Most Helpful Resources on the Gospel of Mark

This is a guide to preaching through the Gospel of Mark that I wrote for Amazon. It's geared to other preachers, but even if you're not a preacher, if you're interested in what commentaries on Mark I've found most helpful, it might be worth reading.

I have been preaching sequentially through the Gospel according to Mark and am now nearing the end of one of my best preaching journey's yet. This gospel is a fast-paced narrative that vividly presents Jesus as the the Christ, the Son of God, who comes preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and establishes the saving reign of God through his teaching, miracles, and supremely, his sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection. It is a literary masterpiece worthy of every preacher's profound reflection and homiletical effort. Here are the resources I've found most helpful along the way.

For preaching purposes, The Gospel According to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) by James Edwards has probably been my favorite commentary. Edwards is an excellent scholar who writes with a focus on the literary motifs of Mark and especially his theological message. The material on discipleship is excellent! The commentary includes a number of theological excursuses, and maintains a constant Christological focus. If you can only buy one commentary, get this one.

If you can afford to purchase two technical commentaries - and you know enough Greek to get around in it - buy The Gospel of Mark: New International Commentary on the Greek Testament (New International Greek Testament Commentary) by R. T. France. France is slightly more judicious than Edwards and listens very carefully to the text. I almost never feel that France has a particular theological axe to grind. His commentary on Mark 13 will not be persuasive to all, but should be carefully considered. All-in-all an excellent commentary.

David Garland's Mark (The NIV Application Commentary) is a superb commentary - most helpful in thinking through contemporary application. It's not just fluff. Garland knows the text well and has excellent literary and theological insights. But he always drives the main points home. This commentary has helped me immensely. I think any preacher would benefit from it. Get it!

The Gospel According to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (New International Commentary on the New Testament) by William Lane is somewhat dated now, but still a good third or fourth choice for an intermediate level commentary. I have often found it helpful, when I've had time to consult it. I wouldn't choose it over Edwards or France, though.

Ben Witherington's The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary is a not as thorough as the three above, but is helpful in unique ways. He pays close attention to the original historical context and often makes astute theological and practical observations.

Sinclair Ferguson's devotional commentary Let's Study Mark is simple enough for a layperson to read, yet is profound in its theological and practical insight. Ferguson combines the precision of an exegete with the depth of a theologian and the warmth of a pastor. That combination makes this a commentary worth reading!

Alan Cole's Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), a short and solid commentary, can't compete with Edwards, France, and Lane, but is still worth consulting as a third or fourth reference.

For preaching purposes, Kent Hughes' Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior (Preaching the Word) is a fine model of expository preaching and his two volumes on Mark are well worth consulting - as long as you don't steal his sermons! I have just skimmed most of the sermons, but have occasionally discovered really helpful illustrations or homiletical insights.

The nineteenth century Anglican bishop, J. C. Ryle, wrote St. Mark (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels), a devotional commentary. I found it helpful in suggesting practical lessons to glean from the text, even though it occasionally veers into overmuch pietism.

If you set aside his theology and just enjoy his many allusions to ancient history, William Barclay's The Gospel of Mark: The New Daily Study Bible is worth consulting.

Robert Stein's Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) was just released, so I've not been able to read most of it. But what I've read is wise and judicious - comparable to Edwards or Lane. The introductions and conclusions to each section are especially helpful, even if you don't read everything else. I would still want to balance it with France.

Several monographs also deserve a mention. Peter Bolt's excellent The Cross From A Distance: Atonement In Mark's Gospel (New Studies in Biblical Theology) traces the theme of atonement through the Gospel of Mark. I think Bolt stretches the meaning of the text in a few places (e.g. Mark 13), but his insights are still very suggestive for preachers who want to weave the gospel into all they say. I read this book through before starting to preach on Mark and am glad I did.

Isaiah's New Exodus in Mark (Biblical Studies Library) by Rikki Watts is a careful investigation of the theme of the "new exodus" in the Gospel of Mark. He traces the links not to Exodus itself, but to the prophecies of a second Exodus in Isaiah 40-66. This is a tough book to read with lots of untranslated Greek and Hebrew. But it's worth consulting and helps make sense of one of (not the only) thematic threads in Mark.

The Way of the Lord. Christological Exegesis of the Old Teatament in the Gospel of Mark. by Joel Marcus takes the key Christological passages in Mark and reads them in light of their Old Testament backgrounds.

For a nice blend of history and theology, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2), N. T. Wright's second volume in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series is one of most stimulating books I've ever read! I read it several years ago and it helped me read the Gospels in a new way. But don't read it uncritically. Wright has an unfortunate tendency of reading his thesis into passages where it's not there. A helpful balance is Carey Newman's Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. That said, this is still well-worth reading for any serious student of the New Testament. Wright's popularly written Mark for Everyone is based on that research and includes some of those insights (and some excellent illustrations), but carries the same weaknesses as well.

If I could only have three of the above books, I would get the commentaries by Edwards and Garland and Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. Want to throw in two more? Get France and either Stein, Lane, or Witherington. You can always check the monographs out of the library. If you want to purchase, I recommend Bolt first, then Watts. If you want to add one more devotional commentary to the mix, go for Ferguson. Enjoy!

8 comments:

Jeremy said...

Thanks, this is very helpful. But I could not help but notice the phrase "overmuch pietism" with respect to JC Ryle. What do you mean by that? I think he would turn over in his grave if he knew that he was being accused of pietism! In his book on holiness he seems to take aim at pietism, among other things.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Thanks Jeremy. You're right - Ryle does nail pietism in Holiness. Nailed me. I don't really mean pietism in the theological sense of the word. i think what I was thinking of is a kind of devotional application that seems quaint today. But pietism might be the wrong word for that.

Steve said...

Hi Brian,

I enjoy your comments on the various commentaries on Marks Gospel. Which is better for historical/cultural context and for preaching - stein or edwards. I have lane but I want to buy one more commentary.
Cheers
Steve.

Steve said...

Hi Brian,

I enjoy your comments on the various commentaries on Marks Gospel. Which is better for historical/cultural context and for preaching - stein or edwards. I have lane but I want to buy one more commentary.
Cheers
Steve.

Brian Hedges said...

I didn't read enough of Stein to make the comparison, but Edwards is excellent through and through. You might also consider Witherington, who is particularly good on the cultural and historical context.

Steve said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks, I have ordered Edwards and will compare with Stein in the bookshop. What do you prefer for Acts - Bock or Peterson, for I Corinthians Rosner or Garland. What are your recommendations for Matthew and Lukes Gospel
Thanks in advance.
Cheers
Steve.

Steve said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for your advice. I Ordered Edwards and will compare with Stein in the bookshop. Just a little more advice for Acts - Bock or peterson, 1 corinthians - Rosner or Garland and your recommendations for Matthew and Lukes Gospel.
Cheers
Steve.

Brian Hedges said...

Peterson on Acts, as well as John Stott. I haven't read enough in 1 Corinthians to advise, though I have found Fee helpful. Bock is very good on both Luke and Acts. For Matthew, I'd choose R. T. France. And D. A. Carson on John.