April 25th is the feast day of Saint Mark the Evangelist, author of the earliest canonical gospel.
Who Was St. Mark the Evangelist?
We usually identify St. Mark the Evangelist with John Mark, the son of Mary, whose house in Jerusalem was a gathering place for the twelve. His cousin was Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus; it is thought that Mark would have shared his same roots. Mark was a disciple of St. Peter, the first pope, who referred to him as “my son Mark.”
When Paul and Barnabas traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch and then on a missionary journey to Cyprus, Mark accompanied them. When Mark separated from them to return to Jerusalem, Paul lost confidence in Mark, and opposed Barnabas’s desire to bring Mark on their next mission. This was the source of a a rift between Paul and Barnabas; however, Paul eventually changed his mind about Mark, who helped him during his first imprisonment. Before Paul was martyred, he urged Timothy to “get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry” (2 Tim 4:11).
The exact details on the end of Mark’s life are not known. He traveled to Alexandria, in Egypt, to evangelize, and established the Church there. Tradition holds that he became the first bishop there. A 4th century tradition says that Mark was martyred by being tied to a cart and dragged through the streets of Alexandria in 68 AD. However, since there are no reliable documents prior to that century, historians dispute the details of Mark’s death.
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest canonical gospel, written sometime before 68-70 AD, which is the approximate time of his death, but may have been written as early as 38-40 AD. Mark’s is the shortest gospel, written simply and directly. The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been intended for Roman Christians. Roman names, offices, and monetary values are included in a style that implies the reader knows them already, whereas Jewish customs are explained in a manner that implies the reader would have been unfamiliar with them. The Old Testament, which Christians of Jewish heritage would have known, is only quoted once in Mark. Additionally, terms described as Latinisms, or uses of vulgar Greek, were more common in cities such as Rome, and appear more often in Mark’s gospel than in the other three.