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Mark (Papias Frag. 3)

Role: Interpreter; Secretary

Gender: Male

Date: late-first century CE-130 CE

Place: Hierapolis

Language:  Greek

Literary Genre: Sayings; Commentary; Exposition

Title of Work: Papias, Exposition of Dominical Oracles

Reference: Eusebius, HE 3.39 = Papias, Frag. 3

Original Text:

καὶ τοῦθ᾿ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἔλεγεν· Μάρκος μὲν ἑρμηνευτὴς Πέτρου γενόμενος, ὅσα ἐμνημόνευσεν, ἀκριβῶς ἔγραψεν, οὐ μέντοι τάξει, τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ κυρίου2 ἢ λεχθέντα ἢ πραχθέντα· οὔτε γὰρ ἤκουσεν τοῦ κυρίου οὔτε παρηκολούθησεν αὐτῷ, ὕστερον δέ, ὡς ἔφην, Πέτρῳ, ὃς πρὸς τὰς χρείας ἐποιεῖτο τὰς διδασκαλίας, ἀλλ᾿ οὐχ ὥσπερ σύνταξιν τῶν κυριακῶν ποιούμενος λογίων, ὥστε οὐδὲν ἥμαρτεν Μάρκος, οὕτως ἔνια γράψας ὡς ἀπεμνημόνευσεν· ἑνὸς γὰρ ἐποιήσατο πρόνοιαν, τοῦ μηδὲν ὧν ἤκουσεν παραλιπεῖν ἢ ψεύσασθαί τι ἐν αὐτοῖς. (Papias, Frag. 3)

English Translation:

And this is what the elder used to say, ‘When Mark was the interpreter [Or: translator] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord’s sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: to leave out nothing that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.’ (Papias, Frag. 3)

Text and Translation adapted from Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003)


Mark is identified by Papias as the interpreter (ἑρμηνευτὴς) of the Apostle Peter and, thus, as the servile author of the Gospel of Mark. The word ἑρμηνευτὴς might equally be understood as “translator.” Mark may thus have acted as an oral interpreter who translated Aramaic into Greek just as translators function in the Pauline epistles (1 Cor 12:10; 14:23). Mark may have expounded the words of Peter and, thus, interpreted them for a wider community. Or Mark may have acted as a literary translator who set the written words of Peter into Greek. If Mark is understood here as Peter’s secretary, then his role would not have been seen by ancient audiences as that of an equal.

Translators played a variety of roles in antiquity, particularly in military contexts but they were equally important for legal affairs. Many of those who performed this work in antiquity were servile figures who performed relatively functional translations (Mairs). While the documentary record uses the title of interpreter to refer to high-status experts, some of these official translators were in fact illiterate (See Apollonos in P. Cair. Zen. I 59065, P. Ryl. IV 563, PSI IV 409). 

A great deal of uncredited translational work, thus, was performed by servile figures like Mark who worked under the aegis of a named translator. Gehrman argues that, in general, interpreters “were freedmen or slaves, and the language which they interpreted, especially into Greek or Latin, was their own vernacular” (17-18). It seems likely that Papias presents Mark as a servile figure whose exceptional memory and fidelity to Peter led him to preserve Peter’s words accurately (Moss). In terms of his dual role, we might compare him to Papisi, the interpreter and secretary who inscribed O. Berenike II.121 (ca. 113-117 CE).

It is unclear if the Mark mentioned by Papias as the inscriber of the Gospel of Mark should be identified with the John Mark of Acts (12:12, 25; 15:37, 39), the Mark of 1 Peter (5:13), or some potential combination of both. 1 Peter appears to build upon emerging traditions about the relationship between Peter and Mark and is also represented in Papias. 

Keywords: Apostolic Fathers; Christian; Dictation; Interpreter; Literate Worker; Mark; Papias; Peter; Rome


Gehman, Henry Snyder. The Interpreters of Foreign Languages Among the Ancients: A Study Based on Greek and Latin Sources (Lancaster: Intelligentsia, 1914).


Mairs, Rachel. “Hermēneis in the Documentary Record from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt: Interpreters, Translators and Mediators in Bilingual Society.” Journal of Ancient History 7:2 (2019) 1-53

Moss, Candida R.  “Fashioning Mark: Early Christian Discussions about the Scribe and Status of the Second Gospel.” New Testament Studies 67:2 (2021): 181-204.

How to Cite:

Moss, Candida R. “Mark (Papias Frag. 3.” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. <URL>



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