Gordon Palmer is former president of the Eastern Baptist Seminary.

The power of the gospel can be effectively demonstrated by the manner in which the Bible is read from the pulpit. The Bible is God's inspired message concerning Himself, men, sin, redemption, His relation to man, man's relation to Him, and man's relation to man. God has inspired the Bible as no other book is, or ever has been, inspired.

This Book unfolds Jehovah's mind,
This Voice salutes in accents kind.
This Friend will all our needs supply,
This Fountain sends forth streams of joy.
This Name affords us boundless wealth,
This Good Physician gives us health.
This Sun renews and warms the soul,
This Sword both wounds and makes us whole.
This Letter shows our sins forgiven,
This Guide conducts us safe to heaven.
This Charter has been sealed with blood,
This Volume is the WORD OF GOD.1


When we read the Bible in public we are God's ambassadors, the bearers of His gospel of salvation to all within the range of our voice. As "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit," so again His Word must be given through the medium of human personality. The Scriptures have been translated into all languages. Its message is a timeless, dateless communication for all mankind, even for mankind yet to come. Through the Bible all men may find life and "life abundantly." Let us give these directions clearly to the sincere seeker after truth and eternal life.


The Bible is the Word of God and must be read as the Word of God. Bible reading is different from the reading of a sermon. The Bible is God-inspired. The elder does not always convince his people that his sermon is Godinspired. Not always is he convinced himself that what he says in his sermon is "moved by the Holy Spirit."

The Bible is Truth. It is "sharper than any two-edged sword." It is the "discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart." The entrance of this truth always gives light. It would be wonderful if this could be said of every sermon. But all too often, when preachers handle the Bible carelessly they are even more careless about their sermons. Carelessness and crudeness in Bible reading are reflected often in the minister's sermonizing.

It is folly for the preacher to orate about the Bible being the Word of God and read it more poorly than a child reads Grimm's Fairy Tales. It is superb to hear the preacher extol the sacred Scriptures, but it is "unpardonable sin" to hear him deny every word of God by the thoughtless manner in which he reads the inspired page. It is possible for a man to grow eloquent about his faith in the Bible and repudiate every truth of the Bible by the slovenliness with which he speaks and handles the Holy Word. The very best readers of the Bible should be men who believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God.


Good Bible reading is the result of much study. It is necessary to find out who wrote the passage, under what circumstances it was written, for what purpose it was written, to whom it was written, and what the writer meant and hoped to accomplish through his message, etc. The elder also should find out what is God's message in the passage he is reading to the people of today. This means work. It means hard work. But he who surrenders himself to the task of rightly expounding the Bible by the inspired manner in which he reads it will be a great benediction to the people who want to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Men are longing to hear God speak again. Help Him speak through you.

Preachers can afford to spend hours with the Bible, reading it aloud until they can again hear the Lord's voice in every syllable, in every line, and in every verse, saying, "My word shall not return unto me void. It shall accomplish the thing whereunto I have sent it." Perhaps one of the reasons for the large congregations attending the churches of modern cults can be traced to the large place given to the reading of the Bible without comment, even though it is followed by portions from their guidebook. "The word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and is a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).


The Bible is the most capable Book in the world for moving people to action in the field of human relationships. When the Bible is read intelligently and naturally, it stirs the whole range of human emotions. It stimulates the intellect, rouses lofty passions, and fires the will. It comforts. It challenges. It condemns and it calms. It convicts and it converts. The Bible is always the Book of Life!


The elder must dwell in the atmosphere of the Bible. He must fellowship with the personalities of the Scripture and saturate his mind and soul with the message of the Old and New Testaments in order to demonstrate the power of the gospel through the public reading of the Bible.

A young minister once asked a noted actor, "Why is it that you, dealing with fiction, draw larger crowds than ministers who deal with truth?" The actor replied, "I preach fiction as if it were truth; you preach truth as if it were fiction." There is basic truth in this declaration. Actors study their plays thoroughly. Each endeavors to live the whole story and particularly the part he is to play, until he incarnates the character.

The elder must give himself to the task of mastering the art of Scripture reading more enthusiastically than does the actor in playing his part.


When the preacher has mastered the truth of the Bible, he must then master the art of reproducing that truth. There is a large library of literature on this subject in most city public libraries.

Attention must be given to the importance of inflection, proper pronunciation, and faultless articulation; the significance of emphasis, overemphasis, and underemphasis; the value of the pause, how rhythm affects good reading, and the necessity for correct and clear enunciation. Failure in any of these essentials can make the reader guilty of misinterpreting the Word of God. Men may be forgiven for blundering through their preaching, but they will never be forgiven if they read the Bible in such a manner as to make the Scriptures say something God never said nor intended to say.


The cultivation of a good voice is indispensable to excellent Scripture reading. The Bible emphasizes the necessity of clear speech. When Jesus spoke it is recorded that "He opened his mouth and taught them" (Matt. 50:2). "He opened his mouth" is no rhetorical phrase. There is the mellow sweetness of music in these words. They imply that Jesus spoke the revealed Word of God in a voice that was resonant and unmistakably clear. Study the prayers of Jesus, His conversations, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, and you will feel the pathos, passion, and persuasion of the great Teacher in His desperate concern for mankind. Concern produces clarity. Carelessness in speech is "unpardonable" in the servant of God.

Some tragic parodies of the Gospel have been caused because of the neglect of the preacher to use his voice properly and to speak distinctly.

A child, seeing the preacher immerse some people in a baptismal ceremony, was greatly impressed by the uniqueness of the service. The minister used the Trinitarian formula but mumbled through it in such a way that the child could not grasp the significant term "Holy Ghost." Imagine the shock her mother received when she saw the child immersing her dolly, and how she was still more surprised when she heard the child say, "Into the name of the Father and of the Son, and into the hole he goes."

Illustrations of this kind can be multiplied, which condemn some preachers as unfaithful servants of the Son of God. It is the business of the elder to expound the Word and to explain the will of God and to lift the morale of the community. This cannot be effectively accomplished if the people do not understand what the elder says.

When George Whitefield preached in Philadelphia, it is stated that his words could be heard two miles away. In an open-air service of 10,000, the people could hear and understand every word and syllable. His voice was rich, resonant, and "clear as a bell." Lawyers and statesmen, rich and poor alike, were thrilled and melted by the power of his spoken word.

Everyone may not possess such a wonderful voice. Nevertheless, everyone can have a better voice than they have if they will follow the laws of vocal improvement and pay the price of persistent exercise. Let us follow the exhortation of the prophet: "Therefore, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and show the people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins" (Is. 58:1). And Paul the Apostle challenges us with his disturbing question, "If the trumpet hath an uncertain sound, who will answer the call to battle" (1 Cor. 14:8).

1 Quoted by the author in Manual of Church Service, p. 15.

Gordon Palmer is former president of the Eastern Baptist Seminary.