Read Mark Learn is an introduction to the story of Jesus as told in The Gospel According to Mark. It is for everyone – whether you’ve been a Christian for years, have studied Mark before, or are ‘just looking’.

In A Nutshell

The phrase Read Mark Learn originates in a 16th century prayer found in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. Others have used it as a name for books, courses and Bible study groups before. We call ours ‘RML’ for short.

It’s a simple idea:

  • Read – listen to a section Mark’s gospel
  • Mark – take note of anything attention grabbing
  • Learn – explore things further in group discussion

Some have likened RML to the 7th century Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina. It also draws on contemporary group courses such as PilgrimAlpha, and Christianity Explored.

RML works in many forms and sizes (e.g. two friends meeting in a cafe, forty people split into table groups of six, online video conferencing). Each group is led by a moderator whose role is to keep things focussed and to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

The big RML idea is that the agenda is set by the group as they interact with Mark’s gospel. There is no external curriculum or course manual.

Questions are our stock-in-trade, and there is no such thing as a stupid one. But there is no RML book of answers, either, because the point is to find answers together.

Introducing Mark

Mark is the shortest and arguably the oldest of the four gospels in the Holy Bible. It contains hints of being written for people living under Nero’s regime in Rome. Early tradition claims that it was derived from the preaching of Simon Peter, a close friend of Jesus, and a founder of the Church.

Mark is a skilful and engaging writer. He has a clear purpose: the proclamation of good news concerning Jesus. But his gospel is not a biography. How many biographers would spend half their word count on just the days surrounding their subject’s death?

To the casual reader his gospel may seem a random collection of disjointed, weird and wonderful “Sunday School” stories. Some of the material may even be opaque by design (perhaps for the safety of his first readers). But Mark wants us to engage, and will reward those who take him seriously.

Mark uses various literary devices to draw us into his story – e.g. vivid characters, interesting details, clever word play, grouping of related material, plenty of repetition, provocative statements, strange happenings, and lots of unanswered questions (that are clearly left as an exercise for the reader).

The book divides neatly into two, and contains many themes that span several chapters. So it’s important to read Mark in large chunks, or we’ll miss seeing how the detail fits into the bigger picture. You will get more from RML if you are able to make time to read (or listen to) Mark in one or two sittings.

Six Sessions

There are many ways to divide Mark into chunks, but for the current series of RML we are using the following six-part scheme:

  1. Mark 1:1-3:12
    Beginnings
  2. Mark 3:13-6:13
    Faith and Fear
  3. Mark 6:6b-8:33
    Understanding the Loaves
  4. Mark 8:22-10:52
    Children Seeing Clearly
  5. Mark 11:1-13:37
    The Temple and the Fig Trees
  6. Mark 14:1-16:8
    The Garden, the Cross, and the Curtain

Big Questions

Asking questions is a great way to learn. As we listen to Mark being read, we try to focus on the following questions as we prepare for the ensuing discussion.

  1. What grabbed your attention?
  2. What did you find surprising, strange or puzzling?
  3. What gets repeated, or appears to be connected?
  4. What questions are asked, and how are they answered?
  5. What is Jesus doing and saying?
  6. What do we learn about Jesus’ identity and mission?
  7. What are the different ways that people respond to Jesus?

Of course, our discussion isn’t limited to these. We try hard to foster an environment in which it feels safe for anyone to ask any question. People who ask the most questions often learn the most. Some even seem to have a gift for asking the questions that nobody else has the courage to ask.

Essential Guidelines

RML is not designed to spoon-feed leading questions or to supply model answers. Our aim is to encounter Jesus for ourselves as Mark introduces him to us.

As such our focus is on what Mark has written, and on any Old Testament passages or ideas he references. To keep our focus sharp we avoid running to other New Testament scriptures, Bible commentaries or theological tomes for help.

For example, if we are to understand what is meant by “the yeast of the Pharisees” in Mark 8:15, but cheat by jumping to Luke 12:1 for an answer, we will miss Mark’s point entirely.

We only relax this rule once we have worked hard at unpacking what Mark has written, in order to “check our working” and to confirm that we’re on the right track.

Other Gospels Are Available

Whilst the RML approach can be applied to the other three canonical gospels (Matthew, Luke and John), our focus is on Mark (for now).

Here To Help

If you would like to find out more or would like to join an RML group online or in person, please leave some contact details in a comment (which will remain private) or email hello@readmarklearn.org.

Easter 2021

Find our more about RML series running this Easter here.