On Scripture, Butkus, and the Stanglin Sherd

In Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity the author makes a clear distinction between reading Scripture and hearing the Word of God, between information and revelation as it relates to the Bible. We have to understand that most of the Bible was written many generations after the events they describe. Most of Scripture had a long oral existence before it was written. The words in our Bible were taught and preached and sung and prayed in worshipping communities for years and decades before they were ever written down. They were passed from mouth to ear. None of the words were shelved in libraries or displayed on the coffee table. The words resonated from ear to ear down through all the generations of God’s people.

Here’s Peterson on this second angle of maintaining integrity for preachers, and for all of us in our Christian walks:

“Listening and reading are not the same thing. They involve different senses. In listening we use our ears; in reading we use our eyes. We listen to the sound of a voice; we read marks on paper. These differences are significant and have profound consequences. Listening is an interpersonal act; it involves two or more people in fairly close proximity. Reading involves one person with a book written by someone who can be miles away or centuries dead, or both. The listener is required to be attentive to the speaker and is more or less at the speaker’s mercy. For the reader, it is quite different, since the book is at the reader’s mercy. It may be carried around from place to place, opened or shut at whim, read or not read. When I read a book the book does not know if I am paying attention or not; when I listen to a person the person knows very well whether I am paying attention or not. In listening, another initiates the process; when I read I initiate the process. In reading I open the book and attend to the words. I can read by myself; I cannot listen by myself. In listening the speaker is in charge; in reading the reader is in charge.”

Up until just the past 550 years, with the invention of the printing press, reading was always an oral act and a community event. Every act of reading revoiced the written words, the connection with the living voice behind the words was emphatic. But today, when nearly all reading is silent, the connection with the living voice is remote at best, and usually gone altogether.

In the past two years, I’ve taken to reading my Bible out loud. All of it. During my daily Bible reading in the mornings, while I’m studying and preparing for a Bible class or a sermon, whenever I read the Scriptures I read them out loud. Think about it. You and I can have a theological conversation about salvation or the relationship between faith and works or God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will. And in that conversation, you and I will communicate with inflection and stress on certain words and phrases and varying degrees of volume and urgency and passion. We’re talking and listening, communicating right now, in the presence of each other, hearing the living, breathing voice of the other. But if we were to have the exact same conversation with the exact same words via email…..you know. You’ve been there. It’s just not the same. There’s a lot lost between reading and listening. A lot.

Reading the Bible out loud has changed my life. Anybody who talks to me about reading the Word, anyone who asks me how to improve their study life, I always tell them to read the Bible out loud for two weeks, every day, and then get back with me. They’ve all experienced what I experience, the living, breathing Word of God speaking to them. Listening to the Word of God, hearing the Word, in a way they can’t by simply reading.

That’s why, in our assemblies, I’d much rather not put the words of the Scripture being read on the giant screen. I’d much rather have a good reader, one who’s been reading the passage and praying over the passage and meditating on the passage for a few days, read it out loud to our congregation. I’d much rather the church LISTEN to the Word than READ it. As a preacher, isn’t it my job to make sure that the revelation of God, which always involves personal histories and personal responses, isn’t treated as just information, which usually involves impersonal facts and abstract ideas?

Do me a favor. Read your Scriptures out loud for the next two weeks. And then let me know how it changes your daily devotion and your study of the Word. Let me know how it changes the way you listen to God speaking to you. Do it. Find a time and a place where you can be alone and do it. In two weeks I’ll ask you to comment on this blog and share with our readers your experiences. I’m very much looking forward to it.

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Yes, Bevo, #51 is Dick Butkus. Hands down. No debate. THE middle linebacker that defined the Monsters of the Midway in Chicago from 1965-73. DickButkusButkus was the Bears’ first-round pick out of Illinois where he was a two-time All-America two-way player (he was actually born in Chicago in 1942) and manned the middle of that tenacious Bears D for 14 seasons. He had the deadliest combination of speed, quickness, instinct, and strength. And he was mean. After eight straight Pro Bowls, his brilliant career was cut short by a knee injury. He’s in the college and pro football halls of fame. And he made a few commercials along the way. Old clips of Butkus pulverizing running backs are beautiful to watch. He showed no mercy. What happened to guys like Butkus? *sigh*

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On my two week trip to Israel back in January, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to uncover a tiny piece of history that may prove to be a major link to one of King Solomon’s fortresses in the desert just south of the Dead Sea. We had the privelage of working with the Israel Antiquities Authority at an excavation site in present day Hazevah. For years now Dr. Mark Shipp at Austin Grad and our archaeologist Terrance Christian have been totally convinced that this site, in ancient Tamar, is a 10th Century BC fort that Solomon built. They’ve had tons of circumstantial evidence, not to mention the Old Testament mentions of Solomon building a fort there, but they’ve never been able to officially, by archaelogical standards, date it to the 10th century. And then I uncovered AtTamara broken pottery sherd StanglinSherdat that fortress level that got everybody pretty excited. It’s a painted piece that they knew at the time was Midianite. They also supposed it was tenth century. I jokingly refered to it as the Stanglin Sherd the rest of the trip. I wondered aloud about just how many accolades I would recieve in archaeological journals and how many speaking engagements I’d have to make at the world’s museums. And then I get this email yesterday from Terrance.

I don’t know if Shipp mentioned it to you or not, but your sherd is actually one of the most important pieces we found this season. It is definitely a type of pottery referred to as Midianite Ware or Qurayya Ware (Qurayya is the site in modern Saudi Arabia where it was produced at). What is so special about your piece though, is that the simple dots in a line motif on it has a direct parallel to some of the pottery found at nearby Khirbet en Nahas (in modern Jordan) — which was recently dated to the 10th century BC. We were hoping to establish some kind of connection/interaction between Hazeva & Kh. en Nahas — and your sherd is a key piece of evidence in establishing the link between the two sites! One of the goals of my current research, and for next year’s excavation, is to try and parse out exactly what was happening at Hazeva in the 10th century in order to understand its relationship to the fortress and copper smelting works at Kh. en Nahas. Shipp, Bowman and I will be visiting Jordan after the tour/dig next year to try and answer some of those questions! See the picture I’ve attached of the parallels to your sherd found at Khirbet en Nahas. If you want to see where Kh. en Nahas is in relationship to Hazeva, use Google Earth. Hazeva is at coordinates 30 degrees 48 minutes 32.11 seconds North by 35 degrees 14 minutes 41.33 seconds East — best viewed around 1900 to 2000 feet elevation. Khirbet en Nahas is at 30 degrees 40 minutes 51.65 seconds North by 35 degrees 26 minutes 10.37 seconds East, also best viewed ca. 1900 feet. You’ll notice the square fortress at both sites right off.

How cool is that?!?

I’m hoping we can get a big group of 40-50 people here at Legacy to take a trip to Israel with Terrance here in about three years. He says he’ll be our tour guide and we can take a similar trip to sight-see and actually work three or four days at a dig or just go to see all the sites without the dig. I can’t wait.

Peace,

Allan

4 Comments

  1. dbyrnes

    Great, now you’re a famous archaeologist. I’ll bring you an extra large ice pack to prevent any swelling of the head. Put me down for the scripture reading. Put Shanna down too – I won’t let her back out on this one.

  2. Paul Dennis

    I have been very pleased to see the emphasis that you choose to place on the public reading of scripture. I have always thought it to be extremely important but one must prepare. Anyone who participates in the public assembly must prepare – regardless of what part one is called on to execute. I had not thought of the reading aloud aspect but I may try it. My wife is unable to read for any extended time and I often read to her. We both enjoy and benefit. Not just scripture but other things also. I’m with David – ice is always used to reduce swelling.
    Paul

  3. Allan

    If we, as children of God and disciples of Christ, are to be shaped by the Word of God, why is it that it’s rarely read in our assemblies, and certainly never given the proper prominence it deserves? I’ve been shocked over the past five or six years to see how the public reading of Scripture has disappeared from our worship services. We read a short verse or two that has something to do with the sermon, right before the sermon, and that’s about it. I’ve been told half a dozen times or more, in the past two years since I’ve been preaching, by worship leaders and elders that ten verses is too much to read at a time, that two or three verses is enough. I’m very pleased to see the emphasis on the reading of Scripture at Legacy. I’ll always begin our services with a reading. But I’ve noticed the lengthy readings at the Lord’s Table and the way our shepherds make sure a reading from the Word is the last thing we hear as we leave. As for being prepared to read the Word in a public setting, I always tell the teens (and I guess I should suggest it to everyone) to read the passage out loud ten times between Wednesday night and Sunday. If you read it out loud ten times, you’ve got it. You’ve listened to it. It matters to you. It becomes a part of you. It’s in you. And you’re able to read it the way it was meant to be read. Everyone who reads the Word in an assembly, please show God’s Word the honor it deserves. Pay attention to it and to the way you read it.

  4. Liz Moore

    Our worship leader does an amazing job with scripture. He has the wonderful gift of memorization. He will actually memorize an entire chapter of John, yes an entire chapter and then more than recite it to the congregation, he tells it to the congregation. It’s like he’s there… telling the story as it unfolds. And when you follow along in your Bible, it’s word for word. It brings scripture to light in a whole new way.

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