Reading whole books out loud

Q. I want to lead a neighborhood Bible study using your guide to John, but I’m concerned that the people I invite won’t want to read all the way through the book out loud together.  I’ve never been in a group that did this and I think people will find it boring and tiring.  They might not come back.  Do we have to do this to start the study?

John study guide

All I can say is, give it a try, and you’ll be surprised how well it goes.  Both from my own experience leading groups with these guides, and from what I’ve heard from other groups, I’m convinced that you and your neighbors will find this one of the most refreshing and exciting experiences they’ve had with the Bible in years.

One group I know read through the whole book of Romans out loud—this took about an hour—and as soon as they finished the discussion was electric.  One person said it was the best Bible study she’d ever been in.  Another group was using the guide to Psalms, Lamentations, and Songs of Songs.  They got to the session where they were supposed to read Lamentations out loud and one member asked whether they really had to do this.  Another member, a young woman, answered, “Of course we do!”  She explained that all she ever got was bits and pieces of the Bible, “a chapter here and a verse there,” and she was really looking forward to hearing a whole book at once.  The reading and discussion were deep and meaningful.

It’s important to realize that we are now in a period of a “new orality.”  We are less of a silent reading culture and more of an out-loud culture, in which the primary means of communication is increasingly the spoken voice, as heard on television, on internet sites like YouTube, in movie theaters, etc.  Even people’s interactions with their smart phones are becoming spoken!  The original character of the Bible is perfect for this “new orality.”  The books of the Bible, as a rule, were composed out loud and intended to be delivered out loud.  Paul tells the Colossians, for example, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans.”  Revelation says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it.”  So when you read the Bible out loud, you’re experiencing it as originally intended.

So give the members of your neighborhood Bible study the challenge and opportunity of reading John out loud.  (You’ll notice that the guide gives you the choice of doing this in one or two parts, so if you still have concerns, you can start by reading just the first half out loud in session 2 and the second half in session 14.)  I think you’ll be  pleasantly surprised by how well it goes.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister who served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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