Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

On the Public Reading of Scripture


“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tim. 4:13)

The New Testament does not provide us with a clear picture of what an early Christian worship service looked like. We cannot go to one chapter or one book to find a full description of worship. Instead, we pick up hints and pieces along the way. While observing a Passover meal, Jesus institutes a new practice known as the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-23). We know that the Lord’s Supper was a meal that included bread and wine to remember the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Worship included the singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). The singing done in the early church was more like chanting. There was no four-part harmony, but instead they would chant the psalms and perhaps other parts of Scripture like Philippians 2:6-11. Of course, there was teaching and preaching, and then there was the “public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). This was something different from teaching and preaching. It was to be done on its own.

When we gather to worship there should be a public reading of Scripture. It is important that we hear not only from the preacher, but that we also hear from the word of God. God’s voice needs to be present in worship assemblies. In the early church the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and other NT documents were read aloud in the assembly. Moses commanded that the law be read aloud every seven years (Deut. 31:9-12). A priest or worship leader may read the entire passage themselves, but sometimes the congregation was asked to join in the reading of God’s word. For instance, some passages of Scripture were designed for congregational participation. One of the most famous of these passages is Psalm 136 where the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever” is repeated 26 times.

A responsive reading where the congregation participates in the reading of Scripture is beneficial in many ways. It is more in engaging than if one person stands to read. When a single person reads a lengthy passage it is easy to zone out, but when we are asked to participate we are more focused on what is being read. We pay attention to the words because we have a part in the reading. We read Scripture in worship because we want to be formed by God’s word. We all learn in different ways. We learn by hearing, seeing, and speaking. When we read Scripture together, we are not only hearing it but we are also speaking it. This means it has a better chance of sinking in and shaping us into the people God would have us to be.

In worship, we are accustomed to hearing the word of God read aloud. We often sing songs that are taken directly from Scripture. We hear together. We sing together, and we should on occasion read together. Reading God’s holy word aloud together as a community of believers is something the people of God did in the Old Testament. It is a practice that was continued in the early church, and it is something we should seek to do today.

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