I have some questions.
1- The first question is historical and about Saint Mark the writer of the second gospel. Do we have strong reasons to think that he really visited Egypt? I think the first to say that Mark visited Egypt was Eusebius. Do you think he really visited Egypt?
In addition, What about the claim that he saw Jesus and was one of the seventy apostles? Do you think this is right? I know that Papias said that he NEVER saw Jesus, but later fathers said that he saw Jesus. What is your comment?
2- The second question is also historical. It is about Saint George. He is considered a saint by many churches. Many stories are known about him, such as he died three times!!!! and he was persecuted for seven years!!! Do you think he is a real person?
3- The third question is about swearing. Do you think that the Bible prohibits any type of swearing? If it did, why did God swear many times in the Bible (for example, to Abraham and to David)? and why did Jesus swear in Matthew 26: 63 , 64? and why did the angel swear in Revelation 10:6? and what is the meaning of Hebrews 6:16?
Thank you.


1. About Mark, are you asking about John Mark or Mark the Evangelist, the writer of the Gospel of Mark? Some say that they are two different people. Personally, I am inclined to believe that they were the same person because the weight of evidence from early church writers is that John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas is the same Mark who Paul praised and thanked in his letters, who is the same Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark. He is the one about whom Irenaeus said he was the companion of Peter whose gospel closely reflects what Peter said and taught.

Church tradition has from the earliest times been unanimous that Mark visited the church in Alexandria in Egypt, possibly even founding the church there. His having founded the church is perhaps somewhat unlikely, as Christians surely ended up in Alexandria at a very early date. This was one of the three largest centers of Jewish population at that time. Eusebius tells us that Mark was the bishop of Alexandria. I have no reason to doubt this claim. Eusebius is the earliest source on Mark having been in Alexandria. There is some evidence which works against the testimony of Eusebius, which is that neither Clement of Alexandria nor Origen of Alexandria mention a connection between Mark and their church. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say, but this does slightly weaken the later evidence that Mark was in Alexandria. Coptic tradition says that Mark was martyred in Northern Africa in AD 68. Again, I have no reason to doubt this, but Coptic tradition has much to gain from associating the authority of the Gospel of Mark with their church, so we might want to be a bit cautious about this conclusion.

If Mark the Evangelist is John Mark, the one in whose room the apostles met in John 20 and the companion of Peter, and I believe he is, then surely Mark knew Jesus personally. The claim that he was one of the seventy sent out by Jesus is not confirmed in the New Testament. This seems like pure speculate from Coptic Christians to me, but it is possible.

2. I have not previously done much research at all about George. He was a fairly obscure figure in the primitive church. There is very good reason to think that nearly all of what has been written about George is pure myth. The story of the three resurrections certainly has the feel of late Christian mythology. The story of George and the dragon is obviously pure myth. I think it is best to stick with the very little we know about the martyr George from the earliest of authorities. We should dismiss nearly the entire Coptic or Catholic myth of George.

Here is what is likely to be true about George. He was a powerful and influential soldier in the Roman army–rising to the rank of tribune, which would have been fairly unusual, as he was a Christian. This was in the late third century when there were periodic episodes of very strong persecution. The account brought down to us from the primitive church is that when Diocletian demanded all Roman soldiers offer a sacrifice to the god Roma as a ruse to smoke out Christians, George refused to do so. This would have been in about AD 303. According to the tradition, Diocletian attempted to convince George to submit but he refused. He was subsequently beheaded, becoming one of the most revered of the early Christian martyrs. The story of George goes all the way back to the fourth century, when people who actually knew him would still have been living, making the bare bones of his story very likely to be true.

On question #3, Jesus said that we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. This is found in Matthew 5:37. What Jesus is saying here is that he wants his followers to be people of their word. To say “I swear,” is to imply that what you say is less true if you do not swear. I do not see this as a legalistic commandment against all and every possible form of swearing. The Jews were in the habit of swearing by the temple or by the presence in the temple or all kinds of other things. I super-dee-duper swear…. Jesus says that this is all nonsense. Let us simply be people of our word. But I do not believe that this is some sort of big doctrinal statement. It is a statement of principle.

For example, I do not believe that it means a person in court cannot swear to tell the truth. If a Christian is planning already to tell the truth, to swear to it is neither here nor there. The question is whether they are sincere in the first place. So, I do not believe that Jesus’ words are a doctrinal statement that Christians cannot “swear” or promise to do something under any circumstances. This would be to take a principle and change it into a command, which I do not think is what Jesus has in mind. Besides, as you point out, in certain very rare situations, even God swears to Abraham in Genesis and to us in Hebrews 6. This proves my point that it is not the swearing that is the problem, but the lack of being people of our word and trustworthy in what we say.

If God swears to something, it is not because he is capricious or that his word is not to be trusted. If God swears something, it is for our sake so that we can be even more confident than we already were. God said to Abraham in Genesis 22:16, “I swear by myself” that Abraham will be blessed and that his descendants will be like the stars in the heavens. In other words, Abraham, you can really count on this. God wants Abraham to feel completely secure in the knowledge that his promises will be fulfilled. The same is true in Hebrews 6. God is telling us that he swears, we will not lose our salvation if we are faithful to the end. God wants us to feel VERY secure in our salvation.

John Oakes

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