Wednesday, March 21, 2007

speaking and writing: a theological murmer about the Bible

Yesterday I did a post pondering the differences between speaking and writing. I wrote:

Something deep within me says that oral communication is different from written communication. I know that what I write to speak is different from what I write to be read; different pace, different rhythm, different style. And when I quote someone in a verbal presentation, I won’t cite publisher, but I will in a written document. What is more, I wonder if people read differently than they hear.

The opinion, from my wise and learned commenters, is an overwhelming yes, that speaking is different from writing.

OK, here’s the theological murmer that has been running through my head over the last few days as I have been thinking this aloud;

If speaking is different from writing, what does this mean for the Bible? How can we navigate “Jesus speaking”; to “Luke or John writing”; to the preacher “preaching” today? What is being lost and gained in this transmission folks?

Posted by steve at 02:59 PM


  1. … With great humility Hipene, cause there’s probably lots we are missing. I think that you will always have to resign yourself to the reality that anything you try to convey will always be contingent and never completely ‘certain’…. ‘Modern’ Christianity made that mistake. When it comes to Jesus speaking in the gospels, we of course, have to recognize two audiences : those who actually heard the words of Jesus and endeavour to understand their context, and those who read the gospels for the first time who probably had a very different context to those original hearers…. And we struggle with the 21st century hermeneutic today. We approach the scriptures with great humility and be open to input from our shared church history, other scholars today, the community you are in, and a heart that has the grace to be wrong at times – we’re all but dust mate. That’s my 2-cents worth, good questions Hipene.

    Naku na ( from me to you )


    …Oh, did I mention the Spirit ?…. But for a post-charismatic like me, what does that look, feel, sound like ? Hmmmm, curious indeed.

    Comment by Paul Tangira — March 21, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  2. Amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman offers similar insites to this. He looks at the difference between the written culture and the visual TV culture and the impact this has had on communication.

    This of course is different question yours is verbal/written vs written/Visual. However it may provide in sites.

    As for me your questions is why I like The Message. It is a translation that just begs to be read out loud. I feel we miss so much today with everyone reading that we don’t read the scriptures out loud in a corporate way. Cause in days of old only few people would have been able to read (scribes etc) So I believe that most of the bible was written to be read out loud in corporate setting. Of course in translation we lost a lot of this.

    Having a passage read to me, espically if it is a story gives ability to think about the story in a way that reading it personally doesn’t.

    Cheers David

    Comment by david — March 21, 2007 @ 7:24 pm

  3. Typically people prefer to write OR to speak (seen in why your editor told you to WRITE, not transcribe your spoken-thoughts). And I must agree that they both pick up on different learning styles.

    I’d like to pick up on Paul Tangira’s comment with this: there was a time when most everyone heard and fewer read. That changes the writing style quite a bit! I, like the previous David, enjoy listening to the Bible.

    But we live in a different time, so enjoy the change, work at both (’cause you seem to want to), and know that while the means DOES change the message, that doesn’t necessitate that the message is lesser for it – perhaps both in concert are even better than one alone?

    My incoherent two cents,
    Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.

    Comment by David Malouf — March 22, 2007 @ 3:54 am

  4. I’m going to second reading Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to Death although it’s a bit out of date and doesn’t take into effect the rise of text-based communication via the internet. His points on concentration/focus have been concentrated however!

    I’ve pretty much given up reading the Bible as devotion; now I mainly read for study. I’m listening to it instead. I find I drift in and out of the stories and find fresh connections and meaning as I do so; it’s really opening things up for me.

    Can I insert a plug for the podbible bible podcast? Feel free to edit this paragraph out if not 😉

    Comment by Craig (mars-hill) — March 22, 2007 @ 6:29 am

  5. Is it possible to read a script understanding that it is a written record or account of what was spoken. That is certainly the rather naive way I approach the speak portions of the bible.

    Comment by Graham Doel — March 22, 2007 @ 6:38 am

  6. What impact does it have that even the “written” Bible was largely (probably) written to be spoken, read aloud to a community, not studied by scholars in their studies?

    On a quick think, I think that only the legal codes, and perhaps the collections of wisdom may have been “written” for seeing and studying, the rest was probably written for hearing…

    Comment by tim bulkeley — March 26, 2007 @ 10:06 am

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