The Public Reading of Scripture


By Don Ruhl


Nehemiah 8.1 says:

“Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.”

Why did the Jews ask Ezra to bring the Book of the Law of Moses? Ezra 7.10 shows us the kind of man that Ezra was:

“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Based on this reading, what kind of public reader of Scripture do you think Ezra was? He did not rush through the reading of Scripture, but read it with all reverence. Following are some pointers for the proper reverent reading of Scripture in public.

  1. Give the congregation time to find the Scripture text, which you have announced loudly and clearly.
  2. If you are reading a passage as part of a sermon or class, pause before reading and after. This sets apart God’s word from your word. Do not blend your comments with the words of God. Even as when writing a report and lengthy quotations are have an extra space before and after and the margins are indented.
  3. Do not rush through the reading. I once heard a well-known preacher carefully articulate his words, but when he read Scripture he did it as fast as possible and then slowed down to emphasize his own words. Without intending it he gave greater emphasis to his words. He knew the passage by heart and this led to the quick reading. A reader must discipline himself to read the word of God carefully.
  4. Follow the grammatical notations. Periods, commas, semicolons and other punctuation are there for a reason. Even as music has notations to tell you how to sing, so reading has notations to tell you how to read.
  5. Read with the feeling of the text. The word of God is like a song. It has been assembled with certain literary devices to make the truth stand out. Moreover, singers are instructed to understand what a song is about. If the song is sad, it needs to be sung sad. Likewise, figure out the feeling of the passage in the Bible and bring that out when you read.
  6. Practice reading the text before you read it in public. As with anything, the more you practice it, the better you will be at doing it. Remember you are reading the word of God and how you come across in your reading will show others how you think about the word of God, leaving them an example of how they should think about it.

Revelation 1.3 promises:

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

I conclude with the first seven of McGuffey’s Plain Rules for Reading taken from the third and fourth readers of the famous McGuffey’s Readers. I encourage you to find a set of the books and learn the other rules.

  • Hold your book up well and do not bend forward.
  • Speak each word distinctly and be careful to pronounce correctly.
  • Endeavor to understand what you read.
  • Avoid the habit of clearing your throat by coughing, or making other unpleasant noises as you begin to read aloud.
  • Reflect upon what you have read and when you have a proper opportunity, converse about it. To relate what you have read is the best way to remember it yourselves. This will be profitable employment of your time and will afford you great pleasure.
  • Sit or stand erect when you read. To hold the head down and the shoulders forward in reading makes the voice sound badly, and it injures the health to read much in this way.
  • Be careful to learn and remember the stops and marks so well that you will know their uses whenever you meet with them.

5 thoughts on “The Public Reading of Scripture

  1. From Jorge Lahiff de Rogel-

    To my Christian brothers and sisters scattered among the nations and denominations-

    Greetings and blessings to all of you in the holy name of Jesus Christ our Lord,

    I am advocate for much more Bible reading during worship services. The public reading of Scripture is an ancient Hebrew tradition which was passed onto the first Christians by the Apostles. Our brothers who lived during the first four centuries of the Church’s existence devoted far more time to reading the word of God aloud during their meetings than we do today.

    I am recommending that at least thirty minutes of regular weekend church services be devoted to reading the Bible aloud; reading through the New Testament at least once a year, and reading through the Old Testament about once every six to eight years.

    The Apostle Paul wrote in 1st Thessalonians 5:27, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”- Does Paul’s apostolic command apply only to the First Century church at Thessalonica? Does it not apply to all churches until Christ returns? Yes it does, and it is time for church leaders to start obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit and stop starving the Body of Christ. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear,..”
    Revelation 1:3 ESV

    “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” 1st Timothy 4:13 NASB

    “ the hearing of all the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the LORD” Jeremiah 36:6 ESV –

    Many well-meaning pastors who are genuine children of God have a difficult time transmitting the Gospel to their audiences because the seminaries they graduate from fail to teach them the importance of the public reading of Scripture. Sermons can last for half an hour, while the Bible readings usually take up no more than one to three minutes of a weekend church service. This tradition of men is in conflict with the commands of God and is harmful to His children.

    “King Josiah…went to the LORD’s temple..” and “he read aloud The Book of God’s Law that had been found in the temple.” 2 Kings 23:1-2

    God works through the Scriptures to convict people of their sin, of their guilt, of their need to repent, and of the certainty of judgment. To the unfaithful church leader and to church-goers who are engaged in habitual sinful behavior, God’s word is not a rich gold mine to be explored, but is instead a deadly minefield to be carefully navigated.

    ..Jesus answered Satan, “It is written, ”’Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Matthew 4:4-

    “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,..” Ephesians 5:25-27ESV

    Most preachers avoid uttering Bible passages which hit too close to ‘home’ (the sins of their benefactors) by reading a small number of carefully selected verses which are then used as reference points for their sermons. These evil men muzzle the mouth of God, because the unrestrained voice of the Holy Spirit is as unpleasant to them as is the incessant bark of a sheepdog to the ears of a hungry predator. To these wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing financial gain and job security take precedence over the spiritual needs of their audiences.

    “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15NASB

    “..they cannot listen; behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10 ESV

    American and European churches are infested with millions of couples who like King Herod and his lover Herodia are entangled in unions prohibited by the word of God. Because of the ‘sensitivities’ of these adulterers and fornicators there are many ‘offensive’ Bible verses you will never hear uttered in most churches, especially those where Jesus and His servant Paul speak of sexual immorality, adultery, and divorce.

    “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” John 8:43 ESV

    “He who is of God hears the words of God..” John 8:47 NASB

    “when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.”
    Deuteronomy 31:11 NASB

    The Scriptures are more than reference books for lengthy sermons and sparsely attended midweek and pre-service Bible studies. They are collectively the word of God passed onto us by His holy prophets and apostles, and through them our spiritual birth in Christ is facilitated. Those who attend church services need to hear more of them.

    “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:21 NKJV

    We Christians are divided into many hostile factions and our lifestyles and divorce rates are not much better than those of unbelievers. These sad facts dishonor Jesus and discredit His Bride (us) in the sight of the unsaved. They are proof that most of today’s church leaders are, for fear offending the sinful nature of their financial benefactors, failing to expose their listeners to many essential details about the Gospel of Salvation.

    “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

    “For the leaders of this people cause them to err, And those who are led by them are destroyed.” Isaiah 9:16 NKJV

    “But if they (religious leaders) had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” Jeremiah 23:22 ESV

    “They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them.” Jeremiah 11:10 ESV

    The invention of the printing press and the abundance of Bibles do not alter or nullify God’s command that the Holy Scriptures be read aloud in the churches. The wonderful Holy Spirit is present in a powerful way to help, to heal, and to guide the children of God whenever they are gathered together to hear His words. Why restrain Him? “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV

    Few people study the Scriptures as much as they should. It is the duty of church leaders to read all the books of the Bible, from the Book of Genesis through the Book of Revelation, in the hearing of church members and unsaved visitors, while also continuing to preach, and to teach,- and to encourage people to read and to study the Bible on their own. -A faithful shepherd has a challenging job (with eternal benefits).

    “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;..”John10:27 NASB

    If you live in North America or Western Europe it will be very difficult to find a church which is dedicated to the public reading of Scripture. Most church leaders in these countries are materialistic, arrogant, greedy cowards. Do not spend too much time trying to convince these latter-day Pharisees about the marvelous spiritual benefits of devoting more time during their ‘worship’ services to the reading of God’s word, for they are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (God’s word). Avoid such people.” 2Timothy 3:4,5 NASB

    Consider using the Internet and local newspapers to start home based Bible reading and study fellowships.

    Many 1st Century churches initially met in homes (read Romans16:5, 1st Corinthians 16:19). God will bless you as you grow spiritually, lending your ears and hearts to His word.

    (Jesus) “stood up to read.” Luke 4:16 KJV

    “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God..”
    Romans 10:17 NKJV

    ~Examine what witnesses of ancient church services had to say about the public reading of Scripture.

    ~ Tertullian, in the 2nd century said, “We meet together in order to read the sacred texts.” He continues, “With the holy words we feed our faith, we arouse our hope, we confirm our confidence.” “The church unites the Law and the Prophets in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith.”

    ~ Justin the Martyr, in the 150’s said that at church services, “The memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.”

    ~ Clement of Alexandria (c. 182-202) talks of Christians in their worship, “always giving thanks in all things to God through righteous hearing and divine reading.”

    ~ Theodore of Antioch in the late 4th century said, “All of us, having come to faith in Christ the Lord from the nations, received the Scriptures from them and now enjoy them, reading them aloud in the churches..”

    God has nudged me out of my comfort-zone in order to prod some of you out of yours. I have recommended that about half an hour of all services be spent reading the Bible aloud to the churches. Most of you think that this is excessive, but understand that our brothers and sisters from the First through the Fourth Centuries devoted more time to the public reading of Scripture than what I have proposed. The current custom of motivational messages loosely linked to a few carefully selected verses would be vigorously denounced by the Apostles and by the early Church.

    Food sustains your physical bodies; God’s word sustains your spirits. Giving your hard-earned money to pastors who fail to feed you healthy portions of God’s word makes about as much sense as sitting down at a restaurant every Sunday, tipping the waiter, and paying for meals which never get to your table. How many times are you going to walk out of their spiritual brothels with empty wallets and unfulfilled spiritual hunger in your hearts?

    “Long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” 1st Peter 2:1-3 –

    I urge you all to work towards establishing Bible Reading Churches in your own communities and around the world. -Please share this proposal with other Christians.

    “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” 2Corinthians 13:14

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