One of the things the atheists like to destroy is the New Testament. Without anything positive to offer themselves, they feel obliged to de-construct the authority of the New Testament if they can. A favorite way to do this is to try to show that the New Testament is a much edited, late cut and paste job by people unknown which has very little to do with the historical Jesus.

One of the books they like to attack is the Gospel of Mark. This is because most scholars believe Mark is the earliest gospel written and the one which is closest to the historical Jesus.If they can undermine Mark the rest of the New Testament can be dismissed.

However, it’s not very easy to show that Mark is written by an unknown later editor. There are troublesome details in the gospel which can’t be explained if the gospel is a late composition.

The traditional account is that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark– the companion of Paul (Acts 12:25) the cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10) and the companion of Peter (I Pt.5:13). The traditional account is that the gospel was written to the Christians in the church of Rome, that it recounted Peter’s own eyewitness stories of Jesus, and that it was completed either before Peter’s death in Rome in the persecutions under Nero in the year 65 or just after–before the year 70 AD.

What is the evidence for this? First of all we have what is called the “internal evidence” this is linguistic evidence from the Gospel of Mark itself. The document is written in a non-literary style indicating that it was composed by person of only moderate education. It is a bread and butter document–the author not attempting (or capable of) a high literary style. Had the gospel been composed by a later author it would have been written in a more exalted literary style instead of the ordinary down to earth story telling immediacy we have in the gospel.

Although it is written in koine Greek, the linguistic syntax and usage indicate someone who did not have Greek as a first language. The author’s native tongue was probably Aramaic. This fits with a companion of Jesus and his disciples, and it is something which would be difficult to forge. If the work is a later composition by a Roman Christian we would not expect the Aramaic undertones.

In addition to this, the author interrupts the flow of the narrative to insert vivid details which could only have been known (or considered interesting) to eyewitnesses or to particular people who were part of the church community to whom it is addressed. Why, for example, would a later editor refer to “Rufus and Alexander” (Mk.15:21) being the sons of Simon of Cyrene unless the audience for the gospel knew who Rufus and Alexander were? Even if the author were someone other than John Mark it still shows that the gospel had to have been written within the lifetime of the sons of Simon of Cyrene.

To put the facts together, let’s imagine (for the sake of argument) that Rufus and Alexander were mere boys when their father carried the cross for Jesus. Let’s say they were eight and ten years old. That was around the year 30 AD. By the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD they would have been 48 and 50 years old. They could have lived for another twenty years, but even then the latest date for the gospel’s composition would be the year 90. It’s speculation, but the mention of Rufus and Alexander shows that what the gospel cannot be is a composition later than the turn of the first century.

The “external evidence” is from documentary sources outside the gospel itself. Although the original manuscripts do not say the gospel is by Mark, copies from the 2nd century start to include Marks’ name. The witness to Mark’s authorship, and his link with Peter and his audience being the church at Rome is virtually universal. The earliest of these witnesses is Papias of Hieropolis quoted by the historian Eusebius. Furthermore, Papias is quoting an earlier source than himself. Other witnesses from the church fathers are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Jimmy Akin has more detail on the earliest external witness to Mark’s authorship here.

In addition to these early witnesses to Mark’s gospel we have to take into account certain unusual features. Those who argue for a late date and an authorship other than Mark need to explain why no name was attached to the gospel at first. If the gospel was written by someone else who wanted it to be taken as authentic, then it would have had an apostle’s name attached to it as we see in the gnostic gospels of “Philip”, “Thomas” and “Judas”. There is no name attached. If the gospel was anonymous and later editors wanted to attach a name later to give the gospel weight they would surely have given an apostle’s name–and not the name of Mark who was not an apostle.

Those who argue that Mark was not the author need to explain this anomaly. Read More


Further Reading on the Historicity of the Gospels:

How Do We Know the Gospels are Historical?

What Do Historians Think of the Gospels?

Bultmann’s New Clothes

Are the Gospels Historical?