Book Reviews

Book Review: Mark (SGBC), Timothy Gombis

The Story of God Bible Commentary is a relatively new Bible Commentary series, somewhat akin to the NIV Application Commentary (which has published its final volume), yet still different. One of the goals of this series is to identify the trajectories (historical, typological, and theological) from the OT to Christ in the NT. It exposits the text in its original context and as close to what the commentator believes the original author meant for his audience. The text is then read in light of the death and resurrection of Christ.

Timothy Gombis, has written on Ephesians, Paul, Paul’s vision for ministry, and now the Gospel of Mark. There are three sections to this commentary:

  1. Listen to the Story: the Bible text is provided along with background, a look at any earlier Scriptural passages, and surrounding literary connections.
  2. Explain the Story: Gombis explains each passage in light of the Bible’s grand story, starting with the OT context. The emphasis is on providing an accessible explanation of the passage, which Wright truly excels at.
  3. Live the Story: the intent of this series is “to probe how this text might be lived out today as that story continues to march on in the life of the church” (xvii). Gombis looks at how the context, in light of Scripture, should shape our lives. 

Introduction

Since Mark introduces his Gospel with Jesus and the kingdom coming near (Mark 1:15), Gombis takes you through the larger OT story to see God’s purpose for us in creation. Adam and Eve failed to carry out his commands, and while Israel was meant to be a light to the nations, they failed miserably in that task. They exploited the vulnerable among them, mistreated foreigners, and did not practice justice. After being either scattered by the Assyrians or captured by the Babylonians, Israel returns to their land. While waiting for God to fulfill his promises to his people, Israel is occupied by different nations until Rome comes in BC 63. As Gombis writes, “The setting for Mark’s Gospel, then, within the context of the story of Scripture, is again one of intense longing on the part of God’s people for salvation in the form of liberation from foreign occupation” (4). The people of Israel longed for God’s kingdom rule to save them. Not only that, many were spiritually held captive by demonic forces. 

“The UnGospel”

Gombis refers to Mark’s Gospel as the “UnGospel” because nothing seems to go the way it should. The disciples neither obey nor understand Jesus very well. They “rebuke Jesus, betray him, deny him, and abandon him” (5). Gombis writes, “Mark challenges its audiences since the disciples stand in for churches that hear it” (5–6). Mark challenges complacent Christians who fail to listen to Jesus. 

The Kingdom of God

Jesus brings the kingdom of God, “a socio-political and economic reality” that reshapes and upends social norms. It is a new way of life. God’s reign has arrived, and Jesus “calls everyone to enter it through concrete practices of service to the needy and hospitality to the marginalized,” two activities in Mark’s Gospel exemplifying what it means to “follow” Jesus as believers and communities who enact his reign (6). 

In regard to Jesus’ identity, Gombis writes, “Mark focuses most on Jesus’ identity as the suffering Son of Man, who is fully revealed as the Christ, the Son of God, on the cross, which is the means whereby God judges the present age and inaugurates the new-creation age of salvation” (8). Regarding Mark’s purpose, it is not so much to proclaim the gospel as much as it is “to remind Christians of the true character of the gospel” (12). 

After this Gombis looks at Literary and Theological Features of Mark’s Gospel such as: 

  • the disciples
  • discipleship in Mark, 
  • insiders and outsiders, 
  • the repeated us of “immediately,”
  • literary sandwiches, 
  • the secrecy motif, 
  • perception, 
  • and Mark’s ending. 

Gombis points out how often the discipels fail to “hear” and obey Jesus (8:17–18), yet other characters in the narrative “see” and “hear” Jesus and respond to him in better ways than the disciples. The demon-possessed man, Jairus, and the woman with the flow of blood all “see” and “hear” Jesus, and they run to him and fall down before him. The Syrian-Phoenician woman “heard” about Jesus. Jesus heals two blind men as parables pointing to the disciples’ need for his help (8:22–26; 10:46–52). 

Texts and Interpretations

2:23–28. The Pharisees have a meticulous view on the Mosaic law, nitpicking about everything, wanting to present to God a “purified people zealous for righteousness and holiness” (99). But this would be accomplished by means of the law as an effort to move God to bring salvation sooner rather than later. Jesus sees the law as having been given by God for Israel’s flourishing, offering wisdom in walking after God’s character. After this Gombis helpfully compares Sabbath rest with worldly career goals, achievement, upward mobility, the “demanding economy that orients our world” (101). It should be God’s way of life that orients our daily and weekly rhyhms. 

4:10–12. Gombis shows how this confusing text fits into Mark. Would Jesus want people to see and hear and repent? Isn’t that why he came? But for those who assume they are obviously in, such as the disciples who are told that they are insiders, are confused by Jesus’ words. Yet those who are clearly on the outside have no trouble understanding him. Insiders need to pay close attention to Jesus’ words to make sure they truly understand the nature of the kingdom. 

7:24–30. The Syrian-Phoenician woman, while appearing to be an outsider in every way, understands what is possibly Jesus’ most difficult parabolic saying in the whole Gospel. Culturally, she doesn’t “measure up,” but she grasps what the disciples cannot. Gombis notes, “Jesus delivers his most confrontational word, and she gives it right back to him” (254). She represents good soil that responds fruitfully (4:20). She is the only person in Mark’s Gospel who addresses Jesus as “Lord.” Her humble response shows her cultivated heart, whereas the disciples sarcastic reply show their utter stubbornness.  

13:24-27. Gombis believes that verses 24-27 refer to Jesus’ future coming which is separate and distinct from the age of destruction he has been talking about. In vv. 5-23, Jesus spoke to those around him, addressing them as “you.” Here, though, he begins to refer to “people,” a group other than his immediate audience. Jesus’ return will be separate from the temple’s destruction. Jesus does not say when he will return, only that there will be a gap, and that his appearance will have no signs to identify it. His appearing will be sudden, “and creation will violently react to his arrival. It will indeed be a great and dreadful day (cf. Joel 2:31)” (460). 

13:32-37. Jesus’ reference to “being watchful” and not to “sleep” refers to

“paying attention to what Jesus has said to do throughout Mark’s Gospel. Disciples are to cultivate communities that embody the cross-shaped Messiah by offering hospitality to the marginalized and serving the poor and needy. To be ‘sleeping’ means to become complacent about cultivating these sorts of communities. Communities that are “asleep” are those that are formed by the habits and social patterns of their surrounding cultures. The tragedy is that such churches and Christian communities will continue to exist, but they will be communities formed by the word of a kingdom with no cross. Satan will have snatched away the word. Or worries about other things will have crept in ever so subtly, so that other sorts of concerns smother the word and make it lifeless (4:15-19)” (462). 

14:35-42. In his prayer at the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wants to flee the coming terror of the cross, but he yields to God’s will. This is the exact opposite of the disciples’ requiest in Mark 10:35. Right after Jesus predicted his suffering and death (for the thid time), some disciples came up to him and asked, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask” (10:35). Gombis, rather than trying to “psychologize Jesus and attempt to distinguish between his humanity and deity,” notes that Mark doesn’t do so either. He portrays Jesus “as the one who faces down the horrible prospect of what awaits him,” and who “ultimately embraces that which must take place” (502). 

Recommended?

This is the sort of Mark commentary I have been waiting for. Gombis draws out Jesus’ subversion of worldly powers, self-preservation, and success, and instead he shows (or reminds) us of true success—loving God by loving others. Caring for those who are deemed worthless by the world. Gombis does well with exegesis, a literary-narrative reading, and application, but he doesn’t talk much about theological issues such as how Jesus didn’t know when he would return, how Jesus could try to get out of going to the cross in the garden of Gethsemane (mentioned above), or what it meant for Jesus to be forsaken by God when he was on the cross. This may simply be due to the fact that Mark doesn’t try to answer these questions for us, and just portrays Jesus as doing and saying these things. You will have to look elsewhere for answers to these questions. 

This is a commentary for laypeople, pastors, and teachers. His application sections are gold as well, and compel me to want to serve more for God’s glory, to love those who are not like me, simply because that’s what Jesus calls me to do. Gombis provides good, clear application, and has a keen eye for Mark’s irony. Gombis’s Listen and Explain the Story sections often aren’t very long, usually only being a few pages each, but he packs a lot of insight into what he has. This is a Mark commentary to put on your shelf, and it is one of the first I will grab when I need to study Mark. 

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

    • Author: Timothy G. Gombis
    • Paperback: 613 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan Academic (March 9, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: