Boring, Commentary on Mark

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I am teaching Mark again this year, both online in Semester 1 and face to face in Semester 2. It has provided a good opportunity to get to know some of the more recent commentaries on the Gospel that had previously passed me by (or that I had passed over as I made use of Hooker, Moloney and Marcus – the three commentaries I know best). It has been a delight to start to work in more detail with M. Eugene Boring's Mark: A Commentary (New Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006). Although now a few years old, I have only just started reading and using it in earnest, and can thoroughly recommend it, not least to preachers in this Year of Mark.

Of special importance is Boring's insistently theological reading of the Markan story:

"[T]he story is about God, who only rarely becomes an explicit character, but who is the hidden actor in the whole drama, whose reality spans its whole narrative world from creation to eschaton, and who is not an alternative or competitor to the view that regards Jesus as the principal subject. To tell the story of Jesus is to tell the self-defining story of God." (3)

Boring makes the creative suggestion (building on his earlier research) that the author of the Gospel is suspicious of literary reminiscences of Jesus that took the form of sayings collections (Boring thinks that Mark knew Q or a Q-like collection). Such collections were 'dangerously open to contamination by sayings of Christian prophets' (14) and in their place 'Mark' writes an unparalleled (much less like a Graeco-Roman bios than many would suggest) and subversive narrative which is fundamentally kerygmatic rather than sapiential in its intent.

All of this has no small contemporary resonance. The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel takes its rightful place in the context of the claims that the Gospel makes about the identity of Jesus – no ethics without Christology. For that reason alone it would be a useful commentary for any preacher seeking to direct a congregation's attention towards the key kerygmatic intention of gospel texts (kerygmatic in the sense that they both narrate the gospel and call for decision). But this is a commentary that also draws on the latest Markan scholarship (throughout there is a judicious supporting case made for Marcus' deeply apocalyptic reading of Mark), leads the reader clearly into the detail of the Markan text, provides any number of helpful summaries and excurses, and is constantly alert to the text's capacity to surprise the reader into new ways of understanding.

The Markan text for the coming Sunday (2nd in Lent) is Mark 8.31–38. Here are a few lines from Boring's commentary on that section:

"The call to deny oneself does not mean to relinquish the enjoyment of certain things, as though doing without or enduring suffering as such made one holy or a disciple of Jesus. The word translated "deny" (aparnesastho) is found elsewhere in Mark only in reference to Peter's denial of Jesus (14:30,72). "Deny" is thus the opposite of "confess," "acknowledge"; the hearers are called to deny themselves rather than deny Jesus, that is, no longer to make oneself the top priority and the center of one's own universe … likewise, taking up one's cross does not refer to the inconveniences, or even the sufferings, that are a part of human life as such, as often interpreted when one's troubles are described as "just the cross I have to bear." The Markan Jesus is not commending endurance of the inevitable pains of life, but the voluntary taking up of the cross as sharing the suffering involved in discipleship and Christian mission." (244)

If you haven't yet bought a commentary to accompany you through the year of Mark, I can highly recommend the Boring commentary.