How The Gallio Inscription Helps Us Date Mark's Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 22

Not long ago, I wrote a post that concerned the Gallio Inscription (read that post and see some photos by clicking the following link: The Gallio Inscription). In a nutshell, this Inscription is the only hard piece of evidence that we have to date the life of Paul. We are enabled to do this because the Inscription mentions Gallio, the proconsul before whom Paul is tried in the city of Corinth.

I noted in the previous post that the Inscription is dated to around AD 51, when Gallio was proconsul and around the same time that Paul was tried before him. In the Inscription, the emperor Claudius mentions that during his 26th acclamation, Gallio was assigned this position once again. The date for this 26th acclamation is uncertain but since we know the date of his 22nd through 25th acclamations (which were all in 52 AD) as well as his 27th acclamation (which was also in 52, in August), then the 26th must have come some time in 52 AD, probably during the summer.

If we acknowledge that Paul was in Corinth at this time (where Gallio was) and was tried at the bema seat, we can work both backwards and forwards and attempt to date his missionary travels. From there, we can try to date his life.

Jesus died around AD 30 and Paul, as he asserts, became a Christian about 3 years later (AD 33). In his third year of being a believer (see: Gal. 2.18), Paul went up and met with Peter to discuss the life and teachings of Jesus, as well as the role of the Jerusalem Church (see: Gal 1.18). 14 years from the time of his Damascus Road encounter (AD 44-48), Paul went back to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas and Titus (Gal. 2.1). He brought before the “pillars” his teachings and the head of the pillars (Peter) along with James and John. In Galatians, Paul’s earliest letter, Paul says that he and Peter came to an understanding: Peter's ministry is concerned mainly with the Jews and Paul’s ministry is concerned mainly with the Gentiles (Gal. 2.7ff). This too is an important piece of information as it informs us of a new stage or period in Christian history: the “go ahead” from Peter and the Jerusalem Church to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Again, this was in 44+ AD, which of course, is why Paul can refer to it when he wrote Galatians shortly after in 46-8 AD.

If, all of these numbers have you in a swirl, let me try to boil them down or simplify them: In AD 30, Jesus dies and shortly after (32-33 AD), Paul becomes a believer. In AD 33 Paul met with Peter to discuss the life and teachings of Jesus. 14 years later, Paul finally went back to Jerusalem for a council, which puts us at 46-8 AD. During these years, as Galatians and Acts inform us, a severe famine struck Jerusalem (Acts 11 & 12, Gal. 1 & 2). It is at this time, as Gal. 2.11 reports, that Paul began ministering in Antioch and shortly thereafter went into Galatia. 4-6 years after that, while on a missionary journey, Paul was tried before Gallio the Proconsul in the city of Corinth (AD 52)—and the Gallio Inscription lines up smoothly with this date!

From AD 52, we can work backwards and forwards to order both Paul’s writings and his journeys. For the moment, we look forward. It would be five to six years later, from the time of his trial before Gallio, that Paul would be locked up in Caesarea (see the letter recorded in Acts 23.23-32). Again, this puts us around a date of 57-58 AD. Acts 24.23 notes that while in Caesarea, Paul was kept “under guard” but was also given “some freedom” and “permission” to see his “friends” who would “take care of his needs. This is an incredibly significant piece of information. While under house arrest, Paul began to sense the need for a written account of the life of Jesus that appealed to his Gentile audiences. Who better to write, than his companion in ministry Luke?

As an aid, Luke used Matthew. This means that Matthew is the earliest written document of the New Testament (not Thessalonians or Galatians). Both Peter and Paul had been using the Gospel of Matthew as the proof and source of their teaching and preaching. However, where Matthew, in all of its Jewishness appealed to the dominantly Jewish Jerusalem Church, a lot of it was unappealing to Gentiles. So, Paul realized that a presentation of the Gospel that appealed to the Gentiles was needed. So, he summoned his friend Luke and asked him to begin working on that scroll. Luke left out many of the strictly Jewish elements and in fact, recast the story, as many have noted, in light of a Greco-Roman bios (biography) with elements of the famed genre of "hero story." However, before making this document a “public” document, Paul wanted to get Peter’s stamp of approval.

So, by the time Luke finished, what Peter did was to come up to Rome, it is now around 62 AD, where Luke and Paul were and he compared the two accounts. Beyond this, Peter saw fit to give a series of speeches or lectures that he based on the two writings. When he did this, his recorder (hermeneute) Mark took down all that he said (see: 1 Pet. 5.12-3, Col. 4.10 and Philemon 24 for more on this). Those in the crowd, many high rank Romans, wanted a copy of Peter’s speeches and so Mark made some copies. Thus, it is these speeches that form the account known as the Gospel according to Mark, which was penned around AD 62+. If this all seems foreign to your ears (and it probably is given the “Q” theory that has taken over Gospel studies), well, maybe some more proof will help.

It is at this point that the writings of some of the Church fathers come to the fore. David Alan Black has written a excellent and succinct but rather small tome on this issue and it is from his work, Why Four Gospels? that I draw some of the following inferences and quotes. See for yourself, the belief, from the first four centuries of Church history concerning the authorship and situations surrounding the composition of the Gospel accounts. Since I am only going to quote a few passages, I will list here all of the literary references that also shed light on this issue (they are listed in chronological order):

1. Justin, (ca. 100-165 AD – Dialogue with Trypho 106.9-10)
2. Irenaeus (ca. 130-200 AD – Against Heresies 3.1.1-2)
3. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 – Adumbrationes in epistolas canonicas on 1 Peter 5.13; quoted by Eusebius in Eccl. Hist. At 6.14.5-7)
4. Tertullian (ca. 160-225 – Against Marcion 4.2.1-2)
5. Origen (ca. 185-254 – Homilies on Luke 1; quoted by Eusebius in Eccl. Hist. 6.25.3-6)
6. Muratorian Fragment (ca. 2nd century)
7. Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke (ca. 2nd century)
8. Old Latin Prologue to Mark (ca. 2nd century)
9. Eusebius (ca. 260-340 – Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1 – 16.1)
10. Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-130; derived from a quote in the work of Eusebius at 3.39.15-6)
11. Jerome (ca. 345-420 – Epistle 120.11)
12. Augustine (ca. 354-430 - De Consensu Euangelistarum 1.3-4)

Again, these writers, Church fathers, are in agreement about the orders and manner in which the Gospels were composed. Most important are the comments about Mark’s Gospel for it is in these comments that we find that Mark’s account was the product of listening to Peter’s lectures. And as we have seen, Peter’s lectures were based on comparing Matthew’s more Jewish account to Luke’s more Gentile account. Mark was simply a copy of Peter’s speeches, composed in Rome, around AD 62+.

Since I have already given the specifics above, I will not quote book, chapter and verse here. I am going to simply quote, in order, what the early fathers had to say. For example, Irenaeus tells us that “when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome and founding the Church,” the written Gospel of Matthew was used. He also tells us that Mark was Peter’s recorder and handed on to us what was proclaimed by Peter. Clement gives even more detail, he says: “Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publicly preaching the gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies about Christ, on their asking him to let them have a record of things that had been said, wrote the gospel that is called the Gospel of Mark from the things said by Peter, just as Luke is recognized as the pen that wrote the Acts of the Apostles and the translator of the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews.”

In the Old Latin Prologue, we read: “Mark, who was also called Stubfinger because he had shorter fingers with regard to the other dimensions of the body. He had been the disciple of and recorder (interpres) of Peter, whom he followed, just as he had heard him relating. Having been asked by the brethren in Rome, he wrote this short gospel in the regions of Italy. When Peter heard about it, he approved and authorized it to be read in the Church with (his own) authority.” In the work of Eusebius, we find the following: “…they (the Romans) urged Mark, whose gospel it is reputed to be, being the follower of Peter, to bequeath to them also in writing the record of the teaching handed on to them by (word of mouth), nor did they let up before convincing the man.”

Papias is recorded as saying: “Mark, having become the recorder (hermeneutes) of Peter, indeed wrote accurately albeit not in order whatever he (Peter) remembered of the things either said or done by the Lord…(Mark) a follower of…Peter who used to deliver his teachings in the form of short stories…so that Mark did not err at all when he wrote down certain things just as he (Peter) recalled them.” Origen says, “Mark composed as Peter guided.” Jerome remarks, “just as blessed Peter had Mark, whose gospel consists of Peter’s narration and the latter’s writing.”

What I have attempted to do is to show how a tangible piece of ancient evidence aids us in dating first, the life and ministry of Paul. It is from this that we can order Paul’s journeys and his encounters with persons such as Peter, Mark and Luke among others. This also allows us to date his imprisonments in Caesarea and Rome with some precision. From there, and with the attestations of many of the early apologists, we can make sense out of what transpired in Rome and how the Gospel of Mark came to be: it was birthed from Peter’s speeches on Matthew’s Jewish and Luke’s Gentile account of the life and ministry of Jesus.


  1. Michael,

    Thanks for all of your hard work. I am enjoying the Mark Series!


  2. Juan,
    thanks for the encouragement, i really appreciate it. glad you're enjoying these studies! i hope you will enjoy the future ones too.