Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament II

Edited by Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall

InterVarsity Press, 1998 | ISBN 0-8308-1487-6

Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.

This is the first published entry in an ambitious 27-volume series that encompasses all of Old and New Testament Scripture through commentary and key writings by the early church fathers. Using contemporary computer technology, the editors are able to include from the patristic writers' vast corpus judiciously selected commentary on key passages and topics. The final goal of this ecumenical series is to create a Christian Talmud, a broad exegesis of Scripture written specifically for an interdenominational audience of lay, pastoral, and scholarly readers.

It is exciting to see this realized in commentary on Mark. The Gospel according to Mark is a short, fast-moving, dramatic narrative. Without any introduction, the story jumps right into the middle of Christ's ministry and continues with a single motif—hostility to his presence, ending with his death and resurrection as a divine appointment. So quickly does Mark tell the story that he hardly pauses to let Jesus himself speak.

This Gospel has maintained a respectable place in the canon of Christian literature. Early tradition had Mark as a disciple and interpreter of Peter, and that he had prepared the short Gospel as a written record of Peter's oral testimony. According to this tradition, it was written for worship purposes, with Peter's approval; other evidence places Mark as an early entrant into the corpus of Christian liturgical sources.

As Oden and Hall point out, there is no complete commentary of Mark that has survived the patristic period. The editors therefore had to find the most important commentary on Mark embedded in commentaries, homilies, letters, or treatises on Matthew, Luke, or John. With computers as critical tools, the editors succeeded in gathering this commentary, and arranged it in the old tradition of "catena," in which a chain of excerpts from patristic exegesis was used to elucidate a text.

Using the Revised Standard Version translation, the editors have arranged the commentary into distinct passages, usually several verses in length, and then follow that with pertinent commentary by any of the more than sixty ancient Christian commentators who appear in this volume—from relatively well-known patristic writers, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine, to such little-known commentators as Aphraates, Jacob of Sarug, Lactantius, and Prudentius.

The end result of this impressive display of modern computer-assisted scholarship is a volume that not only enlivens study of a cherished Gospel but also creates a bridge between our historical-critical method of interpretation and several centuries of Spirit-led exposition and reflection.

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Copyright © 1999 by Merle Harton, Jr.  All rights reserved