Gordon Fee, in his book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth states that the Bible was written more to be listened to than read. That is, when the authors wrote it, they imagined people hearing it read out loud more than they thought of it being read off of the page. Before the printing press, books were enormously expensive and reading out loud was extremely common and something of an art form. It’s one of the reasons why Paul commands Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13). That is how most people heard the Bible.
Although that is not entirely true today, do not underestimate how powerful a good reading of Scripture can be. I firmly believe what one South African seminary professor said: “If we read the Scriptures properly, a sermon is hardly necessary.” He wasn’t against preaching. He just understood how powerful Scripture can be when read for impact. If you read the Bible correctly out loud, people will actually hear the message the text declares. They will find themselves hearing things they had passed over. They will get a different sense of emphasis and a deeper sense of the gravity of the message.
So how do you do it? How do you read the Bible for maximum impact?
If you do the following, the impact of your reading can be greatly increased. I’ve tried to place these in order of importance.
- Believe in what you’re doing
- If you don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it is intrinsically powerful, decline the invitation to read. You have to believe the Bible is powerful. You have to read it with confidence.
- Read slowly and deliberately, based on the content
- Increase and decrease your speed appropriately to the argument in story
- Emphasize every word that has content emphasis.
- Read attentively to the argument of the passage or the drama of the narrative
- You can only know the right places to give emphasis if you understand the argument of the passage well. What is the author emphasizing? What is he arguing against? What is he trying to help his hearers see? What misunderstandings is he trying to clear up?
- Expressing emotion appropriate to the facial expression of the text
- If we understand each passage well enough, we should be able to imagine a face looking out from the text with a particular expression on it. We are conveying some divine attitude or sentiment in addition to the content of what we’re reading. Is God upset? Does he have his hands outstretched to us? Is the expression exacerbation? Compassion? Disappointment? Is he pleading with us? Is there sarcasm? Does it assume we are being unreasonable or illogical not to listen to him?
- If you do not intentionally select the emotion of the passage, you will probably convey some other emotion that you will naturally infuse into your reading.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
- Read and study the passage in your devotions so that you know the text well enough not only to read smoothly, but to know exactly what to emphasize.
- Read ahead of your mouth
- When reading a text you are not as familiar with as you would like, allow your eyes to read four or five words ahead of where your mouth is. This gives your brain a second or two to process what you are about to say. With a little practice, you can get up and read almost any text decently well without preparation. However, in order to emphasize the right things, at the right times, in the right places, there is no way around preparation.
- Don’t read “dramatically”
- If you emphasize what the text emphasizes, and if you express the emotion of the text, you should not have to worry about reading “dramatically.” So don’t try.
- Read the version that the majority is using, especially the visitors.
- If there is a pew Bible, you should probably read that translation or have it up on the screen
- Do not use projection on a screen unless it’s your only option. It’s good to have people open their Bibles.