How to Read Mark

The Book of Mark


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Mark walks through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of Mark, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.   



Now that you have an overview of Mark in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Titus. Read Mark 1:1–11. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Mark 1:1–11.  

Mark 1:1-11 (ESV)

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,

who will prepare your way,

3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight,’”

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: John fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Mark 1:1–11? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) John fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy. (Interpretation) God fulfills His promises. He gave the prophecy to Isaiah and called John to be the one to fulfill the prophecy. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Mark 1:1–11? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Mark? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: We can trace many Old Testament promises and prophecies to the New Testament. Jesus fulfills the prophecies about the Messiah outlined by the Old Testament prophets. God keeps His promise to Abraham to make Him into a great nation. And God has yet to fulfill prophecies written in Old Testament books such as Daniel and New Testament books such as Revelation.

Contextualize: What themes does Mark 1:1–11 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Mark? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since I know that God keeps His promises, I can rest in the promises He has made. I know that Jesus has conquered sin and death, that He has given me the Holy Spirit, and that He will return one day to set all things right. In my everyday life, I can rely on the hope I find in God's trustworthiness. I won't despair when a friend dies, my work environment becomes hostile, or my children rebel. Instead, I remember who God is and what He's promised to His followers.

Apply: How does the truth from Mark 1:1–11 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Mark to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.   

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Mark, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Mark this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.