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Luke is compassionate and talkative, Matthew has his whole Jewish vibe, and John always speaks in riddles. What does Mark have going for him? The often forgotten scrawny brother is still angry at Matthew and Luke for stealing most of his material and getting popular from it. Often Mark is overlooked for these reasons, but we should think twice before dismissing him in light of his brothers’ brilliance. David Garland, author of the NIVAC Mark commentary, has offered A Theology of Mark’s Gospel as the latest volume in the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series by Zondervan, joining a solid lineup of Köstenberger on John and his letters, Bock on Luke-Acts, and Davids on James, Peter and Jude. But is Mark deserving of his own book? Could much be said about Mark? Garland thinks so, given that this is 656 pages long, 160 pages more than Bock’s 496 pages on Luke-Acts!

A Theology of Mark’s Gospel

A Theology of Mark’s Gospel  should not be confused with a commentary, as it is a different tool in the interpreter’s toolbelt. The Biblical Theology of the New Testament series zooms out and aims to provide a thematic overview of a book or series of books in the New Testament. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel is laid out as follows.

  • Chapter 1. Orientation and historical framework (60pgs). Authorship, connection to Peter, date, audience, relationship to the other Gospels, and style (e.g. intercalation, three-fold repetition).
  • Chapter 2. Literary and theological reading (80pgs). This traces the thematic development of the book by commenting briefly on each pericope.
  • Chapter 3. Mark 1:1-13 as introduction (44pgs). There are numerous factors to consider in these verses, including its length (1:1-13 or 1:1-15?), its use of the Old Testament, the role of John the Baptist, and the significance of the “wild animals” (Mk 1:13).
  • Chapter 4. Christological Titles (36pgs). How does Mark use titles (e.g. Son of David, Son of Man, Lord, teacher) and how does he address connected expectations (e.g. a military Messiah/Christ)?
  • Chapter 5. Enacted Christology (56pgs). What the narrative of Mark itself tells us about Christ, including His dominance over demons, His authority to forgive, His declarations regarding the Law and his role as Bridegroom.
  • Chapter 6. God (18pgs). God takes the back stage somewhat in this Gospel but we should not overlook His role. Here Garland addresses God as Father and king, and His involvement (and distance) in Jesus’ death.
  • Chapter 7. The kingdom of God (33pgs). Defining the kingdom, the nature and timing of the kingdom, the role and teaching of the parables, and the proper response to the kingdom.
  • Chapter 8. Secrecy motifs (20pgs). Mystery is a key element in Mark’s Gospel. Why are demons’ attestations to Jesus’ identity silenced? Why are recipients of healing often told to “tell no one”? Why were the disciples instructed to keep quiet about their recognition of Him as Messiah (Mk 8:30)? What was Jesus trying to accomplish?
  • Chapter 9. Discipleship (50pgs). The role of the disciples, the Twelve, their failure to understand, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, Peter’s denials, and the role of women.
  • Chapter 10. Discipleship’s costs and rewards (17pgs). In contrast to the previous chapter, the focus here is entirely upon the demands and rewards of being Jesus’ disciple.
  • Chapter 11. Mission (17pgs). What was the mission of the disciples, and how did it relate to Christ’s work? What does Mark have to say about the salvation of Gentiles?
  • Chapter 12. Atonement and Salvation (35pgs). What is Jesus accomplishing in His death? How are His actions in the temple related to His own work?
  • Chapter 13. Eschatology (28pgs). How is Jesus’ kingdom ministry related to the end-times hopes of Israel? What is the proper interpretation of Mark 13?
  • Chapter 14. Mark’s Ending (25pgs). A thorough investigation of the so-called “shorter” and “longer” endings of Mark and the potential reasons behind the debate.

This may or may not be a criticism depending on what the reader is expecting, but despite what I said above, the content of some sections is very similar to what would be found in a thorough commentary. For example, chapter 1 is a introduction to the Gospel that, while excellent, informative, and comprehensive, covers the same territory as commentary introductions. Chapter 2 is a concise theological summary of each of Mark’s pericopes. Chapter 3 is a thorough investigation of Mark 1:1-13. Since Mark’s content on eschatology is basically limited to Mark 13, and a few passages here and there, the section on eschatology is little more than an exegesis of that chapter. And finally, chapter 14 addresses Mark 16 in depth. So 5 of the 14 chapters are very similar in content and layout to what one would find in a good commentary. What’s more, the other chapters often amount to summarizing individual pericopes and their contribution to the theme in question. Unlike John with his Gospel and letters, Paul’s letters, the Catholic Epistles, or even Luke and Acts, Mark is a single work and thus there is less collation and harmonization required. This is no doubt what must happen when attempting to put together a theology of Mark! Even where similar to a commentary, the content is excellent and focused on theological themes. Let the reader decide if this is helpful or not.

While teaching through Mark, I wondered how best to utilize this resource. When studying for each class, I would read Garland’s survey for each pericope (chapter 2). This was helpful for grasping the big picture and contribution of each pericope to key themes and the overall book. From there, if a key theme was present, I would dip into the relevant chapter to gain a broad perspective. For example, if one is teaching on Jesus’ healing of leprosy (Mk 1:40-45), Garland has a section entitled “Jesus’ Power over Sin and Illness” within the Enacted Christology chapter. This section discusses other similar healings (Mk 1:29-31; 2:1-12; 5:21-43; 7:31-37) and what they have in common. Or when one encounters Jesus’ commanding a recipient of healing, “don’t tell anyone”, but no hint as to why, chapter 8’s discussion of Secrecy Motifs will be invaluable. At times, I wish I had read sections – or even chapters – before beginning to teach the book, as the perspective would have aided in my own thinking about Mark’s Gospel.

Following the table of contents is a more detailed version that runs across several pages. This is incredibly helpful for wading through this thick book and finding relevant material quickly. Garland Theology of Mark TOC The content is thorough in scope and sensible in arrangement. Garland and Zondervan have clearly worked hard to ensure this is a useful resource, and the end-result is a unique and invaluable tool in the interpreters belt. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel comes highly recommended for interested students, pastors and teachers.

Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a review copy.

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Book Info

  • Publisher: Zondervan Academic
  • Series: Biblical Theology of the New Testament
  • Hardback: 656 pages
  • Release Date: Oct 6, 2015