Did Mark Make a Mistake?
“I am confused about the identity of the ‘Philip’ mentioned in Mark 6:17. Some say that Mark has confused this man with ‘Herod Philip,’ who is mentioned in Luke 3:1. It is my understanding that Herodias divorced ‘Herod’ to marry Herod Antipas. According to one source, Josephus makes no mention of a ‘Herod Philip.’”
Who then, was the “Philip” mentioned in Mark 6:17? Did Mark make a mistake in identifying this man?
There is no reason to assume that Mark made a mistake, though some have so claimed. The historical facts are these:
There were two “Philips” in the Herod family. One of these was Philip the tetrarch, the half-brother of Antipas. He is the Herod mentioned in Luke 3:1. He was the son of Herod the Great by Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He reigned over certain territories in northern Palestine (Ituraea and Trachonitis) for a span of 37 years (4 B.C. – A.D. 34).
According to Josephus, he was a benevolent ruler who was admired by his subjects (Antiquities 18.4.6). He built Caesarea Philippi and Bethsaida (Julias). He married Salome (whose dance cost John the Baptist his head!), the daughter of Herodias; they had no children (Antiquities 18.5.4).
The other Philip of the Herod family was the first husband of Herodias; he is the one referred to in Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17. He was the son of Herod the Great by Mariamne II, a daughter of Simon the high priest (Antiquities 18.5.1). He was, therefore, also the half-brother of Antipas, who seduced Herodias away from Philip and “married” her. This union was denounced by John the Baptizer. Philip was disinherited by his father, and so merely lived a private life in Rome. He is not called “Philip” by Josephus – he is referred to simply as “Herod” (Antiquities 17.1.2; 18,5,1; Wars 1.28.4).
While liberal writers accuse Matthew and Mark of a mistake (Grant 1951, 734), a strong defense can be made for the integrity of both Matthew and Mark.
For one thing, some of the early disciples had close connections with the Herod clan (cf. Lk. 8:3; Acts 13:1). There was no reason for them to misidentify this man and make the mistake attributed to them.
The fact that Josephus does not call him “Philip” means nothing. There is no legitimate cause for disputing Matthew and Mark merely on the silence of Josephus.
Furthermore, as a general observation, we may note that the Gospel writers are much better known for their accuracy than is Josephus.
This “Herod,” mentioned by Josephus, could also have had the name “Philip,” just as the “Herod” who murdered John was also called Antipas, and the “Herod” who killed James was known as Agrippa as well (Acts 12:1ff).
There is, therefore, no legitimate cause for questioning the New Testament narrative which identifies the initial husband of Herodias as “Philip.”
- F. C. Grant. 1951. “Mark,” The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 7. New York: Abingdon.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.