Scripture Engagement/ Public Reading of Scripture
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Scripture Engagement through the Public Reading of Scripture

The Bible was meant to be read, but it was also meant to be heard. While printed copies of God’s Word are easily accessible to most in free, literate cultures today, for the majority of history, because of their rarity and expense, to own a personal copy of the Scriptures was practically unheard of. So we see Ezra standing before the people of Israel reading the law of Moses aloud in Nehemiah 8. Paul’s Epistles would have been read out loud to the gatherings of believers as well (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). In fact, during these 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 non-existent throughout history.

To hear someone read the Word is a different experience than to simply read silently to oneself. 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.

So why is Scripture reading often treated as something of an afterthought? Writers and pastors are asking this question and many suggest that we give the public reading of Scripture a more prominent role in our ministries. What would happen if readers were encouraged to really study a passage, seeking the background and meaning of the text that they could then bring out in their voice and body language when reading? What if the reading of Scripture was treated as more than just the precursor or set up for the sermon?  How powerful it is 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. In addition, we read in 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul’s instruction to “…devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (NIV). 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?

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© Phil Collins, Ph.D., 2014. This material was created in partnership with the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement.