Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ancient Christian Commentary: The Gospel of Mark

Mark (The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is a unique commentary series. Scholars and computer technology comb the writings of ancient Christian writers on particular books of the Bible. It is considered to be an ecumenical project with general editor Thomas C. Oden. This series, which receives high praise from J.I. Packer, Richard J. Neuhaus and Bruce M. Metzger, is an attempt to bring awareness and understanding to Christians concerning ancient beliefs.

Scholars familiar with ancient Christian writings offer hand-selected portions of these texts. I recently received my review copy on The Gospel of Mark, free of charge, from InterVarsity Press. There are 284 pages. Besides the commentary there is an introduction to Mark, biographical sketches, timeline on the writers of the patristic period, an index of contributing ancient authors as well as an appendix: Method of Investigation into the Early Exegesis of Mark.

Oden and company suggest that “the early church widely regarded the author of Mark’s Gospel as the authentic voice and interpreter of Peter.” (pg. xxi) The earliest ancient writing confirming Markan authorship is Papias (AD 60-130). Eusebius and Jerome would both agree to Markan Authorship.

Eusebius records this account and says “But now we must add to the words of [Papias] which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark.” (pg. xxi). Africa, Asia and throughout the northern Mediterranean have several Christian texts quoting the Gospel of Mark from early times. The view that Matthew and Luke share literary dependency on the writings of Mark is an idea that did not develop in full form until around the nineteenth century. Oden and Co. also suggest that Markan priority is debatable since “there are notable proponents of the dependence of Mark on Matthew.” (pg. xxix)

This commentary purposely omits addressing the textual issues surround the long or shorter ending of Mark. Instead, it simply gives the citations of ancient writers in order to determine how they interpreted this text. Scholars such as Maurice Robinson argue for the longer ending while Daniel Wallace argues against.

The Apostolic Constitutions, a fourth century writing, quotes vss. 17-18 in their entirety. They suggest, “these gifts were first bestowed on us the Apostles when we were about to preach the gospel to every creature. Later they of necessity were afforded to others who had by the apostles come to believe. It is clear that these gifts were not given for the advantage of those who perform them, but for the conviction of unbelievers, that those whom the word did not persuade, the power of signs might put to shame.” (pg. 239)

This commentary set can be appreciated by the layperson and the careful academic alike.

Mark (The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)

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