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Peter in the Gospel of Mark

Peter in the Gospel of Mark

Introduction
Gospel
Jesus Christ
Christ
Oral and written tradition
Tradition
The Gospel of Matthew
Matthew
The Gospel of Mark
Mark
The Gospel of Luke
Luke
The Gospel of John
John
The meaning for today
Interpretation

From ‘Notes on the Formation of the Gospels’, by John Wijngaards;
published in Background to the Gospels (Bangalore & Ann Arbor 1981)
and Together in My Name (London 1991).

Tradition claims that Mark’s Gospel reflects the preaching of Peter. No doubt, the matter in the Gospel is almost identical with what was generally preached about Christ in the early Church by all the Apostles. Yet, it is undeniable that Peter plays a prominent role in Mark’s Gospel. It is almost as if the evangelist does want to present us with Jesus as he was experienced by Peter.

Peter’s first meeting with Jesus

The public life of Jesus begins with Peter’s call (Mark 1:16-18). The detailed description of Jesus’ first appearance in Capharnaum: the great impression he made in the synagogue when preaching (1:21-22) and when curing the possessed man (1:23-28); Jesus’s stay in Peter’s house (1:29-32); the miracle done that same evening (1:32-34); Jesus’ prayer outside the city and how he went to preach in other villages in spite of Peter’s objection: it all reflects the manner in which Peter must have recounted his first contact with the Master. We can well imagine how the old Apostle would speak about it with enthusiasm: “I still remember how he came once along the side of the lake... We were fishing... He called us... The next Sabbath he preached in our synagogue...” etc.

Of course, we should remember at the same time, that all these events, though reflecting Peter’s experience, are recounted by the evangelist in the rather fixed formulation of the oral traditions.

Peter’s witnessing some special events

In the list of the Apostles, Peter ranks first and Mark mentions that he received his new name ‘Peter’ directly from Jesus (Mark 3:16). The Apostles are sometimes called ’Simon and those with him’ (Mark 1:36). Peter was also chosen by Christ to be, with James, John (and Andrew), the witness of some special events:

  • the raising of Jairus’daughter --- Mark 5:37;
  • the transfiguration --- Mark 9:2;
  • Jesus’ sermon on the future --- Mark 13:3;
  • Jesus’ agony in Gethsemani --- Mark 14:33-37.

Only the immediate eyewitnesses, of whom Peter was one, could be the ultimate source of the preaching on these events. These events were the common content of the Apostolic preaching, but would be specially lively in Peter’s own instruction.

Peter’s own words to Jesus

In quite a few Gospel passages we are told about particular statements made by Peter:

Peter professes, “You are the Messiah!” --- Mark 8:29

Peter speaks at the transfiguration saying: “Master, it is good to be here. Let us make three tents!” --- Mark 9:5

Peter says: “Look, we have left everything and followed you!” --- Mark 10:28

Peter says: “Look, teacher, the fig tree you cursed has died!” --- Mark 11:21

Peter says at the last Supper: “I will never leave you, even though all the others do!” --- Mark 14:29

Regarding the fig tree, it should be noticed that Matthew attributes the saying to the disciples in general (Matthew 21:20), whereas Mark attributes it specifically to Peter.

Peter’s admission of his faults

Traditionally, a trace of Peter’s own testimony in Mark’s Gospel is also seen in the fact that certain praiseworthy actions of Peter are omitted (such as the miracle of walking on the water (Matthew 14:28-31), and that Peter’s shortcomings are stressed. Mark relates how Jesus rebuked Peter (Mark 8:32-33) and gives many details about Peters’ denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). It seems more natural that Peter himself would authenticate such failings.

From all these indications we can see how Peter’s testimony may have influenced and shaped Mark’s presentation of Jesus. We may consider Mark’s Gospel as the introduction to Jesus Christ, given by an eyewitness (Peter), through the typical formulation of oral tradition.

John Wijngaards

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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