Monday, November 26, 2012

Dull Reading is Misinterpretation

Pastors and teachers spend a lot of time ensuring that they are properly interpreting the Bible. To do this they must not only study the text but must also study how to study. A continual examination of the appropriate methods of interpretation and application characterize those who feel the weight of their responsibility to teach the Word of God to His people. The major concern is always that the message taught is the message that God intended when He breathed forth the passage. Often, however, we spend so much time concerned about our explanation of the text that we forget that the reading of the text aloud also involves a process of interpretation. If our presentation of the text does not convey the tone and emphasis of the author, we give a misinterpretation even though we faithfully share the inerrant words. The Word of God is not boring and when we read it to people as though it is the list of ingredients on the back of a cereal box, we fail to communicate its message accurately and do violence to the text.

At no point should our teaching or preaching degenerate into a stage performance, but many of us could learn valuable lessons from those who have finely tuned their oral interpretation skills. The reason why listening to Alexander Scourby or James Earl Jones read the Bible is so much more powerful than listening to ourselves read is not just because they have been gifted with wonderful voices. It is because they have been trained in the art of oral interpretation. They are able to use emphasis, pauses, and varied speed and volume to vividly convey the imagery and tone of the text to the mind of the listeners. I am not at all advocating preachers or teachers being overly dramatic. We certainly do not want to use rhetorical devices that distract from the message, but a certain amount of oral interpretation is necessary to communicate the text faithfully. If we read Paul’s warnings, the exhortations of the prophets, or Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees without conveying the cutting power, urgency, and boldness of those statements we deprive the congregation of the full impact of what God has revealed even though all of the content is there.

As teachers and readers of the Bible, we are supposed to declare the full counsel of God. If we fail to communicate the tone and tension of the passages we read, we fall short of what we are called to do. We all know that we may hear different preachers preach the same text and essentially make the same points and yet one message will be powerful while the other will be forgettable. Often the reason is not that the observations or applications of one are any better than the other but rather that the better preacher takes time to let the Word itself settle into minds of the congregation rather than hurrying through it to get to what he wants to say. I believe that if we spend more time carefully communicating the words of the biblical text itself we would serve our churches better.

This advice is not limited just to preachers and teachers. Often one of the most underappreciated elements of the worship service is the scripture reading. It does not help that it often seems to be tacked onto or squeezed into the flow of the service. Sadly, some churches have eliminated the practice altogether. Why is it that God’s people often do not respond to the scripture reading? It is, after all, the very word of God. Perhaps it is because quite often it is not allowed to breathe. The power and majesty of the text are frequently undermined by our poor delivery of it. I am convicted that this is an area that I need to work on in my own teaching. I pray that if you are a person who has an opportunity to read the Bible publicly that you would give some prayerful thought to this issue. God is not dull, His word is not boring, and our communication of His revelation should not obscure that.

God Bless


  1. I think your hitting on something important here. I use to attend a church when before the preacher would deliver his message an Elder or Deacon would read form scripture. Most always it was kind of dull but I did appreciate the reading nonetheless. I don't have the time to study with pencil and paper. But thank God for Alexander Scourby. You cannot listen to him narrate the Bible and not be moved. I agree a blah reading of the text does not exalt the word and should be honored. However, do you really think a dull reading of Scripture "...does violence" to, or can lead to misinterpretation?

    1. The Spirit applies the word to our hearts so even a boring reading can be effective. My point is that in many cases distorting the tone of the passage means that the emphasis of the text is not communicated accurately. So yes, it can lead to misinterpretation. Violence to the text may have been a bit strong but any distortion is a form of violence to the text. Listeners who are more familiar with the text will often compensate for lackluster reading in their own processing of what is being said as well.

  2. KJV is the only version that should be used for public reading. If it was good enough for Paul,then it's good enough for us.