Biblical Archaeology Review 35:6, November/December 2009

Early References to a Marcan Source

Our oldest extant manuscript of the Gospel of Mark dates from c. 250 C.E., that is, almost two centuries after its original composition.

It is, of course, well established that the Gospel of Mark was written in the first century, because it was then used by Matthew and Luke at that time.

Early in the second century, Bishop Papias of Hierapolis reports the existence of Mark’s gospel, but he does not quote any of its text.

In the middle of the second century, the Christian apologist Justin Martyr quotes extensively from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but never from the Gospel of Mark, although he must have known of it as he reveals in one casual reference to the sons of Zebedee (John and James) as “sons of Thunder” (boanerges, Mark 3:17); this designation appears only in Mark’s gospel

At the very end of the second century, Irenaeus of Lyon and Clement of Alexandria demonstrate that they knew Mark’s gospel by quoting from it. Irenaeus is the first Church Father to include Mark’s gospel in his canon to be used by members of the church. The quotations we find in Irenaeus and Clement seem to agree with the canonical text of Mark.

The oldest manuscript containing the text of Mark’s gospel appears fairly late, especially if compared with the extant manuscripts of the other Gospels. A very small papyrus fragment from Egypt of John’s gospel containing only parts of a few verses, seems to have been written some time between the years 100 and 150.

Several sometimes-fragmentary papyrus manuscripts of other gospels found in Egypt can be dated to about the year 200. The Gospel of John is most frequently represented, but there are also several fragments from Matthew and Luke, and also the Gospel of Thomas and of an unnamed apocryphal gospel.

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