The first commentary on the Gospel of Mark was written in the sixth century, and between “AD 650 and 1000, thirteen major commentaries were written on Matthew, but only four on Mark” (Strauss, 20). Despite the long neglect, much study has been done over Mark’s short Gospel for more than the last century.
Eckhard Schnabel, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell and author of Acts (ZECNT), Early Christian Mission (2 volumes), and 40 Questions on the End Times, replaces Alan Cole’s Mark volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series with a Christmas meal—441 pages of commentary on the shortest Gospel. While adding to the growing list of commentaries, Schnabel (who is also the TNTC’s series editor) did not write a commentary of commentaries on Mark. Instead, writing for pastors, students, and laypeople, he comments on the meaning of Mark through theological reflection, historical points of reference, the meanings of words, and the literary development of the characters.
Schnabel gives very little attention to Markan priority (whether Mark’s Gospel was written first), saying that Markan priority “continues to be plausible,” but that “these questions are more significant for commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” (4). Thankfully, Schnabel examines the text and not a possible Markan community behind the text, though he does acknowledge future Mark’s clarifications for Gentile readers (14, 162).
He takes Mark to be the actual author (12), probably writing from Rome for various churches (14) anywhere between 50–64 AD. We don’t know what Mark’s sources are, but if Papias is correct, Mark’s “most significant — and perhaps the only — source” was Peter (18). Mark ends his Gospel at 16.8. Abrupt endings are attested in antiquity, and within the Bible Jonah ends abruptly and Acts ends with Paul still alive and his legal case unresolved. To paraphrase Demetrius (whom Schnabel quotes), some points need to be worked out be the hearers themselves (22-23).
Schnabel disregards William Wrede’s hypothesis of Mark’s “Messianic secret.” If there is nothing messianic about Jesus or his ministry, then there is no explanation for his death, nor is there any explanation as to how his disciples transformed their “unmessianic master into the Messiah after Easter” (25).
Mark does not have a “vendetta” against the disciples (29), but merely gives an “unvarnished” (aka, authentic) look at their pre-resurrection responses to Jesus (30). Nobody imagined a Messiah who would die, and though on occasion Jesus does rebuke the disciples, he often explains himself to them.
Schnabel divines Mark into four pairs of three’s:
- The Beginning of the Gospel (1.1–13)
- Heading (1.1)
- Jesus and John the Baptist (1.2–8)
- Jesus declared Son of God and conflict with Satan (1.9–13)
- Jesus’ Messianic Authority (1.14–8.21)
- The kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority (1.14–3.6)
- The Twelve and the kingdom of God (3.7–6.6)
- The Mission of Jesus Messiah and the Twelve (6.6–8.21)
- Jesus’ Messianic Suffering (8.22–15.47)
- The revelation of the Messiah’s suffering (8.22–10.52)
- The confrontation in Jerusalem (11.1–13.37)
- The suffering and death of Jesus Messiah (14.1–15.47)
- Jesus’ Resurrection Announced (16.1–8)
- The women at Jesus’ tomb (16.1–5)
- The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection (16.6–7)
- The reaction of the women (16.8)
4:10–12: Jesus tells parables to conceal the kingdom of God from outsiders. They are intentionally veiled. Many cannot see or hear the kingdom of God in Jesus’ miracles, exorcisms, and through his teachings. Judgement will come because they do not want to truly listen to God (13.1–37). Schnabel interprets through the lens of the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus (1.14–15).
6:49–50: Jesus’ “I am” statement (see also 14.62) is not a declaration of divinity.
7:24–30: Having just taught his disciples about what is clean and unclean (vv. 14–23), Jesus enters “unclean” Gentile territory. Jesus doesn’t “change his mind” when the Syro-Phoenician woman gives the right answer; rather, she passes his test. She (a Gentile “dog”) can eat the crumbs under the table simultaneously while the children (Israel) are eating. Though Jews generally saw dogs as unclean, “dog” (kynarion) here is a pet “present at a meal in the house” (173). This Gentile woman has more spiritual discernment than the Jewish leaders.
8:1–10: Mark is not repeating himself here; this is not the same event as in 6.30–44. Jesus is in Gentile territory (Isa 25.6; 49.6; Acts 1.8; 2.39).
13:24–27: Jesus’ second coming is at a separate, indeterminate time from 13.1–23. Jesus no longer focuses on the city of Jerusalem, the local councils, or even the seasons (winter, v. 18), but on “the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the ends of the earth and the ends of heavens” (330).
14:35–36: Jesus “does not have inner doubts about the value of his death. Jesus’ prayer to be spared death conveys the excruciating anguish that senses the terrible reality of suffering the judgment of God, dying as a ransom for the many (10:45), shedding his blood to seal the new covenant (14:24), dying as a sin offering (Rom 8:3), becoming the place of God’s atoning presence (Rom 3:25), becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13) ” (364).
14:51–52: Whoever this young man is, he shows that all have forsaken Jesus. In terror, the young lad would prefer to be shamefully naked and save his own skin than to be caught being with Jesus.
Schnabel provides much good historical and factual information on various people (Pilate, p. 394-95; the Sanhedrin, p. 373), places (Jerusalem, p. 261), and the timing of the Passover (350-51). Some of these details seem a bit much, such as the possible “House of Peter (1.29–31), heights of various mountains in Israel, and how a clay lamp was made in Galilean workshops (4.21). It can make the text seem too busy, and I personally think some of these details would work better as footnotes. Still, his points on why people go “up” to Jerusalem (247), just how the friends could dig their way through the roof of a house (65), or who Barabbas was (400), help make sense of the text. Schnabel is a careful exegete and historian.
Unfortunately, there are no indices in this volume (or in any of the Old and New Testament series).
I’ve read (chunks of) quite a few Markan commentaries. Schnabel’s volume isn’t going to break new ground, but he is trustworthy when it comes to biblical exegesis and exposition. He keeps the Gospel’s context in view in his theology sections, making sure that he doesn’t interpret something apart from anything else Mark has said, and points to Christ as our one and true Savior whose death ransomed sinners and inaugurated the new covenant. The pastor, student, Bible college teacher, and layperson would be filled with this huge 441 page meal.
- Author: Eckhard J. Schnabel
- Series: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Book 2)
- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (June 6, 2017)
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