Person of Interest: Who Is the Naked Man in Mark’s Gospel?

November 22, 2013 | 8 comments

A few days ago I received the following e-mail query: What is the identity of the naked man in Mark 14:51-52?

This is one of those biblical mysteries that have always fascinated me, and I am certainly not alone in this. Believers have been puzzling over the identity of this young man in the linen garment for centuries.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with St. Mark’s account of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, in it the Evangelist describes a mysterious figure: a young man . . . with nothing but a linen cloth about his body who was seized by the Roman soldiers and “ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).

Here is the immediate context of these verses:

43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away safely.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all forsook him, and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

So who exactly is this young man? We simply do not have enough evidence from Scripture to determine who he is with any certainty. However, there sure has been a lot of speculation.

Who do men say that he is?

There are a variety of opinions. Let's touch on a few:

Some say he’s James.

In The Great Biblical Commentary, the eminent Jesuit exegete Cornelius à Lapide explores the various opinions held by several Church Fathers: "You will ask who this young man was: Saint Epiphanius and Saint Jerome think that he was James the Lord’s brother." Eusebius of Caesarea (the Father of Church History) writes that James wore a linen garment all his life, purportedly the one he abandoned in Mark 14.

Some say he’s John.

Lapide furthermore informs us that: “St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory, and Baronius, think the naked man was St. John the Apostle; for he was a youth, and the youngest of the Apostles. Moreover, Saint John remained faithful all the way to the crucifixion.” Lapide goes on to reject this opinion saying, “That it was neither John nor James, nor any of the Apostles, is plain from this, that Mark has just before said, ver. 50, then all His disciples, meaning, Apostles, forsook Him and fled.

Some say he’s Mark.

Lapide then moves closer to the predominant opinion held today, and the one I subscribe to: The naked young man in question is none other than Mark himself. "Theophylact and Euthymius think that the young man was some one from the house of John Mark, in which Christ had eaten the Passover. And more probably, Cajetan and others conjecture that this young man was a member or servant of a house adjacent to the garden, who, being awoke by the noise made by those who were apprehending Christ as they passed by, rose up from his bed, and ran to see what was being done. That he was a favourer or disciple of Christ appears from what Mark says, he followed Him."

As I mentioned earlier, most biblical scholars and exegetes today hold that the young man in question is Mark himself. His Gospel is the only one that includes this particular detail, which is viewed by many as a personal signature of sorts. Some contend that the Last Supper took place in the home of Mark’s mother, Mary (see Acts 12:12). It is entirely plausible that Judas Iscariot may have returned there first to betray Jesus. We can then understand how Mark (dressed in nothing but a linen garment) was suddenly roused from his slumber and, recognizing the treachery that was unfolding, rushed to warn Jesus. Mark could have also been awakened by the commotion caused by the large crowd seeking Jesus and followed them to Gethsemane. 

The following excerpt from A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture supports this theory:

Only Mark records this incident of the unnamed young man. He may have been roused from sleep by the crowd and followed them with a linen cloth wrapped about him. The fact that he followed our Lord in these circumstances suggests that he was a disciple or, at least, sympathetic to Christ. It is unlikely that mere curiosity explains his actions. Many writers hold that this is a personal reminiscence of the author of the Gospel and identify the young man with Mark himself. The insertion of this personal anecdote, which is not closely linked with either the preceding or the subsequent narrative, would be equivalent to the setting of Mark’s signature to the Gospel. The view is not certain, but it gives a reasonable explanation of an otherwise baffling narrative. It appears to be clear that we cannot identify the young man who figures in this incident with any of the Apostles—they had all fled.”

What particular theory do you subscribe to? Who do you say that he is and why?


Hector Molina is a dynamic lay Catholic speaker and apologist with over 20 years of experience in professional pastoral ministry and leadership in the Church. It was during his early years as a Youth Minister that Hector discerned his call to lay ecclesial ministry. He pursued his theological studies at...

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament - Leather
The only Catholic Study Bible based on the Revised Standard Version 2nd Catholic Edition, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament brings together all of the books of the New Testament and the penetrating study tools developed by renowned Bible teachers Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Robert J Lawrence - Sahuarita, Arizona

In verses 51 & 52, the 'who' is by far the lesser question, the 'why' is the question which hits the reader like a ton of bricks. Why would Mark put such an odd account of someone running naked in his Gospel?
The nakedness of the person is so random and out of place in the overall account. Seems the account should have naturally stopped at verse 50 and verses 51 & 52 came from somewhere else.
Fragment 1 of a Gnostic text, called by scholars, The Secret Gospel of Mark reports to have a similar episode. Food for thought.

November 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm PST
#2  Piet Houtman - Bilthoven, Utrecht

It is possibly a reference to Adam and Eve discovering their nakedness and hiding from God. Their sin was turning away from God and hide. The sin of the disciples of Jesus is exactly the same: turning away from the Son of God and run. The author of the Gospel may have added this as another hint to his readers that Jesus is God.

November 25, 2013 at 4:45 am PST
#3  Harry Ehmann - Bedford, Texas

I hold that the man in question is Mark. I have no other basis than my personal feeling that I too would have had the same human reaction.

November 25, 2013 at 10:42 am PST
#4  Chris Gammon - Sebastian, Florida

I don't know who the person is, or if he even represents an historical person, but I think Mark is telling us that God's judgement against Israel is imminent, that the parable of the tenants is being fulfilled. In this light, I believe that this passage is typological, pointing to the fulfillment of Amos chapter 2

(6) Thus says the LORD: For three crimes of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke my word; Because they sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals.

...

(26) And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD.

November 29, 2013 at 8:34 am PST
#5  Jerome Francis - Freeport, Pennsylvania

I have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and have never read where any saint prayed to Mary especially in the New Testament where the people saw her every day.As a matter of fact when Jesus was teaching and Mary wanted to see him no one said step aside for the blessed mother but they went and told Christ that his mother wanted to see him.He did not stop the service for the so called blessed mother but said his mother and father are they which hear the word and keep it.In the gospel of Luke a woman said unto him blessed is the womb that bare thee but he said yea rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.If Mary was such a figure to be had in reverence then Jesus who is God and all knowing would have told his followers and the early church to say hail mary"s to her.None of the Gospel writers nor any of the apostles especially Peter and Paul ever mention anything about her being the blessed mother.As a matter of fact Mary was in the upper room waiting for the out pouring of the Holy Ghost like everyone else So you see it"s all about Jesus and not Mary.

December 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm PST
#6  Robert J Lawrence - Sahuarita, Arizona

Jerome Francis, excellent points! You are definitely at the right website to address your concerns. Please use the search query at the top of the website and you'll get ALL the answers you need.
May you break the shackles of men and let God be your guide, I'm praying for you brother!

December 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm PST
#7  Jerome Francis - Freeport, Pennsylvania

My dear Catholic brothers, i don't want you to think that i am being an anti Catholic.I'm not,i'm just anti false doctrine and beliefs.Any one with an understanding of the scriptures will never place Mary on a pedestal,pray to her,say hail Mary's,celebrate lady's day or name church after her.In the Bible the church is called the body of Christ not the body of Mary.And forget the foolish notion that Mary is a perpetual virgin because she was not.The Bible clearly teaches that she had other children after Jesus.In Mat1V24 it clearly states that Joseph took Mary as his wife and had no sex with her until Jesus was born.From the union of Mary and Joseph came James Joses Simon Judas and several sisters Mat 13v35-36 David in psalms 69v8stated that Jesus mother had other children.Paul in the book of Galatians says that James was the Lord's brotherGal1v19 Jude says that he was James brother Jude1v1.In Acts ch1v14 Mary is in the upper room with her children waiting for the promise of the Holy Ghost like the others.So let Jesus Christ be your Lord and savior, and if you don't know him just ask him to come into your life and forgive you of all your sins After all he died and shed his precious blood for you on the cross,he arose the third day for you.

December 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm PST
#8  Michael Gray - Gilbert, Arizona

Dear Jerome,
You make a lot of good points in your statement however have you read some of the other posts, and tracts on this site? The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption is not as you say "false doctrine". One of the beautiful things about the Catholic Church is that it holds fast to sacred scripture AND sacred tradition like St. Paul says "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us". (2 Thess. 2:15). While the Bible doesn't outright say "hey guys by the way Mary the Mother of God was conceived without sin" from what the early church fathers (those who were ordained by the apostles themselves) taught we can get a clear understanding that it was believed Mary was conceived without sin. Also as far as Jesus having brothers, the Greek word used in the Bible for brother is Delphos, which is a very broad term. Also didn't you also refer to us as your "Catholic brothers" and yet we do not share the sane biology. This is what is meant when the term brothers is used. Now all of these questions and points are discussed on this website so I earnestly, as a brother to you in Christ through Baptism, look through the articles and videos that are available. Those who seek truth with earnest shall truly find it. God Bless I will keep you in my prayers.

February 23, 2014 at 4:49 am PST

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