The Gospel according to Mark

Reading and listening to the Gospel

David Suchet reads Mark in St Paul’s Cathedral: Mark

As the new liturgical year creeps up on us, perhaps now is the time to take a fresh look at Mark’s Gospel so as to re-invigorate the proclamation. Shorter and seemingly less sophisticated than Matthew or Luke, Mark is nevertheless an arresting document which more than fully repays close reading. A good place to start is with the text itself, read—if possible—in one sitting. But which translation? Mary Phil Korsak, following on her remarkable translation of Genesis At the Start, has recently produced a vibrant version of Mark, with an introduction by Rowan Williams and accompanying images by Irina Zatulovskaya. Glad News from Mark is intended to capture the feel of the rough-hewn Greek and the edginess of the fleet telling. To achieve that, the historic present is rendered simply as the present tense, the use of punctuation is sparing and the lines are laid out as poetry. Here is a sample text from Mark 1:14-15:

After John was given up
this Jeshua comes into Galilee
He proclaims the glad news of god
Says, The moment has come
The kingdom of god is near
Change your heart
and trust in the glad news

A good companion to such a reading would be Hearing Mark. A Listener’s Guide by Elizabeth S. Malbon. This book grew out of talks Malbon gave to ordinary church-goers. Her conviction is that Mark was intended primarily to be heard, not read, and that hearing Mark changes the way we respond to the text. Malbon undertakes a more technical narrative analysis in two others books by her: In the Company of Jesus. Characters in Mark’s Gospel and Mark’s Jesus. Characterization as Narrative Christology. The author offers a multi-layered reading focusing not only what the narrator and other characters say about Jesus, but also what Jesus say in response to what others say to and about him. Such literary readings of Mark took off some time back with Mark as Story. An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel by David Rhoads and Donal Michie.

If your interest in Mark deepened, then I would recommend The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark by Gregg S. Morrison. He understands that two stories—the confession at Caesarea Philippi and the Transfiguration—constitute narrative hinges on which Mark’s story of Jesus turns. For a more overtly theological reading of Mark, two books come to mind, of which the first is to be used with caution. Charles A. Bobertz has published The Gospel of Mark. A Liturgical Reading. He wants to hear the Gospel as it would have been heard by the original community, practicing baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The project is good and does indeed invite a different kind of listening. However, the evidence is frequently made to carry more than it can bear. Used very critically, one can still see things in Mark one had not noticed before. A broader theological reading is offered by Brendan Byrne in his A Costly Freedom. A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. This book is wise and rich, making it an ideal companion to a more traditional commentary. In a very approachable way, with good use of diagrams, the writer takes the reader unobtrusively into the sophisticated literary world of Mark’s Gospel. His comment on Mark 16:8 gives the flavour: Perhaps the odd ending of the Gospel, the breaking off in midsentence, so to speak, is an invitation to allow our own lives to be written into the ongoing story—so that we too can be not only beneficiaries but also servants of God’s costly outreach to the world.

Two “big” commentaries stand out for me. The first is really not so new: Mark. A Commentary by M. Eugene Boring. It is satisfyingly detailed, theologically substantial, and (rarity or rarities) readable and anything but boring. It would be worth having the book for the introduction alone. Boring’s assessments are always informed and judicious, seasoned with common sense. My second big commentary is from a Belgian biblical scholar, Camille Focant. His The Gospel according to Mark makes a special effort to read the gospel as a whole. For each section of the Gospel, Focant offers his own translation, a reading list, an interpretation and verse by verse notes. He is engagingly sensitive to the telling and the location of stories within the Gospel.

Finally, a lectionary resource. José Pagola, author of Jesus. An Historical Approximation, has also written lectionary-based commentaries on all four Gospel, with a focus on contemporary relevance and application. The one for next year is called The Way Opened up by Jesus: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Pagola follows the Gospel sequence but there is a liturgical index guiding the user to the readings for each Sunday. Pagola is radical, disturbing and very invigorating.
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* = available for Kindle

Reading list

The books with an asterisk are also available for Kindle.

Bobertz, Robert, *The Gospel of Mark. A Liturgical Reading, Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic, 2016.
Boring, M. Eugene, *Mark. A Commentary, Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Byrne, Brendan, *A Costly Freedom. A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel, Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2008.
Donahue, John R., and Harrington, Daniel J, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Focant, Camille, The Gospel according to Mark, Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012.
Harrington, W., Mark, Dublin: Veritas, 1979.
, Mary Phil, Glad News from Mark. A translation of the Greek text, Kessel-Lo (Louvain): Van der Poorten Press, 2014.
Korsak, Mary Phil, At the Start: Genesis Made New. A Translation of the Hebrew Text, New York: Doubleday, 1993.
, Elizabeth Struthers, Hearing Mark. A Listener’s Guide, Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 2002.
Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers, In the Company of Jesus. Characters in Mark’s Gospel, Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers, Mark’s Jesus. Characterization as Narrative Christology, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009.
Morrison, Gregg, S., *The Turning Point in the Gospel of Mark. A Study in Markan Christology, Eugene OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014.
Pagola, José, The Way Opened up by Jesus: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Miami FL: Convivium Press, 2013.
Pagola, José, *(Spanish only) Jesus. An Historical Approximation, Miami FL: Convivium Press, 2009.
Rhoads D. and Michie D., Mark as Story. An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982.
The beginning of the good news