The practice of reading Scripture publicly was an important part of ancient Jewish and early Christian life. Learn more about the history of this practice.
Public Reading of Scripture
Reading the Bible aloud with a group of people is an ancient practice. In fact, the origins of the Bible are rooted in public readings among members of the community. Explore the origins and development of this fascinating biblical topic, and see how it offers us a model for engaging the Scriptures in our own day.Video Details
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
This is a quote from 1 Timothy 4:13, where Paul is instructing a young pastor named Timothy on how to keep his congregation engaged. The importance of preaching and teaching are easy enough to understand, but what about the public reading of Scripture?
For Paul, reading the Bible publicly was a highly important practice.
This practice dates all the way back to Mount Sinai when the Israelites were first rescued from Egypt. No longer slaves to the Egyptians, the people needed a new story to identify with. Moses gathered the people together and read the Scriptures aloud to them, reminding them of where they came from, who they are, and the new future they have been called to. This is the first example in the Bible of public reading of Scripture.
When the Israelites arrived in the promised land, Joshua read Scripture aloud to them again as an act of remembering their deliverance and covenant relationship with Yahweh. But after Joshua's death, we don't read much more about the public reading of Scripture. During this period, the Israelites forgot their story and their covenant promise. This led to a generation that did not know God. But centuries later, a king named Josiah rediscovered the Scriptures and called the people together to have them read aloud.
The practice of reading Scripture aloud was renewed once again, and the people of Israel came back to God for a time. Once again, their unfaithfulness coincided with forgetting the practice of publicly reading Scripture. After returning from exile, the people were ready to renew their covenant relationship with God, and this renewal was marked by a public reading of Scripture.
Because of this rich biblical history, public reading is a key practice in the Jewish faith. Jesus also participated in this practice, and it was during the weekly reading of Scripture that he launched his mission. He read from the scroll of Isaiah and then told everyone that the words he read were written about him. So when Paul talks about this practice to Timothy, there is a long history of this practice among Jewish people.
Reading Scripture aloud is powerful.
The public reading of Scripture was a key aspect of faith in ancient times largely because few people knew how to read, meaning that it was their primary access to Scripture. So Paul and other apostles were routinely reading Scripture aloud. But this practice was also an important ritual for Jewish and Christian people. Though it is not as common today, it’s a practice that can connect us to a legacy of faith and our identity within the family of God.
Continue Your Learning Journey
How to Read The Bible
This is a starter video series that helps you read the Bible while understanding its unique design and literary devices.