“The dominating purpose in each section of the Gospel is to answer the following: I, Mark, have told you [the unit under discussion] because…. Thus the primary purpose of this commentary is to explain not what happened in the life of Jesus or exactly what he said, but rather what Mark is seeking to teach by this event/saying that he shares with his readers” [pg. 19].
“Jesus is too great to be hidden” [pg. 25].
For the first 17 centuries of church history Mark was treated as a forgotten gospel, the “red-headed stepchild” so to speak. And why not? Some 90% of Mark is found in Matthew, and 50% in Luke. But Mark has an emphasis” The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God [Mark 1.1]. Everything he writes focuses on Jesus Christ.
Robert Stein pursues Mark’s purpose in this excellent edition in the ongoing BECNT series. The research is scholarly, up to date, and well thought out. The exposition is solid, deep, and readable. You may not agree with everything Stein says, but you’ll have your hands full looking to disagree with him.
I’ve gone ahead and put the Spoiled Milk section first, for though there are negatives, I don’t want the spoiled to outweigh the chocolate.
The Spoiled Milk
· For each pericope, there are gray boxes in the beginning and the end of the section under discussion. While the final gray box is much more applicable and puts Mark’s themes together from what we’ve read in the section and what we’ve read thus far in Mark’s gospel. However, the introductory gray box is in a league of its own.
Usually, Stein connects the current section with repeated words and phrases that Mark has used in the surrounding texts. Along with that, the major issue, is that Stein is well-versed in redaction criticism [RC]. While this is good and I have no problem with it, this comes out all over his commentary.
The difficulty is Stein does what the book promises to do! (which is to focus primarily on the Markan understanding of the Jesus traditions as reflected in this key New Testament book). Stein shows the understanding of Jesus traditions by Mark and how they have been interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) by others. Yet it was pure monotony to see what Mark said, ask if he really said it, look at what other interpreters have said for/against the text, only to then conclude that Mark really said what he said.
The result being that, although this is written for pastors, church leaders, students, and teachers, how many will really be interested in RC? Could pastors really use that information in their sermons for their congregations (even for their own knowledge)? What the BECNT series accomplishes well is showing the forest through the trees, and Stein doesn’t let us down, although the RC discussions can easily bog you down in their details.
· Also, at times I thought, “So what’s the point?” Again, space was often filled more with RC discussions than Mark’s intended meaning for the pastor/teacher to use. At times.
The Chocolate Milk
· Stein shows how each section fits with the one before it, after it, and often times in the context as a whole. There is detailed interaction with the Greek, covers problematic verses, and shows many of the themes and the purpose of Mark’s gospel. What is his purpose? What is his theology that we are supposed to take away to show us how to live and view the Christ, the Son of Man? Stein finds it and clearly (when it’s not RC) points out why Mark’s gospel had to be written and how we as a church and body of believers are to live today.
· Stein looks forward and backward in Mark to see how the present section relates to it, which is terrific. Growing up my struggle with the Bible was seeing how it all related, even in the respective books. Stein (and the BECNT commentators) strive to show the connections in the books and letters of the NT.
How and why does Mark go from Point A, to B, to C, and all the way to Z? What is the relation?
In Mark 8.18 Jesus asks the disciples, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Stein says this “alludes back to the healing of the deaf mute (7:31-37), and forward to the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-26)” [pg. 383] as if to show that there is something more than meets the eye to this situation. If Jesus can heal the deaf and the blind physically, can’t He, the Son of Man, the Messiah, also heal the disciples spiritually too?
Stein picks up on Marks use of “Watch” three times in 13.32-37 and how this theme is brought up in the Garden of Gethsemane text (14.32-42) in regards to Jesus asking the disciples (Peter, mainly) if they are sleeping. If they can’t even stay awake for Jesus’ time of distress in the garden [14.34], how are they supposed to keep watch for the return of the Son of Man [13.35]? And since “Peter did not watch, watch, watch (13:34, 35, 37)… as a result [he] denied, denied, curse/swore and denied (14:68, 70, 71)” (pg. 693).
His discussion on Divorce in Mark 10.1-12 was good too. Mark has no exception clause to divorce, and gives a good discussion on why Mark has no exceptional clause, how Jesus’ disciples are supposed to live as opposed to other people in the world, but also goes a bit into pastoral application and what pastor’s are to do with life situations in regard to this verse (while still counting in the Matthean and Pauline texts).
Regardless of any RC discussions, this commentary is definitely recommended. While I haven’t read France [NIGTC], J. Edwards [PNTC], or Garland [NIVAC] (and I think they would be good commentaries to read alongside Stein in their own right), Stein’s insights were especially helpful. And the size of this commentary certainly helped (the commentary text ends on page 738, with the book ending on page 823). There is certainly a lot to read! The summary box at the end of each pericope (section) is always welcome for it brings Mark’s theme and his Christological focus into your line of sight.
This was my #1 go-to commentary this semester, and I believe this commentary will help fill whatever purpose you have, whether pastoral, teacher/instructor, leading a Bible study, etc.
[Special thanks to Trinity at Baker Academic for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]