Essay / Theology

Hebrews Out Loud

The book of Hebrews seems to have been written for the ear. Or, if that claim is true, perhaps it should be made in this form: the sermon to the Hebrews was designed to be spoken aloud.

The author of Hebrews frequently uses words that indicate he is thinking of the sermon as oral speech rather than written text (2:5, 5:11, 6:9, 8:1, 9:5, 11:32). He doesn’t use expressions like like “as I wrote about earlier,” but “as I was saying.” As William Lane argues in the preface of his Hebrews commentary,

Hebrews was prepared for oral delivery to a specific community… Hebrews is a sermon prepared to be read aloud to a group of auditors who will receive its message not primarily through reading and leisured reflection but orally. Reading the document aloud entails oral performance, providing oral clues to those who listen to the public reading of the sermon…. Hebrews was crafted to communicate its point as much aurally as logically.

Of course we have it as written text, and I am glad for the chance to study it in closer detail than I can do with a spoken sermon. But once you’ve examined the details, and especially once you’ve looked up and pondered the Old Testament texts quoted and echoed in Hebrews, there’s nothing better than hearing Hebrews read aloud. Especially if you can hear it read well.

At the ESV site you can listen to a recitation of the entire book. The speaker is Ryan Ferguson, who I believe is reciting the book from memory (!) rather than reading from a script. He is also reading it with considerable drama, but not too much (this is a matter of taste I’m sure).

My home church, Grace Evangelical Free Church of La Mirada, has a tradition of starting every sermon series with a special reading service. These service as great even when the book we read aloud is not especially designed for the ear. But when it’s Hebrews, the effect is especially powerful. You can click here to hear or view the January 13 reading service (just the Scripture parts, not the sung worship artfully interspersed throughout).  We’re now a couple of weeks into expository preaching on the text, which is moving along at a deliberately slow pace through a book that will take us a year to finish.

I’m going to re-post a few 2010 blog posts about the book of Hebrews this week and weekend. Then I’ll begin posting some new thoughts on Hebrews as my church preaches through it and I teach a course on it this term at the Los Angeles Bible Training School.

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