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The Public Reading of Scripture




Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey Arthurs

Congregations are moved by song, challenged by sermons, and focused prayer, but very few services highlight the importance of Scripture reading.  Jeffrey Arthurs, professor preaching at Gordon Conwell Seminary seeks to counter this trend by penning his book entitled Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture.  Centering his writing around the theme of building an appetite for a special meal, Arthurs connects the importance of reading Scripture aloud with way in which the Bible ministers to people when read well (14).  To begin, Arthurs provides five reasons why we should orally recite the Bible: we are commanded to read the Bible (1 Timothy 4:13), God transforms us through the Word, we do what the people of God have always done when reading the Bible, the Bible was meant to be read aloud and hearing is quite different than reading the Bible (15-33).  What I thought was unique about this list was that it captured both a theological stance for reading Scripture and a practical one.  Transformation happens through God’s Word, and yet, often hearing the Word regularly allows the words to penetrate our mind and hearts much more deeply in some cases than just reading the text. 

The second chapter relates the process of setting the table or preparing oneself for reading Scripture.  Just as the task of preaching is connecting the world of the text with the world today, so public reading seeks to do the same thing (38).  Rather than flippantly reading through particular passages, “How we speak the written words – using the pause, emphasis, word color, eye contact, gestures, and so forth is the way we bridge the gap” (38-39).  Our non-verbal cues carry great weight in the public reading of Scripture, offering to the reader a constant distraction or an inviting attentiveness.  Getting ready to read Scripture takes some work.  Arthurs mentions a particularly important point by mentioning mental preparation as a key ingredient to public reading.  How many times have you seen someone butcher the names, places, and geographical locations in the Bible?  Arthurs encourages readers to ‘understand how to pronounce all words,’ before they are set to read in public (45).  I believe this to be of utmost importance because the times that I have been unsure of the pronunciations are the times when my nervousness results in distracting mannerisms.  Some key action points are developing a sense of the story in narratives, understanding or highlighting key words and phrases, and practicing the reading multiple times before the service (46).  These points are wonderful reminders that a good public reading of the Bible takes a lot of considerations. 

Chapter 4 was one of the best chapters in the whole book.  Why? Arthurs delves into a way we communicate through what we look like.  Figure 4.1 on page 71 was crucial in understanding mannerisms (unconscious incompetence – unconscious competence).  Often, we don’t realize that we speak volumes with our mannerisms, everything from our posture, gestures and movement.  We have the ability to awaken our hearers with the way we present the Bible to them.  Raising our arms, coming closer to the people, or moving in a specific direction all should call attention to the shape of the text we are reading.   Instead of being unaware of the negative impact our mannerisms have on people,   having unconscious competence means that we have control of what we look like at all times, even to the point of not thinking about it. 

The DVD in the back flap of the book is immensely helpful as well.  The DVD allows you to see how non-verbal mannerisms can really be used for good in the public reading of Scripture.  Arthurs takes you through the specific points in communicating what we look like to others.  This book is not only helpful for readers of Scripture, but I find all of these points applicable to preachers also.  Knowing how you can be an effective communicator of the gospel is always an advantage in ministry.

Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for review. 

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