Is Mark’s Gospel Peter’s Eyewitness Account? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This has certainly been the traditional understanding since the beginning of Christianity. What evidence is there that Mark was recording events from Peter’s eyewitness perspective? In his book Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace gives us 6 pieces of evidence to consider.

First, Wallace notes that Mark mentions Peter frequently. As an example, Wallace observes that “Mark referred to Peter twenty-six times in his short account, compared to Matthew, who mentioned Peter only three additional times in his much longer gospel.”

Second, Mark uses familiar terms to identify Peter. Wallace states:

Mark is the only writer who refused to use the term “Simon Peter” when describing Peter (he used either “Simon” or “Peter”). This may seem trivial, but it is important. Simon was the most popular male name in Palestine at the time of Mark’s writing, yet Mark made no attempt to distinguish the apostle Simon from the hundreds of other Simons known to his readers (John, by comparison, referred to Peter more formally as “Simon Peter” seventeen times). Mark consistently used the briefest, most familiar versions of Peter’s name.

Third, Mark uses Peter as a “set of bookends.” Wallace explains why this is significant:

Unlike in other gospel accounts, Peter is the first disciple identified in the text (Mark 1: 16) and the last disciple mentioned in the text (Mark 16: 7). Scholars describe this type of “bookending” as “inclusio” and have noticed it in other ancient texts where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness. In any case, Peter is prominent in Mark’s gospel as the first and last named disciple.

Fourth, Mark paid Peter the most respect of the Gospel writers. Wallace offers several pieces of evidence to prove the point.

[Mark] repeatedly painted Peter in the kindest possible way, even when Peter made a fool of himself. Matthew’s gospel, for example, describes Jesus walking on water and Peter’s failed attempt to do the same (Matt. 14: 22– 33). In Matthew’s account, Peter began to sink into the sea; Jesus described him as a doubter and a man “of little faith.” Interestingly, Mark respectfully omitted Peter’s involvement altogether (Mark 6: 45– 52). In a similar way, Luke’s gospel includes a description of the “miraculous catch” of fish in which Peter was heard to doubt Jesus’s wisdom in trying to catch fish when Peter had been unsuccessful all day. After catching more fish than his nets could hold, Peter said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5: 1– 11). Mark’s parallel account omits this episode completely (Mark 1: 16– 20).

While other gospels mention Peter directly as the source of some embarrassing statement or question, Mark’s gospel omits Peter’s name specifically and attributes the question or statement to “the disciples” or some other similarly unnamed member of the group. When Peter made a rash statement (like saying that Jesus’s death would never occur in Matthew 16: 21– 23), the most edited and least embarrassing version can be found in Mark’s account (Mark 8: 31– 33). Over and over again, Mark offered a version of the story that is kinder to Peter.

In part 2, we will look at the final two pieces of evidence that Wallace offers.


    Hi Bill,

    How would you respond to Bart Ehrman?
    ***The gospels are not contemporary accounts.***
    They were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death—“not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later.” The gospels “were written by highly literate, trained, Greek-speaking Christians of the second and third generation. They’re not written by Jesus’ Aramaic-speaking followers. They’re written by people living 30, 40, 50, 60 years later. Where did these people get their information from? I should point out that the Gospels say they’re written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But that’s just in your English Bible. That’s the title of these Gospels, but whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew didn’t call it the Gospel of Matthew. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew simply wrote his Gospel, and somebody later said it’s the Gospel according to Matthew. Somebody later is telling you who wrote it. The titles are later additions. These are not eyewitness accounts.”

    Thanks Bill.

  • Hi Aaron,

    This blog post provides an answer to why we think Mark’s Gospel is written from the eyewitness recollections of Peter. I have written another post on why we have good reason to believe that Matthew wrote the first Gospel.

    I have also written this post and this post on why the fourth Gospel was written by John.

    I would also dispute Ehrman’s claim that the earliest material was written 35 years later. We have good evidence that the Gospel of Mark was written within 20-30 years after Jesus’s death, but there is more.

    Virtually every scholar acknowledges that there are very old oral traditions that are contained in the Gospels and letters of the NT that date back to within a decade of Jesus’s death. So there is clearly documentation that goes right back to the time of Jesus.

    I would also recommend you read this article and this article by William Lane Craig.


    //there is clearly
    documentation that goes right back to the time of Jesus.//
    Right! And even Ehrman agrees.

  • Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus’ death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60’s, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can’t list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole…or…the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?