This is the second half of Sam's interview with Sunil about the new Bible Noise project (find the first part here). After the video you'll find a second article on how reading scripture aloud functions in the Bible itself, and the impact that could have on our worship today.

See all the current Bible Noise readings here.


Reading Aloud, and Becoming a Listening People

The Bible has been read aloud since the beginnings of our faith. From Israelite times, to the stories of the early Christians, existing texts were read aloud to be heard by the community. This article explores an instance of scripture being read aloud in the Bible, and then I will apply this to what the reading aloud of scripture could mean for us in our engagement with the Bible today.

Listening is a dynamic activity

In the Bible there are various instances of scripture being read aloud and we’ll explore one of them; the story of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22-23. During the time of King Josiah the ‘book of the covenant’ is rediscovered. Though Moses had commanded that the book be read aloud to all the people when they gathered for worship (Deut 31:11-12), the practice seems to have died and the book itself lost. After the book is found, Josiah then listens to the book read out aloud to him and the response is visceral.

"When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes." (2 Kings 22:11)

My first point is that there is a certain dynamism present in scripture being read aloud to attentive listeners. Josiah is upset because he realises the collective sin of his nation. Josiah later reads aloud the book to all the people ‘both small and great’ as part of his nation’s collective repentance. It could be argued that this is a practical act as the technology to make copies wasn’t there. However, there is something important here in this act. Josiah wants all the people to hear as a gathered act of repentance.

We are not alone in this reading

Josiah’s individual public act of repentance leads on to a nationwide experience of repentance. Hearing scripture aloud demonstrates the fact that we are not alone in the endeavour of reading the Bible and of faith - this is my second point. Reading aloud brings people together. Children and their carers find this. Reading aloud to a young person, regardless of whether they can read, gives space for people to engage, dwelling in a story through the voice of another.

Additionally, there is a sense of openness in the reading aloud of scripture that allows "both small and great" to participate. This sense of its accessibility to different people is echoed through scripture as seen in the following verses:

"The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord." (2 Kings 23:2)

"Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 31:12)

"There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them." (Joshua 8:35)

"Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding." (Nehemiah 8:35)

These passages demonstrate that engaging with scripture is a communal activity; an activity that Christian communities of faith have engaged in since their very beginning. And, importantly, it is open for all. Men, women, children and foreigners are clearly mentioned as being part of this act of worship. The reading aloud of scripture allows different levels of accessibility. There is no requirement of having the knowledge to read, or the use of technology like books or screens in being part of the reading aloud of scripture.

Application in today's worship

So, what does the dynamism of reading aloud scripture and the way it brings people together mean for us today? I think it points towards the kind of people we’re meant to be, that we’re a listening people. We listen not just as individuals but as a community. When we hear scripture read, we as a community are quietening ourselves in order to hear. We are a people who respond to God’s call. We’re also a people who listen to a broken world. Therefore, before we proclaim anything in response to God or for the healing of a broken world we have to listen.

And we need to ask ourselves, with regard to our worship services today, what is the role of reading scripture aloud and listening in worship? Is it something we attend to? Or even look forward to?

Tom Wright on reflecting on the role of scripture in public worship says this:

"The public reading of scripture on a Sunday morning has become perfunctory. We assume that more or less anyone can read in public and that they don’t need a lot of rehearsal or encouragement. Their names are put down on a rota and they turn up and do it. Of course, if the choir were to do that – just anybody turning up and singing without practising and direction – people would soon complain; but we’ve got used to poor reading, partly I think because we haven’t stopped to think what the public reading of scripture is for. Often it seems that it’s simply there as the text, or the pretext, for a sermon which may end up being about something quite different: a jumping-off point rather than the foundation for what the preacher wants to say."
NT Wright, ‘Sign and Means of New Creation: Public Worship and the Creative Reading of Scripture’, 30 January 2017.

Maybe we have got used to hearing scripture in the ways that Tom Wright has said. I think we can find ways of reading the Bible aloud in creative ways that can refresh our approach to hearing scripture being read aloud. In doing so, it could lead all of us to more fully engage with scripture, both in mind and body. It could be dynamic, bringing together our communities and be a Spirit filled activity of the word. It is possible! We can take a deep breath to sound aloud the words that have been spoken through the ages, and resound across the world.