Top Five Mark Commentaries

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

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

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

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

27 thoughts on “Top Five Mark Commentaries

    • I almost always favor Witherington, but for some reason I do not have his book on Mark.

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  1. Have 3 of the 5 on my list:France, Edwards, Taylor. The other two on my top list is C.E.B Cranfield, Mark Cambridge 1959 and d. Edmond Hiebert, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, Bob Jones Press, 1994.

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    • I have found all of the BECNT volumes very useful, the style of the commentary makes for quick reading (ie., it is not as detail-rich as say, Green.) Stein is a fine evangelical scholar, and the commentary is an excellent pastors commentary.

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    • Great–thanks! I’m new to this blog, but look forward to reading my way through this series.

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  2. Hi,
    I am new to the blog too, from Australia. Which would be better to buy for sermon preparation – Stein or Edwards (I have Lanes older NICNT).Both are on sale at the moment.I want something readable, goes into good background depth (theology and culture at the time) as well as has some application. Also can you comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each. What do you think of Graland NIV application commentary too, thanks

    Cheers

    Steve

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    • All things being equal, I think Stein. That might be because I have used Stein more extensively, both have good exegetical features, although neither has the sort of homiletical value that the Garland commentary you mention has. The NIV Application series wasn’t included in the series, more or less because I restricted myself to five per biblical book. The volumes in that series I have used are intended to help the reader “bridge the gaps” between the world of the Bible and today. That is something that is secondary in the other two books.

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  3. HiPhillip,

    Thanks for the quick response. I had a read of a couple pages on line Edwards seems very readable and goes into the cultural/historical context which I love, Stein seem to discuss various views more with a bit more technical detail – Is that what you think?

    On 1 corinthains I have fees commentary and the smaller theisleton edition which I love. Do you prefer garland or Rosner latest offering, do they both agree with each other generally. Is there really advancement with Rosners been a newer commentary. Again which would be better (positve and negatives). I like depth but not to dry. They are on sale too – I would like to choose one of them.

    I am also choosing for Acts between Bock and Peterson (pillar), I have the old FF Bruce (NICNT) and (tyndale) I H marshall. Any thoughts there. On matthew I have keener smaller IVP is it worth getting the larger edition?

    Thanks in advance.

    Cheers

    Steve.

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    • I wonder if Stein has more “synoptic problem” than Edwards. It has been a while, but I know Stein did alot with that issue years ago, so that might come through into his commentary.

      I think that Thiselton on 1 Cor in the NICGNT series is just about the best thing going, although very technical at times. I do not have his shorter commentary, but I understand it is more “readable.” I like Fee, although (to be honest) I have just about the last copy printed in the “old” NICNT format, which is short and too fat. (some people say that about me, actually!) Fee has a couple of unusual ideas (women in 1 Cor 14, for example). Still, it is a very good commentary on grammar/exegesis, the historical and cultural is well done as well.

      I commented on the Acts commentaries on the other thread….Keener is usually good, but his mammoth commentary is the one to have!

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  4. Hi Phillip,

    Thanks for your response – much appreciated. I suppose Iam looking for a commentary that has depth but is very readable and good for sermon prep/bible studies etc. I find some technical commentaries very dry and I have limited greek. When you read Fee you can sense his passion when he writes. I find some schloars like keener and garland are great for sermon prep as they apply the text as they write from their perspectives. I was reading Leon morris on Matthew and you can sense his pastoral heart and warmth when he writes. I suppose that is what Iook for in a commentary depth with pastoral application or sense their passion for christ and his kingdom and for lost people. Sorry to waffle.

    You have been a great help, I will check out Stein a bit more and Keener on Acts however I have heard it will be a four volumne work which maybe beyond my budget.

    Cheers

    Steve

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  5. Mark has a number of good commentaries available now. I think France is excellent. The old standard by Lane still has something to offer. Rodney Deckers commentary in the baylor greek handbook series should be out this year and Voelz from concordia looks useful. Preachers will value Crane from wiff & stock and Kuruvilla preaching mark.

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  6. For Mark, how could you not include the 2 volume Anchor Bible Commentary by Joel Marcus or the Hermeneia volume by Adela Yabro Collins?

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  7. I just picked up Edward’s Pillar commentary and it’s surprisingly a joy to read. Thorough exegesis with a conversational writing style as if he were sitting right there in the room with you. I very much like the way Edwards puts things, such as Mark’s “sandwiching” stories. He’s inviting you to take a bite. I’m sure this commentary will make a nice companion to Yarbo Collins, Joel Marcus, and Robert Gundry. Good thing I don’t read Greek, or else I’d have French to deal with as well. Also, the Sacra Pagina Mark (Harrington/Donahue) is a solid introductory commentary for anyone who wants to test the water without getting bogged down in technical details. The series is generally inexpensive and about as “Catholic” as Brown, Fitzmyer, or L.T. Johnson.

    Thanks for all your recommendations. They’ve been very helpful in rebuilding my NT library.

    Just thought I’d throw this out there in case anyone is interested or listening.

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  8. I’m currently charging through The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin. This book provides excellent context for the commentaries of Marcus and Yarbo Collins (Lane even gets an honorable mention). The general thesis of the book (which Lane touched on in 1974 according to the footnotes) is that the foundations for a high Christology were already in existence 200 years before the birth of Jesus in Daniel 7. What that means, is that when Mark’s Jesus says the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, for example (having sovereignty over the Sabbath), the Pharisees would know exactly what he is implying (that’s putting things simply). Secondly, the dual nature of Father and Son found in the Ancient of Days and the one like a son of man of Daniel 7 created a climate in which a man could assert divinity and be taken seriously by some and be rejected by others. This dual nature of God was already present in Israel, and not imported later from the Greeks as others think (or thought). I find it all fascinating, both in content and in the controversies it has caused. You may too.

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    • I just took a look at this on Amazon, and yes, it does look good! I enjoyed reading Boyarin when I was prepping my dissertation, so I would like to see how he reads the Gospels. Thanks for the tip!

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  9. Boyarin’s discussion on Mark 7 (Jesus kept kosher) is quite an impressive bit of rabbinical argument. He argues that Jesus, in fact, did not do away with the Torah, but defended and re-instituted the Torah by exposing only the Pharisees’ addendums to the purity laws. He reasserts the parable of purity in 7:15 by re-inserting the missing verse 16: “If you have ears to hear”, making the parable about the Pharisees and not the Torah. Boyarin convincingly sees Mark as deeply Jewish (hardly the first to do so in Jewish Markan scholarship). I think the book is a must read for anyone studying Mark for it fascinating perspective and debate.The final chapter is titled The Suffering Christ as a Midrash on Daniel. It’s a biblical studies page turner!

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  10. Boyarin also talks about the North/South tensions and differences between the way people practiced Torah in Galilee and in Jerusalem, since the Pharisees came up from Jerusalem, which feuls the confrontation.

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  11. Hi Phil, or anyone else out there listening… Can you recommend a concordance for us non Greek readers, or a suitable NTGreek/English dictionary that might go a little further than some of the textual notes found in some commentaries, or that might provide an aid in reading a commentary such as France’s NIGTC? Thanks in advance for any and all recommendations.

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    • I am always listening….I ran across this site recently. It has the Greek NT, every word (or nearly?) is clickable. The form is identified (verb, noun, etc) and parsed, then it lists the Abbott-Smith lexicon entry, the old Strongs’s and KJV translations.

      http://www.gntreader.com/

      Of course this really does not help much if you do not know what an Aorist Verb is…I often suggest Bill Mounce’s Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek. He tries to explain these kind of grammatical / syntactical nuances for people who cannot take a full Greek class.

      Is that the sort of thing you are after?

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  12. That’s a sign post in the right direction, Phil. Thanks. I was looking at Mounce’s book online. And yeah, that Aorist verb does tend to pop up in commentaries. I find the English dictionary definition only confuses matters more 🙂

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  13. Hey, Phil! I was at Toronto’s one and only remaining theological bookstore and came across Mounce’s Interlinear For Rest Of Us. I think that’s what I was looking for. Something that gives me the Greek text along with the English. From there I can employ the dictionaries et al and maybe follow along the NIGTC volumes. Thanks again for the direction.

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    • I should have thought of that, although interlinear Bibles are not usually on my horizon. A guy in my church showed me the books maybe a month ago, otherwise I have not browsed it.

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  14. Having now surveyed a number of commentaries on Mark, here are my picks. I didn’t find a go-to commentary, rather I put together a team of commentaries to cross-reference (I’m still waiting for Eugene Boring’s NTL commentary to arrive from Amazon). I also remain open and objective when reading commentaries. I’m looking for a clarity in textual understanding, not confirmation of what I may or may not believe. I like to be engaged, challenged, and left to think on my own.

    First line:
    Center — Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8, Mark 8-16, Anchor Bible, Doubleday/Yale University Press, 2000, 2009 A solid technical commentary with excellent textual notes and exposition. Marcus favors a Syrian context which allows for dialogue with others who favor a Roman context.

    Right wing – Robert H. Stein, Mark, BECNT, Grand Rapids, 2008
    A comprehensive and scholarly detailed evangelical commentary with tremendous depth and readability. The blurbs on the back from Joseph Fitzmyer and Craig Evans are well warranted.

    Left Wing – R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002 I don’t read Greek, but I can use an Interlinear, and so can you to navigate your way through this classic. See Phil’s comments above.

    Right Defense: Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002. This is a somber and deeply felt commentary, rich in depth and rewards. “A reading of this mysterious gospel challenges us to hope in the midst of ambiguity and failure.” (24)

    Left Defense – Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (PNTC), Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002 If you just want the broad strokes, this is an easily digestible evangelical commentary that gives you the skinny with very readable prose. It does lack depth compared to Stein.

    Goalie: A. Y. Collins, Mark (Hermeneia), Fortress Press, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 2007 This is another technical commentary which I like to use as balance. Collins offers a wealth of secondary 1st Century literature to support her readings in placing Mark within its context.

    On the bench with plenty of playing time:

    Donahue, S.J., John R., Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Mark, (Sacra Pagina), A Michael Glazier Book, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2002 It seems 2002 was a big year for Mark commentaries. Like the Edwards volume, Donahue and Harrington gives us a respectful reading of Mark that doesn’t skirt the issues despite its relative brevity.

    Sabin, Marie Noonan, The Gospel According to Mark, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2006
    _______Reopening the Word: Reading Mark as Theology in the Context of Early Judaism, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2002
    I like Sabin because she dares to go out on her own and does not return empty handed. Her Midrashic reading of Mark offers new ways to look at the text within its Jewish context and brings to mind A-list biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine. Her arguments for alternate translations of key words stimulates discussion and opens your eyes to new possibilities of interpretation.

    I’ve left off a couple of heavyweights in Witherington and Gundry, which I have been reading, but I have yet to gel with those authors for personal reasons. Hope this is a help to some.

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