Public Bible Reading

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

1 Timothy 4:13

Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to his protege (Timothy) to give him instructions and encouragements in how to establish the local church in Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the churches where Paul had invested seriously both of his time and of himself. He stayed there for over two years straight, and cared deeply for the growth and establishment of this church. In the letter, Paul instructs Timothy in many different ways, but there are three things which Paul calls him to be devoted to until they meet again:

Teaching. Exhortation. And the public reading of Scripture.

I wonder if we think of the need for the Bible reading in the same way that Paul did? That short slot in the middle of the service, before the sermon and after the songs. Do we see how important, urgent and powerful that time is? I’m writing this post specifically for those who publicly read the Bible at Gospel Church, or who might do so one day. We want to be a church marked by joyful obedience to Jesus, so we want to be a church marked by the powerful public reading of scripture.

Borrowing an idea from a fella named Simon Camlleri, we could ask: how much more powerful might our Sunday Services be if we just read the Bible with clarity, comprehension, conviction and confidence?

So here, briefly, let me give you just a few practical pointers to help you prepare this important ministry well.

3 Essentials to prepare – 3 questions to ask

There are lots of things you can do to prepare to read the Bible well. Some people sit down and write out the passage, formatting it in a way that reminds you what to emphasise. You can find lots of great resources on how to read the Bible well publicly at, but here I want to just give you three things you could do, collectively taking less than 10 minutes, which would help you to honour the Lord well in your public reading of Scripture, and with them I want to give you three good questions to ask as you go.

  1. Pre-read with an eye for emphasis and passion. Take the chance to pre-read the passage that you will be reading, preferably a few times. As you go, ask the question: what is the emphasis in this passage, and how can I communicate that with how I read? Let me give an example, suppose your reading included John 6:52-54:

    The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

    Now, you could read this dead pan, or you could read the Jews’ question (“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”) with confusion and disgust, as they may have. You could read Jesus’ words that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” with the passionate urgency of one offering the only way to be saved. You could slow down read those last words “and I will raise him up on the last day” with the hope filled joy of one who knows they are true, and longs to see others believe as well.
  2. Pre-read aloud with an eye for clarity. Read it aloud like you would on the morning at church. Preferably stand, and practice making some “eye contact” where the congregation will be. As you go, ask the question: what words or phrases do I struggle to get out? For instance, if Mephibosheth or the blessedly-hyphenated Maher-shalal-hash-baz come up, you’ll want to practice saying it a few times.

    As a rule of thumb, it’s better to have a practiced pronunciation which is wrong than to stumble on the day, even if you eventually get it right. It is most distracting for the congregation if the reader stumbles over the word, or tries it a few times. It will usually only be distracting to a few pronunciation purists if you read it confidently and say it a bit wrong. If you get it right and do it confidently, bonus points to you.

    3. Pray over your public reading of the Bible. Perhaps this should have been at the start. Paul commanded Timothy to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture because God’s Word is powerful. It is a significant thing that happens when a regular person gets up and reads aloud the words of the infinite God. Pray beforehand for God’s blessing in your reading, and pray that the words would sink deep into the hearts of those listening with transforming power, for the glory of God and the joy of all who will come to believe.