Jews and Christians have read aloud from the Bible in public for centuries. The liturgical practice of systematically reading through the biblical texts—usually in three-year cycles—dates back at least to post-exilic Jewish worship (Nehemiah 8:1–8), and perhaps earlier to services of covenant renewal (Deuteronomy 31:10–13). The story of Jesus’ reading from the Book of Isaiah in a synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16–21) indicates that the custom influenced the early Christian community. Later the Christian church developed its own system of scripture readings.
Recently I was given the assignment of preparing a guide to help preachers interpret the lectionary readings. This was a new experience for me, a scholar who has devoted his career to teaching the Bible academically. The project raised in a new way the question of why the Bible is read and interpreted as scripture in worship services. By Bible, I mean either the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) or the Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments).