New Testament Commentary Reviews: Mark

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Thousands of commentaries have been written about the Bible, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. Commentaries are often divided into three categories:

  • Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.

  • Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.

  • Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Greek text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Koine Greek to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of Greek will find these commentaries useful.

My recommendations identify which category each book falls into. Some commentaries overlap; when they do, both categories will be noted (e.g., Pastoral/Technical). The recommendations are listed in order of their helpfulness to Bible students, teachers, and pastors.

The Gospel according to Mark

Mark is the briefest of the the four gospels, but it boasts some of the best commentaries. Below are six I use regularly and recommend for your consideration.

  • One of the first commentaries I reach for when studying the Gospel according Mark is by James Edwards in Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2001). Pastoral. Edwards had been a Markan scholar for more than twenty years when he wrote this commentary, and while he avoids technical issues, his deep familiarity with the gospel is evident on every page. Get this one first; it will really ground you in Mark’s gospel. There is a good balance of theology, historical background, and language help. All Greek is transliterated. Several excursuses (detailed explanations) on important background issues: women in Mark, the Transfiguration, Pontius Pilate, Son of Man, Son of God, the Hellenistic concept of the Divine Man, etc. Pastors and teachers will find this resource especially helpful.

  • My second recommendation is actually my favorite commentary on Mark. It was written by Richard France for the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2002). Technical. I’ve listed the NIGNT second because it has lots of non transliterated Greek text that will be intimidating to some, but don’t let the Greek text scare you away. France offers terrific insights on the culture and historical setting, and his language helps will benefit all readers. Very accessible for a technical commentary.

  • My third recommendation is by Robert Stein in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2008). Technical/Pastoral. I really like the format of the BECNT. It looks at the text verse-by-verse, but it is laid out pericope-by-pericope. Very helpful for teaching. Stein does a good job of explaining what the text means, and that’s usually what I’m looking for in a commentary. Transliterations are provided alongside the Hebrew and Greek text. I treasure my well-marked copy of this commentary and recommend it without reservation.

  • Another useful analysis is by William Lane in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1974). Like other volumes in the NICNT, the use of Greek text is confined to the footnotes. This commentary has been around for a more than forty years and is in need of revision, but Lane has some good insights, and it’s still worth having.

  • A fifth recommendation is The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 2001), by Ben Witherington. Pastoral. A specialized commentary that focuses on the cultural setting of the gospel–info that can add detail and color to a lesson or sermon. The Greek words in the text are not transliterated, but they are few. A big plus is Witherington’s lucid writing. It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative, and I can’t say that about many commentaries.

  • After spending time in the books mentioned above, I find most of my questions about a passage in Mark have been answered, but your needs may be different. If you want to go deeper into the Greek text, the two-volume technical commentary by Robert Guelich and Craig Evans in the Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson, 1989, 2001) is a highly respected work that would be an excellent companion to France’s NIGNT volume.

Did I miss a commentary you are interested in? Drop me a line. These are not the only resources I am familiar with–these are just my favorites.

Next: Recommended commentaries on the Gospel according to Luke.

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