Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 5, we continue with J. Warner Wallace’s case for the early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts, as written in his book Cold-Case Christianity.
The eleventh piece of evidence is that Mark seems to be protecting key players. Wallace explains:
In my years as an investigator, there have been many times when a witness carefully chose his or her words to avoid dragging someone else into the case. This was particularly true when working gang cases. There were a number of times when a witness had the courage to come forward with information, but was less than forthcoming about the identity of others who might have seen something similar. Driven by the fear that these additional witnesses might be in a position of jeopardy, the witness would mention them in his or her account but refuse to specifically identify them. Most of the time the witnesses were simply trying to protect someone who they thought was defenseless and vulnerable.
I experienced just the opposite in some of my cold-case investigations. When re-interviewing witnesses who spoke to investigators years earlier, I found that they were now willing to provide me with the identities of people whom they previously refused to identify. Sometimes this was because they developed some animosity toward these people over the years; this was especially true when boyfriends and girlfriends broke up and were eventually willing to talk about each other. Sometimes it was a matter of diminishing fear; when the suspect in a case died, it wasn’t unusual to have people come forward and identify themselves simply because they were no longer afraid to do so.
Many careful readers of Mark’s gospel have observed that there are a number of unidentified people described in his account. These anonymous characters are often in key positions in the narrative, yet Mark chose to leave them unnamed. For example, Mark’s description of the activity in the garden of Gethsemane includes the report that “one of those who stood by [the arrest of Jesus] drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Mark 14: 47). Mark chose to leave both the attacker and the man attacked unnamed in his description, even though John identified both (Peter as the attacker and Malchus as the person being attacked) in his gospel account. Similarly, Mark failed to identify the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper (Mark 14: 3– 9), even though John told us that it was Mary (the sister of Martha), who poured the perfume on Jesus’s head.
While skeptics have offered a number of explanations for these variations (arguing, for example, that they may simply be late embellishments in an effort to craft the growing mythology of the Gospels), something much simpler might be at work. If Mark, like some of the witnesses in my gang cases, was interested in protecting the identity of Peter (as Malchus’s attacker) and Mary (whose anointing may have been interpreted as a proclamation of Jesus’s kingly position as the Messiah), it makes sense that he might leave them unnamed so that the Jewish leadership would not be able to easily target them. In fact, Mark never even described Jesus’s raising of Mary’s brother, Lazarus.
This also makes sense if Mark was trying to protect Lazarus’s identity in the earliest years of the Christian movement, given that the resurrection of Lazarus was of critical concern to the Jewish leaders and prompted them to search for Jesus in their plot to kill him. If Mark wrote his gospel early, while Mary, Lazarus, Peter, and Malchus were still alive, it is reasonable that Mark might have wanted to leave them unnamed or simply omit the accounts that included them in the first place. Scholars generally acknowledge John’s gospel as the final addition to the New Testament collection of gospel accounts. It was most likely written at a time when Peter, Malchus, and Mary were already dead. John, like some of the witnesses in my cold cases, had the liberty to identify these important people; they were no longer in harm’s way.
In part 6, we will conclude this series and summarize why all the evidence leads to an early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts.