On sabbatical earlier this year I was trying to write the first draft of what I hoped might be a simple introduction to the bible for those who have to read from it in public worship. As I worked, I came to realise that it would be too long to be the sort of book which might be attractive to the kind of audience I had in mind.
I put it away for a few months, but thought after I’d let the first draft setle a bit, perhaps the second draft might be a (long) series of blogs. This autumn it feels right to resurrect the idea, and so partly as the vehicle for this series, and partly for other posts on worship, prayer and liturgy, I am launching this site.
Everything in this series will be tagged “rite reading” and there will be a cumulative index page, Rite Reading, where you can jump to any published post in the series.
Most introductions to the bible seem to be for those using it for personal, devotional study, or preparing to begin some kind of academic study course, perhaps training for some form of recognised ministry. None seem to me to focus on the needs of the person who has to read it in front of other people, perhaps with very little guidance on how to understand what they are reading.
This series will try to fill that gap. If you are asked, or if you volunteer, to “read the lesson” – as it used to be called – you are given an important responsibility: to read so that others can understand the meaning of the reading.
Your hearers may not grasp every significant detail, and you’re not there to put the preacher out of business. However, those who listen to you should get some idea that what they’re listening to makes sense; after the reading they should feel they have at least a broad grasp of what the Scripture means. The minimum requirement for that is for you, as the reader, to have some sense of the meaning of what you’re reading, so that you can convey it to others.
That’s not always as straightforward as most of us would like. While some of the most obscure and difficult passages in the bible aren’t normally included in those selected for Sunday readings, the books you read were written a long time ago, in very different cultures to our own. It would be surprising if they weren’t sometimes tricky to understand.
In this (to borrow a common description) “idiot’s guide”, I hope to give enough pointers to stand you in good stead for reading with understanding. You might, after reading this blog, find you want to engage in your own more detailed study, in which case one of those other books might provide a good sequel to this. But this may be all you want or need for now.
I’m going to use a metaphor from the world of technology to organise this book. The first section deals with the hardware: the story of how we got the bible, and the key role that public reading plays in that story.
The second section is about firmware: the pattern of readings and how they are organised for use in church. This section also includes the human interface, you, the reader. It deals with the actual practice of reading with a mix of hints, tips and practicalities about reading.
The third section will deal with software: the actual content of the books of the bible, and how we might approach reading from them. This final section is by far the longest section, and I will largely cover the contents of the bible book by book.
I hope you find it helpful.