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Who Was Mark in the Bible? A Quitter Who Finished Well.

Photo of Scott SagerScott Sager | Bio

Scott Sager

Scott is vice president for church services at Lipscomb University, where he also teaches in the College of Bible and Ministry. Prior to Lipscomb, Scott served for 15 years as senior minister of the Preston Road Church of Christ in Dallas, where he founded Christ’s Family Ministries, a fully functioning health clinic that serves the working poor. He serves on the board of Christ’s Family Ministries and the Christian Relief Fund where his focus is on supporting AIDS orphans in Africa. Sager earned a D.Min. in evangelism from Southern Methodist University as well as undergraduate and master's degrees from Abilene Christian University.

Who was Mark in the Bible? He’s an early Christian and Gospel writer who was friends with Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. He was called Mark (Acts 15:39) and John (Acts 13:15); so it’s also common also to call him John Mark. We read about him in the book of Acts (e.g., as a missionary companion to Paul and Barnabas) and from him in the Gospel of Mark (written by John Mark). He also gets a mention at the end of Paul’s final letter (2 Tim. 4:11). His life gives us a snapshot of someone whose spiritual mentors help him grow, persevere, and make significant impact for Jesus’ kingdom. 

Behind his back, they called him ‘The Quitter”—the AWOL missionary who abandoned his post and turned on his friends. This kid from Jerusalem had loads of potential and a pedigree that mission committees long to find. But when Paul and Barnabas needed him most, and needed him to have their back, he tucked tail and headed for home. Yet there may be more to his story than we’ve noticed at first glance….

John Mark grew up in Jerusalem where his family hosted a house church. His mother was a patron of the apostles and many of the “Roll Call of First Century Saints” passed through their home and ate from their table. The main preacher for this band of believers was none other than Peter himself. The Rock of the early church and the man known as “the keeper of the keys” most often spoke from the makeshift pulpit at John Mark’s house. So we are not surprised tradition tells us Peter was the major father-in-the-faith influence in John Mark’s life. As a matter of fact, a Second-Century figure named Papias tells us John Mark’s Gospel (simply called “Mark” or “The Gospel of Mark”) is actually the preaching and outlines of Peter.

Who Was Mark in the Bible? “Mark’s Gospel is actually the preaching and outlines of Peter.”

First Missionary Journey

When Christians scattered after the persecution of Stephen, some thought it wise to send John Mark to a safer place. So he went with Peter’s blessing to join the work in Antioch, and to keep Peter posted on the work of the kingdom there. When the Holy Spirit later called out Barnabas and Paul for the First Missionary Trip, it was natural for John Mark to travel along. There must have been aspects of the life of Jesus that John Mark knew even better than his older traveling leaders. And John Mark’s ties back to Peter, the apostles, and the church in Jerusalem made him a significant figure on the journey.

John Mark was fully aware of the outpouring of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his family. Peter had told him all about it. He understood that God was now welcoming God-fearing, Torah-following Gentiles into the Kingdom. Perhaps it surprised him—but Peter had recounted the circumstances and he knew it was so.

Who Was Mark in the Bible? “John Mark’s ties back to Peter, the apostles, and the church in Jerusalem made him a significant figure on the journey.”

Now traveling with Paul and Barnabas, John Mark was witnessing firsthand how Jews and God-fearing Gentiles from synagogues around the world were coming to embrace Jesus as Messiah. Amazed at the power of their message and the signs and wonders accompanying their proclamation, John Mark must have thought back to that first day in Jerusalem when he and about 3,000 others obeyed Peter’s message. But from what came next (John Mark leaves the group and returns to Jerusalem), it seems that John Mark took issue with a decision Paul made—one he perhaps felt Peter would not approve.

It sounds so wonderful in our Bibles today:

When the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” (Acts 13:12)

My thought is that, from John Mark’s youthful viewpoint, Paul and crew had just crossed the line in the sand that could not be tolerated. Paul and Barnabas did the unthinkable: they welcomed a Gentile into the Kingdom of God without requiring he become a Jewish God-fearer first. John Mark watched as Paul announced that by his baptism into Jesus Christ, Sergius Paulus had gone from pagan to saint, without first becoming a Jew.

Who Was Mark in the Bible? “It seems that John Mark took issue with a decision Paul made—one he perhaps felt Peter would not approve.”

Perhaps he confronted Paul and Barnabas, explained how they do things back in Jerusalem, etc. We cannot be sure, but there was probably a scene, some angry words and some loud shouting. From there, things did not go well, and in the very next verse of the Bible we read,

“Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem” (Acts 13: 13).

John Mark abandoned the mission, returned to Jerusalem a tattletale and helped stoke the fires of controversy in an attempt to undermine Paul and Barnabas.

A Second Chance

Later at the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15, Peter and James affirmed the actions of Paul—and if this was John Mark’s reason for leaving, he would have discovered that he had gotten it all wrong. Afterwards, John Mark tried to join Paul and Barnabas on Mission Two, but Paul would have none of it. As “The Son of Encouragement” and probably a friend of John Mark’s family (see Col. 4:10), Barnabas modeled grace, forgiveness, and a second chance to the young missionary who had caused so much heartache.

Who Was Mark in the Bible? “Barnabas modeled grace, forgiveness, and a second chance to the young missionary who had caused so much heartache.”

But years later, when his life was drawing to a close, Paul and John Mark fully reconciled and shared ministry together. Paul would tell Timothy, “Get John Mark and bring him with you to me, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). And it was Paul who helped focus John Mark’s message to reach Gentiles—especially those in the World Center of Rome. The Gospel of Mark serves as an outgrowth of that mentorship as the message is the Preaching of Peter, but the focus is the Mission of Paul.

Spiritual Mentors

Now imagine where John Mark would be without spiritual mentors in his life! From Mom, he learned to love God, love Scripture, and love the fellowship of believers. From Peter, he learned to love Jesus and be a passionate follower of Christ. From Barnabas, he learned the “mercy that triumphs over judgment” and the grace of giving a second chance. From Paul, he found the focus for his life’s work and a passion for the lost all over the globe. These spiritual mentors helped shape the life message for John Mark and allowed him to finish well.

So, who is spiritually mentoring you? Even better, whom are you a spiritual mentor for today? There is a John Mark or a Janie May waiting for what you have to offer….