The Public Reading

“Until I come,” says the apostle Paul, knowing that his death is imminent, seizing, perhaps, the opportunity to give direction to the church for the centuries ahead, “give attention” (NASB), or “devote yourself” (NIV), “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”

It’s clear enough what the apostle Paul wants done in the public assembly of the church. He wants Scripture read. The practice of the synagogue was to unroll the scrolls of Scripture, read a portion, mark where they stopped, and then the next Sabbath pick up again where they left off. The reading was lectio continua, consecutive, sequential readings, not, by the way, “lectio selecta,” readings selected from here or there.

Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–19) and the apostle Paul at Pisidian Antioch and elsewhere (Acts 13:15; 17:2–4, 11; 18:4, 19; 19:8) provide examples of this public discipline in action. We have as well the apostle James’ explanation of the practice of the synagogue: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21, NASB and hereafter).

“Moses,” he says, “is read in the synagogue every Sabbath.” It is to this practice that the apostle Paul refers and that the early church had adopted. Liturgical scholars agree that lectio continua reading was the practice of the early church from the time of the apostles through the patristic period.

Following Gregory the Great (540–604 AD), the medieval church adopted a lectio selecta approach to the readings. But selected readings were unsatisfactory to the Reformers, who almost without exception required in their liturgical reforms that extensive lectio continua readings be restored to the public services of the church. Lectio continua readings of Scripture were the practice of Reformed orthodoxy until well into the nineteenth century.
All of my life I have belonged to churches that believed in the inerrant accuracy and infallible authority of Scripture. I have belonged to evangelical Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches. I have visited scores of independent evangelical and charismatic churches. Yet not one of them paid any attention to 1 Timothy 4:13. Curious, isn’t it?

What is a proper sermon? It is an explanation of the reading. When Jesus concluded the reading from the prophet Isaiah at the synagogue at Nazareth, “the eyes of all…were fixed upon him” in anticipation of His comments. “And he began to say to them,” Luke tells us next. Jesus, by providing expository comments, followed the pattern expected in the synagogue service (Luke 4:16–21).
Posted in
Tagged with