For a large part of human history, literacy was limited to an elite few. People learned the laws of the land, royal edicts, and important news by gathering together to listen to oral proclamations. In ancient Israel and the early church, oral recitation of the Word of God provided the primary way to be informed and inspired.
Until Gutenberg’s printing press changed things dramatically in the 1400’s, most of the world learned everything through oral presentations. Monks remembered God’s words with musical chants. Memorization was a prized skill. Storytellers and town heralds held positions of honor.
Printed material, and now screens, have moved us farther away from lectures, and nobody’s hiring town criers any more. But the Bible is full of drama, characters, lessons, and stories just waiting to be presented and heard orally. Reading it out loud together can bring surprising results.
The Bible as Readers’ Theater
All the scriptures used in the Bible study God Chooses Imperfect People: Tamar and Judah are rewritten in Readers’ Theater style to be read by study participants. Most of the words in this dramatic rendition (see sample below) are taken directly from the Bible. Occasionally, the narrators’ readings may include condensations of events.
Scene 4: Bad Blood Among Brothers
When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.
Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.
Joseph had dreams, and when he told his brothers about them, they hated him more than ever. Joseph said, “Listen to this dream. We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”
His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them. (Genesis 37:1–11)
Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. Jacob instructed Joseph,
“Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along, then come back and bring me a report.”
When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. They said,
“Here comes the dreamer! “Come on, let’s kill him, and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. (Genesis 37:12–25)
Reuben was absent when the brothers looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. Judah spoke up,
“What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” (Genesis 37:26)
The brothers agreed. Later Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief. The brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message:
Narrator A (as Brothers)
“Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”
Their father recognized it immediately, tore his clothes, and mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, and would weep as he said,
“I will go to my grave mourning for my son.” (Genesis 37:27–35)
If you’re wondering if hearing Bible stories this way would make a difference in interest and comprehension, try it.
Use this reading in a small group study or around the family dinner table. Assign parts and read through the Scriptures together. Experience the Bible story in a whole new way.