An important means that Jehovah used to instruct and educate his covenant people concerning his purposes and requirements. Such public reading is first mentioned at Exodus 24:7, where Moses read from “the book of the covenant” in the ears of all the people. The Israelites were thereby enabled to enter intelligently into an agreement with Jehovah to keep the Law. Relatively few copies of Scripture were available in the days of ancient Israel; so the Levite priests were commanded: “You will read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.” Moses ordered them to read the Law to all the people together young and old, male and female, Israelite and alien resident, in every sabbath year at the Festival of Booths.—Deut. 31:9-12.
Joshua, therefore, read aloud to the people Moses’ inspired words. (Josh. 8:33-35) King Jehoshaphat dispatched princes, Levites and priests to teach in the cities of Judah (2 Chron. 17:7-9), which teaching no doubt included public reading. Centuries later Josiah read in the hearing of all the people “the book of Jehovah’s law by the hand of Moses” that Hilkiah the priest found during temple repair work, doubtless the original book of the law written by Moses. (2 Ki. 23:2; 2 Chron. 34:14) The result was a national purge of demon worship. After the return from exile, Ezra, with Governor Nehemiah’s support, read the Law to the people from daybreak until noon. Along with the reading, an explanation, or the sense, was given.—Neh. 8:3, 8; see HEBREW, II (When Did Hebrew Begin to Wane?).
IN THE SYNAGOGUES
It was Jesus’ custom to do public reading in the synagogue on the sabbaths; then he aided his listeners by explaining what he had read. (Luke 4:16) This had been done for many years. “For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.” (Acts 15:21) Such public reading of the Law and Prophets was the synagogue custom and, according to rabbinical sources, followed this program: First, the Shemá, or what amounted to the Jewish confession of faith, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, was read. Next came the reading of a portion of the Torah or Law, the Pentateuch, which in most cases was covered in one year. Finally, excerpts from the Prophets or Haftarʹahs were read, along with appropriate exposition. At the conclusion of the public reading, a discourse or exhortation was given. After such a public reading in a synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, Paul was invited to speak and gave a discourse or exhortation and encouragement to those assembled.—Acts 13:15.
IN THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
In the first century, few possessed copies of the many scrolls of the Bible, making public reading essential. The apostle Paul commanded public reading of his letters at the meetings of the Christian congregations and ordered them to be exchanged with his letters to other congregations so that these also might be read. (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27) Paul counseled the young Christian overseer Timothy to apply himself to “public reading, to exhortation, to teaching.”—1 Tim. 4:13.
Public reading should be done with fluency. (Hab. 2:2) Since public reading is for the education of others, such a reader must thoroughly discern what he is reading and have a clear understanding of the writer’s intention, being careful in reading to avoid giving the wrong idea or impression to the listeners. According to Revelation 1:3, those who read that prophecy aloud, as well as those who hear the words and observe them, will be happy.