Introduction. Mark commentaries usually do not spend as much time worrying over the synoptic problem as Matthew commentaries do primarily because virtually all scholars consider Mark to be the first gospel written. While there has been some interest in the sources Mark may have used (see the intro in Vincent, for example), most recent commentaries find this layer of tradition inaccessible and therefore do not speculate excessively on Ur-Mark (the original form of Mark, Mark’s source, etc.) More important than sources is Mark’s literary style and the genre of “gospel.”
R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2002). As with all the writers in the NIGTC series, France is an expert on the Greek text of Mark. The commentary has less background material that Evans, but is rich in exegetical detail. That is not to say that France is ignorant of the Hebrew Bible or other Second Temple Period literature, but only that his main interest is the Greek words in the context of Mark. France surveys the synoptic problem briefly, giving quite a bit of weight to John Robinson’s theory of cross-fertilization. In the end France concludes “I do not need a solution to the synoptic problem.” He approaches Mark as a storyteller who has created a long narrative in three “acts.” Like many commentaries on Mark, Peter’s confession in chapter 8 is the clear turning point of the book, dividing France’s first two “acts,” Galilee (1:1-8:21) and On the Way to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52). The third act in the drama of Mark at Jerusalem, beginning in Mark 11.
Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001). Evans finished the Mark commentary for the Word series after Robert Guelich died unexpectedly in 1991. Guelich’s commentary is excellent, but Evans’ work is even better. The commentary follows the general pattern of all WBC volumes (bibliography, translation and text, form and structure, commentary, explanation). Although Evans is contributing to a commentary begun by another scholar, he has included a 63-page introduction to Mark which covers a number of issues not covered in Guelich’s original commentary. Evans only briefly comments on typical introduction issues, preferring to up-date and extend the original introduction. His section on the theology and purpose of Mark is excellent. But what sets this commentary apart from the rest is Evans’ use of Second Temple Period literature to illustrate the world of historical Jesus. For example, his comments on the Parable of the Vineyard provides references to several rabbinic parables which may be considered as parallels Jesus’ own parable. The section of Jewish divorce practices is brief, but contains a wealth of secondary material (p. 84-6). Bibliographies for each pericope are extensive, there are five pages for the Parable of the Wicked Vineyard tenants!
Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1993). Unlike his original Matthew commentary, Gundry’s Mark commentary is more focused on the text of Mark alone. This would have to be the case given his interest in Matthew as an editor of Mark, there is no real “redaction criticism” possible for Mark. The result is an exegetical commentary which is sensitive to the text and aware of the broader theological issues at stake. What sets this commentary apart from the rest is the “notes” section for each pericope. In the main commentary section, Gundry makes scant reference to other scholars, he simply lays out the meaning of the text. After his section, he includes a section of “notes” in which he surveys the opinion of virtually every modern scholar on the topic at hand, including major German and French scholars. The type is smaller in these sections and he cites his sources only briefly, making these sections dense but rewarding.
James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002). Edwards’ commentary is in the Pillar series, edited by D. A. Carson. While the series is designed for pastors, most of the volumes will have an appeal to scholars as well. Edwards has an excellent introduction to the gospel of Mark, the highlight is his discussion of Mark’s Christology. Since the commentary is aimed at pastors, Greek is transliterated and text-critical issues are relegated to footnotes. I especially appreciate his use of the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature. The result is a very readable and useful commentary which will serve the busy pastor well.
Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (1952, second edition 1966). Originally published in 1952, this commentary was republished in the early 1980s by Baker as a part of their Thornapple commentary series. This is how commentaries used to be written for pastors – with the Greek text running across the top of the page and textual notes in two columns beneath. Vincent’s comments on the Greek focus on syntax, citing Blass, Moulton, Turner, etc. His 150 page introduction is a window into the state of Gospel studies in the mid 20th century, critical yet respectful of the text – Mark is “an authority of first rank for our knowledge of the Story of Jesus.”
I will mention one other classic commentary here, even though this violates my “top five commentary” rule. Henry Swete’s 1902 commentary on the Greek text of Mark is available from Google Books (now, Play Books) as a free download. This is an oft-cited classic commentary on Mark which is well worth consulting.
Conclusion. What have I left out? What commentaries on Mark have you found useful? What classic commentary on Mark should be read by all students of the Gospels?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation