Category Archives: Julie M. Smith

Who is “Levi the son of Alphaeus” in Mark 2:14?

By Julie M. Smith 

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.”

When a relationship is mentioned (“son of Alphaeus”), it is normally either because:

  1. The relative (in this case, Alphaeus) was known to Mark’s audience.
  2. Mark wants to distinguish the person from others with the same name. (While there is no other Levi in Mark’s Gospel, there could have been another Levi known to Mark’s audience.)

We do not know which is the case here. Either way, this phrase presents a bit of a puzzle since Levi is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT[1] and since there is no “Levi” on the lists of the Twelve.[2] There are several possibilities for what has happened here:

  1. Mark 3:18 refers to James as the “son of Alphaeus.” So:
    • Levi might be the brother of James (which is a helpful data point, but doesn’t solve the problem).
    • “Levi” might be another name for “James.” (Some manuscripts read “James” instead of “Levi” here, but that is almost certainly a later reading.) It was not uncommon for people to be known by more than one name; we know that Jesus himself renamed a disciple on at least one occasion although, unlike with Simon Peter, there is no story in the text describing a renaming of Levi.
    • It is possible that this might not even be the same “Alphaeus;” there could be no relationship whatsoever between Levi and James.
  2. The reason that Levi is not mentioned on any of the lists of the Twelve is because Levi was not one of the Twelve. This story states that Jesus called Levi to follow him but does not mention a specific calling; it is certainly possible that Jesus called Levi to a different role.[3]
  3. Matthew 9:9-13, which is parallel to this story, has a toll collector named Matthew (although he is not called the son of Alphaeus). Because the name Matthew appears on the apostolic lists and he was also a publican, perhaps Levi was another name for Matthew. (This seems to be how the Gospel of Matthew understands this story, but this does not necessarily mean that Mark understood the situation in the same way.)
  4. The word “Levi” could be a tribal marker (“the Levite”) and not a proper name. The idea of a Levite tax collector would be most ironic, since tax collectors were regarded as particularly unclean while Levites needed to be clean to perform the temple rituals. But most scholars do not accept reading “Levite” here since it would be odd for Jesus to call someone without his name being included in the story.

Regardless, the emphasis here is not on Levi’s identity, but the fact that he was a tax collector.[4]

[1]Save the parallel account in Luke 5:27.

[2]See Mark 3:16-18.

[3]Compare Luke 10:1.

[4]See Ben W. Witherington, The Gospel of Mark:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 120.

When was the Gospel of Mark written?

By Julie M. Smith

Mark’s Gospel does not contain any specific dates for its contents or writing.[1] It is possible that Mark was written in stages (either because Mark himself wrote the Gospel over a number of years or because he incorporated passages that were written by someone else at an earlier time, or both). There is a high degree of scholarly consensus that the Gospel of Mark was written in the 60s. Continue reading

The Ending of Mark’s Gospel

By Julie M. Smith 

Virtually all scholars believe that Mark 16:9–20[1] was not originally part of the Gospel for the following reasons:

  1. Some ancient manuscripts lack it and some of those that include it have a note that the text is disputed.[2]
  2. It is difficult to imagine why a copyist would omit it; it is much easier to imagine a copyist adding it.
  3. Several early Christian writers appear to know copies of the Gospel of Mark that do not include Mark 16:9-20.[3] Continue reading

Can we trust the ancient tradition that Peter was the source for Mark’s Gospel?

by Julie M. Smith

The oldest statement about the authorship of Mark’s Gospel comes from Papias, who was the bishop of Hieropolis (in what is now Turkey) and lived from about 60CE to 130CE. Most scholars date Papias’ statement about Mark’s Gospel to close to 130CE,[1] but a few scholars think his statement might have been made closer to 100CE[2] and that he was referencing information that he learned at an earlier time, perhaps 80CE.[3] Unfortunately, Papias’ original works are lost and come to us only through quotations contained in Eusebius, who was a bishop in Palestine and lived c260-340. 

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Was Peter a major source for Mark’s Gospel?

By Julie M. Smith

The Gospel of Mark was widely thought to be an abbreviated version of Matthew’s Gospel and therefore virtually ignored until the 19th century, when a closer examination of the Gospels suggested that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke used it as a main source. Since that time, attention to Mark’s Gospel has expanded exponentially. There is much discussion about Peter as a source for Mark, and the evidence for such an association is as follows:

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What does the Gospel of Mark tell us about its author?

by Julie M. Smith

The Gospel of Mark is formally anonymous, meaning that the name of the author does not occur within the text (contrast Revelation 1:1). The writer may not have felt any need to include his name because he was well known to his community, or he may have omitted his name for rhetorical reasons, perhaps to focus the text on Jesus Christ instead of himself. He does not claim to be a follower of Jesus or an eyewitness to his ministry or to have any specific personal connection to the people in the Gospel.[1]There is no indication as to how the author learned the stories that are in the Gospel. Apparently, the author did not think that the reader needed to know his name or his connection to Jesus’ life. This, of course, has not stopped scholars from trying to figure out as much as possible about who wrote the Gospel.

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A Major Theme in Mark’s Gospel

By Julie M. Smith

When the Gospels are read as separate texts, it becomes apparent that each writer emphasized certain themes.  Matthew’s Gospel strongly emphasizes Jesus’s role as the one who fulfilled scripture.  (By way of contrast, Mark virtually never mentions this.)  In Matthew, Jesus is the “new Moses” who brings to fruition all that had been prophesied.  In Luke, there is a definite emphasis on marginalized people:  widows, orphans, the poor, the ill, and women take center stage as Jesus interacts with them.  While there is some of this material in Mark’s Gospel, it is much more subtle.  John’s Gospel is very cosmic and philosophical, and the distance between it and Mark’s Gospel is quite great here.  By contrast, the spotlight is almost always on the idea of discipleship in Mark; there is general agreement among scholars that discipleship is a key theme in this text.

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