Reading Scripture in Worship

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.”

- 1 Timothy 4:13

The Protestant Reformation was about more than just the reform of doctrine. As we have seen, the Reformers were equally concerned about the reform of worship. In the Reformed tradition, the emphasis has been on structuring worship according to God’s Word. In other words, we are not free to do anything in worship; rather, the Lord is to be worshiped according to what Scripture reveals. And the biblical principles for God-honoring worship are discerned by applying sound rules of interpretation to God’s Word.

There are many elements that Scripture prescribes for our worship. The first of these is the public reading of the Scriptures, which Paul exhorts Timothy to practice in today’s passage. Although for Timothy, this reading aloud of the Scriptures in worship would have consisted mainly of Old Testament readings since the New Testament had not yet been completed, the imperative applies to the entire canon. In short, all worship services should include readings from the Bible.

Reading the Scriptures aloud in worship has several advantages. First, it helps the congregation become more acquainted with the content of the Word of God. Second, reading the Bible aloud to God’s people guarantees that they will hear divine truth. Even if the preacher has an off week or inadvertently delivers a mistaken teaching, having the Scriptures read aloud in the service ensures that the Lord’s flock receives God’s truth and can be encouraged to heed it. Third, it is also worth noting that the Scriptures have been designed to be read aloud. During the period in which the Scriptures were written, very few people could read, and even those who could read seldom owned their own copies of any portion of the Bible. They learned the Word of God by hearing it. We are blessed in our day that most adults, at least in the West, can read and that we can even own and bring our own Bibles to church. But that is a recent phenomenon. God gave His Word not only for us to read in private but for us to hear it read aloud, and if in His divine wisdom He gave it for reading aloud, we are missing something if Scripture is not read publicly in worship.

From the earliest history of God’s people, the covenant community has gathered to hear God’s Word read aloud (Deut. 31:10–13). May we be eager to hear it read during worship in our day.

Coram Deo

We are certainly blessed to be able to read along in our own Bibles with our pastors as they read Scripture aloud during worship. There is also benefit in our hearing the Word of God read to us even when we do not have a Bible in front of us. God works through the reading of His Word to instruct us, so let us take advantage of any opportunity we have to hear God’s Word read to us.

Passages for Further Study

2 Kings 22:8–23:27
Nehemiah 9:1–3
Acts 13:13–15
Colossians 4:16

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.