The gospel, the man (also known as John Mark), and his mother's home.

The gospel: The second gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written under apostolic authority by a close associate of the apostles. Though he spent time with both Paul and Peter, it is specifically from the latter that his information appears to have been derived (Eusebius, circa 325 A.D., states this in his Church History 2.15.1 - 2.15.2, also appealing to earlier writers *). God's inspiration of Scriptures did not include the book names, which attribute them to specific authors. But the names were included and circulated with the books throughout the church from a very early period. This was important to the early church because it helped to establish the line of authority under which they were written - knowing that God had entrusted this to the apostles, even as the Old Testament had been to the prophets. Later counterfeit Gnostic "gospels" attempted to use this practice to gain acceptance for their spurious works, often placing the names of other disciples or apostles on their works (i.e. the gospel of Thomas and the gospel of Judas).

We do not know conclusively when the gospel of Mark was written, or even where. Many scholars believe that it was likely written towards the beginning of the great persecution of the church by Rome (Nero) around 64 A.D. Mark, at that time, may have been in Galilee, Alexandria Egypt **, or even Rome (... perhaps the most accepted possibility). Early church traditions hold that his immediate intended audience was believers in Rome, but this too is not certain.


The man: Scriptures tell us the he was John, who was also called Mark. For this reason many reference his name in the form of "John Mark." An associate of both Peter and Paul he was active in the ministry of the early church, and used by God to record the apostolic Scripture known to us as "the gospel of Mark." The first mention of him in Scriptures pertains to his mother, details which we cover in the following section.

Mark was the cousin of another well known early convert in the church, namely Barnabas...

Acts 4:36-37 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. (NIV)

Colossians 4:10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (NIV)

Though not specifically stated, this also implies that Mark was from a Levitical family. Shortly after Peter's miraculous escape from prison (see next section) and his nighttime visit to the home of Mark's mother, we are told Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them on their next journey.

Acts 12:25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem [to Antioch, see 13:1], taking with them John, also called Mark. (NIV)

Paul (originally called Saul) and Barnabas took John Mark with them as a helper (or assistant) on a subsequent missionary journey.

Acts 13:2-5 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John [Mark] was with them as their helper. (NIV)

For some unknown reason Mark left Paul and company to return to Jerusalem. Since family was still in living in Jerusalem it may have been for family reasons - perhaps something arising from the persecutions there.

Acts 13:13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John [Mark] left them to return to Jerusalem. (NIV)

Paul obviously took personally the fact that Mark had abandoned them in the past and vehemently opposed his participation in a later mission. The result had Barnabas remaining loyal to family and Paul choosing a new partner, Silas, to accompany him. Mark returned with Barnabas to his homeland of Cyprus (Acts 4:36).

Acts 15:36-41 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (NIV)

It appears that a few years later Paul has reconciled with both Mark and Barnabas, perhaps having seen the consistency and perseverance of Mark in the years which followed. In fact, Paul no longer refers to him as an assistant (or helper) but as a fellow worker for the cause of Christ.

Colossians 4:10 My [Paul's] fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (NIV)

Philemon 23-24 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. (NIV)

During Paul's imprisonment in Rome, Paul specifically asks Timothy to bring Mark with him to Rome - as one that is useful to him!

2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (NIV)

Without a doubt Mark spent time in Rome with Paul in response to this request. This does not automatically mean that it was also Rome were he spent time with the apostle Peter. Peter warmly refers to Mark as "my son" in the same way that Paul refers to Timothy (i.e. 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 2:1).

1 Peter 5:13-14 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (NIV)

Babylon is most likely the literal place, which had become a far less important and less populated place by this time. There is little in the text to suggest it figuratively meant Rome, as a cryptogram, which is the opinion of some. **** To be fair, a number of ancient writers, notably the church historian Eusebius, take the latter view - but this reflects the tradition which became predominate in the Roman church that Peter spent much time in Rome.

And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son." (Eusebius Church History 2.15.2)

The message of the gospel was to all people, great and small, something that the apostles lived out. It's just as likely that Peter (and Mark) would be in a relative backwater, like Babylon, as they would be in Rome.


His mother's house: Mark's mother is specifically mentioned in Scriptures during a major event in the early church.

Acts 12:1-17 It was about this time that King Herod [Herod Agrippa I] arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." 12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" 15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place. (NIV)

Details in this account include...

  1. Mary (John Mark's mother) is directly referenced by herself

  2. Mary had servants
  3. There was an outer door (or property gate)
  4. The early church was gathered there
  5. The house was not far from the Antonia Fortress (where Peter was likely held)

From this we can conclude that Mary was an influential woman of Jerusalem who possessed a large house with servants (see the article on Bethsaida for an example of period homes). Though the early church had grown to include thousands by this time (Acts 2:41), this does not imply that her home had to be capable of holding all of them. Certainly much of this early church was scattered due to the persecutions that had later broken out (Acts 8:1). Regardless, it was likely a substantial gathering that day in Mary's home. That her home was located in the upper city is also probable due to her Levitical ties (see previous section). History records that many prominent (and typically wealthy) Priests (Levites) lived in this area. The overall size of the house is equally implied by the need of the servant girl to run back to the house from the outer gate, a distance far enough that those gathered inside appeared to have not heard the conversation in the outer area.

So is the first century house under St Mark's monastery, in Jerusalem, that of his mother Mary? There is no guarantee, though it certainly meets the criteria. Located on the northern slope of Mount Zion, St. Mark's monastery *** stands on the ancient site of the house of St. Mark the Evangelist according to a 6th century inscription which was discovered in 1940.

Inscription in St. Mark's. (Sorry, very low light photo, so not really sharp)

Supplied translation of the sixth century inscription is as follows: "This is the house of Mary, mother of John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the name of the Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Renewed after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year A.D. 73."

More ancient still, there is evidence that the site had long been held as being authentic. History records that the site was visited by many ancient pilgrims from the West as well as the East, including the Bordeaux Pilgrim in 333 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem in 348 A.D., and Silvia the Spanish nun in 385 A.D.


St. Mark's Monastery church. House of Mark's mother located below.

 Room from ancient home below the church.
Needless to say, decorations as a shrine are from more recent times.



* One early church father cited by Eusebius, in regards to Mark, was Papias. History records that Papias was associated with (or knew) Polycarp and had been a friend of the Apostle John himself - not to mention that he knew others who had seen the resurrected Lord. Dating of his life is disputed, some giving 60-130 A.D. with others pushing it later to 70-155 A.D. Both time frames would allow for him to know the Apostle John and other longer living witnesses to the Lord's resurrection. [On a side note, Papias bore witness to John's book of Revelation as being Scriptures]. Another cited source by Eusebius, regarding Mark, was Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-215 A.D)

** "Writing at a later date (about A.D. 325), the church historian Eusebius says that Mark was the first evangelist to Egypt, the founder of the churches of Alexandria, and the first bishop of that city. So great were his converts, both in number and sincerity of commitment, says Eusebius, that the great Jewish philosopher, Philo, was amazed." (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Tradition also claims that Mark suffered martyrdom during the reign of Nero while at serving in Alexandria.

*** The early history of St. Mark's monastery is obscure, as a small monastery in a city full of bigger houses of worship. Following the loss of it's other churches and properties in Jerusalem, the Syriac Orthodox Church made St. Mark's the seat of its' Archbishop. The first bishop known to have lived there is Ignatius III in the year 1471. The monastery was rebuilt a number of times throughout the following centuries.

**** A third possibility for Babylon is Babylon, Egypt.  This Babylon, mentioned by a number of ancient historians, was a fortress city or castle in the Delta of Egypt. It was situated in the Heliopolite Nome, upon the right (eastern) bank of the Nile, and near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal, which joined the Nile to the Red Sea. It was the boundary town between Lower and Middle Egypt, where river craft paid tolls when ascending or descending the Nile. Dating to at least five hundred years before the time of Jesus, by the time of Caesar Augustus it had became a town of some importance, and was the headquarters of the three legions which ensured Egypt's obedience to Rome.  There was said to be a large Jewish population as well. Ruins of the town and fortress are still visible a little to the north of Fostat or Old Cairo.   Tradition holds that Joseph and Mary lodged there for a time with the baby Jesus when they fled from Israel. 

With Egypt's long significance to Israel, regarding the Captivity, Exodus, Jeremiah, and even Jesus, it is highly improbable that Mark would casually reference this Babylon without a corresponding reference to Egypt for clarity.