Ancient vs. Modern Ways of Reading Scripture

Tim and Jon discuss the differences in ancient and modern ways of reading scripture, including why the Hebrew people would read scripture together as a group. The guys also talk about how challenging it can be to read the Bible by yourself.

Episode 4
Jun 2, 2017
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Show Notes

This is our fourth episode in our series "How To Read The Bible." Tim and Jon discuss the differences in ancient and modern ways of reading scripture, including why the Hebrew people would read scripture together as a group. The guys also talk about how challenging it can be to read the Bible by yourself.

In the first half of the show (0-34:00) the guys talk about the differences between modern day emphasis on application the reading of God’s word, and the Old Testament emphasis on “responding” to hearing God’s word.

The second half of the show (34-50:00) Tim exposits on the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Torah out loud together. A practice that was instituted in the Old Testament and has continued all the way through to modern times in today’s synagogues. Tim also talks about an interesting piece of Jewish history, the Dura Europos Synagogue. Jon asks why is it so important to read the Bible together as a group.

The last ten minutes of the show the guys ask what the origins of the sermon are and why ancient Israel had such a difficult time remembering what God had done for them.

Here is the video that accompanies this podcast series: Public Reading of Scripture

Additional Resources:

Music Credits:

Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music; Acquired in Heaven by Beautiful Eulogy; The Truth about Flight, Love and BB Guns by Foreknown

Scripture References
Exodus 17
Exodus 24
Exodus 15
Nehemiah 8:8
Jeremiah 36
Judges 2
Exodus 7:14
Exodus 20-22
Deuteronomy 4
Deuteronomy 31
Joshua 8

Podcast Date: June 02, 2017


Speakers in the audio file:

Jon Collins

Tim Mackie

Jon: This is Jon from The Bible Project. Today on the podcast, it is the first in a new series

on How to Read the Bible. If you're like me, reading the Bible is difficult. It usually

involves sitting alone at a desk or on a couch, opening up to some random passage

and hoping it makes sense. So today, Tim and I are going to talk about different,

more ancient way to read the Bible.

Tim: The purpose of the Bible is to be read aloud to God's assembled people, to both tell

the story that reminds them who they are, and also to invite those assembled people

into this covenant relationship with God, not just so that they know God but so that

they are transformed by this relationship and then become God's representatives to

the nation.

Jon: How was the Bible read originally and what is the primary purpose of reading the

Bible? Here we go.

This is kind of a new type of project we're going to do. Because normally we'll take a

book of the Bible, its literary structure and themes and design, or we'll take one

specific theme or motif that goes through all Scripture. Those have been the subjects

that we talked about. But we want to talk about this idea of why it's important to

read scripture out loud together.

That's not a theme of the Bible, per se, but it's something we're interested in. I think

we should talk a little bit why we're interested in it, but that's what we're going to

talking about. Reading the Bible out loud with each other.

Tim: Having the Bible read aloud to a group of Jesus's followers and no teaching, no

sermon. Just hearing a big section of the Bible read aloud.

Actually, there's a bit of personal history that's just now occurring to me. When I was

a fairly new Christian. I was in my early 20s, Jon and I were both a part of this

community connected to our church and the ministry outreach escape order called

Skate Church. This group, I don't know, maybe 80 people or so-ish met Thursday

nights in the gigantic living room of our house for years.

I remember one of those Thursday nights, some guy came and just recited the whole

letter to the Ephesians. And that was the main gathering point. That was Jason

Nightingale, came to Thursday night.

Jon: What did that take? Like 15 minutes or something?

Tim: It wasn't that long. He both gave a little thought or exposition after it, but mostly it

was just he was pointing out key themes that repeat in the letter to the Ephesians.

But just the act of having a whole book of the Bible read aloud as the main thing,

that was brand new to me. I'd never been exposed to anything like that. It was a guy

named Jason Nightingale, who's ministry is to travel around the world reciting whole

books of the Bible that he's memorized.

Jon: My first experience, actually, with Jason Nightingale I was 17. I went to this

conference in Portland, Jason Nightingale did the Revelation.

Tim: The whole book of Revelation?

Jon: The whole book. I remember it was difficult for me to pay attention the whole time

because I'm 17-year-old. But it was captivating. I don't remember anything else

about that conference but I remember that. I was fascinated how he had

remembered so much. It was really a new experience to hear all that scripture read

out loud, like that. That was my experience.

Tim: I agree it was really remarkable when I first heard that too. Then what I did with that

group is for, I don't know, maybe a part of a year, about every three months or

quarterly, we would get a friend to open up their house on a Friday night, and we

just gather whoever wanted to come, and we read each of the four gospels aloud in

one evening over the course of that year.

Just two and a half hours, and we just sit in a huge circle and just take a turn. Read a

whole chapter. Then get together with some friends in one long afternoon, we read

all of Paul's letters aloud in one go. Anyhow, this became a really powerful

experience for me so much so that it motivated me to memorize myself the Sermon

on the Mount, and then I did the same thing like, recited it for that Thursday night


I'm so glad I did that. Having all of that in my head, not having to, like, "What did

Jesus say again," but just it's in there, it's been the greatest gift to me over the years

to have his most famous teachings in my memory. Anyway, that's a bit of our

personal experience.

As we've been doing The Bible Project, we came across someone who wanted to

give us some encouragement and this is his whole deal.

Jon: Bill, he's out in New York and we went to visit him. He's just like...I think it's at lunch

on Fridays.

Tim: He's a businessman. He opens us his office.

Jon: And just come to the office and then they play the Bible with a specific app that he's

all about, Word of Promise, which is like this Hollywood version.

Tim: It's dramatized.

Jon: It's dramatized.

Tim: I see.

Jon: There's an actor for every character and there's a little bit of music in the


Tim: It's an audio Bible just playing in a room.

Jon: So they just show up to play the audio Bible and eat a meal, and then they go, "Cool,

thanks for coming." There's not necessarily discussion afterwards. People will stay

and talk, but it's not mandatory.

Tim: Just hearing the scripture read aloud is the thing.

Jon: And Bill is saying, that's powerful, and we just need to do more of it. I hadn't really

heard anyone else advocate for that specifically. At the same time, he was telling us

that, we had already planned this Revelation event where we were having Jason

Nightingale come. And so we did that.

Tim: At the end of 2016 when we premiered last read scripture video about the

Revelation, we showed and —

Jon: And Jason Nightingale recited the Revelation.

Tim: All these years later, we invited him back, and he came.

Jon: Yeah, and he did it. It was exactly as I remembered it. It was awesome.

Tim: It was incredible.

Jon: He looked like he had not changed at all, which is strange because that was 20 years


Tim: He kind of looks like a kind Hells Angel. Like you shake hands with him, and he's very

tall, he's a big dude. He could kill me with his pinkie of finger. But he's so kind. Then

he gets up and starts reciting a book of the Bible. His voice is such, such a powerful...

[crosstalk 00:07:25]

Jon: Then we started experimenting in the office were on Wednesday mornings now we

get together and we listen for an hour. With that Word of Promise app, we listened

through Mark. It was a really cool experience. It just hit me how when you hear this

kind of one story after the next and just let it absorb, you just get different sense of

the story. And Jesus really came across this pretty rough writer.

Tim: Especially in Mark.

Jon: He's like no-nonsense. Not meek and mild at all.

Tim: There are many Christian traditions where reading of the Scriptures in the worship

gathering plays a role. But in the history of the church, it's taking the form of these

things called the lectionaries, where there'll be a reading often from the Pentateuch,

from the prophets, and then from the Gospels. There will be selection.

They're usually bigger sections or sometimes smaller, but the practice of having a

large section of the Bible just read aloud is not a practice. It's widespread in any

Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox Christian tradition as a regular part of the lectionaries.

Basically, like that. But even then, it's still small sections of a book.

Jon: If someone tells you, "Hey, we got together and we read through a book," you'll be

like, "Wow, that's crazy."

Tim: Yeah. Or why somebody like Jason, whose ministry is to go around the world just

reciting whole books of the Bible at one go, and you go, "That's weird." I thought

about this over time, like, "That's weird that that's weird." I feel like that shouldn't be


Jon: I think one of the things we're contemplating, the reason why we want to do this

video and have this discussion is maybe that shouldn't be weird anymore. No one's

really advocating for it. There's plenty of people who advocate for spend time alone

with the Bible and read large sections by yourself. And that's awesome. But there's

this unique opportunity to advocate for Christians developing this disciplines,

coming together and reading it out loud.

Tim: Actually, even though the history of the Christian church hasn't really put this

practice in the spotlight, it's very ancient. It's a very Jewish. Actually, the origins of

the Bible itself, are wrapped up with this very practice of God's people gathering

together in sacred moments to hear large portions of the Divine Word read to them.

So we thought we want to make a video about this.

Jon: We want to make a video and then we just want to see what happens. We want to

see if people will start doing it more. If you're using our videos to read through the

Bible, maybe a way to do it is read with other people.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: There's a lot of practical reasons why that's awesome, and we can talk about those,

but what this conversation's going to be first is you walking us through the history

of it in Scripture itself and then after, that.

Tim: That's right. It's a biblical theme study. The whole biblical story isn't unified by this,

but this is a repeated idea.

Jon: Repeated idea?

Tim: It's repeated in the story of the Bible. Actually, the written origins of the Bible are

wrapped up with this very practice of public reading scripture to the group of people


Jon: For a lot of reasons, it seems important. We don't know where it's going to lead

besides a video, but hopefully, it'll encourage people to try it.

Tim: We think that it should be normal that followers of Jesus invite groups of people

over to their homes for an evening of hearing the Bible read aloud.

Jon: Maybe we should start with the practical things really quick because that's

where...Getting people together to just read the Bible out loud is super simple.

Tim: Totally.

Jon: Right.

Tim: It's very simple.

Jon: Very simple. It's intimidating to think about starting a small group or something.

Tim: Reading a Bible study.

Jon: Because you feel like you need to know, you need to be prepared. There's going to

be all these questions because you're leading it. You're like, I don't know. It just kind

of has all this weightiness to it. But just inviting people over to your home to read

the Bible out loud, that's it. Show up, let's read.

And you don't even have to read. You can get a Bible app and have it play. You

could do it for 20 minutes, you could do it for 60 minutes, you could do for two

hours, whatever makes the most sense. It's really simple.

But then also it just develops community in a different way where once you've done

that and you've come together, it's just natural to then talk about what you...

Tim: It's like going to a movie. You have the experience together with these people that

becomes a social bond. Also, there's a formative thing that happens to there.

Think about an average Protestant, I don't know, but Catholic as well. Where do

people encounter the Bible? Well, they will encounter it as part of a worship

gathering or a mass of some kind. In what way? They might hear a section of the

Bible read aloud as a lectionary, or they might hear a section of the Bible read aloud

and taught or preached on as a part of a sermon. But just by necessity, there has to

be just a paragraph or a single story.

If for years, that's the only exposure you have to the Bible, what's the purpose of the

Bible? I don't know. What do you mean? Its purpose it's just you go to church and

you hear paragraph read. You're never exposed to anything larger than one

paragraph at a time.

I think that's actually true for many people's personal experience of reading the Bible

silently by yourself at night, or in the morning or something. And usually, it's—

Jon: Or with a devotional guide and they pull out some—

Tim: Or a devotional guide which focuses on one sentence, or maybe three sentences, or

a paragraph, or even just one chapter. But the point is, is that these books were

written books, unified literary wholes that are meant to be read from beginning to


Jon: It'll be like if there was this whole group of people that love to get together and just

quote lines from the Godfather trilogy or something. That's right.

Tim: They never watch the whole movie.

Jon: They would never watch the whole movie, but they would show scenes every once in

a while and they will talk about it.

Tim: That's right. Show two-minute clip.

Jon: Or someone says, "You know what we should do? We should sit down and watch the

entire Godfather Part 1." And people will be like, "What?"

Tim: "What? No one does that."

Jon: "The whole thing all at once?"

Tim: What?" Those are long movie.

Jon: Yeah. That will take three hours. Watching the whole trilogy, that would take nine

hours. That third one's a beast.

Tim: But especially now in the days of binge-watching on Netflix, people don't even flinch

at committing four weeknights in a row. You get home from work and you just

watch from six till bedtime. But isn't it weird that we don't think about the Bible with

that same kind of mentality?

It's formative and that it can reshape how you think about the Bible if you stop

thinking about verses, you stop thinking about the Bible in terms of verses and you

think about it in terms of books, and sections of book and movement, and so on.

Jon: There's got to be something psychologically different from reading and hearing, too.

Because I have read like large sections of Mark, but for some reason just listening to

it was a different experience.

Tim: It's a totally different experience.

Jon: And I don't know why. I'm not a scientist.

Tim: As we'll see, we're almost certainly way more in touch with how these books were

written and what they were meant to do, which was to be read aloud. There are

some books of the Bible that even say in themselves, "This was meant to be read

aloud to a group of people."

This is about reshaping our experience of the Bible, our expectations. It also creates

new opportunities for the Bible to work on us and the mess with us. It's just through

the most simple practice that requires no religious professionals.

Jon: A religious professional with no prep - no one has to prepare.

Tim: It's just the simplest thing in the world.

Jon: Then you get to do something that you always feel like you don't do enough, at

least if you are a typical Christian.

Tim: Yeah, do it together with your friends.

Jon: You want to walk us through this?

Tim: Yeah. It's been a while in these conversations since I've been able to do good Bible

trivia. So maybe don't look at notes.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Where is the writing of the Bible mentioned for the first time in the story of the

Bible? In other words, you start at Page 1, where will you come across, for the first

time, the mention of anybody writing the Bible?

Jon: Writing the Bible as in knowing that this is part of a—?

Tim: Yeah. It's somebody writing and what they're writing is something that's going to

itself become a part of the book that you're reading. If it's a narrative, we're talking

about the first mention of the writing of the Bible within the Bible itself.

Jon: Well, give me an example of one that's not the first that's won't give anything away.

Tim: Like in the book of Jeremiah, he's told to write down all of his prophecies and poems

and essays into a scroll. So he does. There is a story about the writing of the book of

Jeremiah in Jeremiah.

Jon: Got it.

Tim: And then a whole chapter, Jeremiah 36.

Jon: I'm guessing it's somewhere in Exodus with Moses. I just don't know what story

would be.

Tim: It's good. Good job. That's great. That's right. It's always pleasant. Many people think

it has something to do with Moses, but typically I think it has something to do with

the 10 commandments, because oh, yeah, writing of the commandment and stuff

like that.

Actually, the first mention of the writing of the Bible in the Bible is a story before

Israel gets to Mount Sinai, but they're in the desert on the way there. It's in Exodus

chapter 17. The people have escaped from slavery in Egypt, they've got food and

some stuff that plundered from the Egyptians, but they're an escaped band of slaves

out in the desert.

They're not Canaanites but they live in the south. They live in what would be

modern-day Jordan around the region of Amman. They are called the Amalekites.

They see this right for plunder and so they totally pounce on an attack to the


The Israelites have to form an impromptu defense force. This is the story people

might be familiar with, is that Moses goes up on a hill to pray for victory. When he

raises his hands in prayer, Israel is winning, but then he's an old man, he's tired. So

his arms get heavy because he's like, "Oh."

Then when he stopped praying, Israel starts losing the battle. It's odd. So he gets

two guys to help him hold his arms up and then he prays and they win.

Then once the battle is over, Exodus 7:14, God says to Moses, "Write this on a scroll

as something to be remembered." This is the first mention of the writing of the Bible

in the Bible. To me, it's interesting because it has nothing to do with commands or


Jon: It's a story.

Tim: "Remember the story." The purpose of writing isn't just for archival purposes. It's to

actively remember this event. What was this event? God rescued his people out of

slavery, they're vulnerable, they were almost destroyed, but God intervened and

rescued his people.

The first thing from the story is a very simple takeaway. What do we learn about the

purpose of the Bible from this first mentioning of the writing of the Bible in the

Bible? Its purpose is apparently to tell a story so that God's people remember how

He acted to save and inform the people that he would bring himself. That's the first

mentioned of the reading the Bible in the Bible.

Jon: Cool.

Tim: Let's say that one doesn't go over very well in your Friday night gathering.

Jon: People aren't impressed.

Tim: Then you can follow up with the next one, which is what's the second mention of the

writing of the Bible in the Bible. Your listeners, [unintelligible 00:21:21] and

somebody will say, "Moses to also..." The second mentioned of the writing the Bible

in the Bible does take place at Mount Sinai in connection with the 10


Just think of how the story goes so far. Israel has already experienced its great

salvation event. They sang a song about it in Exodus 15. They've been saved again,

and so Moses started writing the Bible to tell that story.

Now they get to this mountain, and God appears personally on the mount in smoke

and cloud and all that and He wants to enter into a covenant relationship with them

so that He can make Israel into a kingdom of priests, a whole nation that will be his

priestly representatives to the nations. We've explored this and many Bible Project


They assembled. Here we go. The public reading of Scripture. The people assemble

to hear from God at the foot of the mountain. And Moses—

Jon: It makes them sound like transformers or something. Assemble.

Tim: Wow, assemble.

Jon: It sounds like a weird word. But that's the word.

Tim: That's the word. It's a normal English. Assembly. School assembly. So they all come

before the mountain, and God announces the 10 commandments to Moses. Then a

few dozens more commandments that are all found in Exodus 20, 21, 22. Then

Moses, he writes them down. Second mention of the writing the Bible in the Bible.

Then he goes down in Exodus 24 to the people. We hear Moses writes up all of the

terms of this covenant relationship. He reads them aloud. This is the first time

somebody reads the Divine Word aloud to God's assembled people. And it's a

marriage. It's a wedding ceremony. It's a covenant. The first mention of the writing

the Bible is about a salvation story that God's people are to never forget because it

reminds them who they are.

The second mention of the writing the Bible in the Bible is writing up the terms of a

covenant relationship. Then the first time those words are ever read aloud over

God's people, it's a covenant ceremony. So the people here all the words and then

they respond, "Everything the Lord has said we're going to do."

This is why when I start to think about this, I thought, "This is interesting video and it

really ties into—."

Jon: The whole formation of their identity.

Tim: The origins of the Bible are completely wrapped up with the origins of God forming

a people and the two exist very closely connected. The purpose of the Bible is to be

read aloud to God's assembled people to both tell the story that reminds them who

they are, and also to invite those assembled people into this covenant relationship

with God not just so that they know God, but so that they are transformed by this

relationship and then become God's representatives to the nations.

Sociologists have language for this; identity formation. The purpose of the Bible is to

be read aloud to God's gathered people to help them form a unique identity as a

minority group among the nations who live by a different story.

We can talk about this later, but following in our day, was combination of this story.

Following Jesus is very hard. It involves living by a value set that's often not shared

by the majority of your family and friends. What kinds of habits or practices does it

take to foster that to make it seem normal that following Jesus is actually the right

thing to do, even though it's not the story everyone else is doing? It's right here -

the Bible.

It's not you getting a cup of tea and going by yourself? No. It's that you assemble as

a group to hear the story and to hear the terms of the relationship and what God's

calling you to as a people. That's the habit. That itself is the ordinance of the Bible.

Jon: A habit that I was taught in terms of reading the Bible was a very individual habit. Sit

down with your Bible. There are four steps. You observe what's in the text, you...I

don't know if I'll remember all this. Then you interpret and then you apply. I think I

missed one because that's three. But I got the application. I don't know where else

you go from there.

I just remember the whole point was the application. Get to application. This is very

early. I mean, this is before Bible college. If I ever sat down to read the Bible, it was

always about what am I supposed to do with this? How is this supposed to

specifically, concretely change what I do today? If I didn't get there, I didn't feel like

it was a success - like my Bible reading time was a failure.

Tim: Men, it's a lot of pressure.

Jon: It's a lot of pressure. Because often you would just get into observation mode and

be like, "This is confusing."

Tim: That's what I'm observing.

Jon: I'm observing that I'm very confused.

Tim: Why did this person kill that person?

Jon: I didn't have a category in my mind of sitting down and reading the Bible and being

confused is a good thing in and of itself, especially when done in community.

Because as you read these stories and listening, these stories are shaping your

imagination in the way you think about the world. Even if you don't realize, they're

doing that.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: So success isn't coming to a specific application and then sticking with it. There's

success and just getting together and reading the Bible. It's like a new definition of

success that's a lot more manageable.

Tim: And historic.

Jon: And historic.

Tim: But notice in this first scene, Exodus 24, where the proto Bible, the first version of a

section of the Bible is read aloud, what the people do is respond. They respond. I've

actually come to really dislike the word application in this process of Bible reading.

Mostly, because I think that term itself has an assumption built into it about the

nature and purpose of the Bible that it's some kind of handbook and I just need to

use the right interpretation code and then I can—

Jon: Put the right interpretation, the algorithm in and I get my life planned.

Tim: Then I get my life verse or life application for the day. Much of the Bible doesn't

work like that. You could argue that some parts of the Bible do, those are that are

more oriented towards prose discourse, basically, the letters of the New Testament.

Jon: The sermon on the mount that you memorized?

Tim: Yes, Sermon on the Mount, but moral or ethical teaching. But Lamentations, just five

long funeral poems over the destruction of Jerusalem, what can you apply? I guess I

need to lament over a city that got destroyed recently. You can look it up on Google.

Jon: Well, you get really creative and you develop a new skill, a skill in which to apply

these things in very creative ways. The people who are best at it end up writing

devotionals. Right?

Tim: Yeah. And you are like, "Whoa."

Jon: For Lamentation, it's like, "Think of something in your life that has brought you grief

and then use this verse in the way that he repeated this word to process it in this

way." And you are like, "Oh, okay." That's cool but it takes a devotional writer to do it


Tim: There's a reason why teachers are said to be a group of people God raises up for the

church. the Bible is hard. That's a gift. And anybody who's doing that, that's

awesome. I want to cheer them on.

But at the same time, for me, the concern is, I think just application is just the wrong

category for what most of the Bible is, which is narrative and poetry makes up nearly

75% of the Bible. That's why the story is suggestive to me in Exodus 24. "The people

respond." I like that word "response."

Lamentations forces a response. Response is different than application. Response

means, oh, this work of literature is supposed to do something to me and I'm

supposed to react to it in some way. It is trying to do something to me.

Jon: I was kind of like, "If you're looking at a painting or something, you respond

emotionally and intellectually to it, but you're not applying that to yourself."

Tim: But let's just say a visual image, like a flyer or a promotional flyer for a world relief

organization. They'll show you a picture of a real destitute village and some hungry

people. The purpose of that image is for you to respond. Is to go to this website and

find out how to volunteer, how to get involved, what to do. But the purpose is for

you to respond with action and service and generosity.

But if you go stand in front of a work of art down at the Museum of Art, it's also a

visual image that is trying to get a response out of you but it's not at all the same

kind of response.

Jon: The kind of application is not very well defined.

Tim: It might get you to start thinking about the meaning of your life or whatever. It can

take so many different forms. That's the question is, different parts of the Bible are

trying to get you to respond in different ways.

Jon: And there are some parts of the Bible that just want you to absorb the story like you

would absorb a piece of art. Then there are some parts of the Bible that want you to

actually make a change or decisions.

Tim: A specific behavior.

Jon: Very specific behavior.

Tim: There's no one size fits all when it comes to hearing the Bible read to you or reading

yourself and application.

Jon: So you like the word response because it's broad?

Tim: Because it's broad, and because instead of the Bible as a handbook, and I go apply

the interpretation code and find the thing I'm supposed to do, the Bible itself is an

active reality. It's an active word that doing things to me. It's acting upon me. I'm

being read as much as I'm reading the Bible.

Jon: I see.

Tim: It's reading me.

Jon: Application is all focused on, "What am I going to do." Response has this category,

which is, "What's naturally happening because of this interaction?"

Tim: That's right. So response. The Israelites at the foot of the mountain, they just heard

the terms of the covenant. Their response is, "Everything you said, we're going to


Jon: It's appropriate response.

Tim: But when they hear the book of Lamentations read aloud, that is very different. It

puts you in a completely different headspace.

Jon: You wouldn't say, "Everything that was said, I'm going to do," after reading


Tim: No, you would. You would say—

Jon: You'd be worried if someone said that. You'd be like, "Hold on. I thank you miss the

point there."

Tim: Yeah, that's right. That is just its own idea that the Bible read aloud forces a response

from the group of people who are hearing it, but different parts of the Bible will

generate a different response. That's just a simpler way of honoring what the Bible

actually is and is for.


Tim: We've got the first writing of the Bible in the Bible and the first time the proto Bible

is read aloud telling the story, inviting people into that story, and then—

Jon: Having some sort of ceremony.

Tim: A ceremony where you're called to respond, whether you're going to live according

to this story. As you read on in the Bible, this thing about remembering the story

and remembering that you've committed yourself to this story and these people

who live in this way, this is big, big deal, especially in the book of Deuteronomy,

which is the last book of the Torah.

There's a huge theme. The word "remember" occurs dozens of times in this book.

Remember what happened at the mountain. Remember what happened at the Red

Sea, the Sea of Reeds. Remember what happened at the Exodus story to Pharaoh.

Remember how he provided for you in the wilderness.

There's this motif that in your homes, in your families and with your friends, you're

constantly retelling the story and talking about it and thinking about it.

Jon: To keep the memory fresh.

Tim: To keep the memory fresh, yeah. For example, Deuteronomy chapter 4, Moses says

to Israel, "Look, I've taught you the decrees and the laws God commanded me so

that you'll follow them when you go into the land. Observe them carefully, for this

will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations who will hear about how

you live, and they'll say, surely this nation is wise in understanding."

Again, this is about the scriptures read, when they're remembered and responded to,

they form a people who are distinct and that the nation's look on and say, "Well,

these people who live by the story, they're different and they're wise and it's

compelling. It's the kingdom of priest’s idea.

Then it goes on. Moses says, "Be careful, watch yourself so you don't forget

everything you've experienced. Teach your children and your children's children after

them." This is passing on the story which Jewish culture has absolutely mastered.

We're talking about one of those ancient people groups from the ancient world that

still has an active religious liturgy that it's morphed as time has gone on, but it's the

same basic things that they've been doing for millennia. And they've been able to

maintain their unique identity no matter what culture that Jewish people have gone


Jon: What actually happens in synagogue? Is there aloud reading of the Torah?

Tim: We'll get there. Yes, that's right. That's where this is all going. Where we end is in the

first-century synagogues with weekly reading aloud of the Scripture. But it has deep

roots all the way back to "remember the story." That's a big theme in Deuteronomy.

Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 31, this is where we first kind

of land here. Moses is going to die. He's going to pass leadership on to Joshua. So

what he does is he writes what I call the proto Torah - the version of the Torah that

he contributed to and shaped directly and then passed on to Joshua and then the

later prophets after him who would shape it into its final form.

But he talks about how he gave this proto Torah to the priests and they're to keep it.

Then every seven years, they are to have this huge assembly. Here's the passage.

Deuteronomy 31. "Assemble everybody, men, women and children, even the

immigrants who are living in your towns, so that everybody can listen and learn to

fear the LORD your God and carefully follow all the words of this Torah.

The children who don't know this Torah - the word "Torah" here means teaching,

instruction - the children who don't know it, they need to hear it so that they learn

to fear the Lord as long as you live in the land you're going to." Mount Sinai was

remarkable. We assembled everybody to read that but now we're instituting this as a

practice here every seven years."

Jon: So this is like renewing the ceremony every seven years?

Tim: That's right. You're reenacting what happened on Mount Sinai when we first entered

this covenant relationship. Now, every seven years, we're thinking in someone's

lifespan, then they're going to experience 10, a dozen or more of these ceremonies.

It's all about shaping you to live as a unique kind of people together with your

unique mission.

There's a Jewish scholar - I have some quotes here - a Jewish scholar who has some

great insights about this practice, which is very ancient. Jeffrey Tigay. This is a

commentary on Deuteronomy.

He says, "This public reading of the teaching - which is what the word "Torah" means

- public reading of the teaching is part of what he calls the democratic character of

biblical religion. It addresses its teachings and demand to all of its adherence with

few distinctions between the priests and the laity. And it calls for a universal

education of the citizens and law and religion."

So, I think, if children, this long sections of the Torah that are just like civil law about

what to do with house robbers and building parapets on your house and when your

donkey comes and eats my wheat, children, you know, what's going on here? So he

says, "It's the entire people, not just a spiritual or intellectual elite that are God's

children and consecrated to him. Biblical religion is for the people as a whole."

He cites this really interesting example. There's a third-century synagogue. One of

the oldest synagogues that's been excavated, it's in a town called Dura-Europos

which is in Syria. I don't know what kind of condition that town's in right now in the

midst of the war.

Jon: Dura-Europos was the name of the city?

Tim: Dura-Europos. It's called the Dura-Europos synagogue. Whether that's the name of

the town or it was at earlier stage, that's a good question. Google it. Anyone

listening, Google it. the Dura-Europos Synagogue. It's some of the most ancient

Jewish art that exists.

Jon: How do you spell it?

Tim: Dura is D-U-R-A. Then Europos, just spell Europe. It's some of the most ancient

Jewish paintings that exist ever.

Jon: There's a lot of them.

Tim: All of them are artistic retelling of stories from the Hebrew Bible.

Jon: Nice. It's like the first Bible Project.

Tim: Yeah, totally. I forget when it was discovered. It's generated whole field of

scholarship because this gives us a window into how Middle Eastern Jews 1,700

years ago thought about how they interpreted these biblical stories.

This is Roman Empire era, so they're all kind of depicted as looking Romanesque,

wearing tokens and that kind of thing. It's really interesting. The reason why Jeffrey

Tigay brings up this is because there's a picture of somebody with an open scroll

with people gathered around him reading the scroll aloud.

There's been a lot of scholarly debate about what is this image referring to. Some

people thinks it's Moses reading the Torah aloud, some people think it's Ezra, and

other people think that it's a depiction of what would happen in the synagogue.

Jon: This one's called "Ezra Reads the Law."

Tim: Yeah, that's right. There's no little caption at the bottom saying what these are

about. Tigay makes interesting comparison here. He says, "There's another sacred

building and Dura that was a Mithra temple, which was the ancient pagan religion,

and it is of a magician in his sacred robes, and he has a scroll in his hand while he's

amidst the people and it's closed.

But here in the synagogue of Dura, you have a Jewish man and around him is a

crowd of people, though I don't see the crowd in that picture. His scroll is open in

front of the people. Tigay just makes this interesting observation and he thinks this

is what makes Judaism unique.

Jon: So that was unique in that time?

Tim: In the Roman era, there was no close connection between religion and texts. Jewish

culture from the beginning tried to, first of all, have everybody be literate so that

they themselves can learn how to read and participate in reading the scriptures


Jon: But what's not unique is, correct me if I'm wrong, is every culture uses oral

storytelling to form their identity.

Tim: That's correct.

Jon: That that's not unique. But the fact that they write it down and they encourage

everyone to read it together and to be literate, that's unique.

Tim: That is unique. It has been unique in the history of Jewish culture.

Jon: Why is that significant? If I have access to the stories orally, why is it so significant

that I have access via scroll instead?

Tim: That's a good question. You're right, almost certainly through much of Israelite

history, this oral memorization existed alongside...because written texts were still

expensive to produce in ancient history, it's much easier to commit it to memory.

Jon: Can you imagine living at a time where it's easier to just commit something to

memory than to write it down? So backwards in my experience.

Tim: Yeah. I mean, that's most of human history.

Jon: That's most of human history?

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: We now live in a time in human history where it's far, far easier by orders of extreme

magnitude to write it down and to remember it. Now, we don't remember anything

Tim: Now we write it down. Kind of it exists in the cloud, in Google Docs. You're writing it

down, but where does it actually...That's a good point. It's a game changer printing


Jon: I just have to remember the distinctions. Get back in the brain of ancient worldview.

Tim: This practice of every seven years reading the story of the Torah aloud—

Jon: The teachings?

Tim: Yeah. The story of the Torah, the commands in the Torah aloud to the people—

Jon: And the stories in the Torah?

Tim: Well, it seems like the proto Torah that Moses shaped was mostly...We know it

involved that story of them being rescued so it was some narrative, and then it was

also the terms of the covenant - what we call the laws of commands. So whatever

form that was, he passes it on.

Joshua, when the people cross the Jordan River and they first go in the land, after

the battle of Jericho, they stop and they do this. They read the proto Torah aloud to

everybody. This is in Joshua chapter 8. And you can see why.

We're now crossing the boundary into the new horizon as people, we're going to

remember who we are, where we came from, why we're coming into this land, what

this is all about. What's fascinating is then you keep reading into Israel story,

centuries go by and there's no mention of this practice. Centuries go by.

The next time this public reading of Israel's divine scriptures is mentioned is late in 2

Kings. Like a generation before they went into exile. Josiah. He discovers some proto

Torah scroll in the temple that's been forgotten. This is the minority report thing that

what Moses was calling Israel too ended up being a minority view.

Jon: A forgotten seal the way.

Tim: A forgotten minority view. That's right. So that by Josiah's time—

Jon: Their view of their history and their identity was not shaped by the Torah.

Tim: It was not shaped by the Exodus story or the covenant at Mount Sinai, which

explains why most of Israel's history was one of polytheism. Josiah finds this Torah

scroll and blows his mind. He rips his clothing apart. He's so grieved to think that

he's participated in distorting their heritage.

Jon: He responds.

Tim: Yeah, he responds. You would never walk away with that application.

Jon: Yeah. "I think I'm supposed to tear my clothes is what I'm getting from this." That'd

be a great devotional...

Tim: It would be.

Jon: "Read the Sermon on the Mount, and then tear your clothes off."

Tim: So what he does is he gets all the people together and he has the priests read the

Scriptures aloud. Then they're like, "Oh, all the people, Oh, I can't believe it. We've

gone to the wrong." And it's a big reformation. He calls it the reformation of Josiah.

That's another mention here.

But think of both of those stories. Joshua and Josiah, they're at their key transition

moments in their history where either they are looking forward, "let's remember who

we are as we go forward into this new thing," or for Josiah, it's looking backward,

"and let's remember who we are. And oh, my gosh, we have not been faithful to the

story and why God formed us in the first place."

These are two things that the Bible does to God's people. It can remind you who you

are as you go into new territory that's unexplored. And so you're looking for anchors

to ground your identity and why you're here and what you're all about as you move

into new experiences. That's Joshua chapter 8.

But then other times in Josiah story, it's you realize you've lost your way or you find

yourself in a set of circumstances that are not what you ever wanted. And so hearing

the scriptures read aloud it's like smelling salts wakes you up to who you really are

and how I've been living in this way that's completely inconsistent with my true

identity. That's what the reading of scriptures in public can do to people. It's

powerful. It can both remind you of where you're going and where you've come



Tim: So the last story in the Old Testament about the public reading of Scripture is the

one that brings it all together. It's in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah, which are one

book in the Hebrew Bible. After the exile to Babylon people come back. Life's hard in

Jerusalem but they're rebuilding it. Some wins, some losses, some compromises.

What they end up doing is, in obedience to this practice of Moses talked about so

long ago, they gather all the people around. And we're told about this little stage

they make in the public court. They make a little podium or a wooden podium. The

priests are all there and the Levi and Ezra and Nehemiah and they gather all the

people, children, men, women. Everybody's there.

Nehemiah 8:8, "They read from the scroll from the Torah of God, making it clear and

giving it the sense so that the people could understand." This is the first example of

Israel after the exile coming together around the scriptures. But they're doing more

than just reading. There's also—

Jon: The interpretation?

Tim: Yeah. The people are expositing. They're giving the sense. This is the origins of

preaching the sermon. The origin of the sermon is right here. Where did this practice

come from?

Jon: It's interesting because sermon is so ingrained into our tradition and it comes after

already an established habit of just reading scripture aloud. "And now let's exposit it

a little bit."

Tim: That's right. The practice of just reading aloud is what came first. Late in the game

come the idea of "what does this mean for us?"

Jon: Or let's talk about it a little bit. Now, it's kind of the other way around. It's, "Hey,

we're going to get together and talk about the Bible and we might read some...

Tim: Or put a sentence of the Bible up on the screen and then give a long talk about it.

Listen, this isn't about holier than thou. "The church is all gone astray." That's not the


Jon: Because it's great to do that.

Tim: Sometimes that's what community needs. But it is good for balance and for just so

that we don't have historical amnesia. To remember the gathering of God's people,

to hear something is a very ancient practice.

Jon: Exposit is also cool word because it seems like it must come from some word that

exposes - just bring out what's there. Because I was youth group hero guy so I—

Tim: Meaning you were super faithful?

Jon: Yeah. I'd be there every week and I would start to even learn how to do expository

teaching from my peers.

Tim: Because it's all modeled for you.

Jon: I remember the very first Bible study I wanted to do it was at school. It was some

school Bible study thing. I wanted to do a fear of the Lord, and it was me trying to

come up with ideas for what I thought the Bible was saying about fear of the Lord.

So it became really more like me coming with ideas to the text, and sitting and

letting the text speak, trying to expose what's in the text. That's the habit I

developed just naturally, somehow. I need to have some sort of idea and then find

verses that helped me. You reinforce that idea. Versus "let's just read part of this and

then see if we could expose any of the meaning through little dialogue."

Tim: It makes you realize nobody comes to the Bible without a whole framework of

preloaded assumptions and ideas. It's actually very hard to read the Bible without

imposing on everything we already think we know. Because usually people are

exposed to the Bible within a community, a church community or synagogue that

you're either raised in or you become a part of. And really, what you learn first is

what you hear taught all the time.

If what you hear taught all the time sometimes mentions the Bible, then what you'll

learn is that framework or that scheme. Then you might get the gumption to actually

read the Bible for yourself, but it's really hard to hear it.

Jon: Yeah. Because you're trying to force it into that scheme.

Tim: That's right. And so you end up marginalizing huge sections of the Bible because

they don't fit what you thought this was all about. So it's very difficult to undo that.

That's why the idea of having a big section of the Bible read aloud I think sounds

weird to us because most people will walk away with so many questions, and usually

being confused and bothered by things.

Jon: After a sermon, you're supposed to leave with less questions.

Tim: And after sermon, you leave with clarity and conviction. I'm not saying that's wrong.

I'm just saying it's just different.

Jon: We are very sermon heavy and the danger seems is mitigated. Any danger that that

presents, which is now you're starting to impose ideas that aren't actually in the text?

If that happens, a good way to mitigate that is read large sections aloud together.

Tim: Yeah. That was some of the heartbeats behind the Read the Scripture series and that

Bible reading app.

Jon: So every seven years they're supposed to be doing this at the Feast of Booths. Is that

the one where you make a shelter?

Tim: Yeah. You make a little shelter in your yard.

Jon: And that happens every year. But every seventh, one of those, you're actually

supposed to gather and read through the teachings.

Tim: Correct.

Jon: But then there's no example of that being done or there's no reference.

Tim: From Joshua, people entering the land until almost the exile to Babylon with Josiah,

there's no mention of—

Jon: But Josiah didn't do it during the—

Tim: No, he just had an emergency meeting.

Jon: Yeah, he did an emergency meeting. He didn't wait for the next.

Tim: The emergency reading of Scripture.

Jon: But we could assume that it probably was done, we just don't have records of it

being done in the Bible itself.

Tim: Yeah. And at least for the period of the split kingdoms, it wouldn't surprise anyone

to think that it was being neglected. Because, look at the spiritual and cultural status


Jon: But during the first generations in the promised land or something, you can imagine

it being done.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. The way Joshua frames it is the transition with Joshua's death. After

Joshua - this is how the book of Judges opens - a whole generation arose that didn't

know the God of Israel or anything that he had done for them.

Jon: And how much time would have passed there from Joshua to then?

Tim: Immediately.

Jon: Oh, immediately?

Tim: Yeah.

Jon: Oh.

Tim: Yeah. This is Judges chapter 2. Joshua dismiss the Israelites. They all go back in the

tents. The people serve the God of Israel throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the

elders who outlived him and saw everything that..."

[crosstalk 00:57:41]

Jon: so one generation.

Tim: "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another

generation grew up. They didn't know the God of Israel."

Jon: So the children were not participating in the—

Tim: Yeah. The point is, is very quickly within the course of just a couple of generation of

Israel being now settled in the land, they forget who they are, they forget their story,

and they forget the kind of life that they're called to in relationship with God.

Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode. We're going to finish this topic on reading the

Bible aloud together in our next episode, the second in the series of how to read the

Bible. We'll see how Jesus started his ministry during a public reading of scripture.

We're really grateful for all of you who support this project. We're a nonprofit, and

our goal is to show the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. We do that with

free videos and resources.

Our videos are on our YouTube channel, youtube.com/thebibleproject and there are

more resources like study guides, and digital posters you could download. It's for

free on our website, thebibleproject.com. Thanks for listening and thanks for being a

part of this with us.

Play Episode

40 Episodes

Episode 40
The Obvious and Extravagant Claim of the Gospel
All four gospels are pointing toward the same simple yet profound claim. As we read the Gospels, how should we understand discrepancies and variations to see the point of it all?
52m • Sep 30, 2019
Episode 39
Why Are There Four Accounts of the Gospel?
Each of the four gospels begin differently—and for a reason. Learn more about the unique opening chapters of each gospel and discover new ways to read these accounts and understand their claims.
1hr 8m • Sep 23, 2019
Episode 38
The Gospel Is More Than You Think
Where does the word "gospel" come from, and are we using it right? Learn the history of this word and dive into how the biblical authors talked about the Gospel.
55m • Sep 16, 2019
Episode 37
What Does the Word "Gospel" Mean?
Explore the history of the word, "gospel," how modern Western Christians often use the word different than the biblical authors. What is the gospel? The answer is far more exciting and complex than we've been led to believe.
1hr 11m • Sep 9, 2019
Episode 36
Wisdom Q+R
Enjoy our Q+R episode on the wisdom literature in the Bible.
1hr 12m • Jul 29, 2019
Episode 35
Solomon the Cynic and the Job You Never Knew
Welcome to our final episode discussing wisdom literature in the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon cover two books, Ecclesiastes and Job.
1hr 5m • Jul 15, 2019
Episode 34
Song of Songs: Semi-Erotic Love Poetry
Welcome to episode 5 in our series on How to Read Biblical Wisdom Literature! In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss Song of Songs.
1hr 4m • Jul 8, 2019
Episode 33
Proverbs: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly
Welcome to episode four in our series on how to read the wisdom literature of the Bible. Today, Tim and Jon dive into the book of Proverbs.
45m • Jul 1, 2019
Episode 32
Solomon: The Wisest of the Fools
Welcome to our third episode discussing the theme of Wisdom in the Bible.
1hr • Jun 24, 2019
Episode 31
The Quest for Wisdom
Welcome to our new series on how to read the wisdom books in biblical literature!
46m • Jun 10, 2019
Episode 30
Law Q+R
Listen to our audience's questions about how to read biblical law.
56m • Jun 3, 2019
Episode 29
Jesus Fulfills the Law
Welcome to another episode exploring how to read biblical law. This is the final part of this discussion before our Q+R episode for this series.
48m • May 27, 2019
Episode 28
God's Wisdom in the Law
Welcome to our fourth episode on how to read biblical law!
51m • May 20, 2019
Episode 27
The Law as a Revolution
Welcome to our third episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 2m • May 13, 2019
Episode 26
The Law as a Covenantal Partnership
Welcome to our second episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 13m • May 6, 2019
Episode 25
The Purpose of the Law
Listen in as we begin our disccusion on the laws in the Bible.
1hr 13m • Apr 29, 2019
Episode 24
Prophets as Provokers
Welcome to episode two in our series on How to Read the Prophets.
56m • Apr 22, 2019
Episode 23
What Prophecy Is for
Welcome to episode one in our miniseries on how to read the Prophets.
58m • Apr 15, 2019
Episode 22
Poetry Q+R
Here is our question and response episode where we answer our listeners' questions about poetry and metaphor in the Bible.
48m • Jul 2, 2018
Episode 21
Chaotic Waters
In the last episode of our Metaphor series, Jon and Tim discuss how water is often displayed as rambunctious and dangerous in the Bible.
1hr 11m • Jun 25, 2018
Episode 20
The Mountain Garden and the Human Ideal
This is our second episode in our series on metaphors in the Bible.
46m • Jun 18, 2018
Episode 19
Metaphor and Our Imagination
This is our first episode in our three-part series on the use of metaphor in the Bible.
59m • Jun 12, 2018
Episode 18
God Speaks in Poetry
This is the 2nd episode in our Art of Biblical Poetry podcast where we explore how God speaks in poetic language.
44m • Jun 4, 2018
Episode 17
The Thunder of God
This is episode 1 in our series on Biblical Poetry!
1hr 18m • May 28, 2018
Episode 16
Chaotic Waters and Baptism
Tim and Jon continue to recap key stories in Genesis and the Old Testament. The key themes in these stories are the chaotic waters and salvation through them.
1hr 2m • Apr 23, 2018
Episode 15
Crossing the Chaotic Waters
Tim and Jon discuss literary design patterns in the Bible.
51m • Apr 16, 2018
Episode 14
Live from Milpitas! Part 2
This is part 2 in our live conversation from Milpitas California! Tim and Jon continue their discussion on design patterns in the Bible.
1hr 18m • Apr 9, 2018
Episode 13
Live from Milpitas! Part 1
Tim and Jon discuss literature design patterns in the Bible to a live audience and answer questions from the audience.
1hr 16m • Apr 2, 2018
Episode 12
Setting in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss the importance of understanding “Setting” in Bible stories.
35m • Mar 25, 2018
Episode 11
Character in Biblical Narrative
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss character design in the Bible.
49m • Jan 15, 2018
Episode 10
Plot in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss how understanding the unique ways plot and narrative are used by the Hebrew authors to write Bible stories can impact how we read the Bible.
51m • Oct 2, 2017
Episode 9
The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature: Jewish Scripture Meditation vs. Modern Meditation
In this episode, Tim and Jon continue their conversation about Cain and Abel and why it is a good example of Jewish meditation literature.
40m • Aug 11, 2017
Episode 8
Why Isn't There More Detail in Bible Stories?
Maybe, like us, you've asked yourself this questions or found yourself confused while reading the Bible. We don't know why a character did what they did, or what they looked like, or even what the moral of the story is. How do we make sense of this?
44m • Aug 4, 2017
Episode 7
Poetry, Narrative, and Prose Discourse
Jon and Tim discuss the different literary styles used in the Bible.
45m • Jun 23, 2017
Episode 6
Literary Genres and the Stories We Tell Ourselves
Tim and Jon discuss the three literary styles used in the Bible: narrative, poetry, and prose discourse.
1hr 1m • Jun 19, 2017
Episode 5
Is Reading the Bible Together Just a Form of Groupthink?
A jam-packed episode where Tim and Jon discuss the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Bible aloud, the sociology of both creating environments and being created by environments in Christianity, and the different kind of power between stories and facts.
48m • Jun 9, 2017
Episode 4
Ancient vs. Modern Ways of Reading Scripture
Tim and Jon discuss the differences in ancient and modern ways of reading scripture, including why the Hebrew people would read scripture together as a group. The guys also talk about how challenging it can be to read the Bible by yourself.
59m • Jun 2, 2017
Episode 3
What Is the Story of the Bible?
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss the big narrative arcs of the Bible. What is the Bible really talking about?
59m • May 26, 2017
Episode 2
What's in Your Bible?
In this episode, Tim and Jon give an overview of the entire Bible with a focus on the Hebrew Scriptures.
1hr 10m • Feb 14, 2017
Episode 1
The Bible as Divine Literary Art
Why are the books of the Bible ordered the way they are? Is there a value in reading the Bible in any other order?
1hr 3m • Feb 8, 2017
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