November 3, 2015 by genelup
Country singer and composer Stuart Hamblen penned this refrain many years ago: “I’m goin’ walk with Peter and Paul; I’m goin’ live in a gilded hall; I’ve got so many million years I can’t count ’em.”
Ol’ Stu is in heaven now, and maybe he has walked with Peter and Paul. But there was a man who lived 2,000 years ago who walked with those two apostolic giants. And, throw in Barnabas, too. This man walked with all three and was a close companion of them. He’s John Mark.
John Mark is mentioned eight times in the New Testament. He is credited with writing the second gospel, which bears his name.
There is much we don’t know about John Mark and a lot has been left up to tradition and speculation.
John Mark apparently was a Jew and a native of Jerusalem. His Hebrew name was the Old Testament “Yohanan,” which means “Yahweh has shown grace.” In English this name has been shortened to “John.” The name “Mark” is an adopted Latin name taken from the name “Marcus.” It is not known why he has a Latin, or Roman, name. Many Jews of his day had a Gentile surname. In his case, it was a praenomen (a personal name usually chosen by the parents of a Roman child), not a family name.
John Mark also had a nickname, “stumpyfingers.” This is not scriptural, but this has been passed down from tradition dating from the later 2nd Century. There is some speculation John Mark had a missing finger, thus giving rise for the nickname.
John Mark was the son of a certain Mary, a Jewish matron of means and position in Jerusalem. Evidently she was a widow since there is no mention of the husband and father. Biblical accounts say “the house of Mary,” which would indicate her husband had died. Mary was sister to either the mother or father of Barnabas, since John Mark in Colossians 4:10 is Barnabas’ cousin.
Tradition say John Mark was the man “bearing a pitcher of water” (Luke 22:10) who was to guide Peter and John to the house for the Passover meal: “Follow him into the house where into he goeth.” Some thought he was the “certain young man” (Mark 14:51) who followed Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane and fled naked when the officers tried to arrest Jesus. The Muratorian Canon in the late 2nd Century “apparently denied that Mark had ever seen our Lord.”
John Mark is first mentioned in the scriptures in Acts 12:12. This verse says Peter, after an angel led him out of prison, went to the home of Mary, who had a son called John Mark. Later in the chapter, John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch. The apostles were returning from a relief mission to Jerusalem.
A year or two later, John Mark was selected to accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey as a helper, not a menial servant, but a colleague.
They went to evangelize Cyprus and then traveled to Perga in Pamphylia. At this point john Mark left the party and returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas traveled without him.
If John Mark is ever remembered for anything, it is this departure from the two apostles and returning home. There is no reason given for this decision, but the scriptures say Paul was perturbed, to say the least. Later, on the second missionary journey by these two apostles, Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany them again but Paul refused. Paul apparently regarded John Mark’s earlier decision to leave them as desertion.
This disagreement between Paul and Barnabas came to a head and the two men split from each other. Paul went on his journey with Silas, and Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus.
The Dictionary of the Bible says John Mark’s decision to leave the pair was “either from cowardice or, more probably, because the journey to Pisidian Antioch and beyond, involving work among distant Gentiles, was a change of plan which he did no approve. He had not yet grasped the idea of a world-wide Christianity, as St. Paul had.”
Another theory is Paul, during this time on the first missionary journey, was sick with malaria. John Mark also might have been strickened with malaria and felt unable to continue the journey and the vigor that was ahead. This might have been the last straw of many problems John Mark faced on the journey. Paul went on with his work in spite of his sickness, and he thought “the more delicate young man should do the same,” according to Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary.
John Mark was later restored to Paul’s friendship and confidence. He was at Paul’s side during that apostle’s first imprisonment at Rome in 61-63 A.D. Paul acknowledged him as one of his few fellow laborers who had been a “comfort” to him during the weary hours of his imprisonment.
Paul, at his second imprisonment, wrote Timothy and asked him to come and bring Mark with him, since “he (Mark) is useful to me for ministering.”
John Mark also walked with Peter. Peter called Mark “his son” in I Peter 5:13. From this it is inferred Mark is Peter’s spiritual son. Mark knew Peter from earlier days, since it was Peter who went to Mark’s home after getting out of jail. It is widely believed the Gospel of Mark was written from Peter’s recollections and viewpoints. After all, the gospel begins at the point where Peter became a disciple. Also, it suggests the first-hand acquaintance of an eyewitness.
There is nothing more mentioned in the scriptures about John Mark. After the death of Peter and Paul, ecclesiastical tradition indicates Mark visited Egypt, founded the church of Alexandria, and became that city’s first Christian bishop. It is believed he died of martyrdom. His supposed remains were taken by the Venetians in the 9th Century. That is why St. Mark became the patron saint of Venice.
Other than that, not much more about John Mark’s life is known. Perhaps Stuart Hamblen should have altered his song, “I’m goin’ walk with Peter and Paul, and maybe John Mark, too….”