Summary: A sermon on the public reading of Scripture (Material adapted from Daniel Overdorf's book, What the Bible Says About the Church: Rediscovering Community, chapter 13 Word Driven, pages 333-338)
One of Crystal’s students, an African American, is into Spoken Word. Here is a sample called The Last Laugh by Sabrina Nicole: I’m not an ego maniac you know the type that gives others a heart attack I get my vital nutrition From a dietitian Who only asks for my Submission And he gives me the ambition To fight back On track Promises me that I will never lack. There’s a battle every time I wake There’s a battle in every move I make I am Jehovah's daughter That’s why I can walk on water I don’t need a psychic to read my palm I have the prophecies, of his words, on my arm I don’t need soothsayers to give me a premonition I have fire from heaven that is my ammunition Everywhere I turn their speaking death It rains down until I have nothing left Everyone is believing a lie How can I sit back and watch as time goes by The devil has sung many too sleep Wake up, men of God; you’re being slaughtered like sheep Resist the temptation And have a deeper appreciation For the lives placed in your hand Or they’ll sink like quicksand Into the abyss of despair God’s presence isn’t there This is a warning in these last days To surrender your rebellious ways Judgment is coming whether you believe it or not Children of Nirvana repent on the spot And the God of "Mercy" will change his mind, He calls out, “ Is there anyone I can find That will abandon their ways and come into the light Put on righteousness and fight this good fight?” Spiritual anorexia Emaciated the rest of you Spiritual abortion Has led many to extortion Who will bow? Who will plead? Save this generation which bleeds Fathers gone estrange Birthing violence that’s deranged Suicide… the anti-Christ Don’t you know Jesus paid the price?
Most people in bible times could not read. The literacy rate ranged from around 5% to 20%, depending on the place and the time. In most cases, therefore, one who wrote a document intended for someone on the receiving end to read the document aloud to a group of people. Authors intended their words to be heard more than read.
Ben Witherington says this, “No documents in antiquity were intended for ‘silent’ reading, and only a few were intended for private individuals to read. Ancient documents were always meant to be read out loud, and usually read out loud to a group of people.”
Silent reading was virtually unknown in bible times. Even several centuries after the close of the NT this was the case. For example, in his Confessions (AD 398), Augustine described an instance when he discovered his mentor, Ambrose, reading Scripture without moving his lips or making a sound. Augustine found this quite peculiar- people did not read silently to themselves and that is why he took note of this.
Even for those who could read, few could afford scrolls, books, manuscripts of their own. Papyrus, ink, and scribes proved more expensive than most could afford. Almost no one owned personal copies of Scripture. People received exposure to the Bible by hearing it read at public gatherings. Until recent times, had to go to church building to read the Scriptures. Even today we have a pulpit Bible under the communion table.
We would more accurately view many biblical passages like sermons (written to be spoken) than books (written to be read). Hebrews provides an example of this. The author identifies Hebrews as “my word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22). He refers to what he has said, not what he has written 6 times in the book. He speaks of a lack of time for the message, not a lack of space “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon...” Hebrews 11:32, NIV. He uses rhetorical devices commonly found in spoken messages, such as alliteration (“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,” Hebrews 1:1, NIV, this contains 5 words that begin with the Greek letter p) and repetition (such as chapter 11, which uses “by faith” 18 times)
More evidence for the spoken nature of the Bible rises from Paul’s letters, in which he repeatedly includes instructions to read Scripture- his letters and other Scriptures- aloud: “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” 1 Thessalonians 5:27, NIV. “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans...” Colossians 4:16, NIV.
Contemporary culture- especially in recent decades- has transitioned from oral to visual means of learning. In the field of education, for example, learning used to involve little more than students listening to a lecture from the teacher. Now, education relies heavily on PowerPoints, videos, and websites. Online education gains more prominence every year, through which students learn by themselves in front of a computer, interacting with other students only occasionally, and through the virtual world. People used to gather information by listening, today they gather information by reading and watching, often by themselves.