The Fathers quoted here lived in the first to third centuries. They are unanimous that Mark wrote the second Gospel, and it was authoritative for them–so it should be for us too.
They lived before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, so they are called the Ante-Nicene Fathers (“ante” means “before.”)
They are not modern historians, but their opinions are still interesting. They were unanimous in their belief that Mark wrote the second Gospel.
In this article, early church leaders and one rival to orthodox Christianity affirm not only the second Gospel’s authority, but also that Mark wrote it. These passages to the early church leaders should be used critically, but they clearly affirm Mark’s authorship. Often they assume it matter-of-factly, as if there is no need for further discussion.
All dates in the list are AD, d stands for died, and c stands for circa, which means about or around.
These early church leaders, among others, quote or use the Gospel of Mark as an authoritative source:
Ancient Christian Sermon (A.D. 100-140)
“And another Scripture says, ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”(Mark. 2:17) (2.4).
Throughout this sermon, the (unknown) author quotes from Matthew and Mark, introducing the passages with “the Lord says.”
Papias (c. 60 to c. 130)
He was the bishop of Hierapolis.
Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.
Irenaeus (c. 115-c. 202)
He is a rich source of Christian traditions. He was the bishop of Lyons, France. As a boy he knew Polycarp personally. (Polycarp [c. 69-155] was a disciple of John the Apostle and other apostles, became the bishop of Smyrna [look under Asia on the map], and was martyred when he was eighty-six years old).
Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter I:
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.
Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter XI.8
- It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, “Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth.” For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but “the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,”—an evident description of His advent as a human being; “the fourth was like a flying eagle,” pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church.
And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Also, “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham;” and also, “The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.” This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet,”—pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character.
Irenaeus uses a fanciful method to limit the Gospels to four, because he had to (rightly) exclude the Gnostic Gospels, which were too far afield–wacky and wild. He was right to do so.
Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter X, 5
Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)
Fragments, Comments on 1 Peter:
Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter publicly preached the Gospel at Rome before some of Caesar’s equites [knights], and adduced many testimonies to Christ, in order that thereby they might be able to commit to memory what was spoken, of what was spoken by Peter wrote entirely what is called the Gospel according to Mark.
Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)
He was an apologist who wrote in Latin. He is known as the founder of Latin Christianity, specifically the North African Latin Christianity.
Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter II
He summarizes the authority of the four Gospels writers:
Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards.
Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter V
The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage—I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew—whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.
Origen (c. 185-c. 254)
He was a front-ranking Bible scholar and theologian in Alexandria, Egypt. He was a student of Clement (see above).
From the First Commentary on Matthew
Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.” And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.
Dionysius (third century)
Epistle to Bishop Basilides, Canon I
For the evangelists have given different descriptions of the parties who came to the sepulchre one after another, and all have declared that they found the Lord risen already. It was “in the end of the Sabbath,” as Matthew has said; it was “early, when it was yet dark,” as John writes; it was “very early in the morning,” as Luke puts it; and it was “very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun,” as Mark tells us.
Victorinus (third and fourth centuries)
Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John
From the Fourth Chapter
“The first living creature was like to a lion, and the second was like to a calf, and the third had a face like to a man, and the fourth was like to a flying eagle; and they had six wings, and round about and within they were full of eyes; and they had no rest, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord Omnipotent. And the four and twenty elders, failing down before the throne, adored God.”] The four and twenty elders are the twenty-four books of the prophets and of the law, which give testimonies of the judgment. Moreover, also, they are the twenty-four fathers—twelve apostles and twelve patriarchs. And in that the living creatures are different in appearance, this is the reason: the living creature like to a lion designates Mark, in whom is heard the voice of the lion roaring in the desert. And in the figure of a man, Matthew strives to declare to us the genealogy of Mary, from whom Christ took flesh. Therefore, in enumerating from Abraham to David, and thence to Joseph, he spoke of Him as if of a man: therefore his announcement sets forth the image of a man. Luke, in narrating the priesthood of Zacharias as he offers a sacrifice for the people, and the angel that appears to him with respect of the priesthood, and the victim in the same description bore the likeness of a calf. John the evangelist, like to an eagle hastening on uplifted wings to greater heights, argues about the Word of God.
Constitution of the Holy Apostles
It is not clear when this excerpt was written, but it appears in the multi-volume Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles, XLVII (47):
But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles.
How does this post help my knowledge of Scripture grow?
Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name. He was associated with Peter in Jerusalem at his mother Mary’s house (not the same Mary as the mother of Jesus), when Peter returned there after his miraculous escape (Acts 12).
The unanimous opinion of the early church fathers is decisive. John Mark worked with Peter and wrote down the Gospel as Peter presented it to him.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN SERIES
2. Church Fathers and Mark’s Gospel
Reliability of the four Gospels
Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts (Part 4 is the summary)
Roberts, Alexander; James Donaldson, A. Cleveland Coxe: The Ante-Nicene Fathers vols.1-10: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997.