James R. Edwards is the author of the Mark volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.
Dr. Edwards (Fuller Theological Seminary, Ph.D) is the Bruner-Welch Professor Emeritus of Theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where he has taught since 1997.
Dr. Edwards’ primary research interests include biblical studies and history of the early church, with secondary interests in the Reformation and history of the twentieth-century German Church struggle.
Besides his Mark commentary, he also wrote the Luke commentary in the Pillar series as well as the Romans volume in the UBCS series. Please see Dr. Edwards’ Q & A on his Luke volume in the Pillar series.
He is also the author of the highly-praised, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (link goes to Amazon)
Dr. Edwards’ is a frequent visitor to Christian sites, libraries, and monasteries in Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. He is a minister in the Presbyterian church.
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1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Mark?
After I graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1970, I went to Switzerland to study with Prof. Eduard Schweizer at the University of Zuerich, who had just published his commentary on the Gospel of Mark in the Neues Testament Deutsch series, and who was working on the Gospel of Matthew in the same series at the time.
I went to Switzerland, in part, to get a better understanding of form criticism which was dominating the field of Gospel studies in the 1970s.
The basic thesis of form criticism is that the Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels, reflect the belief of the early church rather than any genuine and trustworthy history of Jesus of Nazareth and the community of disciples he called to follow him.
The more I learned of form criticism the more mistaken it seemed to my understanding of the formation of the Gospel tradition.
Eduard Schweizer had been a student of Rudolf Bultmann, who was the chief architect and spokesman of form criticism, but Schweizer was not doctrinaire.
He was sympathetic to form criticism, but open to dialogue, inviting my criticisms, taking them seriously, and encouraging me to follow the evidence as I saw it.
When I returned to the States I enrolled in the doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary and wrote my dissertation on the Son of God in the Gospel of Mark under Prof. Ralph Martin, who was also a superb Markan scholar.
I entered the arena of New Testament studies through the doorway of Markan studies, for which I have been grateful ever since.
I read, taught, and wrote on the Gospel of Mark for twenty years before I got an opportunity to write the commentary on the Gospel of Mark for the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The intended audience of my Mark commentary is any reader who has read the Gospel of Mark carefully and cognizantly enough to wish a fuller discussion of its formation, structure, language, and theological contribution.
The readers who most frequently write with appreciation of my Mark commentary are pastors, but students also write frequently, as do lay people who appreciate a clear and understandable exposition of the Second Gospel.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Mark?
My commentary is unique in several respects. From a theological perspective, it is unique in emphasizing how both Christology, especially Jesus as Son of God, and discipleship are the two pillars on which the Gospel is constructed.
From a literary perspective, it is unique in introducing Mark’s “sandwich” technique of inserting a second, seemingly unrelated, story into the midst of a previous story, thereby achieving a third commentary by the interplay of the two stories.
From a linguistic perspective, I note Mark’s straightforward and unadorned Greek style, but also his penchant for loading simple words—“house,” “tear,” “immediately,” “on the way,” “Jerusalem,”—and many others with particular emphasis in his Gospel.
Finally, I have been a pastor, and I continue to be a pastor in my teaching and ministry, and I try to write in a way that makes the Gospel of Mark helpful for preachers.
The Bible is the church’s book, and I try to expound it in accordance with the church’s mission.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
The response of the centurion at the cross is particularly powerful (Mark 15:39). Throughout the Gospel, Mark has been very cautious in his use of “Son of God.”
The term “son of god” was used frequently in the Greco-Roman world for all sorts of extraordinary individuals, and even in the Old Testament the king of Israel could be considered, in a certain respect, the son of God.
Mark wants to use Son of God as the most exalted title of Jesus, but he wants to guard it against misunderstanding with other and lesser “sons of god.”
Mark therefore uses this title only in carefully defined scenes: the baptism, exclamations of demons, and the transfiguration.
No human being confesses Jesus as Son of God before the crucifixion. At the crucifixion, however, a pagan Roman who commands the execution squad understands the significance of Jesus in his suffering and death, confessing him as “God’s Son.”
Mark has prepared for this moment from the outset of the Gospel: only at the cross can the true nature and mission of Jesus as Son of God be seen in his redemptive suffering, and when it is seen, it signifies the salvation not only of Israel but of the world—a gentile executioner included!
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
A Gospel is written as a complete story of the incarnate Son of God. It is not an exhaustive story, for other Gospels record their stories of Jesus that are completed according to other themes and lines of development.
For me, the Gospel of Mark is the most exciting of the Gospels because it is shorter, more direct and simpler, and less complex, dealing primarily with only two themes, the first being, Who Jesus is, and the second, Who we are as disciples in fellowship with him.
The Gospel of Mark is powerful because it is so carefully pruned. Its two central foci—what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, and what it means for us as his disciples to follow him—are freed from distraction or competition by any other themes.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Mark?
I think the English translation of Eduard Schweizer’s commentary on Mark (The Good News According to Mark, [John Knox Press]) and C. E. B. Cranfield’s The Gospel According to St Mark [The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary]) are still two of the best.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I just completed a biography—a real life murder mystery, in fact—of the great German New Testament scholar Ernst Lohmeyer, who was martyred by the Soviets in 1946. Lohmeyer also wrote a fine commentary on Mark.
I played a role in solving the mystery of Lohmeyer’s disappearance and execution, and I record that in my biography, Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer (Eerdmans, 2019).
I have also just submitted a book on the first seventy-five years of the Christian movement to Baker Academic, entitled From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Christian Church in One Lifetime.
Get James R. Edwards’ Mark commentary
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