Public Reading of God’s Word

Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

The Word of God calls upon believers to make the public reading of Scripture a regular part of the worship services. The most explicit text in this regard is 1 Timothy 4:13—“Until I [Paul] come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Even though the word public is not mentioned in the original Greek text of 1 Timothy 4:13, it’s inclusion for the sake of the context is quite evident. The text does include the definite article before the word reading and therefore must mean that this is to be a reading in public, along with the public exhortation and teaching of that Scriptural reading.

Normally, in an early church worship context, the public reading of God’s Word was crucial because very few of the believers had their own personal copy of the Scriptures. When they came together, God’s Word would be read in order for the exposition of that Word to be properly understood. This followed very closely the context for worship in the Jewish synagogues of that time. Luke 4:16-30 is an example of Jesus’ public reading and preaching of the Old Testament Scripture:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And He said to them, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal Yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elijah the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’ And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way.

With each of the classic steps as outlined in 1 Timothy 4:13, Jesus publicly read God’s Word, He exhorted (applied) God’s Word (in this case applying it directly to Himself), and He taught (exegeted or exposited) God’s Word. Because He believed the Scriptures to be the very Words of God Himself, He was also living out the expression of 2 Timothy 3:16—“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” After the public reading of the Word, the public exhortation of God’s Word meant to “come alongside” the people with the challenge, reproof, correction and training that 2 Timothy 3:16 includes. The public teaching of 1 Timothy 4:13 includes also the systematic explanation of God’s Word. This is where the verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture can be Biblically defended.

The same concept of the public reading and teaching of Scripture is clearly seen in Nehemiah 8:1-8:

And all the people gathered as one man at the square, which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium, which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating [explaining] to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

The early church can be seen regularly alluding to the public reading of the Old Testament. Acts 15:21 states, “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” To that Old Testament reading, the early church added the reading and teaching of Jesus’ own words (see Acts 20:35), as well as the reading and teaching of the Apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2; 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; etc.).

The Bible Church of Little Rock therefore, is committed to the public reading, teaching, and application of the whole of God’s Truth (see Acts 20:27). This will be primarily directed toward, but is not limited to, the public worship services on the Lord’s Day. It will also occur in Sunday School opportunities, Care Groups, Bible studies, Men’s and Women’s ministry studies and events, etc. It is the desire of the Board of Elders of The Bible Church of Little Rock to follow as closely as possible the pattern of the early church, so as to rightly represent the accurate presentation of God’s Word, which we believe will bring Him great glory.

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