Jon: I was reading the Bible, which, you know, is kind of hard to do. But I came across this verse that says, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.”
Tim: Yeah. This is in Paul’s letter to Timothy, who’s a young pastor. And he’s telling him about ways that he can keep his community engaged with Scripture.
Jon: Okay, so preaching the Bible, I get. Teaching from the Bible, I get that too. But what about this reading Scripture together thing? Is that something I’m supposed to care about? Why did Paul think it was so important?
An Ancient Practice [00:32-01:28]
Tim: Oh man, for Paul, this was a really significant practice for the people of God. Think all the way back to Mount Sinai where the Israelites were just rescued from Egypt. They’re no longer slaves, and they need a new identity, a new story to live by. And so Moses, he gathers the people together, and he reads the Scriptures aloud. He reminds them of where they came from, who they are, and the new future that they’re called to live for.
Jon: This was the first public reading of Scripture in the Bible.
Tim: Yeah, and it didn’t stop there. When the people finally got into the land, they did it again. Joshua pulled the people together, and they all listened to the Scriptures read aloud, so they could remember where they came from and how they could keep living as a part of this new story.
Jon: So this is something they did all the time then.
Tim: Well, actually no. After Joshua died, we don’t have any more stories of the people coming together to hear God’s word. Instead the people forgot their story, and a whole generation arose that didn’t know their God or what God had done for them.
Public Reading as Remembering [01:29-02:20]
Tim: But then, centuries later, a king named Josiah rediscovered the Scriptures, and he was so excited that he called Israel to begin this practice once again. It sparked a renewal movement, that is, until the people forgot once more and they ended up in exile.
And so this is why when Ezra and Nehemiah came back from the exile, they needed to remind the people who they are and how they are to live.
Jon: So this is a powerful practice.
Tim: Yeah. In fact, reading Scripture together became a core part of Jewish life. It was done every week as they gathered in synagogue. Jesus himself participated in this practice. He even launched his mission during the weekly reading of the Scriptures. He read from the scroll of Isaiah, and then he told everyone these words were about him.
And that brings us all the way back to the early Church, where Paul told Timothy to keep this practice going, to immerse the whole community in the story of the Scriptures.
Reading as a Community [02:21-03:04]
Jon: Okay, but here’s the thing. Most people back then didn’t know how to read, so they had to do it publically. But I can read the Bible by myself.
Tim: Yeah, and you should totally do that. But don’t underestimate the power of this ancient practice. Reading the Bible by yourself can be hard. It could be easy to get distracted. But something happens when you hear God’s word read aloud and when you’re with other people. And besides, it’s really easy. You don’t need anyone to preach or teach, you just need to listen to the Scriptures, and then talk about what you have heard.
This is what God’s people have always done when they enter into new and uncertain times. They remember their story and who they are through the public reading of the scriptures.