The sting of last Sunday’s failure to answer David’s question about John Mark’s purpose for writing the Gospel of Mark continued to aggravate Hugh.
“Why didn’t I see that question coming? Why didn’t I study more?”
Hugh’s cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID: David Livermore. “This is what I need tonight, a reminder of my failure, thought David as he answered the phone.”
“Hello, Hugh. Do you have a minute for us to visit about my question in Sunday School?”
“Of course, David. How can I help?”
Hugh felt sweat popping out on his forehead, — again.
“Hugh, I know you study a lot to help us learn God’s Word and I wondered if you might tutor me, so I can learn the Word for myself?”
“David, I would be honored to share what I know. When would you have time to begin?”
“How would tomorrow night sound, Hugh? How about 6:30 am? Where would you like to meet?”
“David let’s meet at the church library, so we can have access to the commentaries and other materials there. Will that work?”
“That will be great. I didn’t know our church had a library. I have already learned something tonight. Thank you, Hugh.”
“You’re welcome, David. I look forward to our time tomorrow.”
“I do too. Good night,” said David. Hugh replied, “Good night.”
Hugh and David entered the church parking lot simultaneously.
“Hello, David.” ‘Good evening, Hugh.”
“Are you ready to work?”
“I am ready and excited. To be honest, Hugh, I am embarrassed that I had to ask you to tutor me. I have been a Christian for several years, but I don’t know much about the Bible or how to even begin to study it.”
“Tonight, David, I want us to discover better answers to your question as to why John Mark wrote his Gospel. Are you up for that exploration?”
“I would love to figure that out.”
“David, let’s take notice of the tools we have available in the library. This section has several translations of the Bible. Notice there are some Bibles called “Study Bibles.” These can be helpful. Usually they have brief notes at the bottom of the page. You can scan the titles: The MacArthur Study Bible, The CSB Study Bible, The NASB Study Bible, and the NKJV Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, and The Ryrie Study Bible. You can see there are many more on the shelf.”
“And David, this group of books are Bible dictionaries. Next to those are Bible encyclopedias.”
“Hugh, this may sound silly, but what might the difference be between a Bible dictionary and a Bible encyclopedia?” (click to tweet)
“David, that is a great question. Bible dictionaries are like English dictionaries with the exception that they focus on what a word meant in the Bible. Some may include the Hebrew and Greek root words while others do not.”
“Bible encyclopedias are like the Bible dictionaries but have a greater amount of detail. Bible dictionaries offer a paragraph or two about the topic. The Bible encyclopedias explain the term with greater precision and usually have longer articles. The encyclopedias usually offer more topics on the culture, places, people, and life in the Bible.”
“Here are a couple of useful Bible dictionaries: The Tyndale Bible Dictionary and the Revised Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. A few useful Bible encyclopedia include the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, The International Standard Dictionary, and the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.
“Hugh, what about Bible handbooks? Are they useful? I have an old one. I haven’t really checked it out.”
“Yes, handbooks can be helpful. Check these out: The Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, Holman Bible Handbook and The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook.
“David, notice these books. They are called concordances. A concordance is intended to help locate things in the Bible. Most people use the internet or digital search engines today. The concordance allows you to search for things by topic, name, place or people.
“David, here are some of my favorite study tools: Bible atlases. Many people fail to check out the geographical relationships between places, the contour of the land, and the paths that people took as they traveled from one place to another. You will want to have a couple of these nearby all the time. Here is The Holman Bible Atlas, The Zondervan Bible Atlas and the MacMillan Bible Atlas.
“David, let me show you a couple of other helpful tools – New Testament Introductions and New Testament Surveys. These books assist the reader with important background materials such as author, date, intended audience, sources, and purpose.
You will find helpful information related to each book of the New Testament. The New Testament in Antiquity by Gary Burge et al., An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson et al., A Survey of the New Testament by Robert H. Gundry, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown by Andreas Kostenberger et al., The New Testament: It’s Background and Message by Thomas Lea and David Allen Black, as well as New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie are all helpful and prominent works worthy of consideration. We will explore some of these for our purpose of Mark’s Gospel search.
“David, one of the things we will do at another time is to learn to do critical observations of the biblical text before we begin to interpret a specific passage. Observing the text and doing background research adds to the details of our study and information before we ever read a commentary.”
“What is a commentary, Hugh? I heard the pastor mention one a week ago in his sermon, but I had no idea what he was referring to.”
“David, commentaries vary in the depth of the study they go into. Some are more topical in nature – that is, they don’t do a verse by verse analysis, but more of a section by section explanation. Others are more critical and scholarly. They might delve into the original languages, Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Many do a verse-by verse explanation of the text.”
“Typically, commentaries provide extra materials like we are looking for tonight: the purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Most commentaries contain explanation relating to the author, the date of composition, the place of composition, the historical context of the author and the recipients along with a multitude of pertinent materials related to the individual book under study.”
“David, here’s the commentary section on Mark. Notice the titles of some of these: R.A. Cole, The Gospel according to St. Mark. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, James Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark. Pillar New Testament Commentary, R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Robert Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
“Now, David, let’s set down and see what we can discover about why Mark wrote his gospel.”
A Helpful website on the review and ratings of Biblical, Theological and Practical Christian works is: https://www.bestcommentaries.com/
Other helpful sources may include:
D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey, 7th edition.
John Glynn’s Commentary and Reference Survey 10th edition.
John F. Evans, A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works, 10th edition.