Suggestions for Public Scripture Reading

February 23, 2018

The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).

The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.

  • Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
  • Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, biblespeak.org and thebibleworkshop.com, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
  • Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
  • Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
  • Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by Audible.com with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
  • Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
  • Practice reading the passage aloud.

The Right Response to God’s Instructions: Psalm 119

February 16, 2018

When I arrived at my sister’s house, it was night. Rounding a curve in the street, I could see her house all lit up since it sits on a hill. The house had lights all the way around, so it was like a beacon. For me, the lights were welcoming. They were even helpful as I unloaded my luggage from the car. But I knew all those lights hadn’t been there on my previous visit, so I enquired about them. She said that there had been break-ins in her neighborhood, so she had the lights installed for security.

The same light can be welcoming or something that a person wants to avoid and hide from. It is the same light, but different responses to this light. Which brings us again to Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV). Even though the psalm presents this picture of God’s instructions as light for guidance, he also reflects the reality that it is not true for everyone. The author of Psalm 119 confesses he had gone astray (119:67, 119:176). He had returned and was now keeping God’s law, but there had been a time in his life when he was wandering in the wrong direction.

Besides the personal confession in Psalm 119, the psalmist also speaks of the wicked. “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (Psalms 119:53, ESV). “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law” (Psalms 119:61, ESV). God’s instructions have all the wonderful qualities that we looked at in the last article, but they require the right response from us. It is instructive to go through the psalm and ask: what kind of response is the psalmist making to God’s precepts? Here’s my list, and I’m going ahead and personalizing the list as ways I am responding even if it is a work in process.

  1. I feel reverence and awe for them because of who God is. 119:120, 119:161
  2. I diligently keep them. 119:4
  3. I remember them (119:11, 119:15) and meditate on them. 119:153, 119:176
  4. I delight in them (119:14) because they are more valuable than riches (119:35, 119:47, 119:72), better than money (119:103), and sweeter than honey (119:143, 119:174).</;i?
  5. I seek them as my counselors. 119:24
  6. I hope in them. 119:43
  7. I am comforted by them. 119:52
  8. I am blessed by them. 119:56
  9. I love them. 119:97, 119:119, 119:163, 119:165, 119:167
  10. I count them as my forever heritage/inheritance. 119:111
  11. I rejoice in them like someone finding a treasure (i.e., plunder). 119:162
  12. I am helped by them. 119:175

I’ve looked at Psalm 119 in four articles to tell my journey of moving beyond a few favorite verses to a deeper appreciation for this psalm.* I used some inductive questions to reflect on the psalm: What do I learn about the author and circumstances? What are his petitions? What does he say about God’s instructions? How does he respond to God’s instructions? Answering those questions and meditating on the psalm brings a deeper appreciation. God’s word can indeed be a light for my path, but for it to bring guidance, I must have the right response to God’s instructions.

*The articles in order are:


Characteristics of God’s Instructions in Psalm 119

February 9, 2018

When I think of Psalm 119, verse 105 certainly comes to mind: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105, ESV). The psalm emphasizes the importance of God’s instructions by the use of Torah (law) along with seven synonyms. One of those eight words will be in every verse except for four verses, but the psalmist compensates for these omissions by using two of these words in five verses. The emphasis is clear.

But how do I get beyond just underlining Psalm 119:105 or couple of other favorites? I never really appreciated the psalm as I should until I did an inductive study of it. I took a few simple questions and recorded my findings. I’ve already written about learning what I could about the author and his circumstances and noting his petitions to God. He has clearly telegraphed in the psalm by his use of law and its synonyms that a major theme is God’s instructions. So it is helpful to go through the psalm and record all that he says about God’s instructions. Here’s my list, but it is a project worth doing for yourself.

  1. God’s instructions are righteous. 119:7, 119:62, 119:75, 119:106, 119:137, 119:144, 119:160, 119:164, 119:172
  2. God’s instructions give life. 119:25, 119:37, 119:50
  3. God’s instructions are good. 119:39, 119:68
  4. God’s instructions are saving. 119:41
  5. God’s instructions are true. 119:43, 119:142, 119:151, 119:160
  6. God’s instructions teach good judgment, knowledge, and wisdom. 119:66, 119:98
  7. God’s instructions are sure, trustworthy. 119:86
  8. God’s instructions endure. 119:89, 119:152
  9. God’s instructions are broad. 119:96 How do we understand the word broad or wide in this verse? One approach is found in the NET: “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension.” Obviously, we get a clue from the contrast. Another approach is to compare limits to something that is boundless.
  10. God’s instructions are a light for your path. 119:105
  11. God’s instructions are wonderful. 119:129
  12. God’s instructions (in this case, promises) are tested. 119:140

These are the conclusions of a reader who has spent time in God’s word. I agree with his conclusions as someone who has also spent time in God’s word. The Bible is an amazing library that has a unified message despite the fact that it spans 3600 years, 40 some authors, three languages, and three continents. It contains predictive prophecy. In the places where it can be tested by history and archaeology it has been found reliable. We have sufficient manuscript evidence to believe we have reliable manuscripts. It has a message that makes profound sense of the human predicament, and its practice seems to produce the best in its followers.

If you are not convinced, I invite you to read and see. Investigate! Maybe you too will become convinced of the characteristics of God’s instructions in Psalm 119.


Plan to Read the Bible

December 29, 2017

The Bible is a big book—really a library of books. Although I have valued Bible reading since I was a teenager, I’ve never succeeded at it without some sort of plan. The plan could be very simple. I will read a section of scripture before I go to bed. The plan could be more involved—I will read the Bible through in a year. The plan should fit you.

  1. Choose a translation that you are comfortable reading. Translations fall into two categories: formal equivalent (e.g., KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, ESV) and functional equivalent (e.g., NIV, Easy-to-Read, NET, CSB). Formal equivalence attempts to match the forms of the original language as closely as possible in the receptor language. Functional equivalence attempts to achieve the same effect on the reader. Formal equivalent translations usually have a reading level of 8th to 12th grades and are harder to understand. Functional equivalent translations may have a reading level of 3rd to 8th grades, but leave more opportunities for bias from the translator. My advice would be start with the ESV or NKJV which have lower reading levels (about 8th grade) than the NASB or KJV (about 10-12th grades) and see how it goes. If you are having difficulty with comprehension, then switching to something like the NET, CSB, or NIV makes sense (about 7th grade). For people still having difficulty, the New Century Version or God’s Word have even lower reading levels (about 3rd to 5th) .
  2. Personalize your plan. Reading through the Bible in a year is a wonderful goal, but maybe that isn’t the proper starting place for you. My first time through the New Testament was without a time goal involved—I just set as a goal reading through the New Testament, and kept at it until I was finished. Reading through the New Testament in a year takes about five minutes a day. The next thing I did was read through the narrative portions of the Old Testament (Law and History), which gives you the basic story of the Bible.
  3. Listening may be a great alternative. Some people have difficulty sitting still to read. God needs action-oriented people too. Maybe you should consider listening to the Bible on mp3 files or CDs as you drive or do other activities. The YouVersion Bible app has audio Bibles for free as do some others. If you want CDs, local bookstores or Christianbook.com are sources for these.
  4. Define success. If success is defined as reading a particular portion of scripture on a particular day, then I’m a failure, although I’ve been reading the Bible through in a year for decades. I claim to be a regular Bible reading but not always a daily reader. Expect to get behind and have to play catch up. Get ahead if possible. If your goal is more knowledge of the Bible, then skimming or skipping a section may allow you to keep going. How many people have gotten bogged down in the first seven chapters of Leviticus (sacrificial laws) or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles (genealogies)?
  5. Add variety and scope. If you succeed in reading the New Testament, then go on to read other portions of the Bible. Maybe you will work up to reading the entire Bible through in a year. I like reading guides that provide an Old Testament and New Testament readings on the same day for variety. I’ve also used different translations for variety.
  6. Do it. If you have come up with a personal plan, then the next step is doing it. As in forming any new habit, it takes time and you will have setbacks, but if you keep at it, reading the Bible brings many rewards.

Barriers to Bible Reading

October 5, 2017

The American Bible Society did a poll in 2013 where they found that 88 percent of respondents own a Bible, 80 percent think it is sacred, 61 percent wished they read it more, and the average household had 4.4 Bibles.

Lifeway did a survey to find out how much of the Bible people had read. Clearly from the pie chart, 53% have read very little of the Bible.

How much bible read

Biblica, the Bible society which owns the copyright of the NIV, did a survey to find out why Bible reading is down. They discovered three barriers to Bible reading. People read the Bible in fragments, a-historically, and in isolation.

In fragments means that people are reading verses rather than reading the larger units of thought: sentences, paragraphs, and books. Chapter and verse divisions did not come from the authors of the biblical books. Chapter divisions date from about the 13th century and verse divisions from the 16th century. My advice to readers is to ignore them in reading. Yes, they are helpful for finding things, but they do not show units of thought and sometimes arbitrarily break up units of thought.

My advice to beginning readers is to read a book of the Bible all the way through. I always suggest beginning with the gospels, then Acts and the epistles. In the Old Testament, reading through the historical narratives is of first importance: Genesis through Esther.

A-historical reading means the reader does not know where the book fits in history. Each book of the Bible is a piece of a larger story, and we need to know where it fits in this larger story. A Bible dictionary or study Bible may help you with this historical context. Good reading always involves asking and answering the reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why?

Finally, people struggle with reading because they are reading in isolation. I read the Bible in the context of being a part of a church family. Enlist someone to start a reading plan with you, so that you have mutual support. Use a Bible class as an opportunity to read your Bible outside of class so that you are ready for the class discussion. The community of believers is the place to receive encouragement to read our Bibles.


The Bible in Your Pocket

September 15, 2017

Microfiche Bible

Someone cleaning out a drawer sent me “The Smallest Bible in the World.” I remember seeing these in bookstores in the early 1970s when I was in college. It’s a Bible on microfilm. I would look at them in the bookstore, but since I had no microfilm reader and few dollars, the practicality of buying one on a lark escaped me. It was a novelty item at best. And the truth is, even though I now have one, one day I will clean out my drawer (or my heirs will), and it will get passed on to someone else. It’s not a practical Bible even though it is small.

But back then, I wanted a Bible that I could easily carry around. I had a pocket New Testament, and even a pocket Bible. You had to have a good-sized hip pocket and young eyes to see the small print, but it was convenient.

Since 2000 carrying a Bible around has gotten easier. I purchased a Palm IIIxe as my first PDA. It had a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM, but that was plenty to do calendar, to-do lists, book reading, and have a Bible. I began using Olive Tree’s Bible Reader on that early Palm device and have watched that software become more powerful and migrate to various operating systems just as I migrated from Palm to Pocket PC to iPod Touch to iPhone.

The advantage of having a Bible with you all the time is that you can use waiting time for reading. All of us wait in lines, at the doctor’s office, and the department of motor vehicles. As long as I have my device with me, I’m never bored. And it also means when you have the unexpected Bible question asked or an opportunity to share the good news, you have a Bible with you.

Recent stats suggest that 50% of the US population access a Bible online at some point in time. Yet, we still need more people to read their Bibles. We need people who will read books of the Bible all the way through. Fragmentary reading, a few verses here or there, will not bring about the knowledge we need.

The Bible is now easily transported with print adjustable to even my older eyes. My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities we now have available around us. If you are new to electronic Bibles on smart phones and tablets, let me suggest a few to consider.

You can learn about what is available at the above sites, and then find the app at your respective app store. The Bible is small enough to carry with you everywhere. Take advantage of the Bible in your pocket.


Slapping the Bible Around

August 4, 2017

Evolutionnews.org is a web site that deals with evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues. It is a work of the Discovery Institute which promotes a Judeo-Christian worldview. Recently, they posted an article that is actually about archaeology and DNA studies, but the point of the article was not the science, but how the science was reported in the popular press.

The science of the story seems reliable. DNA was taken from ancient Canaanite remains dating some 3700 years ago. The study found a startling overlap with modern-day DNA among the Lebanese. So far, so good.

But how was this story reported in the popular press. Here is a sample of headlines as given by evolutionnews.org.

  • “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
  • “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
  • “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
  • “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
  • “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
  • “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
  • “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)

What’s wrong with the headlines? The headlines fail basic Bible knowledge. First, although Israel was supposed to completely destroy the Canaanite people in the cities they captured (Deut. 7:2), this is also pictured as driving these people out of the land (Exo. 23:28-31). In other words, flight was an option open to the Canaanites. People who flee can pass on DNA to their descendants. Second, Judges makes clear that Israel failed in removing the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-36). So, the Bible does not claim that the Canaanites were completely annihilated.

Some retractions have occurred, but I wonder how many people see the original headline versus those who see the retraction. The Bible has been under extreme scrutiny since the beginning of the Enlightenment. In my opinion, the Bible has stood up under the testing. But knowing our Bibles well will help us defend against those who are slapping the Bible around.