Read Your Bible!
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17NKJV
This morning we consider Question 156 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “Is the word of God to be read by all?” It gives the answer, “Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages.” Last week we saw how God uses His Word to sanctify us. This week we consider the duty and privilege of all private persons to read the Scriptures for themselves.
We notice first of all that the Catechism distinguishes between the public and the private reading of the Holy Scriptures. The public reading of Scripture is an official act done under the authority of Christ. As such, only a man called by God can rightly exercise this function. Here the issue is not skill or ability so much as authority. Although much of the church no longer recognizes Christ’s commanded order for particular congregations in their government and worship, Reformed churches historically have. The current Book of Church Order of our denomination still affirms God’s regulation of the worship service of His people stating in chapter 50-1, “The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is performed by the minister as God’s servant.” It distinguishes this act from responsive readings “by the minister and the congregation,” and from “the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation,” which can be done “by the minister or some other person,” (50-2). This distinction is affirmed in Scripture where we see the apostle Paul exhorting the young minister Timothy, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine,” (1 Tim. 4:13). Though all Christians are to read Scripture, exhort one another, and study doctrine on their own, these were Timothy’s official duties as minister of the church, and so Paul included this personal exhortation to his young protégé.
Second, the Catechism affirms the right and duty of “all sorts of people” to read Scripture privately and in their families. As individuals we are each responsible to God to heed what He has told us in His Word. God inspired His Word to human beings so that they would know what to believe concerning God and what He requires of them. Therefore, literacy is the duty of society and of every person, so that each one can read and know God’s Word for himself. Likewise, the family, which is formed and ordained by God as the basic unit of society, should regularly gather together to give attention to God’s Word. Reformed Christians find their model for “family worship” in the Patriarchs, who consistently led their families in calling upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25), and in the many commands to parents to teach God’s Word to their children (Deut. 4:9-10; 6:7; 11:19).
In exhorting individuals and families to read the Scriptures, the Catechism is assuming the great Reformed doctrine of the “Perspicuity of Scripture.” To say the Scriptures are perspicuous means that they clearly express their sense, which can be easily understood by the ordinary person. Chapter one of The Westminster Confession explains perspicuity stating that even though all things are not equally plain in Scripture or to each person, everything necessary to salvation is clearly expressed in one place or another to the point where even the “unlearned”, using merely “ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them,” (WCF 1:7). This is also why it is proper to translate the Scriptures from their original tongues into “vulgar” languages. Here the Catechism is not referring to English with Pittsburgh malapropisms, or even worse to cuss words, but to the ordinary and common language of a people, which is what the word vulgar originally meant. During the Middle Ages only scholars could read the Latin Bible and only the Church could interpret it, but God ended that monopoly in the Protestant Reformation with the translations of Luther, Tyndale, and others. May God grant we would take advantage of the inestimable privilege of being able to read, study, and meditate on the Word of God.