Lector! Salutem - Attende Lectioni!

(The function of the reader and the reading of the Holy Scriptures in public worship.)

Inaugural address by Dr. K. Deddens, delivered on the occasion of his installation as Professor of Diaconiology at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Hamilton, ON, September 7, 1984.

President of the Board of Governors, members of the Board of Governors, Faculty, brothers and sisters,

If things are normal, not one day passes by without the reading of the Holy Scriptures. We will do that in connection with the family and we will do that alone as well. It is a basic requirement of Christian life. The Holy Scriptures are the self revelation of God, and Jesus Christ comes to us in the words of the Bible. He appears to us in the garment of the Holy Scripture, as Calvin expressed it.[1] Not one Sunday passes by without the reading of the Bible in the church service. That starts in the morning service of the church, when the Ten Commandments of the LORD are read. That is to be continued by the Scripture reading in the same morning service and also in the afternoon or evening service of the church. From the very beginning of the Christian church, Scripture reading was a constituent part of public worship. [2] It was a special honour as well, to be privileged to read the Holy Scriptures in the service of the church.

Therefore, in the Apocalypse, the Revelation to John, it is written: "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy. " [3] This public reader is to be deemed happy. This is the first beatification of the book of Revelation to John.[4] So the reading of the Holy Scriptures in public worship is very important.[5]

The apostle Paul exhorts his spiritual son Timothy: "Till I come, attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching." This is not an advice but an order of the apostle. Before "preaching" and "teaching," the public reading of the Holy Scripture has been prescribed with apostolic authority and the Christian worship service has been designated as "administration of the Word of God." In the Latin translation of the Bible we find here the expression: "Attende lectioni" - attend to the public reading.? So, the reader is called a happy man: salvation to him!

And: attende lectioni, attend to the reading! That is the subject of my inaugural address now. It is a liturgical subject and I want to call it: Lectori Salutem - Attende Lectioni! (The function of the reader and the reading of the Holy Scriptures in public worship.)

Old Testament

There is a long tradition of Scripture reading in the services of the church. Already Moses in his valedictory sermon of the book Deuteronomy commanded the priests and the elders of the people Israel: "You shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land which you are going over the Jordan to possess."[8]

After the time of exile we hear that Ezra the priest brought the Law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. "And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose . . . . And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. "9 Later, the law of Moses and especially the Decalogue, was in use in the Palestinian synagogue.10 Probably the

reading of the law of Ezra was the model to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, especially on feast days."

Little by little the reading of the law grew in regular services. At last, the Torah was divided into 54 parts, which had to be read in the course of a year in a socalled "lectio continua", a continuing reading. 12 So there was reading of the law on all Sabbath days. For the convenience of the rural residents the Torah was later read on the market days as well. At last, there was no d'iv'ine service in the synagogue without Scripture reading.13

We know little about the origin of the prophetical lesson in the synagogue, the socalled "Haftarah." It may either have been an independent item, or it may have been chosen to complement the lesson of the Torah. At any rate, the lesson of the Torah was more important than the lesson of the prophets and the same can be said to the lecturer of both. If the lecturer was a very young man - and that could be in that time - then he could only read the Haftarah, not the Torah.14

It is evident that such a lesson of the prophets formed part of the public worship on the Sabbath in the time of Jesus.' -9 Luke mentions that Jesus went to the Synagogue of Nazareth, as His custom was, on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read; and there was given to Him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me .... 1116

Personally I am of the opinion that the term: "He found the place..." means that Jesus was looking for a special and free pericope and not that this part had to be read at that time. [17]

As a rule, the reader and the preacher were two different persons. However, in the case of Jesus in the Synagogue of Nazareth, the reader was the Man who preached as well.

Christian church

The history of Scripture reading in the Christian church is rather complicated. We only mention the main facts. In the beginning, the apostles visited the synagogues and listened to the reading of the law and the prophets, apparently in that

time established parts, as we read in the book of the Acts of the apostles, concerning the Synagogue of Antioch. So there were links with the synagogue.18 What about the Scripture reading in the Christian church itself? The first announcement after the mentioned texts of the New Testament we find in the Apology of Justin

Martyr in the second century. He writes: "On the day of the Sun all who live in towns or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Then when the reader has finished, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the

imitation of the good examples cited."19 We read here that Justin knows only one Scripture reading, namely from the books of the apostles or the prophets. Later, the reading of the Scripture and the preaching were connected to each other. The sermon joined the reading. Justin wrote his Apology about 160 years after Christ.

In the books of Hippolytus of Rome (about half a century after Justin), we get

the impression that there were already more Scripture readings in the service of the Christian church.20 In any event, there is an expansion in the readings, for in the Constitutiones apostolorum, a book dated from the fourth century, four readings are mentioned, namely two of the Old Testament and two of the New Testament: "When both readings of the Old Testament are finished, another has to sing the

Psalms of David and the congregation must repeat the last verses. After that the Acts and the letters of Paul must be read, and at last the deacon or the priest has to read the gospels."21 In the same time, we hear about the services in Jerusalem. The nun Egeria, coming from Spain, describes in the account of her travels the Jerusalem liturgy of Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in the second part of the fourth century. In the daily services, there was an absence of Scripture reading, but in the first service on Sunday the bishop himself read the gospel. "Then the bishop, standing inside the screen ("intro cancellos"), takes the gospel and goes to the door, where he himself reads the account of the Lord's resurrection. At the beginning of the reading the whole assembly groans and laments at all that the Lord underwent for us, and the way they weep would move even the hardest heart to tears. When the gospel is finished, the bishop comes out, and is taken with singing to the Cross, and they all go with him. they have one psalm there and a prayer, then he blesses the people, and that is the dismissal ("fit missa"). As the bishop goes out, everyone comes to kiss his hand."22

At daybreak the people assemble in the Great Church built by Constantine on Golgotha behind the Cross. There are lectures of the Old and New Testament. Presbyters are preaching and when they have finished there is a sermon from the bishop. The object of having this preaching every Sunday is to make sure that the people "will continually be learning about the Bible and the love of God." Because of all the preaching, Egeria writes, it is a long time before the dismissal, which takes place not before ten of even eleven o'clock.

With respect to the services in the Church of Jerusalem in the fourth century the frequent use of the phrase "apte et diei et loco" (according to the day and the place) is to be noted. This phrase was used in relation to the several parts of the service, Scripture readings included. [23] We also receive some information about the Jerusalem liturgy of the fourth century by the Catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem. In his Catecheses on baptism, dating from the beginning of his episcopate (about 348 A.D.), the liturgical char

acter of his teaching is already revealed in his explanation of the Jerusalem formula of baptism, but in his mystagogic Catecheses (dated from the end of his episcopate, about 380) this is much more so. Again we see that the Jerusalem liturgy of that time was "topographical," according to the day and the place, the Scripture readings as well.24 The gaps in the information, left by the travel story of Egeria and the Catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem, are mostly filled by the information furnished by the Armenian lectionary . The list of Scripture readings in Jerusalem, gleaned from this source, renders a significant addition. 25 In this time the Christian Calendar had been built up, and the Scripture readings had been divided according to the feast, and even the day and the place where in Jesus' time the facts of salvation have occurred.

Slowly but surely Western Europe came under the influence of the East. In the days of Augustine there was still a certain liberty in the choice of the readings, but for the feasts the readings were fully prescripted. 26 The readings took a long time, Augustine says. They were interrupted by the singing of psalms and hymns. For instance in the night before Easter, the Scripture reading was very long: it began with the first part of Genesis, the story of the passage through the Red Sea from Exodus, the first Passover, the song of Miriam, the sister of Moses, the history of Jonas, the hymn of the three men in the fire, and so on. Augustine complains of the long duration of the Scripture readings. He says: "The readings of the Bible are so long that we cannot complete with an interpretation. And even if we should be able to interprete, you would lose the thread and your attention."27

Not only in Northern Africa was there the interruption of the Scripture readings by the song of psalms and hymns: we see the same thing in Rome, namely in the Roman Mass Rite in the fifth century. There psalmody came between the readings as well. The usual number of three readings before the gospel reading was

first reduced to two in the Church of Constantinople in the fifth century, and Rome followed this example in the late fifth or sixth century.

In other Eastern and Western rites the first of the usual readings was discarded later than the above dates, but not everywhere. There were several songs between the readings. The first chant was called "gradual," because it was sung on the steps (that is "gradus") of the ambo, the pulpit. The pulpit was the place where the sermon was held. But in the third and the fourth century the term "rostrum" is used to indicate the place from where the lections were read. The rostrum was situated where the readers could be easily heard. The name "rostrum" means a beak, a platform for public speaking, with reference to the speaker's platform in the Roman forum, which was decorated with the beaks of captured war galleys. Usually the sermon was preached from another place in the building, the pulpit, or the sanctuary steps.28 After the "gradual" came the "Alleluia" chant: a signal for the refrain, chanted by the people. And then, a chant of several verses of psalms was sung before the epistle.29

In Milan, the "Ambrosian" rite closely resembled that of Rome. On many days of the year there were two lessons before the gospel. The first was usually taken from the prophets or other parts of the Old Testament, but on Sundays in Eastertide from the Acts of the apostles, and on some saints' feasts from the life of the concerning saint. That is remarkable, because the last reading was not a Scripture reading, and not the Word of God, but a story of men. Little by little saint worship was growing in this time. Each lesson was preceded by a special blessing given by the celebrant at the request of the reader. After the first lesson a little psalm was sung, called "psalmellus" (usually consisting of one or two verses from the psalms. The epistle was followed by Hallelujah with a verse, again usually taken from the psalms. On some solemn feasts a chant, called "Antiphon before the Gospel" was

sung after the Hallelujah. After the gospel the celebrant chanted.30

So there was a continual alternation of reading and singing, but in the time of Pope Gregory, in the beginning of the seventh century, the gospel and the epistle were not read, but sung. Thus the difference between Scripture reading and chants was not so sharp anymore.31 At the same time there appeared books, called Comes, guides for the reading and the preaching in the services. These books contained the titles of the pericopes, which had to be read according to the liturgical year. By degrees there came in the West many local and regional systems of pericopes. So there came a prescribed reading and preaching, especially in the time of Charlemagne in the beginning of the ninth century. This compulsory system of pericopes is still in effect in the Roman Catholic Church.32


Luther preserved the pericope system, but his ideal was the "lectio continua," the continued reading of the Scriptures. However, his argument for preserving the system of pericopes was for instance that in Wittenberg there were many students who would later be obliged to preach in congregations, where the pericopes were still in vogue.33 In Lutherian churches it became and remained a custom to preach in the main service on Sunday the gospel of that Sunday and in the second service the prescribed epistle, or Luther's Catechism.34 Calvin rejected the system of pericopes. He wrote: in the early Christian church the ministers did not preach according to "sectiones" (divided parts), but according to "lectio continua" (continuing reading). There was a moment that certain parts joined certain times of the year. In that time, Calvin said, they made a pericopic system. But the whole system is established injudiciously. Calvin promoted the "lectio continua" and the "praedicatio continua" as well. There is a close connection between both and Calvin always preached

just after the Scripture reading.35

As for Zwingli, he promoted the "lectio continua" too and preached whole Bible books, especially of the New Testament, from the beginning to the end, sometimes during several months.36 In the refugee congregation of London, "lectio continua" and "praedicatio continua" had been given by the ministers, for instance of the whole letter of Paul to the Romans, and in the beginning of the Reformed churches in The Netherlands, more than one national synod promoted continuous preaching of a whole book of the Bible.37 More and more the Reformed churches opposed not only the pericope system, but the "lectio continua" as well. They feared the compulsion of the pericope system and the danger of neglecting many parts of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament.36 But they also objected that sometimes in "lectio continua" there was no connection between reading and preaching. Preaching whole Bible books in a great number of sermons leads to one-sidedness. Then it seems that one is eating for month after month for dinner only bread, after that for years only vegetables and at last for a long time only meat. That would be tiring and unhealthy.39 Therefore, it is advisable, to read the Bible, Old Testament, namely the law of the LORD, psalms and prophets as well, and the New Testament, gospel and epistles.

But the Scripture readings must cohere with the text of the sermon.

In liturgical and historical sense it is not advisable to have a gap between reading and preaching. When the choice of a text is free, the reading is free too, in the same sense. On the other hand, it is neither advisable to jump from one thing to another. Therefore, a compromise is to be made between "lectio continua" and the free choice of a text. There is, for instance, the possibility of continuity in preaching and reading for a shorter series than a whole book of the Bible, or to preach and read a special theme for a number of sermons. But it is always preferable to select the readings in connection with the preaching. Scripture reading is a constituent part of the service. It has a special meaning, just as the reading of the Ten Commandments of the LORD, as the Constitution of God's Covenant.40

It has a special meaning in connection with the text of the sermon as well, to open the context, to show the relations, to build up the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as the central contents of the whole Word of God. Therefore, the reading of the Holy Scripture is the foundation and one of the pillars of Christian public worship.41 The function of it is essential for the service, in which the two parties of God's covenant meet one another. The whole Bible is the infallible Word of God

and the inscripturation of the covenant of the LORD. Therefore, the covenant document for today, the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testament is to be read in every service. God wants His relationship with us to be known to us! [42]


So the reading of the Holy Scriptures is necessary and indispensable to public worship in the Christian church. But what about the reader? Who must read the Scriptures? Does the reader have a special and separate task in the service?

In the Reformed churches it was the custom until this century that the service started with the appearance of the reader. Many times the reader came in action even before the service started. For instance in Scotland the reader started with a form like this: "Let us dispose our hearts to the service of God by singing the following psalm . . . ." In The Netherlands too, the reader entered before the service and asked the congregation to sing the first psalm. And after that, the service started. [43]

But this custom was neither new nor a peculiar mark of Reformed churches. No, this custom already existed in the fourth century in Jerusalem. In the time of Bishop Cyril in the second part of the fourth century, people came very early to the church. They "sit waiting there singing hymns and antiphons, and they have prayers between, since there are always presbyters and deacons there ready for the vigil, because so many people collect there, and it is not usual to open the holy places before cock-crow. Soon the first cock crows, and at that time the bishop enters and goes into the cave in the Resurrection church. The doors are all opened, and all the people come into the church, which is already ablaze with lamps. When they are inside, a psalm is said by one of the presbyters, with everyone responding. "44 So not the bishop, but one of the presbyters started in that time the service. However, not only in the fourth century, but even in the very beginning of the Christian church this situation existed. It seems that presbyters and deacons read the Scriptures and led the song, and that the pastor held the sermon.45

In the second century we hear about

a fixed office in the church under the name lector. Even laymen, although educated laymen, could fulfil this task.

In the third century this task became an official ecclesiastical degree.46 Already in the beginning of the third century the reader had achieved the status of an official in the congregations of Northern Africa.

Cyprian describes the reading desk as "the tribunal of the church." It was sit uated there in the centre of the church, like the reading desk in the synagogue. [47]

From a letter of Cornelius, who was elected bishop of Rome in the year 251, to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, we learn that the Roman clergy in his day numbered forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven subdeacons forty-two acolytes, fiftytwo exorcists, fifty-two readers and janitors (that means doorkeepers). The readers were held in great esteem. Commodian addresses them in his "Instructions" as follows: "Vos flores in plebe, vos estis Christi lucernae" ("You are the flowers under the people, the lights of Christ"). Eusebius mentions that during the persecution under the emperor Diocletian in the beginning of the fourth century the prisons everywhere were filled with bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers and exorcists, so that room was not longer left in them for those condemned for crimes. [48] Before that time Tertullian writes about

the readers in the church: "Hodie diaconus, qui cras lector" ("Who is deacon today will be reader tomorrow"). And also: "The leaders of the congregation are "probati seniores" (experienced elders) or "praesidentes," and their assistants are deacons and readers."49

In the fourth century we find in several places young men, who were not old enough to be ordained to other offices, proceeding as readers. So the later Pope Damasus was already lector at the age of thirteen. To become a lector, there was at first an "adlectio" (an examination) and after that came the "ordinatio." So it is understandable that in several churches, like Rome, Lyons and Reims, there were "scholae lectorum" (schools for readers), who became in the seventh century "scholae cantorum" (schools for singers). In that time the readings of the Bible were given in charge with the deacons and the subdeacons. [50] Remarkable is the decision of the council of Toledo (398): a penitent can be a lector again, but then he may not read the gospel and the epistles!

Further development

Several times the church father Augustine spoke and wrote about the "lectores." They must read the Scripture from the "rostrum" and sometimes from the steps of the "absis" (the higher part of the church building). Augustine called

the readers "young men, who did not yet change their voices. "59 In another place Augustine called the lectores even "infantuli" (little boys). [52] The point was that the boys should have a clear, plain, unbroken voice. But they were in the time of Augustine always "pueri," boys, who were very young, and who even had little knowledge. [53] Always after the greeting in the beginning of the service, done by the bishop himself, the congregation answered. But immediately the young lector then started to declaim the Scripture reading with a clear voice. No wonder that in later times decisions were made that the lector might not be too young. For instance Justinian, a Byzantine emperor of the sixth century decided that no one could be lector before the age of eighteen.54 But the independent liturgical function of the lector was maintained through the ages. Still the pulpit was forbidden for him and reserved for the ordained priest.55

Not only the lector, but also a deacon could read the Scripture. In any case, according to the decision of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, at least two readings were to be held in the service.56 The term "lector" is still in vogue and Rome still uses the word in the sense of an ecclesiastical task.57

The Reformation of the sixteenth century knew the office of the reader as well. Calvin for instance maintained in the beginning two servants in the services. He called them according to the old names: deacons and subdeacons.58 Especially in the daily services there was a lectio continua. The task of the lector in the time of the Reformation was often: to read the Holy Scripture before the beginning of the service. So we can read in the articles of Wesel (1568) that it is useful, to prevent idle talk, that one of the elders or deacons should read a chapter of the Scriptures. But the readers must be mindful that it is not their office to explain the Scriptures. Therefore they have to stay away from any explanation. They may not strike their sickels in the harvest of another one, and in the second place they may not disturb the common understanding of the church by untimely explanations.59

In the same way we read about readers in the Acts of Synod Dordrecht 1574. The reading must not be done from the pulpit and most of the time the readers should be teachers of the school. [60] We also read about the readers in the Acts of particular and provincial synods in the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. The provincial synod of Haarlem 1606, in answering a question of the Church of Alkmaar, decided that the lector must be a member of the church. [61]

In the same year the provincial synod

of Nijmegen said: the readers may not interfere "in partes ministerii," the office of the ministers of the church.62 Apparently it was necessary to forbid that again and again. It is also to be noted that at the time of the synod of Dordt 1618/19 a reader in Kampen did not only read the Holy Scripture, but he read a long letter defending the Remonstrant ideas and heresies as well. The provincial synod of Overijsel then decided that this reader should be suspended. [63] At the same time there was the case of a reader at the provincial synod of Utrecht. He not only read the gospel, but gave explanations too and baptized as well. It was decided that he had to abstain from all ecclesiastical ministry because he had no licence for it. Moreover he was condemned to be unworthy to read the Holy Scriptures in the services. [64]

In the meantime synod decided that the readers had to be examined. If it was clear that they could read well in public worship, they were allowed to do it. If not, they could not be a Scripture reader of the church. [65]


It is most interesting to hear how the reader functioned in the capital city of Amsterdam in the beginning of the Reformation. Exactly half an hour before the service started, the organ stopped and the reader stepped behind his desk. In the beginning he did not read the announcements of the consistory. The ministers did that on the pulpit. But the Reverend Plancius proposed to change this and his proposal was adopted. So the lector read the announcements before the service. He filled the remaining time with

reading the Bible. He started with Genesis 1 and proceeded to Revelation 22.

So it was a real "lectio continua," of course divided over many Sundays. Later the ministers made a list, more or less adapted to the liturgical year. Scripture reading was interrupted by singing psalms. This custom was maintained in Amsterdam until the twentieth century. [66]


In 1578 the Scripture reading before the preaching had been introduced in Dordrecht. The consistory decided to ask elders for that task, but also decided to wait until the new elders had been installed in their office.

In the beginning the elders only read in the services of the Lord's Supper, but after seven years, the consistory decided to do that every Sunday. The elder who was a reader in the cathedral of Dordrecht received a free habitation in the Guest House. In the year 1619 the municipality appointed the readers. The consistory examined them and presented them to the burgomasters, who elected them. Their function also included the visiting of the sick and hearing the children recite their Catechism lessons. For the last task they received twenty-five guilders yearly

This office of the reader was a very serious matter.

In Zeeland a synod decided that the calling of readers and singers should be done by the consistory. The argument was: their service is fully ecclesiastical. Another decision of the same synod was: "When both offices of reading and singing in public worship have been done by one and the same person, such a call must be extended in the same way as the

call of the ministers of the church." [68]

Other countries

How was the situation in other countries? In many churches there were readers. In the "Holy Liturgy" of the Byzantine rite of the "orthodox churches" in the East the reading belongs to the "cheirothesia," one of the lower ordinations. [69]

As for England, we read in the "Form of Prayers" of 1556, used by the Puritans: "Upon the days appointed for the preaching of the Word, when a convenient number of the congregation are come together, that they make fruit of their presence till the assembly be full, one appointed by the eldership shall read some chapters of the canonical books of Scripture singing psalms between at his discretion: and this reading to be in order as the books and chapters follow, that so from time to time the holy Scriptures may be read throughout. But upon special occasion, special chapters may be appointed."70

In Scotland, a similar practice soon appeared. Readers were appointed from 1560 onwards to "read the Commoune Prayeris and the Scripturis," and this practice of reading was to be carried on daily in the town churches.

There is a description of the year 1635 of an English Puritan visiting Edinburgh. He writes: "Upon the Lord's Day they do assemble betwixt eight and nine in the morning, and spend the time in singing psalms and reading chapters in the Old Testament until about ten . . . . The afternoon's exercise, which begins soon after one, is performed in the same manner . . . save the chapters then read out of the New Testament."71

Remarkable is the fact that sometimes women read the Scriptures. In the Manual of the French Carmelites, 1680, there is a full description of the solemn reading of the gospel at the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday. A nun takes the gospel book from the altar and goes to the desk, preceded by lights and incense; she censes the book and reads

the gospel exactly as the deacon does at High Mass. [72]

But this replacement of deacons by women, as in this case in the Roman Catholic Church, is an exception. Almost always men fulfil the task of reading the Scripture, and this task had been maintained as a constituent part of public worship.73

Often they were "lay readers." In Lutheran Germany the schoolmaster carried this burden more often than the pastor.

In Scotland in the majority of sixteenth-century parishes the Lord's Day services were also conducted by the readers, following the Book of Common Order. In those parishes the ordained minister (with some of the congregation) entered only just before the sermon. The minister also felt free to substitute prayers of his own in the stated liturgy. A similar institution developed in continental Reformed churches, the French with their "lecteurs," and the Dutch with "voorlezers." [74]

As for the Presbyterians, they were uneasy about the rapid expansion of unlicensed preachers and laymen, which the Independents encouraged in congregational "prophesying." They also wished to set limits on "lecturing." "Lecturing" was a running exposition of Scripture and was especially popular through the system of Puritan "lectureships," of endowed preaching posts outside the regular benefices. The Directory permitted lecturing, but specified that if the Scripture was to be expounded, it should wait till the end of the chapter. What was merely permissive here soon became general practice. The minister added an expository "lecture" to his reading of Scripture in addition to the sermon. The Scotch assembly had to set the hour for morning worship half an hour earlier to accommodate the additional time added by the "lecturing." And the old "reader's service" disappeared altogether. The question was now, how to reunite the separate services of the reader and the preacher. [75]

Special readers or not?

Are the readers (elders, deacons or laymen) able to read the Holy Scriptures in public worship? More than once the answer given is: No!

There are many stories about reading elders, who made mistakes, who could not read strange terms and strange names very well.

It is known that a reader in the morning service and in the afternoon service on account of two different ministers had to read the same chapter of the Epistles with many names for greetings. In the first service he stumbled over his words when he read all the names. In the second service he took it easier, saying in short: "Furthermore you may have the greetings of the same people as this morning!"

And well-known is the story of the reader who was the chanter as well. He had to sing an unknown song, but he could not read it very well. So he apologized for that, saying on a half melodius tune:

"My eyes are dim, I cannot see" -

The congregation, however, thought this sentence was the first of the song, and sang after him:

"My eyes are dim, I cannot see" -

And so it went on, to the very end, every

sentence repeated by the congregation:

"I speak of my infirmity"

"I did not mean to sing a hymn"

"I only said: My eyes are dim!"76

But good preparation is the way out here. And what about that minister who is sometimes unintelligible on the pulpit? That happens more than once!

Almost a century ago the advice had been given to each Scripture reader: "Do not read the Scripture like a notary but like an heir reads the last will!"77

It is a challenge to those who read the Scriptures to do it well. The reader should never give the impression that he is reading just because the order of ser

vice calls for a reading from the Scripture at that time. He should convey to the congregation that what he is reading is of very great importance. [78]

But to read well is a rare accomplishment. It is much more common to excel in singing or in public speaking. [79]

It is very important that the reader prepares always the Scripture reading before the service. Already in the first century the synagogue reading was prepared very well. The reader knew at least the day before the service was held what part of the Scripture he had to read, and he was supposed to read in the service very well and "with melodious voice."

But the congregation must attend to the reading too. We agree with the wish of a contemporary liturgical scholar: "It is of great importance that members of the congregation should follow the reading of the Scriptures in their own Bibles or in Bibles provided for them in the pews."e1 We must not leave the Bible on the pulpit alone. That is the reason too why we would strongly defend to have a special reader of the Holy Scriptures in public worship, and to look for men who are able and capable to read the Bible in the services of the church. For the question is: is the Bible property of the minister of the church, so that only he is able to read it? The answer is: no, our LORD gave the Bible in the hands of all His people. The reading of the Bible, therefore, is not a privilege of a pastor, neither especially something of an office-bearer!

The institute of the "lector" as reader of the Holy Scripture has been defended strongly by Dr. A. Kuyper. He writes that the minister is already the Jack of all trades and that is not good in the church. Moreover, from the beginning of the Christian church, the acts of the official services were divided among two or three persons. Kuyper pleads in favour of the reader apart from the preacher. He writes: public service means a meeting. It is not only a meeting between God and His people, but a meeting of the people together as well. And therefore it is not good to think that everything is to be done by one person and that everybody only comes to hear that one person.

Connection between reading and preaching

When should the Scriptures be read? We said already it would be good to have no gap between reading and preaching, except singing psalms or hymns between both. But should that close association of the Scripture reading with the preaching be an argument against the restoration of the institute of the lector, as has been said?

I do not believe that. It is a fine variation in the service, especially when things have been prepared very well. No doubt it would promote the beauty of the Reformed worship if the special task of the reader were to be restored. With A. Kuyper I say: think it over, consider it and discuss it! [85] And we can use the pulpit and the reading desk as well, from which places even in large buildings, one can be quite understandable, with today's modern technology! [86]

But let the minister announce all elements of the service previously. All elements. For the caretaker, for the organist, for the Scripture reader too, for the whole congregation, so that everybody can come to worship well-prepared!

And let us give content to the task of the public reader in the church. It was not good that the lector read the announcements of the consistory quite sometime before the service started. But why should it be impossible that the reader of the Scriptures reads the announcements at another time, when the whole congregation assembles? And would it be impossible that the reader announced the psalm which is to be sung after the reading of God's Law? And if there is no minister preaching in the service, is there any objection that in that case two brothers appear, namely as reader of the Scriptures and as reader of the sermon?

A sensivity for these liturgical matters would be very desirable.

We have to see the exalted place of the Word of the covenant of the LORD in public worship, where He and His people meet one another.

We have to see the exalted place of the preaching of the Word of God by the ministers of the church in public worship.

We have also to see the exalted place of the Kingdom of priests, as all the members of the church are, especially when they meet together in the service. Let us all see our place and task, worshipping the LORD, praising our God in all the parts of the beautiful public worship! So we are now going to finish our address with the following


1. The reading of the Holy Scripture was already known in the time of the Old Testament and in the synagogue; it was one of the constituent elements of the Christian public worship.

2. It is necessary that this principle of Scripture reading be maintained in public worship; for the Bible is the covenant document for today as well.

3. The Law of God in the Ten Commandments is to be read as the constitution of the covenant of the LORD; besides the reading of the Law of God, at least one other part of the Holy Scriptures is to be read in every service.

4. Scripture reading, preaching and teaching belong together; it would be better, not to interrupt these elements, except for instance by singing between the readings or between reading and preaching.

5. Reading of an arbitrary part of the Bible, without any relationship to the text of the sermon, is not good; it is preferable to select the readings carefully in connection with the preaching.

6. The Holy Scripture is not the property of the minister of the church, but the whole congregation possesses the Bible; it is therefore desirable that the reading of the Bible takes place by another reader.

7. It is not necessary that the Scripture reading be done by an office-bearer; the main thing is that the Bible will be read clearly in public worship.

8. It will be good that the function of Scripture reader is not limited to only one person; variety and interchange are here desirable.

9. Just as for all elements of public worship a good and timely preparation is indispensable; the best way is that the minister makes all the elements of the service known ahead of time.

10. It is desirable to give content to the task of the public reader; he can take care of the reading of the confession and the announcements of the consistory as well.

Esteemed governors!

By appointing me as Professor of Diaconiology at the Theological College in Hamilton, at the direction of Synod Cloverdale 1983, you have taken a great responsibility upon yourself. As far as I am concerned, it is not a small matter to exchange the pulpit for the lectern after a thirty-three year pastorate. But, I thank you for the confidence you have placed in me and I comfort myself with the thought that I may teach precisely what has the love of my heart, namely the pastoral ministry. Also, the pulpit will remain open for me.

Insofar as I have met the members of your Board, I may mention the cordiality and friendliness with which you have treated me and my family. I thank you heartily that you have in more than one respect eased for us the transition from The Netherlands to Canada.

Esteemed faculty!

Insofar as we did not yet know it, we have realized during the months that now lie behind us what binds us together. Together we want to teach at the College in submission to God's infallible Word and in faithfulness to the Reformed confession. Within this bond, your friendship is very meaningful for me.

When I especially direct myself to you, Prof. Dr. J. Faber, principal of the College, then the time that we were students of the same year and were even housed 'under the same roof in Kampen comes to my mind. At that time we could not have thought that we would one day stand shoulder to shoulder for the theological education here in Hamilton. I do not doubt for a moment the sincere cooperation of all of you in the one service for the gospel.

Esteemed VanDooren!

No one will take it ill of me when I also here mention separately the name of my predecessor. In you the College is losing one of the workers of the first hour. You have only been able to do part-time what I may now do full-time. You have not been a "lector" as has just been described - for that matter you have never been a reader of sermons but a preacher without notes - yet you have been a "lector" in the academic sense. You have won your spurs here in Canada, not only by your lectureship but also by the entire service for the churches, notably for the Book of Praise that now, in the year of your departure as lecturer, appears in its final form.

Brothers and sisters!

We live in the year of the commemoration of the Secession of 1834. Immediately after that year, my father's grandfather, the late Rev. G.H. Deddens seceded as the first one of his entire family. He was trained by the Rev. Helenius de Cock and he served as shepherd and teacher until practically the end of the previous century. As he himself once wrote: "To serve God is the desire of my heart."

We also live in the year of the commemoration of the Liberation of the church. This month it is forty years ago that my father, the late Prof. P. Deddens had to endure the shame of being suspended from his office because he could not follow the synod in its wrong dealings. The LORD gave him the honour to still teach twelve years in the training for the ministry of the Word.

With deep thankfulness I mention the faith and piety of my forefathers, parents and parents-in-law (of whom only my mother-inlaw is still alive). How we have experienced, also in our own family, that the LORD works throughout the generations!

This can also be the last word to you, the students. It is a great privilege that our faithful God of the covenant instils in us - often by means of believing parents

the desire to serve Him in the marvellous office of minister of the Word. The subjects that I may teach are especially directed to that.

Sometimes strange stories circulate about professors and apparently professors in the Western hemisphere are not excluded. About half a century ago, Joel Elias Spingarn maintained that European scholars had the strange assumption that on the American continent there were three sexes, namely men, women and professors.87

I do not know on what this idea could have been based. In any case, I do not intend to advocate this teaching. I also hope to escape the odium that someone else has expressed thus: "Our American professors are like their literature: clear and cold and pure and very dead!"e$ I would rather be mindful of the old Latin proverb: "Vir sapiens semper tiro," a wise man always remains a recruit.

Indeed, let us together be recruited in the military service of Christ by our only Commander and General who has the final say and who has the absolute authority in all our theological labour.

I thank you.


[1] Institutio III, 2,6: "Haec igitur vera est Christi cognitio, si eum qualis offertur a Patre suscipimus, nempe Evangelio sue vestitum"; cf. Calvin's Commentary in I Petr. 2:8: "Omnes qui Christum evangelio sue vestitum non recipiunt, Dei esse adversaries, et eius verbo reluctari."

[2] G.F.D. Moule, Worship in the New Testament (London, 1961), p. 44: "All that one can be sure of is that apostolic letters were read at assemblies of Christians (cf. Col. 4:16; Philemon 2, Rev. 1:3)."

[3] Rev. 1:3. R.H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John (Edinburgh, 1963), p. 7: "This is not the private student but the public reader." Cf. S. Greijdanus, De Openbaring des Heeren aan Johannes, (Amsterdam, 1925), p. 10.

[4] M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament IV (Grand Rapids, 1946), p. 409.

[5] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament VI (Nashville, 1933), p. 284: "John expects this book to be read in each of the seven churches mentioned (1:4) and elsewhere." 6 [I] Tim. 4:13. The verb usually of public reading. Cf. Vincent IV, p. 251. [7] Cf. Vulgate on I Tim. 4:13: "Dum venio, attende lectioni, exhortationi et doctrinae."

[8] Deut. 31:11ff. Cf. Keil & Delitsch, The Pentateuch, III, p. 457: "The main point in hand was not the writing out of the law, or the transfer of it to the priests and elders in the nation, but the command to read the law in the presence of the people at the feast of Tabernacles of the year of release."

[9] Nehemiah 8:2ff. The occasion is a feast of thanksgiving. The feeling of thankfulness impelled the people to the hearing of the Word of God for the purpose of making His law their rule of life. Cf. Keil & Delitsch, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, pp. 228ff.

[10] C.W. Dugmore, The Influence of the Synagogue upon the Divine Office (Westminster, 1964), p. 21: "That the Decalogue was in use in the Temple, or the Synagogue, or both, during the first half of the first century is beyond question."

[11]R. Boon, De jocose wortels van de christelijke eredienst (Amsterdam, 1973), p. 128.

[12] Cf. Strack & Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament IV-1, 5e Aufl. (München, 1969), 8. Exkurs: Der altjüdische Synagogengottesdienst, pp. 154,ff.

[13] J. Koopmans, Het kerkelijk jaar (Wageningen, 1941), p. 35.

[14] Strack & Billerbeck, ibid., p. 166.

[15] Dugmore, ibid., p. 14; cf. K.H. Kroon, Schriftlezing en Kerkelijk Jaar, Jaarboek voor de eredienst ('s Gravenhage, 1964), p. 14.

[16] Luke 4: 16ff. Cf. The Interpreter's Bible VIII, p. 90: "It was characteristic of Jesus that he should have selected this passage from Isaiah in which glows the message of God's pity and compassion."

[17] I do not share the opinion of Koopmans, ibid., p. 36, that here was a lectio continua. Cf. Strack & Billerbeck, ibid., p. 170. It seems that Isaiah 61:1ff. did not belong to the official Haftarah, so that Jesus was free to make his own choice of prophetical reading.

[18] Acts 13:13ff. That does not mean that the Christian worship was just a copy of the synagogue worship, cf. W.A. Maxwell, A History of Christian Worship (Grand Rapids, 1982), p. 3.

[19] Justinus Martyr, Apologia I 67; cf. A.B. Mc Donald, Christian Worship in the Primitive Church (Edinburgh, 1935), pp. 3ff.; W.O.E. Oesterley, The Jewish Background of the Christian Liturgy (Gloucester, 1965), pp. 117ff.

[20] Cf. Th. Klauser, Kleine abendländische Liturgiegeschichte (Bonn, 1965), pp. 18, 20.

[21] Constitutiones apostolorum If, 57. In some rites, the lessons were very long: in the Syriac speaking church of Mesopotamia 400 verses were formerly read on Ascension day, taken from all parts of the Bible, cf. F.C. Burkitt, Christian Worship (Cambridge, 1930), p. 54. M. Reu, Homiletics (Grand Rapids, 1967), p. 329 notes: "In its most fully developed form the lesson was fourfold, taken from the Law, the Prophets, the Apostle and the Gospel."

[22] Itinerarium Egeriae, ed. A. Franceschini & R. Weber (Turnhout, 1958), XXIV, pp. 9ff. Cf. my Annus Liturgicus (Goes, 1975), pp. 93ff.

[23] Annus Liturgicus, p. 112.

[24] Annus Liturgicus, pp. 66ff. Cf. The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril (London, 1885); F.L. Cross, St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (London, 1966, New York, 1977); cf. translation E.H. Gifford, (Grand Rapids), n.d.

[25] A. Renoux, Le Codex Armenien Jerusalem 121, no. 163 (Turnhout, 1969), pp. 161ff., and no. 168 (Turnhout, 1971), pp. 211ff. Cf. Annus Liturgicus, pp. 120ff.

[26] Augustinus, Sermo 232,1: "Sic habet ordo Evangel istarum," cf. Koopmans, ibid., p. 39.

[27] Cf. F. van der Meer, Augustinus als Zielzorger (Utrecht/Brussel, 1947), p. 319.

[28] Maxwell, ibid., p. 16.

[29] B. Steuart, The Development of Christian Worship (London/New York/Toronto, 1953), pp. [77] ff.; cf. A. Snijders, Lezingen in het Officie, Liturgisch Woordenboek II (Roermond, 1965/68), col. 1514ff.; R. Zerfass, Die Rolle der Lesungen im Stundengebet, Liturgisches Jahrbuch XIII, (Munchen, 1963), pp. 159ff.

[30] That was the "Dominus vobiscum" and the "Kyrie eleison," cf. Steuart, ibid., p. 87.

[31] W. Moll, Geschiedenis van het kerklijke leven der Christenen gedurende de zes eerste eeuwen II (Leiden, 1857), p. 201.

[32] Koopmans, ibid., pp. 40ff.; cf. K. Gamber, Liturgie Ubermorgen (Frei burg/Basel/Wien, 1966). pp. 145ff.; R. Aigrain, Liturgia (Paris, 1947), p. 405.

[33] G. Rietschel/P. Graff, Lehrbuch der Liturgik I, 2e Aufl. (Göttingen, 1951), pp. 351ff.; cf. Koopmans, ibid., p. 41.

[34] G. Kunze, Die Lesungen, Leitourgia II (Kassel, 1955), p. 161; it is remarkable that Luther did not fully abolish preaching and reading of apocryphal books, cf. Rietschel/Graff, ibid., p. 172.

[35] J. Schweizer, Zur Ordnung des Gottesdienstes (Zurich, 1944), pp. 32ff.; cf. Koopmans, ibid., p. 47.

[36] G. Kunze, ibid., p. 160; cf. H.O. Old, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (Zurich, 1975), pp. 195ff.

[37] F.L. Rutgers, Acta van de Nederlandsche Synoden der zestiende eeuw ('s Gravenhage, 1889), pp. 143, 407.

[38] Cf. R. Dubois, Lezingen in de Mis, Liturgisch Woordenboek II, col. 1504ff. about the fall off of the lectio of the Old Testament; cf. also Reu, ibid., p. 276: "In the Middle Ages, the Old Testament was seldom treated, principally because of the system of pericopes."

[39] A. Kuyper, Onze Eeredienst (Kampen, 1911), p. 295.

[40] G. van Rongen, Liturgy of God's Covenant, pp. 15ff.; cf. C. Trimp, De preek (Kampen, 1980), p. 9.

[41] Cf. H.A.J. Wegman, Geschiedenis van de christelijke eredienst in hat Westen en in hat Oosten (Hilversum, 1976), p. 98.

[42] Van Rongen, Liturgy, p. 24.

[43] A. H. van Minnen, De Gereformeerde Eeredienst ('s Gravenzande, 1908), pp. 8ff.

[44] Itinerarium Egeriae XXIV, 8, 9 (Franceschini & Weber), p. 69. Cf. Annus Liturgicus, pp. 94ff.

[45] G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 7th impr. (Westminster, 1954), pp. 39ff.; cf. B. Steuart, ibid., pp. 34ff.

[46] B. van Bilsen, Tijdschrift voor liturgie XLIII (Affligem, 1959), p. 284. Naar een functioneel herstel van het diakonaat en andere wijdingen; cf. I. Verkest, Lector, Liturgisch Woordenboek II, col. 1457.

[47] Dugmore, ibid., pp. 83ff. [48] Eusebius, History VIII, VI, 9, cf. Dugmore, ibid., p. 84. At the same time Cyprian writes about the readers, cf. J.H. Srawley, The early History of the Liturgy (Cambridge, 1949), p. 91. 49E. Dekkers, Tertullianus en de geschiedenis der Liturgie (Brussel/Amsterdam, 1947), pp. 38, 72ff. 50Van Bilsen, ibid., p. 284; cf. Dekkers, ibid., p. 75.

[51] Van der Meer, ibid., p. 31.

[52] Id., ibid., p. 201.

[53] 1d., ibid., p. 552: "Pueri qui adhuc pueriliter in gradu lectorum christianas litteras norunt."

[54] Moll, ibid., I, pp. 230ff.

[55] G. Podhradsky, Beknopt Liturgisch Woordenboek (Roermond/Maaseik, 1965), col. 188ff.

[56] H. Goertz, Deutsche Begriffe der Liturgie im Zeitalter der Reformation (Berlin, 1977), pp. 116ff.

[57] In The Netherlands the word "lector" normally denotes the name of a teacher at a university.

[58] W.D. Maxwell, Eredienst in de gereformeerde kerk, Kerk en Eredienst V ('s Gravenhage, 1950), p. 18. It is, however, not sure if they had a task as lector.

[59] Rutgers, Acta, pp. 19ff.; cf. E. F. Kruyf, Liturgiek (Groningen, 1901), p. 71; P. Biesterveld & H.H. Kuyper, Kerkelijk Handboekje (Kampen, 1905), pp. 13ff.

[60] Rutgers, ibid., p. 74.

[61] J. Reitsma & S.D. van Veen, Acta der Provinciate en Particuliere Synoden I (Groningen, 1892), p. 394.

[62] 1d., ibid., IV, p. 146.

[63] Id., ibid., V, p. 340.

[64] Id., ibid., VI, p. 433. [65] Id., ibid., VI, p. 323.

[66] R.B. Evenhuis, Ook dat was Amsterdam, /I, De Kerk der hervorming in de Gouden Eeuw (Baarn, 1967), pp. 57ff.

[67] G.J.D. Schotel, De openbare Eeredienst der Nederlands Hervormde Kerk in de 16e, 17e en 18e Eeuw (Leiden, n.d.), pp. 313ff.

[68] Reitsma & van Veen, V., pp. 164ff.

[69] Wegman, ibid., pp. 223ff. During the first part of the service the main celebrant draws himself back in quiety in the sanctuary.

[70] W. D. Maxwell, John Knox Genevan Service Book 1556 (Edinburgh/London, 1931), p. 177.

[71] Maxwell, John Knox, p. 178; cf. H. Davies, Worship and Theology in England from Andrewes to Baxter and Fox, 1603-1690 (Princeton, 1975), pp. 278ff.

[72] F.C. Eeles, Ministries of Women in and since the Middle Ages. The Ministry of Women (London, 1919), p. 166; in the Anglican Church women are readers too since 1866; cf. J.P. Davies, The Westminster Dictionary of Worship (Philadelphia, 1972), pp. 330ff.

[73] Cf. C.G.M'c Crie, The Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland (Edinburgh/London, 1892), pp. 200ff.: "The reading of Scripture is expressly recognized by the Directory as a constituent part of public worship."

[74] J.H. Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Philadelphia, 1968), p. 70.

[75] Nichols, ibid., pp. 102ff.; today it still happens that laymen are asked to read the Bible in public worship. That is a matter of fact in the Anglican Church, and in the United Church of Canada as well. In one of the services they are asked by the minister to come to the "lectern" and to read the Scripture.

[76] In other languages this story is translated, even in Dutch dialect.

[77] E.F. Kruyf, Liturgiek (Groningen, 1901), p. 75; cf. G. VanDooren, The Beauty of Reformed (Winnipeg, 1980), p. 35 about careful preparation of public reading in the church services.

[78] R. G. Rayburn, O come, let us worship, (Grand Rapids, 1980) p. 208.

[79] J.A. Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 4th ed., (San Francisco, 1979), p. 319.

[8O] Strack & Billerbeck, ibid., IV, p. 157: "mit wohllautender Stimme."

[81] Rayburn, ibid., p. 209.

[82] We do not agree with the opinion of K. Dijk, Handboek voor de ouderling (Delft, 1959), pp. 117ff., who seems to think that only the minister of the church can read the Bible very well.

[83] A. Kuyper, Onze Eeredienst, pp. 171ff., 262ff.

[84] This argument against the lector is used by G. vanRongen, Zijn schone dienst (Goes, 1956), p. 97.

[85] Cf. My, Waar alles van Hem spreekt (Groningen, 1981), pp. 45ff. 86S. Greidanus defended in Thesis VIII at his dissertation Sola Scriptura (Kampen, 1970), that there should be only one place for the Scripture reading and the preaching, namely the pulpit. But why only one liturgical place for two liturgical acts? There are different places as well for celebrating the sacraments. Cf. G. van der Leeuw, Liturgiek, (Nijkerk, 1940), pp. 118ff.