humility because the scene doesn’t flatter Mark because he abandons Jesus like everyone else.
- Was he protesting himself? Because the civil and religious authorities were targeting Jesus and his followers, the anonymity may have protected Mark from arrest. If the authorities had secured a copy of the Gospel, they would have no way to know for sure who eluded their arrest.
- What does the anonymity of the scene say about the Gospel? If the young man is Mark, it suggests an early date for the Gospel because the threat of arrest may have still been alive. Even if the young man isn’t the Gospel writer, Mark may have been trying to protect someone else. Either way, the eye-witness was still living when Mark wrote the Gospel.
Mark’s adult life
Outside of the Gospels, John Mark is mentioned in relation to the Apostle Paul. Luke, the author of Acts, mentions Mark with regard to Paul’s first and second missionary journeys. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Colossians, and in his letter to Philemon.
Why did John Mark leave Paul’s first mission trip? Luke doesn’t say why Mark left the mission trip. Some interpret Acts 15:38 (see below), which records Paul’s refusal to take him on his second mission trip, as evidence that the Apostle was upset that Mark left the first mission trip.
Luke identifies Mark as the “one who had withdrawn” in the ESV translation. The NASB, NIV, and NLT describe him as the one who “deserted” the missionary team. The KJV and the NKJV describe Mark as the one who “departed” the mission trip. The New Testament doesn’t record any more information about their separation than this.
|Accompanied Paul on his first mission trip||“And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.” Acts 12:25|
|Abandoned Paul on his first mission trip||“Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” Acts 13:13|
|Paul refused to take him on the second mission trip||“But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” Acts 15:38|
Scholars believe that Mark was younger than Paul and Barnabas. The description of “young man” in Mark 14:51-52 suggests he may have been a generation younger than Peter, James, and John, too.
Some scholars and Bible readers speculate that Mark’s departure, whatever the exact reason, may have been due to his immaturity. But even this theory is conjecture.
Did Paul and Mark reconcile?
Most scholars believe that if there was a significant disagreement between the men, they eventually reconciled. The evidence for this is that Paul mentions Mark twice in later letters he wrote.
According to Philemon 24-25, Paul and Mark were together at a later date. And in Colossians 4:10, Paul goes so far as to commend Mark to the church at Colossae.
|Paul refers to him as a coworker||“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” Philemon 24-25|
|Paul commends him to the church at Colossae||“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him).” Colossians 4:10|
The New Testament focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ and the community of believers called the Church that he established after his Ascension into heaven and Pentecost. In other words, the purpose of it isn’t to give readers fully-formed biographies of every character like John Mark, Barnabas, or Paul.
As a result, readers must piece together the information that is provided and be careful not to speculate beyond what is reasonable regarding what Scripture doesn’t reveal about a person or event.
Other Johns in the New Testament
There is only one “Mark” or “John Mark” in the New Testament, but there are multiple men named John.
- John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25)
- John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, and brother of James (Matt. 4:21)
- John, father of Simon Peter (John 1:42)
- Jewish authority figure (Acts 4:6)
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