Most of the Bible was written to be read aloud. There are a few personal letters, etc., but by and large the writers never envisioned people owning personal, leather bound, red letter, annotated copies of their words. Prior to the invention of the printing press and the Reformation, a big part of going to church was listening to someone read Scripture. For the vast majority of Christians it was only at church that they encountered the Bible. Being a reader of Scripture in church was a honor and privilege. The reader took that job seriously and prepared for that part of worship with all the effort of a preacher or singer.
With all this in mind, over a year ago I decided to read the New Testament through out loud. When I finished the New Testament I decided to continue on with the Old Testament and I have now finished the entire Bible.
It has been an interesting journey. There are passages I know fairly well and usually when I read them I unintentionally go into a sort of hyper drive and speed my way through them. Not this time. It was word by word. The whole process was slower, more methodical. I tended to hear the message differently than when I just read silently. I’m not about to tell you that I think it’s vastly superior. I will tell you that it’s different. I came away with a different feeling about some passages than before.
The Old Testament prophets were a challenge. Sometimes there is page after page of condemnation; lots of doom and gloom. Reading aloud made me feel somewhat depressed. On a practical level, I realized how repetitive some of those writings are. The prophet says something one way, then he repeats it another way, and then does it all over again. Doing it out loud made that somehow more obvious to me than before.
Another challenge is names. Some portions, in Numbers for instance, are lists of names. Many of the prophets spend a lot of time with names of towns. I cut myself just a bit of slack on the names. If I didn’t immediately recognize the name I’d just say the first letter of the name and keep reading: “A son of Z, son of Benjamin.” I guess that was cheating a bit, but since no one was listening but me I decided it was a reasonable course of action.
One thing about all those names of people and places, was that it reminded me of just how grounded those stories are in history. These are real people and real places. I know it because the writer named names.
I don’t suggest that everyone ought to do this. Many people just need to read the Bible; to get on a plan and stick with it. The more you read the more you come to love the Bible. If you haven’t been reading the Bible, just commit yourself to one page a day. Start with the Gospels. Make it easy on yourself. Some start off in Genesis, enjoy the opening stories and then can’t make it through Exodus not to mention Leviticus. When you are ready to tackle the Old Testament, mix it in with the New Testament. Do one chapter of the New and one chapter of the Old each day. Throw in one Psalm each day if you have time. Reading the Bible through is a journey and not a race.
Then, maybe someday, you’ll be looking for a different approach. When you get there, you might want to try it out loud. Reading God’s Word as it was originally read does have it’s rewards.