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October 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 3 · pp. 256–57 

Book Review

Mark: A Portrait of a Servant

D. Edmond Hiebert. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1974. 437 pages.

Reviewed by Edmund Janzen

It is said that first impressions are lasting impressions. When first handed this volume, the reviewer was immediately struck by the rather austere brown book jacket and the significant heft of the book’s 437 pages. It is obviously not intended for the casual reader. Although the word “Commentary” does not appear on the jacket (one might assume that one is in for a biographical study per se) the reader will soon discover that he is dealing with an extensively detailed commentary of the Gospel of Mark. It is through a carefully detailed (though not exhaustive) exegesis that the author paints his portrait.

To those who are familiar with other books by Dr. Hiebert or have had the joy of benefiting personally from his scholarship, it will come as no surprise that a genuine love for and veneration of the biblical text shines through. {257}

The author in his preface clearly sets forth his purpose in writing, “. . .it is an attempt to interpret the gospel according to Mark simply as it stands.” Those who anticipate a treatment in the light of redaction criticism or who expect in-depth biblical theology to emerge will be disappointed. However, the approach throughout is scholarly and thorough—especially in the areas of cultural and historical notices and the meaning of the original Greek. The author specifies that he has deliberately avoided technical detail in order to communicate with “the careful student who may not be proficient in the use of Greek.” Yet it appears to this reviewer that such a middle-of-the road approach may not be preferable. The grammarian /theologian may not find enough detail while the layman may be threatened by too much. There is little devotional or even illustrative material that would hold the non-Greek versed student of the Word. And from a layman’s standpoint the plodding nature of a phrase-by-phrase quoting of the Scriptures (American Standard Version, 1901) followed by Hiebert’s analysis of that text may soon make for monotony. Additionally, this reviewer found it difficult at times to find a specific reference after looking away from the page because no italics or heavier print are used to distinguish biblical text from commentary text. Quotation marks are used to set off the text phrases but these phrases are not easily discerned.

The book is divided into four parts (The Coming of the Servant, The Ministry of the Servant, Self-Sacrifice of the Servant, and The Resurrection of the Servant), prefaced by an excellent introduction which deals with such matters as attestation, place and date, purpose, an overview of contents, and an extremely helpful and detailed outline.

As indicated earlier, the contents of this volume are more than a superficial treatment of the biblical text. The author documents his sources carefully and fully; indeed, he shows a thorough familiarity with a wide range of pertinent scholarship in this field. Also of help is an extensive bibliography which will delight the serious student of the Word. Of particular notice to this reviewer was the frequent reference to the views of the Early Church Fathers. Few commentaries afford the reader the benefit of patristic insight—how those closest in time to the biblical text interpreted it. Options in interpretation are freely given, and a non-dogmatic style is upheld throughout.

Individual parables, stories of miracles, and didactic lessons of the Lord take on new meaning in this volume. Whether one reads sections or the book as a whole, one comes away enriched. Dr. Hiebert has used once again the gift that God has given him to make the Scriptures come alive. The book will prove to be a valuable asset for pastor, professor, and serious student of the Gospel record. A fine commentary!

Edmund Janzen
Pacific College

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