John Mark is mentioned several times in the New Testament, often in connection with Barnabas, Paul, and Peter. He was likely the same Mark who authored the Gospel of Mark. Here is an overview of the biblical mentions of John Mark and what we can learn about him:
John Mark and Barnabas
The first mention of John Mark is in Acts 12:12 which describes him as the son of a woman named Mary whose house in Jerusalem was used as a meeting place by the early Christians. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) stayed at this house when they came to Jerusalem after their relief visit to Judea (Acts 11:27-30).
When Barnabas and Saul completed their mission to Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch, taking John Mark with them (Acts 12:25). So there seems to have been a connection between Barnabas and the family of John Mark.
Later, Barnabas and Paul were sent out by the church on their first missionary journey. John Mark accompanied them as a helper (Acts 13:5). But Mark left them in Perga and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). The reason for his departure is unstated.
When Barnabas and Paul were ready to revisit the cities where they had preached on their first journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them again. But Paul objected because of Mark’s earlier departure. The disagreement was sharp enough to cause Barnabas and Paul to separate, with Barnabas taking Mark and sailing to Cyprus while Paul chose Silas and revisited Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41).
So John Mark was closely associated with Barnabas, even to the point of Barnabas parting ways with Paul over taking Mark along on the second missionary journey. This shows Barnabas had a strong belief in and commitment to John Mark in spite of his earlier departure from their work.
John Mark and Peter
In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter sends greetings to the readers from “Mark, my son.” This indicates a close relationship between Peter and Mark, with Peter regarding Mark as a son in the faith. If the Gospel of Mark reflects the preaching and memories of the apostle Peter, this close connection makes sense.
Evidence from the early church also suggests Mark’s gospel contains the preaching of Peter. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (around 150-180 AD) states: “Mark declared, who is called ‘stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the departure of Peter himself, he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.” Irenaeus (around 180 AD) and other early writers make similar connections between the Gospel of Mark and Peter’s preaching.
So John Mark preserved the memories and preaching of Peter in his gospel. The close connection referenced in 1 Peter 5:13 fits well with the early church’s understanding of Mark’s gospel origins.
John Mark and Paul
Though Paul and Mark separated after the disagreement over taking him on the second missionary journey, relationships were later restored. In Colossians 4:10, Paul speaks approvingly of Mark, calling him Barnabas’ cousin and noting that he had been helpful to Paul’s ministry. The reference to Barnabas indicates this is the same Mark who accompanied Barnabas on Cyprus.
Paul also specifically asks for Mark to visit him, saying Mark “is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). This is high praise considering that Paul is imprisoned in Rome when he makes this request, showing that Mark’s earlier failure did not define him permanently in Paul’s eyes.
So while the parting from Barnabas was surely difficult for both Paul and Mark, they were able to reconcile and continue serving Christ together. Paul’s approving words show that Mark matured and became a valuable co-laborer of Paul.
Mark’s Association with the Early Church
In addition to his connections with these three notable apostles, there are other indications that Mark was well-connected in the early church:
- Acts 12 indicates his mother Mary’s home in Jerusalem was a gathering place for believers.
- Barnabas, Paul, and Peter were all notable leaders and preachers in the early church.
- Colossians 4 groups Mark together with Barnabas, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas as “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” who had been a comfort to Paul.
- 1 Peter 5 addresses Mark along with “she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you” assumed to be the church(es) in Rome.
So Mark was well-acquainted with key leaders and churches of the early Christian movement. His gospel likely drew from and was intended to serve many in the early church.
In addition to accompanying Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, we get some other glimpses of Mark’s ministry activity:
- Colossians 4 notes that Mark had already been a comfort to Paul, presumably through ministry partnership.
- Paul tells Timothy Mark is useful for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11), probably through proclamation of the gospel.
- 1 Peter 5:13 references Babylon along with Mark, suggesting he may have ministered in Mesopotamia.
- According to early church tradition, Mark was founder of the church in Alexandria, Egypt and served as bishop there.
So Mark continued ministry work with Paul while also possibly ministering in Egypt and surrounding regions according to church tradition. His service alongside other leaders contributed to the spread of the gospel.
A few family connections for Mark can be determined:
- His mother Mary had a home in Jerusalem used by Christians (Acts 12:12)
- Barnabas was his cousin (Colossians 4:10)
Given the interconnections of the early church, it is likely Mark had other family and relational ties even if not enumerated in Scripture. But these two references help anchor Mark in a family context and not just as an isolated believer.
Summary of John Mark
In summary, here are some key facts we can gather about John Mark from Scripture:
- He was connected to Barnabas as a cousin and traveling companion.
- He deserted Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey but later reconciled with Paul.
- He was closely associated with Peter and may have recorded Peter’s preaching/memoirs in his gospel.
- Paul considered him useful for ministry as Mark matured.
- His mother Mary opened her Jerusalem home for Christians to gather.
- He ministered in various places like Cyprus, Antioch, Rome, and possibly Egypt.
So John Mark saw both the struggles and triumphs of the early church firsthand. Despite a rocky start with Paul, he proved himself a trusted associate of apostolic leaders. Mark allowed God to redeem and use his life, even writing a gospel that would impact the church for centuries to come.
While just a periphery participant as a young man, Mark ended up playing a key role in recording and spreading the life and message of Jesus Christ. His life stands as an example of how God can transform our mistakes and shortcomings for greater usefulness in the kingdom of God.
John Mark in the Bible reminds us that a life yielded to Christ can overcome failures to do great things for God’s glory. May Mark’s perseverance inspire us to faithfully follow Jesus no matter the cost or past mistakes.