The Public Reading of Scripture: Is There Only One Verse About This?

The Public Reading of Scripture: Is There Only One Verse About This?

The famous verse that speaks to reading Scripture in church gatherings is 1 Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” However, throughout the Bible, God expected his people to hear his word read publicly, and we have a few instances of that happening. Below are most of the references to relevant passages and verses on this topic, with some brief comments.

A Concise Biblical Survey

Exodus 24:3-7 – The first public reading of God’s word in the Bible happened after God gave Moses the law.

Deuteronomy 31:9-13 – Every seven years, all Israelites (v. 12, “men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns,” not just the men [cf. 16:16]), were required to attend the Feast of Booths in order to hear the reading of God’s law.

Joshua 8:30-35 – Once in the Promised Land, the Israelites first were defeated at the city of Ai (7:1-5), but with God’s help they then were victorious over Ai (8:1-29). Israel subsequently renewed their covenant with the Lord and Joshua read God’s law to the entire assembly of Israel. 

2 Kings 23:1-3 and 2 Chronicles 34:29-32 – During King Josiah’s reign in Judah, the high priest, Hilkiah, “found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:8). He gave it to Shaphan, the King’s secretary, who read it. Shaphan then read God’s law to Josiah. The King then read God’s word to “all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both great and small” (23:2). 

Nehemiah 8:1-8 – After returning from the Babylonian exile and finishing the wall around Jerusalem, the people asked Ezra to “bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel” (v. 1). Ezra then read God’s law to the people “from early morning until midday” (v. 3). Explanation accompanied the reading (v. 8).

Luke 4:16-17; Acts 13:15; 15:21 – Scripture reading was a staple of the synagogue meetings, providing a strategic opportunity for Jesus and Paul to preach the gospel. 

Colossians 4:16 – Paul not only wanted his letter to the church in Colossae to be read to all the believers in that town, but he told them to “have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans.” As an apostle of Jesus Christ, he knew his word had authority beyond a typical letter of that day.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – Paul used the strongest language possible to ensure that his letter was read to all the believers in Thessalonica. They had an ongoing responsibility to obey what Paul taught them by word or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

1 Timothy 4:13 – While on his way to Macedonia, Paul charged Timothy to stay in Ephesus to confront false teachers and to strengthen the churches in that city and the surrounding region. In a culture of people turning away from Christ “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (v. 1), Paul commanded Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (v. 13).   

Revelation 1:3 – Blessing is promised both to the one reading Revelation out loud to a group of people and to those who hear it read orally and respond appropriately (cf. 22:18).

Thoroughly Biblical, Consistently Practiced

This brief survey of Scripture reveals that throughout biblical history, God was very interested in his people hearing his word read when they came together. They often did this, sometimes for very lengthy readings. When we read the Bible in our gatherings, we are doing what God’s people have always been expected to do, and have consistently done. Yes, 1 Timothy 4:13, but also so much more of the Bible, encourages us on in this critical ministry.