Public Scripture Reading: It’s Centrality and Importance

The centrality and importance of preaching, teaching, and Scripture reading is a recurring theme in the Bible. The following will provide a brief overview, emphasizing the public reading of Scripture.

Israel was commanded to gather the people together at certain times to read the Word of God (Deuteronomy 31:11). This was so the people would “hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13).

When the Lord established the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, Moses wrote down the covenant, then read it to the people (Exodus 24:1-8). The people agreed to obey it.

After Achan’s sin, the Israel’s defeat to Ai, their cleansing, and their defeat of Ai, Joshua built an altar and sacrifices were offered. He wrote the Law on stones, and he read the Law to the people (Joshua 8:30-35).

The book of Nehemiah gives several examples of public Scripture reading. In Nehemiah 8:1-8 the people were gathered together, and Ezra read the entire Law to them. He read from early morning until the middle of the day. Included in this was corporate responses of praise. There was also explanation of the Law, so the people understood the meaning. The result of this is seen in verses 9-12. The people wept as they heard the Law. The people heard the law and were confronted with sin. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites had to quiet the people. It was a festal time and mourning was inappropriate. Along with weeping there was rejoicing, “because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Nehemiah 8:12).

In Nehemiah 9 there was a solemn assembly (Nehemiah 8:18). The people fasted and wore sackcloth. They read the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day. Another quarter of the day was spent in confession and worship (Nehemiah 9:3). The rest of the chapter recounts the history of Israel, highlighting their rebellion, with the people confessing their covenant unfaithfulness as a nation. They also wrote a covenant and sealed it.

In Nehemiah 13:1-3, at the dedication of the new wall around Jerusalem, they read from the Book of the Law. They saw that Ammonites and Moabites were not permitted in the assembly. So, they removed foreigners. Tobiah had been permitted to live in the Temple, and he was removed as a result of the public reading (Nehemiah 13:4-9).

There are common trends in all these passages. There is a set time to gather as an assembly to read the Scriptures. There were results when the Scriptures were publicly read. Knowledge was gained for the people and their children (Deuteronomy 31:12-13; Nehemiah 8:1-8). In Nehemiah’s accounts there was an exposure and sensitivity to sin, which was confessed to God (Nehemiah 8:9-12; 9). Trusting obedience was expected, as in the removal of foreigners from the Temple (Nehemiah 13:4-9). There was also a group of teachers ready to explain the meaning of the passages to the people (Nehemiah 8:8).

In the New Testament Paul commanded Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). The word “devote” means “to pay attention to” (Strong). In Acts 20:28 the ESV translates this same word as “pay careful attention to.” Exhortation is the word paraklaysis which means “imploring” or “a calling near” (Thayer). “Teaching” is the Greek word didaskalia and means “instruction” (Strong). Timothy was to devote himself to public Scripture reading, exhortation, and teaching.

Timothy was also told not to neglect the gift he had (1 Timothy 4:14). This gift relates to Scripture reading, exhortation, and teaching. In 2 Timothy 4:5 it seems that Timothy’s gift was that of evangelist, since he is told to “do the work of an evangelist, fulfill you ministry.” His particular service to the Lord and His church was as a Gospel proclaimer. This is why he was told to “preach” or “herald” the word. “Preach” is a translation of the word kerusso. He was to “herald the Word.”

Timothy was to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” He was to confront sin, call for change, and encourage. This work was to be done with all patience and teaching (didache). So, he was to herald the Good News, then teach the implications of the Gospel for God’s people. He was to do this in all times, and the times ahead were going to be incredibly difficult (2 Timothy 4:3).

So, returning to 1 Timothy 4, Timothy was given the task of paying careful attention to these things. In 1 Timothy 4:15 he is told to give himself wholly to these things. This was to be the dedication of his service, so that his progress would be clearly seen. People were to be able to clearly see his growth in the areas of his devotion.

Finally, he is commanded to watch himself and the teaching (didaskalo) carefully (1 Timothy 4:16). He was to “persist” or “remain” in this. By doing this he would save himself and his hearers. Save them from what? The context tells us that some would depart from the faith and be devoted to demonic teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Timothy was warned not to be distracted by silly myths, but to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-12). Careful attention given to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching would protect (save) Timothy and the churches he served from false teaching.

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1. Why did the people of God gather for public reading of Scripture?

2. What were the common results from the public reading of Scripture?

3. Why should the people of God still gather for the public reading of Scripture?

4. What are ways that you and your church family can practice devotion to the public reading of Scripture?

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References cited as Strongs are from the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance

References cited as Thayer are from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Both of these sources were accessed through

Photo Credit: Taylor Wilcox @ Description of the photo: “The unveiling of the new Torah display at Trinity International University”

Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by

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