The Art of Public Bible Speaking
“THEY all began to give favorable witness about him and to marvel at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth.” “The crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” And, “never has another man spoken like this,” said the police officers whom the Jewish clergy had sent to arrest him. Thus three of the Gospel writers, two of whom were eyewitnesses, reported on the greatest public Bible speaker this earth ever saw and heard, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.—Luke 4:22; Matt. 7:28, 29; John 7:46.
No wonder Jesus’ public Bible speaking campaign created so much interest! Entirely apart from his miracles, “all the people would come early in the day to him in the temple to hear him,” and “the people one and all kept hanging onto him to hear him.”—Luke 21:37, 38; 19:48.
Without doubt the people flocked to hear Jesus both because of what he said and how he said it. He wisely considered his audience, tempering his remarks and tone of voice according to whether it consisted of the spiritually sick, the religious hypocrites or his own apostles. The information he gave was 100-percent accurate, not only because he was perfect, but also because he was perfectly careful that everything he said was the truth. In presenting his message he kept proper perspective and maintained good balance, featuring the Scriptures and putting the emphasis on the positive elements of his talk. He showed himself to be a consummate artist in his imaginative and sympathetic use of illustrations. And, finally, he clothed all his thoughts in the beautiful music of eloquent sincerity and earnestness, warmth and feeling. What a standard he set for modern public Bible speakers to aim at!
CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE
Even as Jesus always considered his audience, so must the public Bible speaker today. This is especially important because a public Bible speaker almost always has a mixed audience. That is, it most likely consists of both fellow ministers and strangers; it may even consist of 95 percent fellow ministers and 5 percent strangers. Then what shall he do? Address the 95 percent and ignore the 5 percent? or ignore the 95 percent and address the 5 percent?
Neither. The public Bible speaker of today must keep both groups in mind. On the one hand, since he is giving a public talk, all his remarks will be such that a total stranger can understand them. He will therefore carefully avoid what would be assertions to the stranger, also any expressions that might make the stranger feel like an outsider as well as any that have a semantic sense or meaning for Jehovah’s witnesses. That is, he will give proofs for statements not generally accepted; he will not generally speak of “the service year” or “our service meetings,” or refer to a text “with which all of you are familiar because of having used it in your house-to-house sermons”; and he will not use such expressions as “sheep and goats,” “God’s organization,” or “theocratic,” without adding some qualifying or explanatory phrase so that the stranger will understand. Otherwise he will lose the stranger’s attention, since the stranger will be wondering: “What is the meaning of such a term? What am I missing?” In other words, the speaker must give a bona fide public talk.
Yet, on the other hand, he may not ignore the fact that 95 percent of his audience may be fellow ministers, or they will become restive or fall asleep, for they may have heard this subject discussed time and again. He must therefore work hard to give his material added interest by its seeming freshness. This he can do by using other than the most common proof texts, by finding new quotations from the public press and secular authorities, as well as by strengthening his logic, improving his coherence and making his relevance more outstanding. He can also impart freshness and interest to his remarks by speaking with earnestness, conviction and enthusiasm, by really putting his heart into his talk.
By his thus making his presentation powerful in every way his fellow ministers in the audience will hang onto his every word, for he will cause them to appreciate as never before how strong the case for Jehovah, his Word and his witnesses really is in regard to this particular subject. As a result their faith will be strengthened and they will be provided effective points to use in their own field ministry.
BE 100-PERCENT ACCURATE!
Secondly, Jesus was 100-percent accurate; so should those imitating him today endeavor to be. Accuracy is a factor that is easy to slight. If your public Bible talks were recorded and played back, or taken down in shorthand and then published, would your face be red due to misstatements? If dates are given, Biblical or secular, they should be absolutely correct; if names are given, they should be the right ones. More than that, a public speaker should always be able to give the authority for his statements if challenged.
In particular should facts from the Scriptures be accurately stated; they should be checked beforehand—how many people were involved when Abram pleaded with Jehovah regarding the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah?—and so forth. The same applies to Scripture citations; take care not to confuse the figures. Put yourself in the position of a fellow minister who has brought a stranger to hear your talk. Imagine his embarrassment at failing to find a certain text at First Peter because you should have said Second Peter! So take care to be accurate!
KEEP PROPER PERSPECTIVE AND EMPHASIS
A third factor for which Jesus set us the right example is that of keeping proper perspective and emphasis. While Jesus at times denounced hypocrisy and exposed false teaching, the stress and greater portion of his ministry was on the constructive things. Like Jeremiah, the modern public Bible speaker must both tear down and build, but the latter is by far the more important.—Jer. 1:10.
So we may not speak at such great length on the negative aspects of our subject as to neglect or slight its positive aspects. Generally one fourth or one third of the talk is sufficient to show what is wrong and why; then build up by showing what is right and why. Otherwise the stranger may get a wrong impression as to the purpose of our Bible speaking and may even go away impoverished, having had his false beliefs demolished but not adequately replaced by true teaching.
Proper perspective and emphasis also require that we give God’s Word its due. Certainly Jesus did. He continually appealed to the authority of his Father’s Word. While reason, logic, secular facts and suchlike have their place in a public Bible talk, they must not be used to bear the brunt or lion’s share of the burden of proof or weight of argumentation. At best they are only secondary. And that even goes for establishing the authenticity of the Bible; certainly fulfillment of Bible prophecy is far stronger proof of its inspiration than the testimony of archaeology, which can testify only to the Bible’s accuracy as history. Give the Bible the first place and your remarks will be not only more effective and convincing, but also more edifying, more upbuilding.
Of course, Bible citations in themselves mean nothing as to proving a point. Their contents must at least be referred to, and, likewise, Bible quotations without the citations carry little if any weight. But for real force, the text must be read from the Bible—“There it is!” And either before, or during or after reading a scripture the speaker should explain its meaning; show why it is being read and what it proves. Otherwise the audience may believe but still not understand. The same effective teaching method used in doorstep sermons must be used on the platform. If just quoting a scripture were sufficient, then there would be no need to explain what people are praying for when they repeat: “Let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will come to pass, as in heaven, also upon earth.” Yes, like eloquent Apollos, we must be able to ‘demonstrate publicly by the Scriptures’ the truthfulness of what we say.—Matt. 6:9, 10; Acts 18:28.
Coming to our fourth point—no public speaker ever used illustrations to better effect than did Jesus. How well we remember his teachings by reason of his apt, imaginative and forceful illustrations! The sheep and goats, the rich man and Lazarus, the vine and the branches, the straw in our neighbor’s eye and the rafter in our own, the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the good Samaritan, the Pharisee and the tax collector, to mention but a few. Jesus’ apostles and early disciples imitated him in this, as their writings show.
The letter of James is especially noteworthy in this regard. Short as it is, it contains many illustrations: wave of the sea, flower of the vegetation, mirror, bridle of a horse, rudder of a ship, fig tree, olives, vines, salt and sweet water, the farmer—all taken from the common things of life. So the public Bible speaker of today should draw on illustrations that are familiar to all, simple and apt, remembering that an illustration that may drive home a point with farmers may be lost on city folk and vice versa.
Illustrations help to hold the interest, and to elucidate and simplify and drive home points. Certainly Jesus’ illustration of the house built on sand drove home his point as to the need of acting upon what he told his listeners. Particularly effective is the use of a striking illustration in the introduction and then following through, which helps to make public Bible speaking not only more interesting and easier to follow, but also aids in coherence—provided the illustration is well chosen.
Do not overlook the fact that when it comes to illustrations, none are more apt and forceful than those found in the Bible. Jesus made frequent use of these; so should his modern imitators. Thus also the disciple James in his letter illustrated the points he was making by references to Abraham, Rahab, Job and Elijah. Yes, all “these things went on befalling them as examples and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the accomplished ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Cor. 10:11.
SPEAK WITH ELOQUENCE—FROM THE HEART!
Without doubt Jesus was the most eloquent speaker that men ever heard upon this earth. No wonder those police officers sent to arrest Jesus came back without him! This, our final aspect of public Bible speaking to be considered here, requires the utmost in earnestness and sincerity. It makes no allowance for telling jokes or silly stories or otherwise injecting humor merely to get a laugh. The purpose of public Bible speaking is to instruct and build up. As has well been said, Paul ‘did not stoop to conquer with jocular exploit those whom truth and soberness assailed in vain,’ and neither should any of those who would imitate him even as he imitated Christ.—1 Cor. 11:1.
Earnestness, conviction, confidence, warmth, feeling and enthusiasm are the very heart of all good Bible speaking. Apollos “was aglow with the spirit,” with enthusiasm. He spoke “with intensity,” and therefore was well described as “an eloquent man.” In fact, all Christians should “be aglow with the spirit,” but especially the public Bible speaker.—Acts 18:24, 25, 28; Rom. 12:11.
Call to mind how you were stirred at a recent district assembly or at one of the great international assemblies. Why do we like to have tape recordings of those talks and listen to them time and again? Not only because of what was said and who said it, but because of the fire, the enthusiasm, the eloquence manifested. What the speakers had clearly imbedded in their minds they gave out of hearts full of love and appreciation. They felt—and so should we—like Elihu: “I shall declare my knowledge, . . . for I have become full of words . . . Let me speak that it may be a relief to me. I shall open my lips that I may answer.”—Job 32:17-20.
Surely if anyone has reason for speaking with a full heart, for speaking with earnestness, conviction, confidence, warmth, feeling and enthusiasm, it is the Christian public Bible speaker, who speaks out of love for God and his neighbor and who has such an important and urgent message to give in this evil day. If any work deserves to be done “with sincerity of heart,” and “whole-souled as to Jehovah,” it is public Bible speaking.—Col. 3:22, 23.
No question about it, public Bible speaking involves much, and in all its facets Jesus Christ set the perfect example. The speaker must hold the interest of the stranger as well as of the fellow Christian; he must be accurate and give the Bible the chief place; he must keep the negative aspects subordinated to the positive while exercising care not to crowd his talk with too much material. He should make generous yet judicious use of illustrations and, above all, speak from a heart full of love, for Jehovah, for his audience and for his subject. Doing so, he will surely bring honor to Jehovah’s name and build up his listeners as well as himself. And recognizing the high standard Jesus set for him, he will ever keep modest and humble.
As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.—Prov. 25:11.