As one of the earliest and most prominent of the “bibliobloggers,” Jim West has long endeavored to make the fruits of biblical and theological scholarship available to those outside the walls of academia. Additionally, he has produced his For the Person in the Pew commentary series which readers will now be able to access with additional research tools on the Logos Bible Software. The intended audience of this series is neither fellow scholars nor students writing research papers, but it is designed to equip Christian laypersons to grasp the gist of each biblical book. For this reason, West describes his project as a no-frills commentary, without extensive outlines or footnotes, and featuring the biblical text in bold followed by West’s exposition.
West’s starting point in his commentary on Mark is that the text was likely the earliest extant Gospel narrative and was originally written for Roman Christ followers. It could be noted that, while the Roman provenance has the external patristic tradition from Clement of Alexandria onwards (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.6; Adumbrationes on 1 Peter 5:13) and some internal evidence (e.g., latinisms) in its favor, it is also the case that the text of the Gospel itself has no explicit address and Markan scholars are divided over whether to locate its author in Rome, Syria or Galilee.
West further emphasizes that Mark wishes to impress upon the Roman audience an image of Jesus’ overwhelming power and authority, which reminded me of the similar theses put forward by scholars such as Robert Gundry or Adam Winn. Finally, West’s note on the parenthetical aside in Mark 13:14 indicates that he places the Gospel in the immediate aftermath of 70 CE as he argues that the reader would have connected the abomination of desolation to the Romans who defiled the temple.
West’s pastoral heart is evident in how his exposition generally seeks a direct application for the reader on topics such as faith or obedience. In many cases he offers suggestions for the reader on how to deal with the more challenging passages in Mark such as the meaning of blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:28-29), the distance the demonically-possessed pigs had to run from Gerasa to the Sea of Galilee (5:1), the choice of the diminutive kynarion in reference to the Syrophoenician woman (7:27), the use of spittle in healing (7:33; 8:23), the question about the flattering address to Jesus as “good teacher” (10:17-18), the extreme difficulty of salvation for the rich (10:23-26), or the predictions that some still living would witness the kingdom in power or that the eschatological signs would happen in this generation (9:1; 13:30) with varying degrees of persuasiveness.
He occasionally calls upon the other New Testament Gospels to clarify a point in Mark’s text such as the identification of the tax collector Levi with the apostle Matthew (cf. Matt 9:9; 10:3) or the accusation that Judas was an untrustworthy handler of the group’s money purse (cf. John 12:6). West also helpfully includes various diagrams or maps as well as excursuses taken from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) on baptism, exorcism, crucifixion, burial practices, and so on.
At times some articles appear to me a bit dated, especially the excerpts on the Jewish parties or the anachronistic view of Jesus’ debates with the Pharisees as prioritizing the “spiritual” over “ritual,” and I would have liked more discussion on Mark’s intertextuality or the social and political implications of the Markan Jesus’ eschatological proclamation of the kingdom in the context of Roman imperial rule of Judea and Galilee in terms a lay audience could follow.
Nevertheless, West accomplishes his goal of communicating the basic theological messages of Mark to a lay audience and a small group Bible study or Sunday School class may use his commentary with profit.
Mik Kok, PhD
University of Sheffield