Mark Bible Commentary: Interview with Mark Strauss

Strauss Mark

Mark Lehman Strauss is an American biblical scholar and professor of the New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, which is part of Bethel University, Minnesota. His areas of expertise include New Testament Gospels and Bible translation. Strauss earned his B.A. from Westmont College, his M.Div and Th.M. from Talbot School of Theology, and his Ph.D. in New Testament from University of Aberdeen. Prior to joining the faculty at Bethel Seminary in 1993, Strauss taught at Biola University, Christian Heritage College, and Talbot School of Theology. He has also served on the Committee on Bible Translation for the New International Version since 2005. Dr. Strauss is married to his wife Roxanne; together they have three children.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Mark?

I did my PhD work in Luk​e-Acts, and I became convinced that Luke used Mark as a source. So I needed to do work on Mark to understand Luke. It seemed natural, then, after working with Luke for so long to move on to Mark. I became fascinated by Mark’s powerful and dramatic narrative style. It amazes me that many form critics thought of Mark as simply a haphazard collection of traditions about Jesus. On the contrary, it is a remarkably well crafted literary masterpiece.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

I was really thinking ​more ​about pastors and students than professors ​when I wrote the volume​. This is also the vision of the Zondervan Exegetical series. If written primarily for professors, it would have been more technical, with greater detail​ and more bibliography. But my primary purpose is not to be a research tool (though it can certainly be used for that), but to help the reader understand Mark’s narrative theology. Lay people can use it too, since the Greek is always translated.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Mark?

I have to acknowledge that I​’​m not the most innovative​ or ground-breaking of​​ ​scholars​. ​My best gifts are in taking complex technical material and simplifying it for readers. So I really wanted to write a commentary that was clear and accurate, and that guided readers through the exegetical complexities of the Markan narrative.

Perhaps my most unique contribution is an emphasis on a theological rather than a geographical outline for Mark. Many commentators claim that Mark’s outline is geographical: (1) Galilee (1:14–8:21); (2) The Road to Jerusalem (8:22–10:52); (3) Jerusalem (11:1–16:8). See, for example, R.T. France’s masterful commentary on Mark. Yet while this basic division is correct, the geographical emphasis is not. Unlike in Luke, where Jesus’ Jerusalem destination is identified as early as 9:51, and where the Journey to Jerusalem (chs. 9-19) is a major structural feature, in Mark we don’t hear that Jesus is even going to Jerusalem until chapter 10, near the end of the middle section and just before he arrives! The carefully structured middle section of the Gospel—which is crucial to Mark’s narrative theology—describes the (theological) “way” of the cross, not a journey to Jerusalem. So Mark is organizing around a theological theme rather than a geographical journey.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I think I just ​mentioned it :-)​, the middle section that climaxes in the key theme verse of the gospel—Mark 10:45.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Mark the Evangelist

Mark​’​s call ​for​ believers to take up the​ir​ cross​ and follow Jesus​​ even to the point of death ​​i​s hard to fathom ​in our ​c​omfortable American Christianity​. Yet there are Christians around the world suffering and dying for their faith. We need to empathize with them. Mark reminds us of the true cost of discipleship​.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Mark?

​I mentioned ​R.T. France’s​ commentary in the NIGTC series​​, which is a favorite. David Garland also has an exceptional volume on Markan theology in the new Zondervan series. Mark as Story by Rhoads and Michie was certainly ground-breaking in terms of narrative theology. I’ll stop there since there are too many other good commentaries to mention without leaving some excellent volumes out (and so offending my colleagues who wrote them!).​

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

​I’m presently revising my gospels textbook, Four Portraits, One Jesus. Continuing in ​Mark​’​s Gospel​, ​I’m writing a critical introduction for a new series​.​ ​I’m also working a hermeneutics text and a number of other smaller projects​.

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