Bible Story and the Reading

There are reasons why some churches have the reading of the text prior to the message or at the start of the message.  There are reasons why I don’t like to do this when I’m preaching a narrative.

The reasons in favour of the reading include convention (it’s ‘cos we do!), declaration of the priority of the Word, trust in the public reading of the Word, etc.

The main reason against it, in my opinion, is that a story consists in the resolution of tension, so why give that away at the start?  Even if people know the end, surely the re-presentation of the story is the place for the satisfaction of experiencing tension resolved?

When preaching narrative I tend to have a related reading to satisfy the hunger for a formal reading, but I prefer to keep this separate from the message.  When the message begins, my goal is to win people to the text, rather than assuming they are ready for it and launching straight into the reading.

What do I mean by a related reading?  It could be the preceding context in the flow of the book, perhaps ending with the introduction to the story.  It could be a passage offering “informing theology” – a prior passage that in some way shaped the writer of the text.  It could be a safe reading, such as a Psalm, that has more to do with the sung worship at that point in the service than in the message to follow.

I absolutely believe in the importance of the public reading of God’s Word.  I’m not convinced we are obligated to the read our text then preach it though.

Tomorrow a related issue – should we tell the story, or should we just read it?

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7 thoughts on “Bible Story and the Reading

  1. “Win people to the text”? I’m not sure I buy this. It seems like it is best to let the text speak for itself before I insert myself into the picture.

    I don’t see any definite Scriptural rule that says you have to read the text first, but in general, I think that’s best, and you’ve got some persuading to do, Peter. 🙂 I don’t see anything compelling in what you’ve said here. I’m finding this series profitable, though.

    • The focus of this post is not the place of the reading at the start of the sermon, I think I’ve addressed that elsewhere. The bigger focus is on the reading of a story that is then preached (why reveal the ending and then re-tell the story? With the tension gone, preachers will tend to fall short in the telling and end up offering their own theological presentation).

      In general though, rather than focusing on narrative, if the text is particularly arresting or compelling, by all means dive straight in. However, as preachers we need to recognize that most listeners have not spent the whole week yearning for us to offer our exposition of some seemingly obscure ancient text. They are living with all sorts of immediate tensions, fears, concerns, issues, etc. I think it is vital to take a little time to prepare them for it, to rub salt on the tongue so that when we announce the text they lean forward and grab for their Bibles with eagerness.

      I could turn this back to you Jon. Since you recognize there is no Scriptural rule on this matter, why is it best to read the story first? I’d suggest you have some persuading to do too 🙂

      • I suppose I’m sort of rebelling at a somewhat implicit suggestion that I can do a better job of telling the story than the Scriptures do. If you are withholding the resolution of tension, aren’t you making yourself the storyteller, rather than Scripture? If the text drives the message, shouldn’t we actually make sure it drives it?

        But maybe I’m misunderstanding your point.

  2. Perhaps I am open to the charge, but I contend that you are honouring the inspired genre of narrative by re-presenting it as effectively as possible. I want my telling be so influenced by the text, combined with the fact that I tend to read the whole text in the course of the message anyway. I suppose I might also pull in the logic of the complaint…should we therefore never preach any text, but only read it?

    • I’m not sure I was “charging” you with anything. 🙂 It’s more a question of the wisest way to honour the text.

      I’m sure we would both be strongly agreed on this: if the cultural / historical background is such that the force of the text is likely to be missed by the hearers, it makes all the sense in the world to set that scene before going to the text.

      I’m pretty sure we also both agree that not only the plot, but also the wording, of the narrative is inspired. Although that is only imperfectly reflected in a translation, my theology points me towards using Scriptural wording in telling the story.

      I’m not sure I follow the logical jump to asking if we should preach any text. I’m not suggesting we don’t preach on historical narrative. But in general, I see little reason not to read any text on which you are preaching, and it generally makes sense to draw the attention of people to the thing you are talking about when you start talking about it…..

      • Maybe in my sleep deprived new Dad again state I misunderstood slightly. I think we are on the same page in terms of the need to read the text and reflect the text as closely as possible in the preaching. What I am saying, in terms of preaching narratives, let’s be sure to let the telling of the story be a significant chunk of the message. Just to read it and then preach thoughts “on” it is to do it an injustice. By all means read it, but recognize that we can read it as we tell the story, rather than as a stand alone unit of text. My point about preaching other texts is that if we can only read a story instead of telling the story (including reading) then logically we should only read other texts too, rather than expanding in explanation and application.

        Do I read the text I am preaching? Absolutely. Do I have a very high view of Scripture? Absolutely. Do I think the text has to be read first, at the start of the message? Not necessarily. The timing of the reading, and the extent of the reading (all at once, or in bits), etc., are all matters of strategy. What will work best? Many preachers treat it as a given that the reading must come first, almost as a further defining element of expository preaching. I disagree and place the timing and extent in the category of strategy, rather than requisite specific feature.

        Thanks so much for interacting with the site Jon.

      • Thanks, Peter. I’m rather sleep-deprived these days, too, though I don’t have your excuse. 🙂 I suspect there HAS been a little missing what the other is saying on both parts. I don’t think we’re entirely on the same page on this one, but we’re in the same chapter.

        Blessings to you.

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