Review: Mark (ZECNT)

Mark ZECNT

Mark Strauss, as far as I can tell, seems to be seems to be a fairly new on the block. He’s done some work before this commentary, most of which has come out in the last 5 or 6 years (Four Portraits, One Jesus, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth, Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church).

Strauss divides Mark into two main divisions*:

  1. The Mighty Messiah and Son of God [1.1-8.30]
  2. The Suffering Servant of the Lord [8.31-16.8*]

Some of Strauss’ views are:

  • advocates for Markan priority (the first gospel to be written)
  • uses various methodologies to illuminate the text for us
    • historical-critical
    • social-scientific
    • narrative-criticism)
  • and says that “Mark appears to have been the first to produce a connected narrative of the public ministry of Jesus” (p 27).

He agrees with the traditional approaches that say

  • the author is John Mark
  • whose audience was probably in Rome in the late 60s.

*(Strauss believes that the text ends at 16.8, and provides a five-page Appendix on the discussion along with his belief as to why the longer ending should be rejected).

Commentary Divisions

You can find my more detailed discussion of this section in my Matthew review.

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation and Graphical Layout
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Theology in Application

Example of the Graphical Layout 

(The example is from the Matthew commentary, but can be found here and here).

The Chocolate Milk

Layout

Again, each section of the ZECNT’s layout is beneficial for the reader. Each section either breaks down the information in different visual ways for the reader to understand the progression and the flow, brings to light exegetical information on the text, or draws out application for the life of the church. Strauss’ commentary is readable even for the non-specialist. Strauss covers details of the Greek text (active/passive voice, perfect/past/future tense) which most likely for many will still be understandable. I don’t know how to read Greek, but much of the discussion is still understandable.

In Depth Boxes

There are gray In Depth boxes strewn throughout the book for deeper study into an idea. Here are a few:

  • The Kingdom of God in Jesus’ Preaching [p 80]
  • Jesus the Exorcist and Miracle Worker [p 96]
  • Jesus as the Son of Man [p 123]
  • Parables about the Kingdom of God [p 179]
  • Josephus and Mark on the Death of John [p 263]
  • The Jewish Expectations for the “Messiah” [p 361]
  • The Random Saying of Mark 10:45 [p 459]
  • The Messiah as the “Son of David” [p 469]
  • The Jewish Passover [p 622]
  • Who Was Responsible for Jesus’ Death? [p 681]

They can range from one page, to two, to three pages, and there’s much to offer in them. For example in the Explanation of the Text while Strauss doesn’t delve much into the meaning of the kingdom of God being close at hand, he does examine it in the In Depth section. These sections are especially helpful in figuring out why these issues matter and what do we do with them, such as with the difficulty in understanding Jesus’ parables. Why are they difficult and how do we go about interpreting them? I was quite fond of the In Depth section, and wasn’t expecting to see them as Osbourne didn’t have them in the Matthew commentary. They were a big plus.

Under some of the Structure sections, Strauss examines

  • Parallels between Mark and the other two Synoptic gospels
  • Parallels between the third passion prediction
  • Parallels between Jesus’ passion week
  • Parallels between the Eucharistic words at the Last Supper

Sometimes Strauss will examine other parallels, like

  • The two large food feedings in Mark 6 and 8
  • Jesus and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration

Theology in Application

At 784 pages, this is a full commentary on Mark. Strauss has done a good job at providing us with a solid, evangelical commentary on Mark, one that looks at the structure of the text, what it means, and how we can apply it today. Like with Osbourne’s Matthew commentary (my review), my favourite section is the Theology in Application. Strauss can’t cover everything in the Explanation section, but often what not covered is dealt with in the TiA arena. This series is geared towards pastors and teachers who need a solid understanding of the NT, and all readers will enjoy the TiA section, for Strauss writes on a level that puts the cookies on the bottom shelf.

Theology of Mark

A concluding section on the Theology of Mark is immensely helpful, pulling together themes on

  • The Identity of Jesus
    • Christological Purpose
    • Christological Titles
  • The Message and Mission of Jesus
    • Proclaiming and Inaugurating the Kingdom
    • Suffering as a Ransom for Sins
  • Discipleship
    • Responding to Jesus’ Call
    • The Positive Model of the Disciples
    • The Negative Model of the Disciples
    • The Positive Model of Jesus

This section, though placed at the end of the book, should really be read first for any teacher or student. To know the overarching themes of Mark before studying the book helps to place each section into the big picture, which is important to know for every person, student or teacher.

The Spoiled Milk

Grammar and Flow

I would have liked Strauss to spend either less time with some of the more exegetical details, or more time one what is actually happening in relation to the surrounding context. There are other divisions on the commentary that help with this, but they only span a few sentences. Often I find that Strauss digs more into the exegetical details (what the Greek says, different verb tenses, what a word may/may not mean) than he does in actually explaining the text and its meaning to the reader. Yes, there is a TiA section, but I couldn’t always see how the story flowed from one verse to the next.

Break It Down

While not a major fault, unlike Osbourne’s Matthew commentary, Strauss doesn’t break the text into as many chapters as Osbourne. It’s most likely that Strauss made the sections longer because it would follow Mark’s longer structure of story telling (the scene with the Geresene demoniac in Mark is the longest of the three Synoptic gospels with a length of twenty verses). But at other points, this longer structure made it more difficult break down the text.

For example, in chapter 44 of the commentary, Strauss comments on Mark 11:12-25, which covers the cursing of the fig tree, cleansing of the temple, and the resulting withered fig tree. I understand that this is a Markan sandwich and can be seen as one unified whole. Along with that breaking the text down into three sections would mean Strauss would have to provide three TiA sections. However, the point of the ZECNT commentary is to break down the text and show how it provides for the bigger picture. This isn’t a deal breaker, it just simply isn’t as nice as Osbourne’s Matthew volume.

Recommended?

The ZECNT commentaries are very accessible to anyone who will take the time to read them. They certainly help to break down the passage, which is one of the most important aspects of studying the Bible! It’s uber important to know what the text says (Explanation of the text), but it’s especially important to know the structure of the text and how it’s broken down [arcing] into it’s respective parts (according to the Greek). Pastors, teachers, and laymen will benefit from Strauss’ commentary, especially with the Theology in Application sections.

This is still a great commentary, mainly due to the structure of the ZECNT commentaries. There’s not much here that you won’t find in other commentaries, and though I was disappointed that Strauss didn’t draw out certain highlights like Mark’s use of the OT (even though he read those commentaries), I know that there is no single commentary that can give all of the answers. So while Strauss isn’t Timothy Geddert or Rikki Watts, his volume is still a fine commentary to get, though it’s not the only one you will want to own.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (October 7, 2014)
  • Amazon: US; UK; CA

[Special thanks to Emily and Zondervan for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Review: Mark (ZECNT)

  1. Thanks for this review of this commentary

    Like

  2. Chita

    Thanks for the good review. Though I would have loved if you compared it Stein and probably a few other Mark commentaries. So if I was to choose between Stein and Strauss which one should I go for and why?

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    • Good question! I should have written more about that on here. It really depends on what you’re looking for. Stein is great and clearly has been studying Mark for a long time, but he focuses a lot on redaction criticism (RC). His commentary is an “exegetical” commentary, but it’s frustrating having to wade through conversations about the understanding of Jesus traditions by Mark and how they have been interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) by others. But it’s 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. I just don’t see many pastor’s making full use of Stein’s volume unless they are really interested in RC.

      Strauss isn’t “simple,” but he’s much more readable. Looking back, I’d say he really is a good combination of other commentaries (though I wish he had incorporated more of Rikk Watts analysis of Mark), and his application sections are very helpful.

      Like

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