Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Victory According to Mark, review

The Victory According to Mark, Mark Horne
(Canon Press, 2003), pb., 200 pp.

I am not familiar with this author, but I was drawn to this book after preaching through the first half of Mark. The promotional material noted that this commentary paid particular attention to OT backgrounds of much of Mark, and I think that is an important (and often neglected in the commentaries) point.

This is obviously not a technical or comprehensive commentary. It is English based (though with clear awareness of Greek), theologically oriented and often moves naturally to application. These points make it helpful for sermon preparation. It is written from a Reformed, Evangelical perspective.

First, then, some particulars. The Table of Contents would have been much more useful if the chapter titles also included the scripture reference of the portion covered in each chapter. Horne’s chapter titles are creative and interpretive so that the Table of Contents will not tell you where you can find a discussion of a given passage. The first page of each chapter does list the passage dealt with in that chapter (except for chapters 7 & 8). The Scriptural index is useful since he so often deals with OT texts. Also, Horne accepts the longer ending of Mark and provides exposition of it.

Horne notes in his epilogue various influences on his thought and he mentions the influence of N. T. Wright. This influence is abundantly clear throughout (even the title seems to reflect this influence). This is a fine thing, as the commentary then shows a pastor seeking to work out in this gospel the implications of some of Wright’s ideas on Jesus. However, I am still not completely convinced of all of Wright’s ideas so I found myself questioning some of the directions in the commentary. For example, should the coming of the Messiah be seen primarily as God’s return from Exile? I am drawn to aspects of this thought, but I am not ready to allow it central place in the exposition. It is just not certain enough in my mind.

Another key aspect of the commentary is the interest in OT background of the thought in the gospel. The importance and relevance of the OT in Mark is certain. However, I think Horne overplays this quite often. For example, his treatment of the cutting off of the ear of the High Priest’s servant is entitled, “The Circumcised Ear” (178). Horne says this wound “is significant” and suggests this is a sign to Israel, “a sign that the nation needs its ears opened that the people may no longer be servants, but have the status of full sons in the household” (178). This is rooted the piercing of the ear of slaves in the Old Testament. Frankly, without any further evidence, I find this fanciful. To be fair, this may be one of the most far fetched examples but it does illustrate a tendency.

Lastly, this commentary can be a helpful addition to the standard commentaries as it explores theological and canonical connections. The standard commentaries then can help reign in some of the excesses. I still think the best overall commentary on Mark’s gospel is David Garland’s volume in NIV Application Commentary series.

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