Reading Scripture in Public: A Guide for Preachers and Lay Readers

By Thomas Edward McComiskey
Grand Rapids : Baker (1991). 196 Pages.

Reviewed by
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 108-110

"All too often . . . we hear the Scriptures read in a manner that fails to reflect their authority" (p. 15). "If we want our hearers to develop a deeper sense of the Bible's authority, we must not read it in the same way we read the weekly announcements" (p. 15). To meet this need, Thomas McComiskey, Professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has "set forth principles of oral interpretation as they relate to the public reading of Scripture" (p. 9).

With the intensive and time-consuming challenge of learning exegetical skills often comes an unfortunate neglect. It is wrongly assumed that students will learn how to read the Scriptures publicly on their own. The present work both exposes the error of and prescribes a corrective for this assumption: "That effective public reading is interpretation and effective use of vocal emphasis is exposition" (p. 9, emphasis added). A glaring implication of this principle is that the reader must first understand the passage before he reads it. Interpretation and exposition are essential elements in an appropriate reading of Scripture. Only after the listener has heard the reading pre-interpreted will he catch the sense of the passage (p. 10).

To read Scripture interpretively so as to communicate the sense of the passage requires first an understanding of the basic kinds of biblical literature. The overlapping categories of narrative and poetry are "literary styles" (p. 27) with differing characteristics. Biblical narrative is a "literary framework composed of recounted events" (p. 27). By contrast, biblical poetry has a more "exalted literary style" (p. 52) or "beauty of literary expression" (p. 53). It has "appeal to the emotions" (p. 53), "expression of high thought in appropriate language" (p. 54), and "symmetry of expression" (p. 54) that create structural beauty. The distinctions between narrative and poetry require different reading techniques.

The author feels that the sermon is a handmaid of the Scriptural reading and not, as some suggest, the other way around:

The Bible has meaning and relevance for those who hear it in faith. It does not need the sermon to give it force (actually the converse is true). The Holy Spirit brings insights to the mind whether we are reading the Bible alone or hearing its words in a congregation (p. 15).

In essence, this volume is a study of the oral interpretation of Scripture. To facilitate improvement, McComiskey prescribes exercises with a tape recorder. He supplies abundant practical advice such as "you should read sentences, not verses" (p. 22) and at the end of a paragraph "drop the pitch of the voice and slow the speed of . . . reading" (p. 42). Warnings against reading abuses are also helpful. He cautions against overdramatizing by recommending three words to remember: "appropriate, natural, and controlled" (p. 62). The volume facilitates an improved understanding of hermeneutics as well as an improved reading of Scripture.