Fortress Press

The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century

The Gospel on the Margins

The Reception of Mark in the Second Century

Michael J. Kok (Author)


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Scholars of the Gospel of Mark usually discuss the merits of patristic references to the Gospel’s origin and Mark’s identity as the “interpreter” of Peter. But while the question of the Gospel’s historical origins draws attention, no one has asked why, despite virtually unanimous patristic association of the Gospel with Peter, one of the most prestigious apostolic founding figures in Christian memory, Mark’s Gospel was mostly neglected by those same writers. Not only is the text of Mark the least represented of the canonical Gospels in patristic citations, commentaries, and manuscripts, but the explicit comments about the Evangelist reveal ambivalence about Mark’s literary or theological value.

Michael J. Kok surveys the second-century reception of Mark, from Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria, and finds that the patristic writers were hesitant to embrace Mark because they perceived it to be too easily adapted to rival Christian factions. Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451490220
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 240
  • Publication Date February 1, 2015


“Michael J. Kok has written a remarkable book, full of implications for the study of the early history of the Gospel of Mark and for Christian origins generally. His argument that the Gospel of Mark was hardly read in the second century, except perhaps by a fringe group in the developing coalition of Christian groups, is utterly convincing. Kok’s argument that the gospel received a place in the emerging Christian canon not because of its intrinsic merit but because it was confiscated for the canon as a way of further marginalizing a group that treasured it, is provocative and persuasive. Kok’s scholarship is impeccable, and he makes his novel argument with great clarity. New Testament scholars and historians of early Christianity, take note!”
—Willi Braun
University of Alberta

“New Testament scholars love the Gospel of Mark. It is our earliest portrayal of Jesus but also the most unorthodox; its origins are well-documented in antiquity, yet, with good reason, most of us discount this evidence. It confounds and delights. Michael J. Kok does much to dispel some of the mysteries behind the creation and early reception of the Gospel, bolstering Willi Braun’s theory that early church writers were ambivalent to Mark because of its appreciation by so-called ‘heretics.’ He carefully adjudicates between previous approaches to the evidence, showing particular caution in his treatment of the still-controversial Secret Gospel of Mark (wisely reserved for discussion in an appendix), which, if authentic, would contribute much to his argument. In all, the book is a deftly-written, comprehensive resource for those seeking answers to Mark’s most challenging questions.”
Tony Burke
York University

“In this invigorating and informative study, Michael J. Kok surveys who knew what about Mark’s Gospel during the second century. In an extremely useful and readable form, he assembles the available evidence and advances the striking hypothesis that early Christian writers were often hesitant to use Mark because they viewed it as susceptible to misuse by rival factions. Kok’s thesis is bold, provocative, and argued with great energy. Moreover, if it is judged correct, it casts significant light on some of the noteworthy forces and dispute at work in the early Christian movement.”
Paul Foster
School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“Controlling abundant primary evidence with fine analysis of biblical and patristic scholarship, Michael J. Kok reopens the question of Mark’s ambiguous authority in second-century Christianity. That the Gospel lay in the crosshairs of ancient disputes over incipient orthodoxy is a creative proposal, vigorously argued, which merits reflection and testing.”
C. Clifton Black
Princeton Theological Seminary
The Gospel on the Margins is part of an increasingly prominent trend in scholarship that looks at the early receptions of the Gospels. In his combination of traditional exegetical approaches with theoretical concerns about ‘reception’ and ‘centrism,’ Kok provides a distinctive, learned, and important contribution to the debate. For anyone interested in the earliest receptions of Mark’s Gospel, and the Gospels more generally, Kok’s impressive book will be required reading.”
James Crossley
University of Sheffield