The Gospel of Mark

A Liturgical Reading

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Long before the Gospel writers put pen to papyrus, the earliest Christians participated in powerful rituals that fundamentally shaped their understanding of God, Christ, and the world in which they lived. This volume offers a liturgical reading of the Gospel of Mark, arguing that the Gospel is a narrative interpretation of early Christian ritual. The Gospel begins with Jesus's baptism by John and ends with Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Lord's Supper. In between, the narrative story of Jesus unfolds as the beloved Son is sent to gather not just the Jews but Gentiles and women to the table of the one loaf.

This fresh, responsible, and creative proposal shows how cultural anthropology and ritual studies elucidate ancient texts, revealing how the rituals of baptism and the Lord's Supper shaped the earliest Christians and impacted their understanding of Jesus. In addition to scholars, professors, and students, its ecclesial and pastoral ramifications will be of interest to pastors and church leaders.

Introduction: In the Beginning: Creation versus Chaos and the Liturgical Reading of Mark
1. The Early Gentile Mission and Explanation (1:1-4:34)
2. Baptismal Death and Resurrection: The First Mission to the Gentiles (4:35-5:20)
3. Conclusion of the Jewish Mission and the Inclusion of Gentiles: The First Ritual Meal Narrative and Explanation (5:21-7:23)
4. The Gentile Mission and the Second Ritual Meal Narrative: The One Loaf (7:24-8:26)
5. The Necessity of the Death of Christ (8:27-10:52)
6. The House of Prayer for All the Gentiles (11:1-12:44)
7. The Apocalyptic Discourse and the Death of Jesus (13:1-37)
8. The Passion of Jesus: Meal and Garden (14:1-52)
9. The Passion of Jesus: Betrayal and Trials (14:53-15:20)        
10. The Passion of Jesus: The Cross and Tomb (15:21-16:8)


"All reconstructions of the Markan community are conjectural. Presented as a commentary on the Second Gospel, Professor Bobertz's proposal adopts a liturgical attitude toward diverse social pressures exerted upon Christian readers in the apostolic age. His argument is closely reasoned, well-researched, jargon-free, clear, and resolute. Those appreciative of Mark's literary artistry will find in Bobertz's interpretation a stimulus for the continued study of 'a story of deep symbolism and ritual complexity.'"

C. Clifton Black, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Charles Bobertz takes the bold but necessary step of restoring Mark's Gospel to its original context--not just to the first century or to some ancient Christian author or literary genre, but to the earliest Christian communities and gatherings, formed in the ritual crucible of baptism and Eucharist. This is not merely a 'liturgical' reading in any narrow sense, but a genuinely contextual one, which not only bears new insights into the ancient origin and setting of the Gospel, but offers modern readers fresh insight into its relevance for them as members of baptized and eucharistic communities."

Andrew McGowan, President and Dean, Berkeley Divinity School, McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies and Pastoral Theology, Yale Divinity School

"In an exhilarating journey through Mark's Gospel, Charles Bobertz shows how the evangelist drew continually upon the language and practices of baptism and Eucharist. Mark's overarching purpose in doing so, Bobertz contends, was to resolve discord over Gentiles' presence at the Lord's Table by showing that through Jesus's life, passion, and resurrection (in which Christians participate through the liturgy) God created a profoundly inclusive church. Bobertz's demonstration that Mark's Jesus--and his followers!--move through ordinary time yet also transcend it will fire imaginations and raise appreciation for Mark's gifts as narrator and for the power of Christian liturgy."

Susan R. Garrett, Dean and Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

"Why hasn't anyone done this before? If we know that Mark and our other narrative Gospels were performed in ritualized settings, especially the Christian communal meal, then why not read them as though they meant something specific in those settings? Charles Bobertz's reading of the Gospel of Mark is an interpretive and methodological breakthrough. With this book a new discussion of the Gospels begins: When early Christians gathered to eat the Lord's Supper or to baptize newcomers, how did these narratives set the mood and answer the questions, Who are we? and Why are we together like this?"

Stephen J. Patterson, George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies, Willamette University

The Author

  1. Charles A. Bobertz

    Charles A. Bobertz

    Charles A. Bobertz (PhD, Yale University) is professor of theology at St. John's University, where he has taught for over twenty years, and is a deacon of Pax Christi Parish in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He previously taught at Loyola College in Maryland.

    Continue reading about Charles A. Bobertz


"This creative and thought-provoking study . . . offers a unique interpretation of Mark's gospel. The driving purpose of this gospel, according to Bobertz, is to affirm that Gentiles, including women, have a place in the sacramental experience of baptism and Eucharist, thus affirming the inclusive mission of the church. Further, Bobertz believes that the Gospel of Mark itself was formed within the setting of the early Christian house churches where baptism and the Lord's Supper were celebrated and where the physical presence of Gentiles would counter those (i.e., strict Jewish Christians) who objected to their presence on religious grounds. Bobertz makes his case by analyzing a number of key passages in Mark where these issues seem to be in play. This is a stimulating interpretation of Mark's gospel."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"Bobertz provides his own translation, notable for the way it highlights certain lexical threads by consistently translating certain key words with the same English word. His comments are both intertextual (often highlighting insightful resonances within Mark) and intratextual (since it is assumed that Mark's audience had a deep familiarity with Scripture). . . . Bobertz provides a clear and consistent liturgical reading of the Gospel of Mark. The margins of my copy are marked with many stars denoting a striking insight, but with just as many question marks where I am not fully persuaded by his claims. This work is well researched but suited for a general audience."

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman,


"Along with offering a challenging and stimulating reading of Mark, the work contains an extensive general bibliography along with a bibliography of ritual and liturgical studies and excellent indexes. Its origin in years of teaching is clear, and the work would be most helpful for courses not only in NT but in liturgical theology and history as well."

John R. Donahue, SJ,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This book presents a careful reading of selected portions, based on the author's own translations, of all sixteen chapters of the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of understanding the entire Gospel as a symbolic narrative inspired by Mark's understanding of the sacred reality of baptism and the Lord's Supper."

New Testament Abstracts