Scripture Engagement through the Public Reading of Scripture
The Bible was meant to be read, but it was also meant to be heard. (See the “Selected Verses on Hearing God’s Word” sidebar.) In most places today, printed copies of God’s Word are easily accessible. However, for the majority of history, owning a personal Bible was practically unheard of because of the rarity and expense of copies of Scripture. In fact, during ancient times, it was common even for those who did have opportunities for personal reading to read aloud to themselves. The silent reading that many are so used to today was virtually nonexistent throughout history.
The Bible tells of numerous examples of the public reading of Scripture.
- In Exodus 24, Moses read Scripture to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.
- In Deuteronomy 31:9-13, the Jews were instructed to read Scripture publicly every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles.
- In Joshua 8:34-35, Joshua read Scripture to the people of God as they entered the Promised Land.
- In 2 Kings 23:1-3, the King Josiah read the Scriptures publicly and started a revival.
- In Nehemiah 8:1-12, after the return from the Babylonian exile, the priest Ezra read the Bible publicly for hours each day for a week, which also started a revival.
- By New Testament times, Jews were reading the Scriptures as a normal part of their weekly synagogue service. During one of them, Jesus began his public ministry after publicly reading God’s Word (Luke 4:16-21).
- The Apostle Paul wrote to various churches that they were to read his letters publicly (1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16). Very specifically, in 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” The public reading of Scripture was put at the same level of importance as preaching and teaching!
- Finally, a fascinating blessing is found in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (emphasis added).
To hear someone read God’s Word well is a different experience than to simply read it silently to yourself. A well-prepared and gifted reader can bring out meaning in a text through voice inflection, rhythm, and intonation. A talented reader can present the Word of God to a group or congregation so that the listeners may experience the Bible in a rich and powerful manner. There is something moving about being with other believers and hearing the Word of God read to you as a group that results in a powerful corporate experience that can’t happen when you read alone.
So why is Scripture reading often treated as something of an afterthought? Many writers and pastors are now suggesting that we give the public reading of Scripture a more prominent role in our lives and ministries. What would happen if readers were encouraged to really study a passage—seeking the background and meaning of the text—so that they could then bring out those nuances through their voice and body language when reading? What if the reading of Scripture was treated as more than just the precursor or setup for the sermon? It is powerful when a congregation or small group has the regular opportunity to audibly experience together significant portions of God’s Word. As God tells us in Isaiah 55:11:
So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God’s Word has great power according to his will. The biblical basis for public Scripture reading among believers is strong! Who knows what God will do through an emphasis on the public reading of Scripture in your church or small group?