7 Questions on Mark in the Through Old Testament Eyes Commentary Series
Andrew T. Le Peau is a writer and editor living in the Chicago area. He was the long-time associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press where he worked from 1975 to 2016. Before that he was a campus staff member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, serving in the St. Louis area.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Mark?
For fifteen years I have been teaching the gospel of Mark to college students and staff who have part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Mark has been used for decades in InterVarsity as a foundational discipleship document and tool with students. So I was joining part of a long tradition of intense study of Mark.
What I discovered as I led discussions was how eye-opening Old Testament background could be. Students would ask questions and I’d say, “Remember that list of Old Testament passages I gave you for this section. Did anyone look those up?” I’d get blank stares. So I said, “OK, let’s look them up now and read them aloud.” So they’d do that and their eyes got big. Teachers love these “aha” moments, and I found they happened with great regularity when we went to the Old Testament. Soon I didn’t have to remind them to look these up. They would be doing it on their own.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
My target audience is the working pastor. I want to give them a resource to enrich their teaching and preaching. As a result, along the way I offer a repeating feature, “Going Deeper in . . .” which gives examples of preaching points pastors might offer, usually drawn from the insight the OT provides for the text.
I consider adult education teachers, students, and professors to be secondary audiences. The commentary is not technical and only occasionally employs transliterated Greek. Also I rarely rehearse the history of scholarly debates. So it is accessible to motivated readers who don’t have formal training.
Some professors might also find it a help to their students and benefit from the overall emphasis of the commentary which they might want to stress more in their own teaching. Much will be familiar, but I think they can still find some fresh insights.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Mark?
Because I kept getting driven back into the Old Testament in my studies and teaching, I kept looking for books that opened up this dimension of the gospel. I found several that were tremendous, but they took up key themes and so looked only selectively at the text. What I wanted for my teaching, however, was a book that systematically went through the whole gospel, verse by verse, revealing these connections.
I never found such a book. So I decided I would need to put something like that together for my own reference. My wife thought if I was going to go through all that work I should try to publish it. But despite the immense amount of OT background in Mark, I wasn’t actually convinced it was there in every or nearly every verse. After all, if no one else had written such a book maybe there was good reason—it just couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done. So I actually had to write several chapters before I convinced myself that this was possible and of unique valuable.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
As I wrote, I already knew where I was headed in many sections but some parts surprised me. Mark 4 contains the well-known parable of the Sower and the Soils. It’s a long parable to which Jesus adds a long explanation. It therefore has a pivotal role in the whole gospel in explaining Jesus’s understanding of himself and his ministry.
This was familiar territory, but I then began to look at something I hadn’t before—how the Old Testament used the images of birds eating seed, rocky places, scorched plants, and thorns. What I found was that all of these were consistently used as images of judgment against Israel or the nations. Jesus was working with a set of images that were corporate in nature. The question (among others) that he was asking is—How was Israel as a nation responding? So often we interpret the parable individually—what kind of soil am I? Am I deep in Jesus or not? But in light of seeing this passage through Old Testament eyes, we should ask: What kind of soil are we? What about my church, my community, my nation? Are we superficial or shallow? Are we withdrawn and protective or do we reach out and give of ourselves to others? Or to raise the main questions the Old Testament prophets did regarding Israel and the nations when they used these images: Are we aligned with God’s heart for justice? What idols do we have? As a community, what is sacrosanct—money? sex? self-protection? violence? comfort? This is not the only thing going on in Mark 4. But it was, I thought, an important and neglected dimension. And I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t been asking the question, What insight on this passage can we get from the Old Testament?
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
I found myself very moved at the end as I chronicled all the different ways Mark described Christ in the gospel based on the Old Testament. He portrays him as the New David, the New Moses, the New Exodus, the New Israel, the Divine Warrior, the Prophet, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Righteous Sufferer, the King of Israel, the Lord of the Nations, the New Temple, the Embodiment of Israel’s God. I had a sense that Mark was saying, “I’m doing my best to describe the full scale, dimension, and character of Jesus. I’m using as many images and ways as I can of talking about him and what he did. Even so, this is only scratching the surface. Words fail.” I was moved by this immense yet necessarily partial portrait of the greatness and achievements of our Lord.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Mark?
The books I found which do the best job uncovering the Old Testament in Mark include Rikki Watts’ Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Swartley’s Israel’s Scripture Tradition in the Synoptic Gospels, and Marcus’s The Way of the Lord. These are all excellent.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
As series editor for the Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries, I’m currently working with other contributors who are developing further volumes. Right now it looks like John Through Old Testament Eyes by senior scholar Karen Jobes will be out next. The approach I use with Mark is not unique to that book. As I say in the series preface, “The New Testament writers were Old Testament people.”
I am also writing a book for InterVarsity Press whose working title is Writing Better: The Craft, the Art, and the Spirituality of Writing Nonfiction. I’ve been an editor for over forty years, so I am trying to gather together some of the advice I’ve offered hundreds of writers. I have been motivated by a desire to help people express their ideas as clearly and powerfully as possible. That’s what’s behind this book. It may be out in 2019. I also continue to blog regularly at Andy Unedited (andyunedited.ivpress.com) where I review books and reflect on history, biblical studies, life, writing, publishing, and more.
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