The Public Reading of Scripture: Three Experiences from DTS Faculty and Students
The pandemic shutdowns in 2020–21 forced many churches to shift their regular gatherings to online venues for a time. For some churchgoers, “doing church” through livestreams or videos soon became their preference. “What am I missing out on, really?” some people asked. “Isn’t watching a church service basically the same as gathering at a church with others?” But the Scriptures are clear: part of our Christian life is meeting together, in person. One of the important parts of gathering is reading the Bible together. Dr. Reg Grant teaches the Public Reading of Scripture course at DTS. He and two of his students reflect on why reading the Bible in community is vital.
And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
My Episcopalian friends (EF) weren’t sure that it would work, and they weren’t hesitant in voicing their fears.
EF: We’ve never read like this before!
Me: I know—that’s why I’m here, to help you discover a new way of reading.
EF: Do I have to look at people when I read to them?
Me: Do you look at people when you have a conversation with them? Because that’s what we’re doing here—having a conversation with our friends.
EF: But what if I forget what I’m saying while I’m looking at them?
Me: That’s why we rehearse our reading thirty times. You won’t forget.
EF: Ok, but why go to all this trouble? What difference will it make?
Me: In 1 Timothy 4:13–16, Paul commands giving careful attention to the public reading of Scripture. After all, what’s more important: what God says, or what I have say about what God says? As to what difference it will make . . . you’ll see.
Then we dove in, with initial readings that are brief and narrative. Stories are a natural form of expression, and therefore easy to read.
At first, the readers were, understandably, halting and difficult to hear. But then it happened, as it always does. Invariably. And it always surprises them. After immersing themselves in preparation, after praying through the biblical story, after rehearsing until they have the narrative virtually memorized, they find themselves reliving the events they are reading. They have become so familiar with the text that they discover—in the words of actor Burgess Meredith, when commenting on effective performance of any text—“the tears of a forgotten sorrow.” And when the readers are living the story, then so will all who hear.
The next Christmas, my Episcopalian friends invited me to attend services. The student in the group who had been the most fearful mounted the pulpit and read the text in a clear, multi-colored voice. She caught my eye as she was stepping down. I gave her a thumbs-up, and she beamed. The Lord and His Word were honored that Sunday morning.
It was a fine conversation.
Natacha R. Glorvigen
I never thought there was anything special about how you read a Bible passage before an audience. The important thing, I thought, is how you explain the text after you read it. I was proved wrong early in my seminary journey. I first discovered this when I heard my classmate deliver a sermon in preaching class. There was something uniquely compelling about the way he read the text. It captured my attention and my heart even before he taught or explained anything. I shared this with him, and he replied, “I took a class with Dr. Grant—Public Reading of Scripture. He taught me how to read the text.” I wanted to learn how to do that, so I registered for the course.
As an international student not entirely confident with English, I’d assumed this class would simply emphasize the need to enunciate every word. Instead, I learned to infuse the reading of Scripture with passion by reading the text interpretively. This is achieved by understanding the passage at a deeper level myself. Our knowledge of the passage tells us which words are peaks, what sentences need more emphasis, and what paragraphs should be read with special enthusiasm. When we read without understanding the relationship of the words in the passage, all the words sound the same. But when we can see where the author is going with the text, we can show it through the way we present those words. In the public reading of Scripture, reading well means we know where the Author is going. When we know where the Author is going, we help others go there with Him. We allow people to connect with the Bible text—and as Dr. Grant says, there is no higher honor.
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” 1 Tim. 4:13 (NIV)
It can seem hard to find a church truly “devoted to the public reading of Scripture.” But I believe we desperately need to recover this art. In a postmodern, post-Christian era, congregations need to be immersed in Scripture. We have the Bible and study resources at our fingertips as never before, but Bible illiteracy increases. Public reading of Scripture is key to building a biblical foundation. Practicing the public reading of Scripture helps those we serve to overcome hurdles of engaging with the Bible.
In class at DTS, I learned to pore over a passage of Scripture, reading it over and over, identifying the main point and discerning how to convey the tone, character, meaning, and significance of a passage through my reading. I should be able to sit down after reading the passage, without another word, and trust that the congregation understands the main point. The public reading itself should be a sermon.
Since taking that class, my most common context for reading Scripture aloud is not in church, but in my own home. I want my children to grow up loving the Scriptures and our Lord. So we devote ourselves to reading Scripture to and with one another. I love seeing my kids’ ears perk up and their eyes light up as they behold the glory of the Lord through the reading of His Word.
By devoting ourselves to the public reading of Scripture, we demonstrate that the Bible truly is the living Word. We show people that it’s beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16) as we draw them into the story of Scripture. And we teach truth and love well in a practical, engaging way.
Examples of Scripture Readings by Reg and Mace:
About the Contributors
Mace Perez is a former agnostic who has been transformed by the truth of the gospel. He is currently in the ThM program at DTS and serves as a church-planting resident at Neartown Church in Houston. He and his wife and ministry partner, Jennifer, have three children.
Natacha R. Glorvigen (ThM, 2022) came to the US from Venezuela to pursue seminary training at DTS and prepare to teach God’s Word to people with little access to theological resources. She and her husband, Joshua, have a heart for God’s mission of bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to the nations.
Reg Grant (ThM, 1981; ThD, 1988) is the department chair of Media Arts & Worship at DTS, where he teaches courses in homiletics, drama, oral interpretation, and creative writing. He has written, produced, and acted for radio, television, theater, and film. He’s married to Lauren and has three grown children.