A Note on the Oral Reading of Scripture

Dr. Weniger's welcome return to our pages after a long illness provides a helpful answer to a great part of this problem.

SDA Theological Seminary Andrews University

When Paul counseled Timothy to "give attendance to reading" (1 Tim. 4:13), he did not mean the kind of reading matter that the young preacher should pay attention to, as many have mis­interpreted the text. Rather, he meant the selection of the Scripture reading and its oral inter­pretation as a part of public worship. The word translated "read­ing" means primarily to read aloud.

Paul knew how much depended upon the oral communication of the Scripture in the public service of the church, and he wanted his young preacher-in-training to pay attention to his method of reading the AVord of God as a part of that worship.

Perhaps he was thinking of the care with which Nehemiah and his co-workers communicated the Word to the Hebrews at the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the reign of Artaxerxes. It is written: "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Neh. 8:8).

To illustrate the need of paying atten­tion to the oral communication of the Word of God, let us take several brief ex­amples of texts often faultily spoken or read in public.

"Drink ye all of it." Jesus was setting the example for the communion serv­ice. Did He mean that we should drink all the wine, or that all of us should partake? The K.J.V. translation is ambiguous. The Greek shows that the word "all" qualifies "ye," not "of it." The translators might better have ren­dered the text: "All of you, drink it." How can you convey the idea of the K.J.V. orally? Try speaking the words "ye all" together, closely knit on a uniform pitch level, and then pause slightly before adding the phrase "of it." How clear and meaningful the invitation becomes: "Drink ye all—of it."

"And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." The sentence is found in Luke's account of the Nativity (Luke 2:16). I have heard the text read so as to convey the idea that the mother and father and infant were lying together in the manger. What a world of difference a pause may make! Try ignoring the comma after "Mary" (there is no comma in the original language), read the words "Mary and Jo­seph" as a unit, and then speak as one phrase the last part of the verse, without pausing after "babe." Make it sound like this: "and found Mary and Joseph [pause], and the babe lying in a manger." How clear! And how great is the emphasis thus given to the sublime fact of God in­carnate cradled in a lowly stable!

"He giveth his beloved sleep" (Ps. 127: 2). Does God, in the text, give "beloved sleep" to us, or does He give to us, His beloved, the gift of sleep? Is "beloved" an adjective modifying "sleep" or an adjecti­val noun used in the objective case after the word "to" understood—"to His be­loved"? The original Hebrew reveals the latter, and one should therefore read the K.J.V. text: "He giveth his beloved [slight pause] sleep."

If you would have your congregation get the thought of God's Word from the Scripture lesson, you must first be sure that vou have the thought yourself. This takes earnest, diligent, prayerful study of the text. It requires the use of dictionary, The SDA Bible Commentary, and other helps, and, if possible, study of the original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. Next you must be sure to communicate that thought, to share it with your auditors. This demands study of emphasis, pause, pitch level, and all the other ingredients of meaningful oral interpretation. It requires actual practice orally—preferably in the sanctuary—of the text. Never read the Sacred Word in public without first studying its real meaning and practicing its oral reading in private. Be truthful. Be accurate. "Study to shew thy­self approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

The Scripture reading (or Scripture les­son) should be a high point in the public worship service. It is God's Word speaking directly to the minds and hearts of men, and it is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12).

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SDA Theological Seminary Andrews University

January 1964

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