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Reviews | The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark

Alfred Norris

Paperback

186 pages

The Gospel of Mark

The Christadelphian review (from May 1978)

The Gospel of Mark

WRITTEN by Brother Alfred Norris, this is a Commentary with a difference, in some ways the first of its kind. The difference is fundamental to us, in as much as its conclusions are all subordinate to the sound principles of our Faith. It is this which makes it unique against the many Gospel Commentaries available from other sources, in which exposition is so often marred by unsound foundations. “If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do?”

No problems are evaded. Where more than one point of view is permissible, the situation is fully discussed, and the most likely solution is commended. Occasionally there are difficulties which are not fundamental where “too positive an inference would be precarious”. It is then honest, along with the author, to confess our limitations.

The exposition is verse by verse, except where two or more verses are required to complete the narrative. Each verse, with an appropriate heading extracted from the verse and printed in heavy type, is as easy and quick to identify as if turning to the Bible itself. The author’s method of taking every parallel item where common to the remaining Gospels, is perhaps the most satisfying feature of the whole work. This makes it a Commentary on Mark’s Gospel plus a wealth of material from the remaining three, especially where all four Gospels have so much in common, as during the closing days of the Ministry. In this respect it is the first Gospel Commentary of its kind published by the Christadelphian Office, similar in method to that employed by the late Brother John Carter in his Parables of Messiah,2 although the latter is of course restricted to an exposition of the parables.

The comprehensive nature of the Commentary is evident from a glance at “The Index of Scripture References” at the end of the book. These are culled from every book of the New Testament, and from every book but six of the Old Testament.

The Digressions

There are 39 separate items dealt with under the heading of “Digressions”. This is a tidy and convenient way of relieving the general exposition of additional material, whilst at the same time discussing at considerable length issues of vital importance arising out of Mark’s inspired record. For quick reference a “Table of Digressions” appears at the front of the book.

There is a mistaken impression in some quarters that the foundations of our doctrines are less evident in the Gospels than in the Old Testament and the Epistles, and we are suspected of showing a predilection for the latter, at the expense of the former, when presenting our case. A glance at the “Table of Digressions” in this book will immediately dispose of this impression. Here, arising out of the Gospel of Mark, such fundamentals are dealt with as “The Kingdom of God”, “The Authority of Scripture, and of The Lord”, “Satan and the Devil”, “The Day of Judgement”, and “Eternal Life”, all supported by quotations from the Gospels themselves. The Digressions are also helpful with a variety of other problems, even when they lie outside the range of Mark’s record; for example, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus occurs only in the Gospel of Luke, yet the author goes out of his way to give a full and satisfactory explanation.

The Last Six Days

Two fifths of the entire work is devoted to the last six days of the life of our Lord. This is inevitable with any writer who is courageous enough to attempt the task of harmonising the four Gospel records relating to this period. “The Olivet Prophecy”, the sequence of events at “The Last Supper”, the “Arrest and Jewish Trial”, the “Trial before Pontius Pilate”, and “The Resurrection Appearances”, all present major problems of synthesis for the expositor who, quite rightly, accepts the principle of full inspiration. The best method possible is adopted by the author in bringing together all four Gospel records, and arranging in four separate columns their respective Scripture references. Items which are common to each Gospel, or are peculiar to one or more, can be identified at a glance. The reader can then consult the parallel passages with the author’s comments in hand, taking full advantage of the proposed harmonies.

The Mount Olivet Prophecy

In handling the Mount Olivet Prophecy Brother Norris has advanced his method a step further by arranging a reprint of the full text of all three records in parallel, set out in such form as to anticipate his system of interpretation.

The closing verses of Matthew 23 provide a prelude to the Mount Olivet Prophecy. A description of two distinct epochs is obvious in vv. 34–39, and it is these two which determine the subject matter of chapter 24. In the clearest of terms v. 34 expresses the way in which the Pharisees, and the ruling party of the Jews, would maltreat the disciples of Jesus, and vv. 35–36 forecast how the accumulated guilt of the nation would be visited upon them: “All these things shall come upon this generation.” The events of A.D. 70, ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the captivity of the Jews, terminate this part of the prophecy.

There is therefore, at the present time, a gap of 1900 years between verses 36 and 39 (a not uncommon feature of Bible prophecy, and repeated in Matthew 24). The gap is now beginning to close in the rebirth and restoration of the nation.

Immediately following these two pronouncements Jesus left the temple, and in passing, added the additional information that the temple also would be destroyed along with the nation. It is evident that, at this stage, the disciples had no clear understanding of the persecution which was to come their way, or of the devastation to be visited upon the nation (compare Luke 24 : 21 and Acts 1 : 6). That they should seek a clarification of what Jesus had said concerning these two separate epochs (Matt. 23 : 34–39) was quite natural, and this in fact is what they did receive in the Mount Olivet Prophecy (Matt. 24).

A Sound Method

Broadly speaking, Brother Norris’ exposition of the Prophecy is on these lines, and the wisdom of taking into account the full terms of all three records is immediately apparent. Luke’s record is particularly vital in respect of the additional information which it provides, and of the way in which it clarifies some issues left unresolved in Matthew and Mark. For example: Luke adds a sequel to the destruction of Jerusalem which is lacking elsewhere, and which carries the prophecy forward to the last days of Gentile times (Luke 21 : 24). See also the author’s comments on Mark 13 : 19, page 125. Again: in the parable of the fig tree, Matthew reads: “know that it is near, even at the doors”; and Mark reads: “know that it is nigh, even at the doors”; but Luke is more precise and reads: “Know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh”. It is now clear that this part of the prophecy reaches to our own day. See also the author’s comments on Mark 13 : 28, page 128. And once more, the warning for disciples of all generations, and especially for those of the last days, is in positive terms in Luke’s record, and clearly shows that the Lord has His second advent in mind: “For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21 : 35, 36).

This is not a book designed to cater for the casual reader. It is an important work of reference, and a book for the student who is prepared to consult its abundant Scriptural evidence, and to pursue his research into this “Gospel of the Son of God”, who said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”

JOHN HARLEY

The Testimony review (from June 1978)

The Gospel of Mark

BASICALLY these are the articles published in The Christadelphian, 1972 to 1975. As a book the material is much easier to use both for reference and study; it is a valuable addition to the Truth’s literature. The writer presents us with a verse by verse commentary with sundry “Digressions” which form links with other Scripture and summarise Scripture teaching in general. We are usually presented with a number of alternative interpretations which naturally we must assess for ourselves although the author leaves us in no doubt as to which he favours. Perhaps at times when using such terms as “quite incredible” and “simply unacceptable” he tends to overemphasise, rightly or wrongly, the views that he rejects or accepts. From the beginning he shows a preference for the AV which is mainly used in the commentary. In his introduction he writes, “Usually we shall quote from the Authorised or Revised Versions. References may sometimes be made to modern translations, but since with the partial exception of the Revised Standard Version, they are far less consistent and scrupulous than the older translations, they will never be treated as in any way authoritative.” Again in his first Digression, “How should men address God?” he writes, “It is far more appropriate to call God by the name God, or by such translated titles as Eternal or Father, knowing what our words mean, than to take a word out of an unknown tongue, and attach some strange mystique to calling Him by that word.”

There are some 39 Digressions ranging over topics such as Demons, The Unforgivable Sin, Leavened or Unleavened Bread, Belief and Faith, and many others of interest to our readers. Not everyone will agree with all the conclusions that Brother Norris reaches. It is of course right that we should make our own assessments of the facts and opinions expressed. Readers will find some variations from the original articles. For example, in the discussion concerning divorce and remarriage he stresses the sanctity of marriage but omits the courageous conclusion which will be found in the original Christadelphian article. The year and page of this are given as a footnote, so those who wish can readily look this up in The Christadelphian, 1973, p. 551 – study page S59.

It is important in reading any series of articles to discriminate between those basic first principles which are absolutely essential and those which must be a matter of opinion. There are many occasions where we cannot be dogmatic because we have not sufficient information. Here we must be on our guard not to develop what Robert Roberts called “Crotchets”. It is very easy for any one of us to be so convinced of a particular interpretation that we would almost be prepared to make it a matter of fellowship. This is obviously something we must guard against.

The book is a valuable contribution to the study of Mark’s Gospel record, easy to read and providing a basis for discussion and meditation with carefully researched evidence and logical deductions which are very clearly set out.

H. J. SALTER

(Originally published in the June 1978 edition of The Testimony Magazine (page 189), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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