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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: What Is the Secret Gospel of Mark?

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What Is the Secret Gospel of Mark?

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 18

In 1958, an ancient manuscript came to light that spoke of a previously unknown work called, the “Secret Gospel of Mark” or “Secret Mark.” It has been claimed that this ancient text actually cites material that was left out of the Gospel of Mark when first written but was later added by Mark himself.

The Alleged Discovery

This alleged discovery was supposedly made in the library of a monastery located in the Judean desert in Israel called Mar Saba. It consists of a previous unknown letter from Clement of Alexandria, a second century church figure, who wrote to a previously unknown person called Theodore. This letter contained references to a previously unknown work the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” The manuscript of this letter was written in Greek, most likely in the eighteenth century. Supposedly, it was attached to a seventeenth century copy of the letters of another church father, Ignatius.

The Claim: Mark Added Later Elements to His Gospel

According to this letter from Clement, Mark left out certain things in his written gospel. When he left Rome and arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, he then added these “secret matters.” These later truths would lead the readers, or hearers, into some sort of deeper spiritual understanding. This secret gospel was carefully guarded and read only by those who had been initiated into the “great mysteries.” This letter of Clement goes on to say that a man named Carpocrates had acquired a copy of “secret Mark” and was using it to support his false teaching. He was distorting what secret Mark actually said. Thus, Clement, quotes the exact text of “secret Mark” to allow the person to whom he was writing to respond to the false use of this secret work.

Problems with Secret Mark

There are a number of problems with the work from Clement that informs us of the existence of “Secret Mark.”

The Manuscript Mysteriously Disappeared

For one thing, the manuscript has mysteriously disappeared. There is some question as to whether anyone, apart from the scholar who supposedly discovered it, ever saw it. All that is left are photographs of the manuscript. Consequently, no independent evaluation of this manuscript has ever been made. This is a major problem.

The Manuscript Copy Seems Too Good

There are further problems. Some scholars find this eighteenth century copy of this letter too good; a spotless copy of an ancient text. The fact that it mysteriously disappeared also gives cause for concern.

It Looks like Someone Is Trying to Sound like Mark

In addition, the quotations from “Secret Mark” sound too much like Mark to actually be the New Testament Mark. It is though someone is trying very hard to sound like Mark. In other words, it is the work of a twentieth century forger. That such a letter from Clement ever existed is also doubted.

Some Scholars Believe Clement May Have Written This Letter

However, there are some scholars who do believe that we do have an actual copy of a correspondence by Clement. If this is what it actually turns out to be, it would be similar to many other mid-second century Gnostic writings. The writer to whom it was attributed, Clement, was quite a gullible individual whose writings contain other references to Gnostic texts. In any case, this document would be worthless to use as a source of information to determine the real historical Jesus.

Mark Compiled Peter’s Recollections of Jesus

There are a number of important points to make. For one thing, the evidence leads us to believe Mark only recorded the words of the Apostle Peter. That is, he put together into writing a number of messages that Peter spoke to an audience while they were in Rome. Therefore, Mark should not be called the writer of his gospel in the traditional understanding of the term writer. He was more of a compiler. This being the case, it is hard to imagine that he would add his own thoughts to a work which was really not his.

In any matter, what we have today is a non-existent manuscript of a “secret” work which no other source in history tells us ever existed and that no scholar has independently verified. Yet, as can probably be imagined, a number of people not only take this questionable work seriously, they use it as the basis to determine the identity of the “real Jesus.” From “Secret Mark,” Jesus turns out to be a magician as well as someone who has morally questionable practices.

Though there is no objective reason as to why anyone should use this document to reconstruct the genuine Jesus, we are not always dealing with objectivity when the issue of Jesus’ identity arises. People will always want to use sources such as “Secret Mark” in a futile attempt to find a different Jesus as well as to remove any personable responsibility they may have toward Him.

However, this will not work. According to Scripture, there will come a day when everyone must stand before Jesus and give an account for their belief, or non-belief, in Him. This includes those who advocate this worthless document “secret Mark.”

Summary – Question 18
What Is the Secret Gospel of Mark?

In 1958, an ancient letter, supposedly written by the second century Christian Clement of Alexandria, cites a portion of what is known as the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” This “Secret Mark” has been alleged to contain additions to Mark’s gospel. To many, Mark is the earliest source for the life of Jesus. These additions are claimed to have been made by Mark himself when he was in Alexandria, Egypt. This would make this manuscript extremely important for gospel study.

Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. Indeed, there would be no reason for Mark to add any secret material to his gospel seeing that he was basically a stenographer, or recorder, of a number of sermons given by Peter. Mark, therefore, is not a writer in the traditional sense but rather a compiler of the sermons of the Apostle Peter.

This being the case, it is hard to imagine how Mark would assume that he had authority to add to what the leader of the apostles taught about Jesus. Especially since the material in “secret Mark” contradicts the main elements of the Gospel that bears his name!

Furthermore, “Secret Mark” may be nothing more than a twentieth century forgery. Indeed, there are too many suspicious things surrounding its discovery and its unexplained disappearance before anyone had a chance to independently verify its truthfulness.

Whatever the case may be, to give priority to a document that no one has seen and which has not been subjected to any independent verification, is neither a reasonable nor a scholarly thing to do. Yet for people who attempt to escape the responsibility of answering to a Holy God, this “secret” Mark gives them the excuse they need. Unfortunately, believing this is the genuine account of Jesus’ words and deeds will not help them at all come Judgment Day.

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