Commentaries on Mark

The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading
John P. Keenan
Orbis Books, 1995.
410 pages.

Keenen uses Buddhist categories (such as "dependent co-arising") to examine Jesus' message in Mark. It is a useful way of analyzing the ways that those who encounter Jesus try to close the rift in the universe that Jesus opens. People want categories to put Jesus in, be it revolutionary, or kind man, or even guru. But one thing that seems to be true about Jesus is that he cracks open whatever category you approach him with. He will not be put in an analytical box, and that can make people very angry.

Yet, Keenen will not fall into the trap of equating this with radical postmodernism. He wants us to empty ourselves of interpretive assumptions, but this is not to just adopt a nihilistic stance of opposition to everything. His analysis of the Geraseme demoniac (which he retitles "Emptiness Ineptly Grasped") illustrates this well.

A lengthy review by Robert Fowler is here.

Saint Mark (The Pelican New Testament Commentaries)
D. E. Nineham
Penguin, 1963, revised 1969
460p, Indices for scripture, ancient writings, authors and subjects

This is probably quite dated by now, but I retain a soft spot in my heart for my yellowing copy as it was one of the first serious commentaries I read.

A comment by Nineham in his introduction is even more true today: "That many readers should be as surprised as they probably will be [at the historical critical content of a commentary] is a sad reflection on the extent to which all denominations do so little to keep an increasingly educated laity informed about the progress of biblical study."


One might date that passage by the use of the word "progress" in connection with "biblical study," we don't really believe in that any more. However, it reflects Nineham's purpose. He wants to write an introduction for educated and intellectually curious readers who are coming to the Bible from other fields. This worthy goal also dates the book, we don't expect people to be intellectually curious any more. Nineham assumes that you would be attracted to the book by its erudite writing and your interest in the subject, rather than being entertained.

In this regard, Nineham's introduction is a quite useful tour of basic issues in the critical study of the New Testament, focused, of course, on the Gospel of Mark.


The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text
The New International Greek Testament Commentary
R. T. France
Eerdmans: 2002
720 pages. ISBN: 0-8028-2446-3

The NIGTC series positions itself as intending to be somewhat conservative, to deal in detail with the Greek text as well as to focus on the theology of the book.  France is in that mold.  He considers Mark as a storyteller, even as a “raconteur.” Thus he is doing very much a literary critical approach to the text.  There isn’t much here on history of interpretation, form criticism, etc. He focuses on Mark as Mark, not as a defective first draft of a gospel.   

A couple of examples.  He take the two-stage healing in 8:22-26 as a bridge passage, linking both what came before and what followed and sees this unique story as referencing the disciples inability to clearly “see” who Jesus is. 

In discussing the ending he takes the view that 16:8 isn’t likely to be the real end of the text.  While ending at 16:8 excites us moderns due to its existential, open, daring character, he thinks it very unlikely that Mark or his culture would see it that way.  He thinks the real ending has likely been lost and 16:9-20 was written later to replace what was lost.  While he defends what is a minority view, his discussion of the topic is sober, presents other points of view fairly and he definitely has reasons for his view. 

That is typical of the entire commentary.  Albert Lukaszewki in a review for SBL called the book a “model of tempered scholarship.”  I agree.  Even if you disagree with a specific conclusion, you will find much to appreciate in his careful, reasonable, and intellectually honest presentation. 


The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary
Francis J. Moloney
Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002
394 pages, indexes. $30 list.

ISBN 1-56563-682-1

This commentary is neither overly technical, nor superficially 'spiritual.' Moloney describes the technical arguments in non-technical language. He focuses on literary interpretation of the text. It could be a very useful textbook for students who are getting introduced to academic analysis but don't want to be overwhelmed by it. There are ample footnotes pointed to the literature for those who want to dig deeper. He has a brief introductory essay discussing the usual suspects: author, place of origin, etc. His view on the location is well done: if we didn't have the tradition of Roman authorship, there is not very much in the text that would suggest that location - while at the same time, there is so little evidence that it can't be ruled out.


Mark 1-8 (Anchor Bible)
Joel Marcus
Doubleday: 2000
563 pages. Indices for authors, subjects and scripture, a few maps and diagrams.

This is certainly going to be an improvement over the previous volume of Mark in the Anchor series. Marcus has an intelligent introduction to the vexed questions of author, origin and intended audience. His verse by verse commentary has the by now expectedly wide command of the literature and exhibits close examination of the gospel.

If it sounds like a "but" is coming, well, one sort of is. I keep noticing where he announces conclusions in the old Germanic style of commentary where no evidence is offered - "this is to be preferred" that sort of thing. There just aren't enough footnotes to keep me from getting slightly uneasy at times. That's probably unfair in that Marcus hardly does this more than many other authors, and his wisdom and judgment are certainly earned from years of experience. But, I just find myself putting this into the "good" category, not the "excellent" one. I'd still add it to my library and consult it, no question.


Mark's Gospel: A History of its Interpretation from the Beginning Until 1979
Sean P. Kealy
New York: Paulist Press, 1982
269 pages. Indices for authors, subjects and scripture.

Mark was, for centuries, an overlooked gospel, without the same volume of commentaries that were produced for the other three. Kealy reviews interpretations of Mark giving 24 pages to the first five centuries, 27 to the middle ages through the 18th century, 32 for the 19th, and the rest of the book for the 20th.


A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of Mark
(Helps for Translator Series)
Robert G. Bratcher, Eugene A. Nida
London: United Bible Societies, 1961
520 pages, indices.

This work is, as the title indicates, intended to help those translating the Bible into other languages. Thus, it focuses on issues of precise translation: how do you translate "sheep" if the society doesn't have sheep, or, equally serious, regards them or shepherding very differently than the culture of the Bible.

Reading this or any volume is a fascinating study in the slipperiness of language and a good antidote to people thumping away on the King James Version.


"The Challenge of Mark"
Currents in Theology and Mission
Dec. 1993, v. 20:6

Series of articles on Mark oriented towards preaching.

Last updated 11/8/06; first posted 10/6/00; © 2006 John P. Nordin