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The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Paperback – January 8, 2001
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"Witherington intersperses homiletic asides within the flow of a clear, scientific treatise. . . His work deserves wide circulation."
Mark Allan Powell
"An impressive, reliable, and often surprising commentary on the Gospel of Mark."
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Witherington sees the gospel of Mark as an ancient biography of Jesus with a special focus on the passion narrative. The over-riding question behind Mark's account is: Who is Jesus? Mark may not be as polished in the Greek language as the other NT writers but his masterful use of literary devices such as chiasm, intercalation, strategically placed questions and so on sets him apart as a powerful communicator. In Mark, you also see many of the rough edges of Jesus' words preserved, which led many scholars to place this gospel earliest among the others. There are many such observations made in the commentary that illuminate our reading of this particular telling of the good news and help us hear the distinctive voice of Mark as he presents the Son of God to non-Jewish readers. Witherington gives his own translation of the Greek text which is often refreshing. For example the translation of 'basileia tou theou' as the 'dominion of God' helps one see the words and deeds of Jesus - the kingdom parables as well as the healings and exorcisms in the light of the inbreaking of God's reign in the world. For a reader like me with only a sophomoric grasp of Greek, the translation provides a unique angle for understanding such familiar biblical metaphors afresh. Included in the commentary are excursus where the good professor treats us to some insights into special topics of interest (eg the temple in first century Judaism, the controversial Olivet discourse in Mk 13, etc) These are neatly bracketed for those interested in these subject matters without interrupting the flow of the textual commentary. I also appreciate the section 'bridging the horizons' where Witherington masterfully draws the different strands of the foregoing pericopes together and help readers connect the message of Mark to the contemporary world.
I have not exhausted the merits of this commentary but I just want to say I like it a lot and it's one of very few bible commentaries I can read from cover to cover 400 plus pages notwithstanding!
Ben sees this gospel as an ancient biography of Jesus with Christ himself as the main character. He notes that Mark spends approximately 40% of the gospel on the last week of Jesus' life. For Dr. Witherington, the key verses of this Gospel are 8:27-30, where Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, and 10:45, where Jesus explains that He has come to give His life as a ransom for many. This is important because ancient biographies often focus on the lasting impact of both the life and the death of the subject.
Dr. Witherington holds to largely conservative evangelical stances on critical issues related to the Gospel of Mark. I appreciated the explanation of how Jesus ministered in Jewish lands in the first six chapters and then reprised many of his miracles in Gentile lands (the feeding of the 4000) to give a preview of the future scope of the gospel.
This book is very well written with a lot of exciting exposition and application. You will learn how Jesus being driven into the wilderness in Mark 1 and being with ther wild animals echoes the experience of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4. The exception is that Jesus is being presented as the TRUE and rightful king of the world.
You will also learn how Jesus' rebuke of the wind and the waves in Mark 4 is very similar to how Jesus rebukes demon spirits, showing his authority over both the spirit world and the physical world.
You will learn how the inbreaking of God's kingdom in the person and ministry of Jesus spells the end of certain aspects of the Mosaic law (Mark 7). You will also see how the blind man in Mark 10 and the woman who gave her two mites in Mark 12, and the woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Mark 14 are shown to be model disciples who follow Jesus and do an even better job of it than the Twelve.
Ben teaches that Mark 13 was mostly fulfilled in the years 30-70 AD, except of course for His coming in power and glory.
Ben contends that Mark didn't intend to end his gospel at 16:8, and that the original ending didn't survive. Shards of it may be preserved in Matthew's gospel.
But I've always felt that 16:8, whether the intended ending or not, was the perfect cliffhanger ending. It has the women disciples running away in fear, not knowing what had happened. It leaves the would be disciple with these questions: Will I follow Jesus in faith like the model disciples mentioned earlier? Or will I turn away in fear and uncertainty?
I'm also tempted to qualify the ancient biography classification by calling this a "specialized" biography. It not only answers the question "Who is Jesus," it also answers the question "Why it is worth it to follow Jesus down the path of sacrificial service and suffering?" The answer of course is that a. he has authority over sin, sickness, spirits, and society and b. We will be massively rewarded in this life and in the life to come if we follow Jesus in faith.
I should also say that this commentary doesn't have the typical structure of a more traditional verse by verse commentary. I would say it's more paragraph by paragraph. Some verses receive close exegetical, individual treatment, some have added excurses, other passages are skimmed over more generally. You will have to read closely to find information on a particular verse.
But it is much more interesting to pick up and read than the average commentary, and it will enrich your understanding of Mark's Gospel. I also like the Bridging the Horizons sections that apply the text to the world today (I wish more commentaries did this, and did it as well as this one does). Like all of Dr. Witherington's work, this book is interesting, informative, solid and illuminating. Thumbs up!