Mark—‘Useful for Ministering’
THE Antioch congregation had seen some problems, but the disagreement between the apostles Paul and Barnabas was of a different nature. The men were planning a missionary tour; however, when it came to deciding who would make the trip with them, there was “a sharp burst of anger” between them. (Acts 15:39) The two split up and went their separate ways. Their dispute concerned a third missionary—Mark.
Who was Mark? What caused two apostles to argue over him? Why did they have such strong opinions? Did those opinions ever change? And what can you learn from Mark’s story?
At Home in Jerusalem
Mark, who apparently came from a wealthy Jewish family, grew up in Jerusalem. The first we learn about him directly is in connection with the history of the early Christian congregation. In about 44 C.E. when Jehovah’s angel miraculously freed the apostle Peter from the prison of Herod Agrippa I, Peter made his way “to the house of Mary the mother of John who was surnamed Mark, where quite a few were gathered together and praying.”—Acts 12:1-12.a
It would seem, then, that the Jerusalem congregation used the home of Mark’s mother for meetings. That “quite a few” met there suggests that the home was large. Mary had a servant girl named Rhoda, who answered Peter’s knock “at the door of the gateway.” These details suggest that Mary was a woman of some means. And the house is referred to as her home rather than her husband’s, so it is possible that she was a widow and that Mark was still quite young.—Acts 12:13.
Mark was likely among those who were gathered to pray. He must have been well-acquainted with Jesus’ disciples and others who had witnessed the events of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, Mark may have been the scantily clad young man who tried to follow Jesus when He was first arrested but who fled when they tried to seize him.—Mark 14:51, 52.
Privileges in the Congregation
Association with mature Christians doubtless influenced Mark positively. He grew spiritually and attracted the attention of responsible brothers. About 46 C.E. when Paul and Barnabas delivered “a relief ministration” from Antioch to Jerusalem to allay the effects of a famine, they took an interest in Mark. When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, they took Mark with them.—Acts 11:27-30; 12:25.
A casual reader might assume that there was no particular tie—beyond the spiritual one—between these three, that Paul and Barnabas recruited Mark simply because of his abilities. But one of Paul’s letters reveals that Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. (Col. 4:10) This may help to explain subsequent events involving Mark.
A year or so passed, and holy spirit directed that Paul and Barnabas undertake a missionary journey. They set out from Antioch for Cyprus. John Mark went with them “as an attendant.” (Acts 13:2-5) Perhaps Mark was to care for practical needs during the trip so that the apostles could concentrate on spiritual matters.
Paul, Barnabas, and Mark traversed Cyprus, preaching as they went; then they headed for Asia Minor. There, John Mark made a decision that disappointed Paul. The account says that when the party arrived at Perga, “John withdrew from them and returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13) Why he did this is not stated.
A couple of years later, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark were back in Antioch. The two apostles were discussing a second missionary tour to build on the accomplishments of the first. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin along, but Paul would not hear of it because Mark had previously deserted them. This is what provoked the scene described in the introduction. Barnabas took Mark and went to work in his native Cyprus, while Paul headed for Syria. (Acts 15:36-41) Clearly, Paul and Barnabas differed in their view of Mark’s earlier decision.
Mark was doubtless grieved by this experience. Yet, he remained a faithful minister. Some 11 or 12 years after this incident with Paul, Mark reappears in the history of early Christianity. Where? Where you would perhaps least expect to find him—with Paul!
In 60-61 C.E., while Paul was in prison in Rome, he sent a number of letters that are now part of the Holy Scriptures. In the one to the Colossians, he wrote: “Aristarchus my fellow captive sends you his greetings, and so does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, (concerning whom you received commands to welcome him if ever he comes to you) . . . Only these are my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and these very ones have become a strengthening aid to me.”—Col. 4:10, 11.
What a turnaround! From being the object of Paul’s intense displeasure, Mark was again a valued coworker. Evidently, Paul had informed the Colossians that a visit from Mark was possible. If it materialized, Mark would be acting as Paul’s representative.
Had Paul years before been overcritical of Mark? Had Mark benefited from needed discipline? Or was it perhaps a little of both? Whatever the case, their reconciliation testifies to the maturity of both Paul and Mark. They let bygones be bygones and worked together again. What an excellent example for anyone who has had a difference of opinion with a fellow Christian!
Mark the Traveler
As you read about the various trips that Mark made, you realize that he traveled a great deal. He came from Jerusalem, moved to Antioch, and from there sailed to Cyprus and Perga. Then he went to Rome. From there Paul wanted to send him to Colossae. And there is more!
The apostle Peter penned his first letter in about 62 to 64 C.E. He wrote: “She who is in Babylon . . . sends you her greetings, and so does Mark my son.” (1 Pet. 5:13) So Mark traveled to Babylon to serve alongside the apostle who years before attended Christian meetings in his mother’s home.
When Paul, during his second imprisonment in Rome about 65 C.E., wrote to call Timothy from Ephesus, Paul added: “Take Mark and bring him with you.” (2 Tim. 4:11) So Mark was then in Ephesus. And how can we doubt that he responded to Paul’s summons to return to Rome with Timothy? Travel was not easy back then, but Mark made those journeys willingly.
Another Great Privilege
One great privilege that Mark enjoyed was that of being inspired by Jehovah to write one of the Gospels. Although the second Gospel nowhere names its author, the earliest traditions ascribe it to Mark and hold that his source was Peter. In fact, Peter witnessed practically all that Mark recorded.
Analysts of Mark’s Gospel believe that he wrote for Gentile readers; he provided helpful explanations of Jewish practices. (Mark 7:3; 14:12; 15:42) Mark translates Aramaic terms that might otherwise have been lost on a non-Jewish audience. (Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 15:22, 34) He uses many Latin terms and even explains common Greek words by using Latin ones. He gives the value of Jewish coins in Roman money. (Mark 12:42, ftn.) All of this seems to harmonize with the long-standing tradition that Mark penned his Gospel in Rome.
“Useful to Me for Ministering”
Writing his Gospel was by no means the only thing Mark did in Rome. Remember what Paul told Timothy: “Take Mark and bring him with you.” Paul’s reason? “For he is useful to me for ministering.”—2 Tim. 4:11.
This mention of Mark—chronologically the last in the Scriptures—says much about him. Nowhere in his theocratic career does Mark appear as an apostle, a leader, or a prophet. He was a minister, that is, one who waited upon and served others. And in this moment, shortly before Paul’s death, the apostle surely could benefit from Mark’s assistance.
When assembled, the various bits of information we have about Mark produce the portrait of a man zealous for promoting the good news in various parts of the worldwide field, a man happy to serve others. Indeed, what rewarding privileges Mark enjoyed because he did not give up!
Like Mark, we as God’s servants today show the same determination to preach the Kingdom good news. As in the case of Mark, some of us are able to move to other locations, even abroad, to promote the good news there. While making such a move may not be possible for most of us, all of us can imitate Mark in another important way. Just as he went out of his way to minister to his Christian brothers, so we are willing to put forth effort to help our fellow believers in practical ways to carry out their service to God. As we do so, we can be sure that we will continue to receive Jehovah’s blessing.—Prov. 3:27; 10:22; Gal. 6:2.
a It was common for Mark’s contemporaries to adopt or accept a second name of Hebrew or of foreign origin. Mark’s Jewish name was Yohanan—John, in English. His Latin surname was Marcus, or Mark.—Acts 12:25.
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Some of the Cities That Mark Visited
Antioch (of Syria)