Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Author: Robert H. Stein
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
I would like to thank the fine people at Baker Publishing for sending me a review copy of Mark from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. The author, Professor Dr. Robert H. Stein, is Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He previously taught at Bethel Seminary and is a reknown scholar on the synoptic gospels. He has authored other books including: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. He was one of the N.T. consultants for the ESV Study Bible.
John Mark is traditionally known as the writer of the Gospel of Mark but Robert H. Stein is open to accrediting its authorship to another Mark. Stein looks at the internal evidence, as well as, external evidence. According to internal evidence, Stein says that “it fits well the tradition of the early church that it was written by John Mark.” Stein also refers to external evidence: (Papias in Eusebius, Eusebius, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome). However, he also raised arguments against Markan authorship in looking at an alleged geographical error (Mk. 12:25-13:4) and the author’s ignorance of Jewish laws and customs (Mk. 7:3-4). However, for me personally, it doesn’t matter if it was the John Mark of Acts 12:12 or another Mark. I still regard the Gospel of Mark as holy scripture: inspired by the Spirit of God and authoritative for the church of Christ.
Stein believes the second gospel was directed to an audience of Greek-speaking Christians, likely living in Rome, who were familiar with the gospel traditions and very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion. The date of the writing of the Gospel of Mark is still debated. It was likely written around (AD) 70 CE but Stein is open to the possibility of some time shortly after 62 CE. Internal evidence pointing to allusions of the Jewish War in Mark 13 “abomination of desolation” also makes sense. I think some time around 68/69 CE after Nero’s death was likely.
Stein also believes that Mark was the first canonical Gospel written, and along with Q, served as a source for both the gospels of Matthew and Luke. He is of the opinion that:
…a cautious use of redaction criticism in Mark is both possible and profitable….Traditional redaction criticism is nevertheless not as holistic a discipline as it first seems, for it is primarily concerned not with the evangelist’s theology as a whole but rather with his unique theological contribution (p. 18).
Stein sees Mark as an historical narrative but not a narrative in the fictional sense because of the historicity of its accounts. The historical events surrounding Jesus’ life controlled what Mark could write or not write. Stein seems to feel more comfortable describing the Gospel of Mark as an historical biography. As a result, he wrote this commentary for the purpose of explaining what Mark was trying to teach through his sayings and the events in the gospel. He did not write this commentary to show exactly what Jesus said or explain the life of Jesus. So perhaps a biography rather than a narrative would be more accurate but both terms accurately describe this gospel.
Steins view of Mark’s Christology is formed out of his miracles, words, actions and titles—typical things; but what intrigued me was his view of Jesus’ “messianic secret.” I had never paid much attention to Mark’s Jesus who was reluctant to reveal his secret messianic identity, which was kept secret until the trial and crucifixion in Mark 14:61-64; 15:2-39. He gives his reasons for this—for averting an immediate confrontation with Rome because Pilate would not tolerate a popular charismatic teacher who drew the attention of the masses. This shows that Jesus was not killed as a political revolutionary. Stein says he was killed because of the hostility of the religious leaders. Second, Jesus’ messianic secrecy serves as a “literary device to highlight the greatness and glory of Jesus” (p. 25). Since Jesus is too great to be kept a secret, this inability to keep his messianic mission a secret, in itself, becomes the literary device. This point is an interesting spin worth noting.
The commentary provides both Greek spellings and a transliteration of the original Greek. Stein pays attention to the Greek. Concerning Mark 9:31, he states:
The use of the iterative imperfect…indicates that the subject of Jesus’s future passion, death, and resurrection had been a constant theme of his teaching since 8:31…Thus the variation in the passion predictions could have a historical basis in Jesus’s having taught this “theme with variations.” The use of the futuristic present tense “will be delivered” … indicates the certainty of this future event” (p.439).
This is something that most readers and pastors do not pay attention to so I appreciate this attention.
Stein questions the authenticity of passages. Regarding the disputed verse of Mark 10:45, he draws attention to its interpretation and authenticity. He states:
The question of whether 10:45 is due to the theological reflection of the early church or came from Jesus himself tends ultimately to be answered according to one’s preconceptions concerning the historical Jesus. If one assumes the historical Jesus was radically different from the Jesus of the Gospels, then one is predisposed, almost compelled, to deny the authenticity of this verse….It is much more likely that Jesus saw his mission along the lines of the suffering servant of Isaiah… (p. 487).
Given the approach of the BECNT series, Stein is allowed to challenge the status quo but he does not allow himself to get caught up in challenging the status quo for the sake of staking new ground in one’s research. In liberal biblical theology, new discoveries for the sake of new research seems to be the ultimate goal, but it risks putting authenticity on the line which can actually lead to inauthentic scholarship. Stein’s approach to theology is conservative but he takes into account the latest critical scholarship. This gives me reason to remain confident in the new evangelical scholarship.
Stein also covers the important issues like historicity by mentioning various viewpoints. Regarding the widow’s great gift in 12:41-44, Stein states:
The historicity of the account is often denied on the basis that Jesus could not have known how much the widow contributed to the treasury or that the widow had contributed all that she had (Haenchen 1966: 432-33). In addition, some claim that the present account was originally a parable that has been transformed into a historical account (Dibelius 1934: 261; Nineham 1963: 334-35). Yet Jesus might have known of the amount of the widow’s gift by overhearing the attending priest, who would have examined the widow’s offering and directed it to the appropriate receptacle. All that transpired would have been spoken out loud (Gundry 1993: 731-34; J. Edwards 2002: 380-81). The widow’s appearance may also have betrayed her situation (Evans 2001: 284) (p. 577).
The BECNT series doesn’t allow the reader to get lost in the forest of details (as some commentaries, e.g., WBC, ICC, may have a tendency to). I like that because I can get the big picture and pick up on the pertinent issues of a text rather than wade through a sea of details. Personally, I prefer a commentary that deals with the big picture of a pericope without getting bogged down with too many details. Much of the details are useless to the heart and thrust of a sermon anyway. What is the point of spending valuable time reading from commentaries and not be able to use the information one has learned? Stein’s research is thorough and he references other scholars. He pays attention to existing scholarship, yet, he is able to keep the commentary in a succinct format that brings out the important points.
Robert H. Stein has written a fine commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Stein leads the reader through the important points in detail while keeping the eye on the big picture. I like this approach. This is good for pastors who want to get the important and relevant information faster. I am impressed with this commentary, and I am confident that as this series expands, BECNT will become established as one of the top premier commentary series in evangelical scholarship. Another fine piece of work for Baker Academic!