Mark has a special place in my heart ever since I co-taught it a year ago last spring at CCBCY. I had never taught through a gospel before, and though they are all worthy of study me, Mark’s allusiveness intrigued me. His use of hiddenness in order to reveal, the strange actions of Christ, along with Mark’s use of the OT descriptions and narrative to spotlight Jesus’ divinity and connection with Yahweh are all facets of Gospel theology I’d never really heard much of growing up. The Gospels were often harmonized to show the full story, rather than left separate to show each Evangelist’s unique perspective.
Mark Horne steps up to the plate to tackle the Gospel of Mark and to focus on Mark’s own perspective. Why did Mark write this gospel about Jesus, the Son of God? What can we learn from it? How does he explicitly and implicitly tell us? What is revealed, and what is hidden in order to be revealed?
The Chocolate Milk
Horne does a wonderful job of connecting each scene in Mark with what has happened previously or what will happen next. I’m still unsure of how the healing/confrontation scenes in chapter 1 relate with each other, but perhaps the more I read Horne’s commentary (and others), the more Horne’s view might make sense.
Horne does a better job than the commentators on how Jesus is the Son of Man in Mk 2.23-28. He explains 1 Sam 21 in context and how it fits with this confrontation scene in Mark 2. Not only, but he doesn’t skip over Jesus’ “Freudian slip” on Abiathar’s name! All that I’ve read about Jesus’ mention of Abiathar instead of Ahimelech as the high priest either write that this is a mistake of a scribe, Mark, or Jesus(!), that it’s really just a general term for that section of 1 Samuel, or that we really can’t know for sure (which is a better argument than the others). But Horne shows that Jesus is planning to overthrow the priesthood and bring in a greater priesthood. You’ll have to read it yourself, but it’s the best explanation I’ve read. (I haven’t read Nicholas Perrin’s essay in From Creation to New Creation, but I think both would be on the same track. A good post about that essay can be read here).
I never realized just how much food and meals show up in Mark. It’s all over the place! And often hints at the final banquet feast. Jesus eats with sinners now (yes, even Pharisees), and invites them to eat with him at that final banquet. Will they accept?
Horne shows how parables to Israel are not a new thing, but have been cast against Israel before in times of judgment (Ps 78.2; 2 Sam 12.1; Judg 9.1-21; Ezek 17, 24; Is 6.9-12). Not only parables, but the parable of the sower wouldn’t be unfamiliar to Israel, for they have heard stories, tales, parables, and judgments and promises about seeds before.
Horne makes definite decisions. Even if one disagrees, which I did at times, I’m glad to see a commentator who doesn’t waffle about when deciding what the text says. He makes a decision, and that is that. Agree with it or not, you know where he stands.
The Spoiled Milk
Some of his typology goes too far. This is to be expected, honestly, because he looks up to Peter Leithart and, ultimately, they both take some cues from James Jordan. I will say that I really like Leithart (His book A House For My Name is still one of my favourite reviewed books to date). But James Jordan (I reviewed his book Through New Eyes, and wasn’t impressed in the least), in what I’ve heard and read, makes some wild conclusions. Yet thankfully, in this book, much of it appears to be spot on, or close enough to it that I really enjoyed reading this book.
Still, something should be said about the typology in Horne’s commentary. In describing the four men who dig a hole in a man’s ceiling to lower their friend to Jesus Mk 2.4), Horne says this is a type of Elisha in 2 Kings 13.20, where a dead man is thrown into Elisha’s grave. Upon touching Elisha’s bones, he revived and stood on his feet. Is the scene in Mark 2 really a type of 2 Kings 13.20? I don’t see why it would be. The man wasn’t tossed into the grave in faith, but out of necessity from the marauding bands of men. I won’t go on, for this is one example of a mere few. Fortunately there aren’t too many more cases like this, none of which are extreme.
A minor point, but Mark reveals that John the Baptist corresponds to Elijah. They both confront a king and they both stay in the region of the Jordan in the wilderness, among other things. But Horne doesn’t explain just why Elijah. What is so special about Elijah? Is it simply because he is a greater Moses? Horne never really goes much deeper than this. It’s a minor complaint, but unfortunate nonetheless. Yet even when the typology “gets weird,” it makes you think, “Is this a legitimate connection? Is any of it legitimate? Why don’t I know this much about the Old Testament?” It gave me good cause and reason to read and study the OT (and the whole Bible!) even more.
Highly! I wish I would have had this book in my possession when I co-taught through Mark. While you might not agree with all of Horne’s arguments (and I don’t think you should, honestly), his insight is much needed. Some of the commentaries I’ve read look at the individual texts, and, while making connections with previous and future passages, usually don’t focus on the bigger pictures. Horne here, on the other hand, always keeps the bigger picture (with the story of the OT) in mind. He skillfully leads you back to the OT, and if you agree with him or not, you’ll become a better reader for thinking through his conclusions. I wish there was a longer edition for I would surely buy it up, but even so Horne packs a punch in 200 pages.
[Special thanks to Gene at Canon Press for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]