The Evolution of Mark

by David Ross
3 Oct 1998- 28 June 2002

This project presents to the World Wide Web the original Gospel of Mark. This is almost - but not quite - the Gospel in our Bibles. I will start with the early textual history and the traditions surrounding it. Then I will attempt to restore the text.

The First Witnesses to Mark.

The third-century Chester Beatty papyrus fragments collected under the label "P45" comprise the first copy of the Gospel of Mark. It contains fragments of Mark 4-8, 11-12 but also Matt 20-21, 25; Luke 6, 9-14; John 10; and Luke's Acts 4-17. P45 is so late we may as well defer to the Codex Sinaiticus, or even a modern critical-edition Bible.

Although we do not have the early texts, we do have early textual witnesses, in the form of quotations and whole-scale incorporations.

There is a wide consensus among NT scholars that the Gospels under the names of Matthew and Luke are expanded revisions of Mark. Those two gospels are much better attested; they exist in several papyri dating from the second century and were referenced by Marcion, Valentinus, and Justin the Martyr at that time. This makes Matthew and Luke the two earliest witnesses to Mark, and very well-attested witnesses at that.

If anything, Matthew and Luke are too well-attested. The two other synoptics supplanted Mark to such an extent that Mark was rarely copied and rarely quoted during those early years. By then, there were other gospels which held an equal or even higher status in the Christian communities.

Some churches decided to harmonize this vast gospel array. Quotations from these harmonies appear in Second Clement (mid second century CE: Koester p. 360) and Justin Martyr (150-160 CE: ibid. pp. 36, 366-7, 374-5). Matthew and Luke unsurprisingly form the backbone of these harmonies, but other gospels (Thomas, Hebrews, Egyptians) were used on occasion. Justin Martyr's harmony is the one that bears independent witness to Mark:

If your right eye (Matt 5:29) scandalizes you, pluck it out and throw it (Matt 5:29, 18:9) from you, for it is better to enter the kingdom (Mark 9:47) with one eye (Mark 9:47=Matt 18:9) than to be cast with two eyes into the fire (Mark 9:48=Matt 18:9)

Justin, First Apology 15:2

The above is notable because it was also part of his student Tatian's Diatessaron, according to three witnesses: the Persian Harmony, the Li├Ęge Harmony, and Reading #451 in Biblia Polyglotta Matritensia, VI, Vetus Evangelium Syrorum, Diatesseron Tatiani by the Syrian Father Aba.

Clement of Alexandria (175-215? CE - see below) knew that the Carpocratians were using a variant of Mark, but, according to Irenaeus (182-188 CE), this was probably true even earlier:

"And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing."

Irenaeus Adv. Haer. I.25.5

The term "mystery" in the singular is unique to canonical Mark; it does not appear in its parallels in Matthew and Luke (Mark 4:11 vs. Luke 8:10= Matt 13:11). Their tradition of secret teachings also parallels the "secret gospel" known to Clement. Carpocrates taught in Egypt 117-138 CE.

Direct Quotations of Mark.

Mark emerges from the shadows with the double witness of Justin Martyr and Papias of Hieropolis during the first half of the second century (Koester p. 33)- although, still, none quoted it to a great extent.

Justin Martyr gave voice not only to the existence of the text, but also to its tradition. He related that "in his memoirs" (en toiV apopnemaneumasin autou), in the context of Peter, the sons of Zebedee were labelled the "Boanerges" (Dial., 106.2-3). This term appears in the New Testament only in Mark 3:17.

Moreover, his student Tatian used our present Mark, including even Mark 16:9-20, in his Diatessaron:

(Diatessaron, which Tatianus Compiled from the Four Gospels. Translated from Arabic; editor P. Agostino Ciasca, 1896)

This makes it unlikely that Justin was wholly reliant on a later harmony; it is a near certainty that Justin had read Mark, even if he did not esteem it as highly as he esteemed Matthew and Luke.

The legend that Peter had memoirs which were transcribed by Mark appears somewhat earlier. Eusebius, writing in the fourth-century, quotes Papias's Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, a five-book second-century work also known to Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., V xxxiii.4).

And the presbyter said this. 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.

Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. III, xxxix

Papias emphasized repeatedly that Mark wrote accurately, but not sufficiently. Mark only wrote down what he had heard from Peter, and thence only what Peter remembered. Papias understood that other works were needed; in particular he pointed to the logia of Jesus as written by Saint Matthew.

Irenaeus probably followed Papias: "Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter" (Adv. Haer., III i.1, x.5), and followed Justin in identifying "Mark-Peter" with a variant of our Gospel of Mark. In fact, he stated outright that Mark began with "The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" and ended with the ascension at Mark 16.19. His version could not have been very different from our own.

Succeeding authors would reiterate and expand upon the Justin-Papias tradition in like manner: Origen as quoted in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., VI, xxv); Eusebius himself (Hist. Eccl., II, xv); the Muratorian Canon; Tertullian (Contra Marc., IV, v); Jerome (De Vir. Ill., viii). With Irenaeus and Tatian, Mark had finally regained its place in the canon.

The Form of the Original Mark.

According to another quote from Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria (writing c. 175-215 CE: Koester p. 294) related a similar Gospel tradition from the "elders", adding only that Mark had composed it by popular demand (Hist. Eccl., VI, xiv). In private, Clement admitted that the text of Mark was expanded after the "official release". He described an idealized view of the redactional process:

[1, recto]As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in [1, verso] Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

Clement of Alexandria, To Theodore. transl. Morton Smith

The two parts of Mark which Clement quotes must be identified with our Canonical Mark, not the version Matthew and Luke expanded. The first is "And after three days he will rise" (10:34b) and the second "And they came to Jericho" (10:46a). The former is "raised" in Matthew and Luke; the latter does not exist in those two gospels.

From Clement's comments, I gathered that the Carpocratians held a text which was even further altered, but still contained enough of the true secret Mark to prove a serious embarrassment to the Alexandrian Church. Clement was forced to confess to his loyal servant Theodore Mark's checkered textual history - but only as much as would keep him in line. He instructed Theodore to keep mum, even to lie if necessary: "for not all true things are to be told to all men". He also ducked the issue of what Jesus actually did in Jericho with Salome and the man Jesus loved. By this point, the altered Mark was just too widespread to disown; Clement had to limit the damage.

I am not about to accept Clement's claims at face value; as a proven liar he cannot be trusted. It is enough that he has admitted that Canonical Mark is altered and incomplete. Koester, Smith and others have already explained the additions of Mark as Gnostic apocrypha; therefore I discuss the non-Matthean and non-Lukan material in our Mark in the footnotes to the Gospel text (to follow).

Clement of Alexandria said that Secret Mark deliberately avoided the "hierophantic sayings". For Clement, the new Mark and the "hierophantic sayings" were supposed to complement each other. These "hierophantic sayings" were probably the discourses of the Gospel of John, widely distributed through Egypt in the early second century yet unattested elsewhere (Koester pp. 244-6). John himself claimed that some discourses were given at night, in secret (John 3:2). When Mark first appeared on paper, it came with other gospels; sometimes it came with John alone (sixth-century papyrus P84). The parallels between the Marcan and Johannine miracle catenae made this easy; Secret Mark's Rich Man Whom Jesus Loved == Lazarus made it necessary.

But our canonical Mark and John have more in common than this...

The Missing Ending of Mark

By the close of the second century, Tatian and Irenaeus had already started using expansions like "Son of God" (1:1) and the whole post-resurrection story (16:9-20). We now know that Mark ended at 16:8... or do we?

Evan Powell claims to see the ending of Mark in John 21. While I do not accept his conclusions - that John was the first Gospel - his theory that John 21 belongs to Mark is a strong one.

John 21 has synoptic affinities which do not appear in John 1-20 (p. 58, 76-78). The sons of Zebedee appear (John 21:2). The disciples are fishing (John 21:1-3). 28 words in John 21 do not appear elsewhere in John, but only in the synoptics. Not all of these are situation-specific:

As for Johannine language, John 21:10 misuses oyarion when they are directly caught from the Sea of "Tiberias".

Moreover, John 1-20 and Mark have diametrically opposed aims with respect to Simon Peter. In John 1-20, Peter is described as a traitor to the movement:

Mark complains about Peter too, but with mitigating factors:

Where John 1-20 does not allow for a rehabilitation of Peter, Mark does. Not only does Mark seek to make Peter look sympathetic, but Mark 14:27-28, 16:7 states that Jesus will reappear in Galilee. Moreover, the reappearance is linked with Peter's triple rejection (p. 103-105), and with Jesus's prophecy that "the sheep will be scattered" in Mark 14:27-30 (p. 111). John 21 provides the expected reunion in Galilee, in which Jesus issues Peter three demands to "feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).

This is not the only loose end tied up here. The "fishing" motif and "Follow me" as the last words to Peter in John 21 (verse 19 or 23) form a concluding bracket to the same themes in Mark 1:17, where "follow me" are the first words (p. 114-5). In Mark 1:19, the sons of Zebedee are mending their nets; in John 21:11, the nets are in danger of tearing.

There are other clues that Mark foreshadows John 21. The disciples will be unaware of the empty tomb, because the women told no-one of what they saw (16:8). In John 21, Peter and other disciples have lost hope and returned to the lake; they do not realize Jesus is present in 21:4. The whole story is more like a first appearance to the disciples than a "third" (21:14).

Powell further noted evidence that Luke knew Original Mark complete with John 21. Luke 5:3-10 merged Mark's story of how Jesus met Peter with a tale of a miraculous catch of fish (p. 113-4). This is also the only point in Luke (or Mark) in which Peter is "Simon Peter". The Jesus Seminar's Acts of Jesus, p. 279, laid this out independently:

the disciples include Peter and the sons of Zebedee but not Andrew (contrast Mark 1:16, Gospel of Peter) Luke 5:3, 10 John 21:1
"the disciples have fished all night and caught nothing" Luke 5:5 John 21:3
"Jesus instructs the disciples to cast their nets (ta/to diktua/-on)" Luke 5:4 John 21:6
"The result is an extraordinarily large catch" Luke 5:6-7 John 21:6
"Simon Peter" falls down in response Luke 5:5 John 21:3
The nets are close to breaking Luke 5:6 John 21:11
"The other disciples assist with the catch but say nothing in response" Luke 5:9-10 John 21:8
"The huge catch symbolizes the success of the missionary endeavours of the Jesus movement" Luke 5:9-10 John 21:11

Powell concluded that John 21 is foreign to John. Instead, it is the missing ending of Mark which has been redacted to look Johannine. There is in fact much more evidence to support Powell's thesis than even he saw.

First, Matthew knew John 21 too, although he did not use it as obviously as Luke did. Another book - Peter by Pheme Perkins - noted that Matthew has an addition to the water-walking story, 14:28-33, where Peter leaves the boat to follow Jesus (p. 19) as in John 21:7. For Matthew, Peter is almost ready to take over Jesus's job, symbolised by his own start at walking on water. John 21 made no supernatural claims about Peter's swim. Quite the opposite - Peter got himself all wet because he was once more acting before thinking, not because he was trying to follow in Jesus's footsteps. John 21 derived this event from Peter's behaviour elsewhere in the Gospels - any Gospel.

Matthew's hint that Peter is in training to be Jesus's successor is made explicit in Matthew 16:16-18. There, Jesus promises Peter the keys to the Kingdom. Like Luke 5:5, Matthew 16:16-18 is also the only point in its Gospel in which Peter is "Simon Peter".

If John 21 is following Matthew here, I have to assume that it was employing irony, and an irony dependent in part on Matthew 14:28-33, an event not found anywhere in John 1-20. I also have to assume that "Simon Peter" in Matthew 16:16-18 was just a quirk of the author. It is easier for me to imagine that Matthew may have found in John 21 the clumsiness to add to a lake scene, and the "Simon Peter" to a recognition scene. Both scenes were originally taken from Mark, and Matthew's changes serve to point to Simon Peter as Jesus's chosen successor. I conclude that John 21 was part of this version of Mark as well.

Powell knew about the eighth-century Akhmim Fragment, but he only used it as an independent tradition for the crucifixion (p. 321). Even if it is independent, it is certainly a witness to the traditions which Mark used. Parts of it are also contained in the second-century Pap Oxy 2949. Although it is not labelled as such, its discoverers called it the "Gospel of Peter" and the name has stuck.

The Gospel of Peter, 57-60, transl. Andrew Bernhard

Koester claimed, "the discrepancies in the list of names argues against any dependence of this last epiphany story [in Peter] upon the supplemental chapter of the Gospel of John" (p. 240), but this only applies to John 21 as it now stands. Who knows what names were cited in John 21 before the Johannine redaction? In addition, here is a mention of nets and going out to the sea, anticipating two themes of John 21. This is a midrashic expansion of the narrative gap between Mark 16:8 and John 21:1 - probably before it became John 21:1.

In addition, the earliest attestation for John 21 as part of John is the papyrus P66 from around 200 CE (containing John 20:25 - 21:9, among others). Before that, patristic authors never quoted from it, and immediately afterwards the patristic witness is decidedly ambiguous. Some bear witness to a text of John which ended at chapter 20, some bear witness to both versions, and one cites it shorn of its Johannine context.

Irenaeus quoted liberally from John 1-20 (including 20:31 - III.16.5), but he did not quote from chapter 21. He thought that Luke 5 was the only place to find a story on Jesus commanding a miraculous catch of fish:

All things of the following kind we have known through Luke alone (and numerous actions of the Lord we have learned through him, which also all [the Evangelists] notice): the multitude of fishes which Peter's companions enclosed, when at the Lord's command they cast the nets; ...

Irenaeus Adv. Haer. III.14.3

Tertullian was the first church father to quote John 21 within said Johannine context:

Even John underwent death, although concerning him there had prevailed an ungrounded expectation that he would remain alive until the coming of the Lord.

A Treatise on the Soul 50

Compare with John 21:21-23, especially verse 23:

This saying became current in the brotherhood, and was taken to mean that that disciple would not die. But in fact Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you?

New English Bible

This unnamed "disciple" was the gospel's Beloved Disciple, which by Tertullian's day had been identified with the synoptic disciple John, as Irenaeus attests in Against Heresies III.1.1: "John, the disciple of the Lord, ... also had leaned upon His breast" (c.f. John 13:23). Tertullian's citation is therefore most likely to stem from a combination of John 21:23 and the tradition that the Beloved Disciple was the Apostle John. Additionally, John 21:23 is a secondary interpretation - actually a refutation - of a pro-Johannine Jesus saying, and therefore belongs to a late stage of redaction. I would conclude that Tertullian had a version of the Gospel of John which included John 21 more or less as it appears in the received text.

But this was not Tertullian's only copy of the Gospel. Tertullian went on to convert to the "new prophecy" of the Montanist denomination, a group which believed that its members were prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit. Their name for the Holy Spirit was "Paraclete", taken from the Gospel of John. But not the John we know. In Against Praxeas, Tertullian did not quote John 21 (or Mark!); his new edition, like Irenaeus's, had its "very termination" at John 20:31a, indeed "the definite purpose of the Gospel":

Wherefore also does this Gospel, at its very termination, intimate that these things were ever written, if it be not, to use its own words, "that ye might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"?

Against Praxeas XXV.17-18

Clement of Alexandria also had a tradition close to that of John 21 in mind when he wrote:

And "whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God," aiming after true frugality, which the Lord also seems to me to have hinted at when He blessed the loaves and the cooked fishes with which He feasted the disciples, introducing a beautiful example of simple food. That fish then which, at the command of the Lord, Peter caught, points to digestible and God-given and moderate food. And by those who rise from the water to the bait of righteousness, He admonishes us to take away luxury and avarice,

Paedagogus II (On Eating).1

Jesus commanded Peter to catch fish twice in the surviving Gospels: in Luke 5:1-11 and in John 21. Clement calls Jesus "Lord" here, as did Peter in Luke 5:8 and both Peter and the Beloved Disciple in John 21. This breakfast of loaves and cooked fish does not appear in Luke 5:1-11, though, but only in John 21:9-13. "Those who rise from the water" must also be an echo both of common Christian baptism and of Peter's metaphoric baptism in John 21:7b.

However, Clement gave no hint as to in which Gospel he found this story. Unlike Tertullian's citation, Clement's contains no uniquely Johannine elements; in particular, Clement named Peter but not the Beloved Disciple.

I have argued that, in Clement's time, there were two Gospels extant which laid claim to John 21. It appears that Tertullian and Clement both knew this. Tertullian made his choice depending on his rhetorical stance at the time. Clement on the other hand deemed it politic not to make a choice at all.

As late as 231-238 CE, John 20 was considered the end of the Gospel:

They say, those are more blessed who have not seen and yet believe, than those who have seen and have believed, and for this they quote the saying to Thomas at the end of the Gospel of John, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed."

Origen, Commentary on John X.27

Finally, both Luke and Matthew had the motive to change the Marcan story. Luke (who certainly knew the Miraculous Catch epiphany story) believed that the resurrection would occur in Jerusalem. Matthew on the other hand believed Jesus was a second Moses. The fishing story would have been too humble a climax for his gospel. As a result, although Matt 28:16-20 did have him meet his disciples in Galilee, he gave the Great Commission at a mountain.

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