Have You Not Read?

Jason Jackson
The Bible frequently speaks of the “reading” of the Scriptures, and even the reading of them aloud. Is this mere circumstance, or is there a deeper truth implied in these descriptives?

The attendant handed Jesus the scroll, and the Lord read aloud from Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; Because he annointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk. 4:18-19).

The public reading of Scripture was a familiar scene in Jewish synagogues. Alfred Edersheim says that before the time of Christ, the reading of select passages of Scripture in the synagogue was a fixed practice. Particularly, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41 were read regularly (“Sketches of Jewish Social Life – Updated Edition”. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994, p. 245).

Since Jesus practiced consistent “church attendance,” we may assume that he witnessed the perennial reading of the Old Testament from his youth (lit. “as his custom was,” Lk. 4:16). Paul acknowledged that the “voices of the prophets” were read “every Sabbath” (Acts 13:27). He was aware that, “...Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath” (Acts 15:21).

There was good reason for this. The Lord God placed a high priority on both the public and private reading of the Word. The Old Testament, therefore, contains a rich heritage concerning the reading of Scripture. It was read in public (Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:9-13; Josh. 8:34-35; Neh. 8:1-3,8,18). It was to be read, or meditated on, in private by kings, families, and individuals (Deut. 17:19; Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 1:2; 119:11,105). And when the Scriptures are read and revered, wonderful things happen. Consider the examples of the Ethiopian treasurer and Timothy (Acts 8:26-38; 2 Tim. 3:15).

God placed this high priority on reading the Scriptures because he breathed their very words (i.e., inspired; see: 2 Tim. 3:16). Through the Scriptures, God reveals what we are to believe, why we can believe, where we need correction, and how we are to live in righteousness. It is the Word of God that can equip us for service and save our souls (2 Tim. 3:17; Jas. 1:21). How valuable it is to be able to read, and be motivated to read, this divine revelation.

From a secular point of view, we readily observe the importance of literacy. Jim Trelease authored a book entitled “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, in which he includes numerous studies on the personal and social effects of literacy and illiteracy (New York: The Penguin Group, 2001, p. xxiv-xxv). It has gone through a number of printings, selling over 1,000,000 copies, and it continues to be a valuable resource for parents and educators. The list of “good books” to read aloud to children is helpful, but the facts and encouragement about reading aloud to children are invaluable.

It is the case that reading produces knowledge, and knowledge leads to action. If reading is vital to the well-being of our children (and our’s as well) in this life, how crucial then is the reading of God’s Word for well-being in the life that is to come. We ought to see the necessity of giving our children the tools by which they may spiritually prosper. Parents must take the responsibility to ensure their children’s development in reading skills.

Sadly, some parents feel incapable of teaching their children how to read. It is true that some have limited ability, and this would be a hindrance. Space limits us in addressing the ways a challenged parent can make certain that his child develops. One may be limited personally, but that does not mean he cannot, with alternate methods and supervision, make sure his child learns. In fact, many parents who have struggled with literacy issues have been the most compelling advocates for reading programs. They want a better life for their children, and they know this is connected to the ability to read. If you can read this article, you can teach your children, or grandchildren, to read.

But unfortunately, we have believed the claim that it takes an expert to teach reading. Where were the reading specialists when Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass learned to read? Jessie Bauer, a former elementary teacher and school administrator, raises that question. She also writes:

“Here’s the good news: Reading is easy. We’ll repeat that: Reading is easy. One more time: Reading is easy. Unfortunately, the First Commandment of American Education seems to be ‘Thou shalt be an expert before attempting to teach reading.’ It isn’t true. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about decoding, phonemic awareness, and comprehension skills. If a five year old can master beginning reading, you can master it as well” (“The Well-Trained Mind: A Classic Guide to Education at Home”. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999, p. 61). (Note: I would like to give a special thanks to Chuck and Melony Webster of Jasper, Alabama, for recommending this valuable book to me.)

This does not mean that certain skills are not needed for some children. It does not address the aptitude that it takes to manage thirty students at the same time. Generally, parents are capable of teaching their children to read — children who are ready and able to learn beginning reading. Don’t hope that your child learns to read. Make sure!

Reading is cheap. With a library card and a few minutes a day, your child will absorb the information that will enable him to transition from listening to reading. It is a fact that children, who are read to regularly have a greater background of knowledge, develop larger vocabularies, are conditioned mentally to absorb information, have better attention spans, and become the best readers.

Why is this so vital? Because the more your child reads, the more likely it is that he will read the Bible on his own, later in life.

But some parents may say, “My child is reading fine. Job completed!” Not so fast. There is a difference between reading and reading well. Reading well means a higher level of comprehension. It means that when the teacher asks, “Now what does that paragraph mean?”, the student can put the thoughts into his own words, demonstrating the ability to take the written word and get the meaning.

In his book, “How to Read A Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading”, Mortimer Adler discusses the different levels of reading (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972, p x-xi). He laments the fact that many students are stagnating as readers at about sixth grade. In order to develop proficiency at the most advanced levels of reading, parents must be vigilant to maintain a balanced reading program for their children. This will ensure that their child will develop to be an analytical, deep reader. Is this crucial to Bible study? Absolutely.

Teach your child to read and read well. But do more than that. Teach your child to love reading. Jim Trelease references a scholastic committee that interviewed 150 students who were considered to be among the top students in the nation. One member on the committee asked the students, who were competing for scholarships, if they had read a book for pleasure recently, which had not been assigned. Only one student had! Trelease concluded, “We have taught children how to read, but forgotten to teach them to want to read” (“The Read-Aloud Handbook”, p. 5).

What’s the message if we say, “Johnny, find yourself something to read. Mom and I are going to watch TV.” Let’s remember the power of example. Let’s regulate our TV time and train our children to think — to learn through the written word.

Here is the reason. If we teach our children to read, to read well, and to love to read, then we will be able to teach them to love to read the Bible. If they can’t read, if reading is a most difficult task, if they hate reading, do you think they are going to actually read the Bible?

And if they don’t read the Sacred Word for themselves, will they spiritually develop like they should? If we don’t read the Bible as parents, if our children do not see us reading the Bible for our own pleasure and spiritual development, will they read it? Not likely. In most cases, they will do what they grow up seeing us do.

Consider this. The average kindergarten teacher spends 700 hours with the students. By way of contrast, the little folks will have spent 52,000 hours outside of the classroom. What are they learning from mom and dad? Are they requesting books or demanding videos? Are they learning to read or are they professional remote control operators. TV has some valuable uses. We are not suggesting that it is sinful to let your child watch TV. But we must monitor both the content and time that our children spend “plugged in.” They need your time and example. After all, the Bible is a book.

Ten times in the Gospels, we read of instances (some are parallel accounts) when Jesus forcefully asked, “Have you not read?” (Matt. 12:3,5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mk. 2:25; 12:10; 12:26; Lk. 6:3). Certainly we see the premium that Jesus put on reading, understanding, and obeying the Scriptures.

Teach your children to read. Teach them to read well. Teach them to love reading. Teach them to love to read the Bible. And when you’ve read of Noah and the ark, Abraham, Daniel in the lion’s den, and baby Jesus — if you do it regularly, if this is your daily routine, they’ll say, “Read it again.” And you’ll say, “Please?” And they’ll respond, “Please Dad,” or “Please Mom, read it again.” By reading the greatest book on earth, you can save yourself and the little ones who hear you.