Augsburg Fortress

Preaching Mark

Preaching Mark

An expert guide from Galillee to Jerusalem

This new resource examines the major literary units of Mark's Gospel with an eye toward helping the pastor in sermon preparation. Rather than major themes, Thurston guides the reader through the lectionary readings and how Mark's work offers a wealth of materials for Christian life and reflection.
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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800634285
  • eBook ISBN 9781451404418
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 232
  • Publication Date November 7, 2001


Excerpt from the Preface

...This book was written specifically to aid preachers and teachers in the church. My particular focus is homiletical, although the homiletical suggestions may also serve as points for personal prayer and meditation. As such, the work differs in several ways from more traditional scholarly commentaries, not the least of which is that I abandon the ruse of scholarly omniscience and write in the first person as preacher to preacher, teacher to teacher.

First, I treat canonical Mark in English. That is, I deal with the Gospel as we have it in modern English translations. ... While there is no more important interpretive tool for preachers of the New Testament than reading the text in the original Greek, I know that many preachers either do not have Greek or have allowed their seminary Greek to become rusty. Thus, although it is impossible to deal carefully with the text without alluding to Greek, I avoid as much as possible technical matters of translation, and I transliterate Greek when I introduce it.

Second, this work focuses on units of material rather than proceeding verse by verse. The lectionaries of the church present Mark's Gospel to the worshipping church in small units technically called pericopae. ... Furthermore, in examining particulars in great detail, verse-by-verse exposition has a tendency to obscure the general significance of a passage. Pheme Perkins notes in her introduction to Mark in the New Interpreter's Bible that "most parishioners encounter the text . . . in isolated fragments," therefore "people find it difficult to attend to the larger structural features in each individual Gospel." In order to address this practical fact, and because I think Mark carefully arranged the material in his Gospel, I first introduce larger units of material in discussing the texts and then treat the smaller pericopae within them.

Third, I have tried to avoid scholarly apparatus. I transliterate Greek, avoid technical textual matters, and keep documentation at a minimum. In order for the book to be useful for students and seminarians, I provide suggestions for further reading, and Appendix 2 is an annotated bibliography of works I have found to be of special interest to those preaching and teaching Mark. My "suggestions for further reading" are not always the most recent publications. My criteria for selection was usefulness to the preacher and teacher, not what has been published most recently.

Fourth, my remarks on the text move toward application. My methodological assumption is that, of all the Jesus material available to him, Mark preserved this material for a reason. Mark recorded these selections of the tradition he received because they spoke to his community, the church for which he wrote the Gospel. Thus behind my commentary on any given pericope are these questions: Why did Mark preserve this story? Why was it important for his community? My sense is that the answers to these questions should direct the course for contemporary preaching. Although it is not a particularly avant-garde position, I understand the Gospel of Mark to be a historical document (not, one should note, history). The intent of its author and his circumstances set limits on how the text should be interpreted in our own day. Mark's intent in preserving a story circumscribes to some extent its appropriate interpretation.

Finally, in this book I am not proposing an overarching theory about Mark's Gospel. Nor do I write to take issue with the scholars and commentators who do develop synthetic readings of Mark. My aim is far more modest: it is to provide preachers and teachers of Mark's Gospel with information to help them appropriately interpret and proclaim it. ...

Excerpt from Chapter 1

The Prologue: Introduction

Most commentators note that, although it is not poetic like the Gospel of John, Mark's Gospel is similar to John's in that it also has a prologue. The length of Mark's prologue is debated. Three possibilities are suggested. First, some scholars suggest 1:1-8 is the prologue, making it essentially the title and the ministry of John the Baptist. Others think that 1:1-13, the ministry of the Baptist and the temptation of Jesus are the prologue. The third possibility is that the prologue includes vv. 1-15.

In this regard, I am a maximalist and read vv. 1-15 as Mark's prologue. My decision is based on what appears to me to be the structure of the passage. Verse 1 begins and v. 15 ends with reference to the "good news," thus creating an inclusion. Within these brackets, material about Jesus and John alternates (Jesus, v. 1; John vv. 2-8; Jesus vv. 9-11; John v. 14a; Jesus vv. 14b-15). Verses 14-15 are included as the summary of Jesus' teaching and preaching, to which Mark frequently alludes in the early scenes of the Gospel. When teaching is mentioned but not reported, we are to remember vv. 14 and 15 as its content. What Mark does at the outset is to provide all the hearer or reader needs to understand Jesus and the Gospel. We begin with information that no character in the story has. We are told that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, facts that characters in the narrative must discover as it unfolds.

Morna Hooker notes that the information at the outset of Mark 1 "is primarily christological." The John the Baptist material makes the connection between Israel's past and Jesus. The baptism introduces the Trinity and provides divine confirmation of the identity of Jesus given in v. 1. The temptation of Jesus depicts him as one who overcomes Satan. And finally, vv. 14-15 summarize the preaching of the all-powerful Christ. The identity of Jesus and the extent of his ministry are summarized in these fifteen verses.

For Further Reading
R. H. Lightfoot, "The First Chapter of Mark's Gospel," in The Gospel Message of St. Mark (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962).
Frank Matera, "The Prologue as the Interpretive Key to Mark's Gospel," JSNT 34 (1988): 3–20.


From the Lexington Theological Quarterly
Fall 2003

Preaching Mark. By Bonnie Bowman Thurston. Fortress Resources for Preaching, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.

This short commentary aims to help preachers move from text to sermon. It follows the lectionary divisions of Mark, but Thurston also helpfully includes discussions of the major thematic/literary sections of Mark so that smaller pericopae are set in their proper context. There is also a brief introduction to the Gospel, dealing with typical issues of date, authorship, and audience.

Thurston's commentary is audience-focused, a good choice for a sermon-starting book. She frequently asks how a story would have sounded to the hearers, whom she takes to have been lower-class persons delighted to hear about Jesus' problems with the elite of his world. She also notes points where stories would have appealed to persecuted Roman Christians: the wild beasts of the temptation, the darkness and terror of the storm of chapter 6, and the martyrdom of John the Baptist.

Professor Thurston's homiletical insights are very helpful. Commenting on 6:30-44, she notes that is important "in an overworked, stressed-out, and consequently burned-out world (and church!) highlight those places where Jesus invites, in fact, commands his followers to withdraw and to rest" (79). She goes on to compare followers of Christ to the bread and fish broken and given to feed the masses: "precisely then we become the body of Christ, as in our brokenness, we are blest and given to others" (79). Her interpretive line often, like Mark, puts the spotlight on the nameless, powerless characters; of the Syrophoenician woman, she writes, "This 'uppity woman' is an example of faith; she exhibits the courage of those who have little to lose and can act on behalf of others for the sake of wholeness and liberation" (89).

In pursuit of the theme of liberation, the author treats the purity laws as burdens from which to be freed rather than as important cultural identity markers. Of the women with the issues, Thurston writes "it separates her from the community because it makes her and anyone she comes in contact with 'unclean' and 'defiled.' Mark's candor tells us not only that she had suffered physically for twelve years, but that she had been ostracized from the community, from ordinary human contact (and sexual contact if she were married), and from the worshipping life of Israel" (65). Actually, the story proves the opposite. If the people of the village knew her and ostracized her, then there would have been a space around her when she reached forward to touch Jesus, and there would have been no mystery about who had done it. True, the woman's uncleanness was contagious, but hardly fatal; those touched could have immersed in the local miqveh or in the lake and have been clean by sundown (many observant Jews may well have done this routinely every evening).

Professor Thurston includes suggestions for further reading at the end of each periscope. The book includes an appendix listing the Markan lectionary readings from the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Common Lectionaries, and has an index of Scripture citations. I recommend this book for any pastor or Bible teacher as a way to get the creative processes going.

Richard Vinson
Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond
Richmond, VA

Table of Contents


1. The Prologue and Typical Features of Jesus' Ministry
Mark 1:1-39

2. The Opposition in Galilee
Mark 1:40-3:35

3. The Parables: The Substance of Jesus' Message
Mark 4:1-34

4. The Miracles: The Extent of Jesus' Power
Mark 4:35-5:43

5. The Ministry around Capernaum
Mark 6:1-8:21

6. The Journey to Jerusalem and Discipleship Teaching
Mark 8:22-10:52

7. The Ministry around Jerusalem
Mark 11-13

8. The Passion and Resurrection
Mark 14-16

Appendix 1: Lectionaries
Appendix 2: Helps for Preaching Mark
Scripture Index