Thursday, May 27, 2021

Reading the Bible aloud

Reading the inspired words of Scripture aloud to and in the congregation is too often a subject met with indifference in our churches. How often do we read Scripture for the sake of reading Scripture? When we read Scripture, do we read with respect, gravity, and attention to detail? Indeed, considering our failings along these lines, we need to read the Scriptures aloud more often, and we need to read them aloud more effectively! This is an important point for those of us who support and promote the King James translation as the one Bible that we should use. Do our actions actually accord with that affirmation? Does reading the Scriptures seldom and sloppily declare loving and honoring the Word?

We tout the King James Version as the best. We point out problems in modern versions. If we do not read it at all, how much does it matter what version we have? If we read it so sloppily that hearers cannot comprehend what it says, did we not practically change it into a different translation?

In the King James Version, we have a Bible that was translated with an “ear” for its hearers. The title page (see HERE) tells us that it is “Appointed to be read in Churches.”[i] The first printings by the King’s Printer Robert Barker were large folio pulpit Bibles (about 16 inches tall).[ii] Even enemies of the King James Bible often recognize its sonorous sounds for remarkable reading to the ear better than its friends. The Anglican-turned-Catholic Frederick W. Faber wrote, “It lives on in the ear like a music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells which the convert hardly knows he can forgo.” [iii] “The KJB has rhythm, balance, dignity, and force of style that is unparalleled in any other translation,” declares modern Bible and texts proponent Daniel B. Wallace.[iv]

We preachers can make a mess reading aloud.[v] If we believe the King James Version is God’s Word, it behooves us to treat it as such, honor it, and to read it out loud to the best of our abilities.

We need to read aloud more often.

The Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, emphasize reading the Scriptures aloud, as well as being ready to hear “when thou goest to the house of God” (Exodus 24:7; see also Ecclesiastes 5:1). Jesus himself stood up to read the Scriptures aloud in the synagogue (Luke 4:16). Paul charged the first Thessalonian epistle be “read unto” others (i.e. aloud, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). The book of Revelation pronounces a blessing on “he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Revelation 1:3). See also Deuteronomy 31:11; Joshua 8:34–35; 2 Kings 23:1–2 (Cf. 2 Kings 22:8); Jeremiah 36:13; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13.

We need to read aloud more effectively.

The text of Nehemiah 8:1-8 shows Ezra the scribe (and others with him) reading the book of the law of Moses. This provides a striking example of how we might approach public Scripture reading. The people were gathered to hear the reading of the book of the law of Moses (v. 1). The people listened attentively (v. 3). The leaders read in the book in the law of God distinctly (v. 8). The people gathered purposefully, and listened attentively while the book was read distinctly (clearly, with definiteness). There was clarity in the reading itself, with commentary to help the hearer understand. This shows due respect and reverence for the Word of God.

Writing of the weekly worship of Christians in his day, Justin Martyr (circa AD 100 – circa AD 165) indicates that Scripture reading, instruction, and exhortation were an integral part of early post-apostolic era gatherings.
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter LXVII)
The preacher or reader is not authoritative – but the book is! Texts should be read for themselves, and they should be read as part of Bible lessons. When preaching, we should not move through the text hurriedly and carelessly as if it is less important than what we have to say. Treat the book respectfully and authoritatively. If it were not for the Scriptures, we would have nothing to say!

[i] Bold emphasis mine. 
[ii] What we might consider a “normal” or “personal” size Bible (roughly 6" X 9") came off the presses about a year later. 
[iv] And continuing writes, “Or, as Leland Ryken says, its touchstone is memorability. No translation today lingers in the mind like the King James of old does.” The Reign of the King James, by Daniel Wallace.
[v] I am not talking about those who are doing the best they can. I am talking about being haphazard or careless.

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