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Jesus Creed


On the Public Reading of Scripture

posted by Scot McKnight

Scripturereading.jpgI don’t know if seminaries teach seminarians how to read the Bible publicly. I don’t recall one student in my dozen or so years teaching seminary students ever mentioning public reading of Scripture as a discipline or as an important subject. I don’t even recall it being discussed.

What is your experience with the public reading of Scripture? Who is beginning this on a regular basis? 
When Christians couldn’t read, artists painted murals on the walls so those who couldn’t read could at least “see” the Bible’s stories. Last summer we spent more than an hour pondering the paintings of the great murals in the church in San Gimignano, a picturesque walled village not far from Siena in Italy. Paintings are interpretations, to be sure, but one of the major intents was to inform the church of the content of the Bible’s stories.
Oddly enough, we live in a day when more people have Bibles, when nearly everyone can read, when everyone has access online or in print form to Bible studies and study aids, but when Bible knowledge is dramatically decreasing. Just mention “Jephthah” and see how many in the church even know the story.  Put simply, if folks don’t get it in Sunday School, the chances are high they didn’t get it. 
So what to do? Many of us are urging pastors and churches to consider more public reading of Scripture and taking the task so seriously that they study how to do it well. Enter now the excellent new book by Max McLean (with Warren Bird): Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture
.

Sure, this involves the text for the sermon but what we have in mind is more than reading the passage on which the sermon is based. Instead, we are talking about the value of lectionary reading of Scripture — aloud — weekly — well — so that God’s People can “listen” to the Word and hear what God is saying.
This book is all you need: it includes Max’s story, the basics — always clear and outlined — and even how to teach others to read Scripture aloud. There is stuff on what to say before you read and how to prepare yourself for public reading of Scripture. There’s a DVD too!


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Mike B

posted January 8, 2010 at 12:31 am


Reading of scripture actually goes back to the synagogue/temple. The repeated references to hearing in the Bible confirm the value and benefit of listening to the Word.



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Patrick Hare

posted January 8, 2010 at 1:59 am


This topic has been a passion of a professor of mine at Fuller – Clay Schmit, culminating in this helpful book, published back in 2002.
http://www.abingdonpress.com/forms/ProductDetail.aspx?pid=9780687045372



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Brad Boydston

posted January 8, 2010 at 2:12 am


When I was at Fuller Seminary in the ’80s I took a class called Speech and Reading Clinic. It was taught by a retired actor (John Holland? — a bit of a character) and was all about how to read scripture in public. In the churches that I’ve pastored I’ve held seminars or privately coached all the Bible readers. Such is common in more liturgical churches where there is still public reading of scripture. In some of the liturgical churches a “reader” is still one of the minor orders of the clergy.
The Bible was originally written to be read aloud — or perhaps we should say to be heard as a message read aloud. If there are trained readers, working through and with the lectionary can actually make the reading a high point of worship. Historically, I think you can make the argument that the reading and the offering (communion) were the two high points of the liturgy toward which everything moved or from which it all flowed. Bible reading isn’t preparation for the sermon — the sermon is a response to the Bible reading.



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paul

posted January 8, 2010 at 8:06 am


Our congregation has found the public reading of Scripture an essential part of our worship. After recognizing that we engaged very little Scripture that was not a part of our regular teaching we felt compelled to sit under more Scripture each week even if it isn’t directly tied into to any other component of the service.



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Travis Greene

posted January 8, 2010 at 8:22 am


I don’t know what seminaries do (maybe it’s part of a preaching class?) but our church has been doing this for years. We tend to do just the passage under discussion, except for special times like Advent where we’ll do all the lectionary texts. It’s great, and a good way to add a variety of different voices/faces up front.



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John W Frye

posted January 8, 2010 at 8:37 am


As a pastor I am interested in this topic because in my evangelical upbringing unless someone “rightly divided the word of truth,” the congregation would conclude (it was thought) all kinds of bizarre things. Reading the Bible was never done as thing in itself–it had to be a “biblical” reading of the Bible…if you catch my drift. It takes a genuine humility and trust that both the Bible and the man and woman, teen and child in the congregation can actually “connect” without an exegete doing his or her thing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the sermon is unimportant, but do we actually think it is *more important* than the Bible itself?



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Terry

posted January 8, 2010 at 8:47 am


In my formal life as a radio air-personality I spent years developing the ability to read well, out loud, a skill which has served me well in the pastorate. A strong theater emphasis in my undergrad work has served equally well. Interestingly, what has perhaps served least well is some of my church experience and the thinness of much of the evangelical worship I have been involved with. I appreciate the thinking behind this post as we are continually seeking to deepen our worship expression, all the while trying to remain who God has made us to be as a congregation — in our case that’s not Liturgical in the usual sense. It seems like we free/low church folk have spent a great deal of time running from that which is often best for us. This thinking and practice (with the practice offered well) could find itself a place of great joy.
McClean is an intersting choice to author such a work. Though I recall his resume to be significant, his style (in what I have heard) is a bit dramatic and formal. Reading well can apparently be in the ears of the beholder.



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Mark Mathewson

posted January 8, 2010 at 9:11 am


In ‘Worship by the Book’ (ed. D. A. Carson), R. Kent Hughes says that he and his pastoral staff and ministerial interns peridically take a couple of hours to practice the public reading of scripture under the instruction and critique of a speech instructor from Wheaton. I think that is a fabulous idea more ministers, worship leaders, etc. ought to practice.



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ron

posted January 8, 2010 at 9:26 am


Mark, Nice idea. Most congregations in America are still under 100 attendees. Not likely they are going to be able to afford a speech instructor from Wheaton that is why seminaries should teach pastors how to read so they can teach the congregation to read – what a novel concept – sounds like I Tim 2:2



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Mike Clawson

posted January 8, 2010 at 9:27 am


I go to a mainline Presbyterian (PC(USA)) seminary where they are really, REALLY big on the Lectionary, so yeah, I’d say the public reading of scripture is emphasized here.



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paul

posted January 8, 2010 at 9:41 am


We worship in an Anglican community, so public scripture reading is big. It can be boring at times, but it’s also really helpful and amazing at other times.
Just a thought… In addition to training pastors, what about also encouraging Christian parents to regularly read to their children the bible? Seems to me that this is one way to help with the problem. Both children and parents would increase in their biblical knowledge of the stories. And as kids ask the “why” questions, parents would (hopefully) be forced to seek good advice and answers helping them to learn more as well.



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Eric

posted January 8, 2010 at 9:49 am


Sadly too much of our public reading sound as though someone is reading a set of ingridients on a label. Even som of my clergy colleagues read dramatcally poorly, dropping their vocal tone at the end of each verse giving the feeling that the air has been suddenly let out of the balloon. I often wonder where the passion & wonder has gone.



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Phillip

posted January 8, 2010 at 10:24 am


I attended Princeton Seminary in the 90′s, and every student was required to take 2 semesters of speech, which included public reading of Scripture. I was privileged to have had Charles Bartow as my teacher. He has written in this area as well. I am not sure whether PTS still requires speech, but it was a good course for me to have.



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Mark Mathewson

posted January 8, 2010 at 10:37 am


Ron (#9).
I agree that in smaller congregations a “professional” couldn’t be hired. But, a pastoral staff could still regularly practice the public reading of scripture together and critique each other.



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Dan Reid

posted January 8, 2010 at 10:48 am


One of my regrets is that I did not take John Holland’s class at Fuller (Brad, #3). He was teaching it in the late 70s too, as I recall. So I get along the best I know how when I’m asked to read Scripture. And that demands practice, practice and familiarity with the text. Unfortunately, some seem to think this is not necessary, and we consequently hear a lot of poor readings of Scripture. When I hear a good or great reading, I want to applaud, like those irritating folks who applaud in worship after music. But that would reduce an act of worship to a performance and demean the reader.



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Adrienne

posted January 8, 2010 at 11:44 am


I’m sorry. I got distracted looking up Jephthah. Yikes.
Our (non-liturgical) church is careful to offer all attenders a Bible as the sermon starts, and the text is always on the screen and directions are given on how to find the chapter. Our pastor is the only one who reads, however, unless the congregation is reciting a psalm as part of the corporate “worship.”
If our culture rarely listens to words, how much more important is listening than learning how to find books and chapters in the free paperback Bible I take home?



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Jim Martin

posted January 8, 2010 at 11:59 am


I saw a review of this book somewhere but had forgotten the title, author, etc. Glad you mentioned it today.
You are on to something important. I have only known one seminary prof who actually trained his students in the public reading of Scripture. I have to believe that this will help those who are in our assemblies and who know very little about the contents of Scripture.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted January 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm


Good post and comments. Very important and missed in many of our churches. Listening to Max McLean is a good way of learning how to do it well. Being natural, and looking at it as a ministry so that the Spirit may help us as we’re reading it, for proper emphasis, etc., I think is good. And no one size or way fits all. Some seem to read more matterly of factly and are effective, while others are more animated and dramatical, which too can be effective.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted January 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm


dramatical = dramatic. the former not a word!! :)



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Brian Small

posted January 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm


At Asbury College years ago I took a preaching class and the professor actually trained us in the public reading of scripture as part of the course. In my last church I typed up some suggestions for the public reading of scripture and had a brief training session with some of my parishioners.



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Mich

posted January 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm


This is a GREAT idea! When I visit my sister in Orange County her Anglican Church reads scripture at EVERY service and it is truly wonderful! Hearing God’s Word read aloud nourishes you and the entire congregation.



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Jim S.

posted January 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm


I am an adjunct who teaches Luke-Acts. In my early years, I assigned my students to sit down and read through Luke at one sitting. They rarely did so. A few years ago, I began every class with 30 minutes of reading in Luke or Acts. The results were revolutionary. Many of my students had only heard snippets of Bible stories, certainly not whole chapters. They began not only to appreciate the Bible in a new way, but began seeing the pericopes in the light of the whole. And the love hearing the Word.
Our first trial was funny, though. After reading Luke 1-4, (each student read 10 verses aloud) I asked, “So, what did you hear?” One student responded, “I just loved hearing about the coming of the wise men!” (awkward silence) Another student shyly said, “Um, I think that was in another gospel.” Which led to a fruitful discussion on listening to scripture.
Good stuff, Scot. I ordered this book and am reading it together with a group of eight people at church who read scripture publicly in worship. We are enjoying the discussion and the insights, and we are getting better at it!



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Darryl

posted January 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm


I grew up in Texas where there was competition (UIL) “Poetry Interpretation” and “Prose Interpretation”. I competed in High School during the 70s. This has always served me well when it comes to public reading of scripture. In fact, I was always a bit surprised to hear people compliment my reading of scripture–didn’t everyone who publicly read scripture read it as “oral interp”? Most folks had no idea what I meant!
I encourage ministers/pastors who reside in Texas to visit a local High School Speech/Drama teacher and ask if you could sit in during a competition or in a practice. There is a lot one can learn from this.



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Chuck

posted January 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm


I have been trying to gently urge our pastor to start doing this during our services. I think the poverty of this discipline in so many evangelical churches can be traced to many things, but one for sure is our distorted understanding of the nature of the Scriptures. We tend to appreciate God’s Word only for it’s practical value (how it will fix our lives) rather than it’s inherent value (the power of God), be it taught, spoken, read, whatever. I would love to see this practice rediscovered.



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Mike Clawson

posted January 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm


I grew up in a conservative Baptist tradition where we read scripture aloud in the service a lot. I don’t know how common this is in other types of evangelical/bible churches, but it was in mine. But a few years ago when we were in a contemporary suburban seeker-ish church that was trying to incorporate more liturgy and different types of elements into the worship, I found it really strange that folks were really resistant to reading scripture aloud. Their complaint was that it was too “Catholic”. I was like “huh?” All I can figure is that most of the congregation were ex-Catholics and thus associated reading scripture in church with the Catholic liturgy. I thought that was an ironic twist considering that many of these same types of folks would have probably also accused Catholicism of not being “bible-based” enough. :)



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Randy G.

posted January 8, 2010 at 3:26 pm


A couple of tiny points here. Scripture reading is a fine skill that can be very helpful to a congregation or small group.
1. Some of these posts read as if low-church evangelical churches do not have anyone read scripture at all, like even a passage to be preached on. Please tell me if I am mistaken (as I hope I am.)
2. One of my pastors from several years back had a practice with a similar effect. She read the sermon text (usually but not always NT), after a lay member read the non-sermon lectionary text (usually but not always OT). Mary would then repetitively PROCLAIM a key phrase from the text at appropriate points in her sermon, such that the text really got planted in the congregation’s brains (or at least in mine). I have used the practice in my own occasional preaching.
3. I have the wonderful privilege of having a wife who reads out loud to me — A practice we began at the behest of Madeline L’Engle. I read to my wife too, but I much more enjoy the former, where as a listener I can imagine the scenes from scripture or whatever novel we are reading. She also writes reflectively on scripture, but generally I have to read those reflections, rather than hear them.
Peace,
Randy G.



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Bill

posted January 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm


Rediscovering? The public reading of Scripture has been part of many traditions. I am Anglican and public reading is a huge part of the litrugy and many other occasions.
“Put simply, if folks don’t get it in Sunday School, the chances are high they didn’t get it.”
Too bad we rely on Sunday School. I think part of the problem is we don’t read Scripture enough and have probably convinced ourselves at some level that some parts of Scripture are just irrelevant so we don’t read those. I knew a woman who would not read Lamentations because it depressed her. She was on the “I Want To Feel Good” reading plan.
The Jews have read and sung Scriptures in the synagogue and the Temple for awhile. What’s our problem?



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Ryan

posted January 8, 2010 at 6:46 pm


As a Lutheran, along with some of the Anglicans who have commented, I can’t help but be astonished by a post like this. In our churches we hear the Scriptures every single week, read aloud–Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, Gospels. The Western liturgy is literally DRENCHED in Scripture. Yet those of us from the so-called “liturgical” traditions (ALL traditions have a liturgy) are often accused of being “dead” by evangelicals, following the traditions of men, etc., etc. And you don’t read the Scriptures–in “worship”!
Yet I also have to comment on the remark of John Frye (#6), who wrote: “Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the sermon is unimportant, but do we actually think it is *more important* than the Bible itself?”
The sermon, sacramentally conceived as God’s very Word in present tense, is precisely *more important* than the Bible itself! The Church, and the proclamation of the Gospel, made the Bible–not vice versa. That’s the problem with you evangelicals!



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Jinny

posted January 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm


When I did a field education with TEDS Chapel, we did have a workshop on public reading of scripture. We each got a turn to practice, pointers on how we read, and courtesy (i.e. waiting for the rustling pages to stop before starting to read).
At a church I did a different field ed at, there were 4 regular readers who worked with the senior pastor on reading the passages.
I was at a Greek Orthodox church this past fall semester, and the style of reading differs. The Greek Gospel reading is often read tonally (musically), and the English is often more monotone, except for the last sentence or so of the Gospel reading, but both Epistle or OT tend to be monotone.
I think it helps people to hear Scripture read with more of a story-telling style. They might pick up something new.



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dave wainscott

posted January 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm


Amazing it doesn’t come up in some seminaries.
I had excellent classes at Fresno Pacific University (Dalton Reimer)
And nobody got through Asbury Seminary in my era (1990) without a class with Don Boyd (“Servant as Liturgist”) emphasizing this big time.
Thanks, profs. I have drawn from these classes for years!



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Peggy

posted January 10, 2010 at 12:04 am


Scot,
The last sermon I preached as my former church was as Priscilla reading the letter from Paul to the Ephesians. I encouraged folks to close their eyes and just listen. Took exactly 20 minutes. It got the best comments ever … as well as the worst comments. The good far outweighed the bad. I remember commenting to one of my friends after finishing: “If someone has a problem with that message, they will have to take it up with Paul.” Of course, I was unable to deliver that message, because only those who were thrilled gave me any feedback. The critics all made a point of telling the senior pastor about it.
One of my favorite books in Homiletics class was called Reading Scripture In Public (A guide for preachers and lay readers) by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Great little book.
Thanks for highlighting the possibilities and encouraging others to give the scriptures a better reading than a recipe (good comparison, from one of the earlier comments!)



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