In my many years of working with children and families, I’ve noticed that listening to the Bible is seen as a second rate option to reading it. And much as I love reading the Bible and exploring it in detail, I would like to explore the merits and benefits of listening to it, and especially how this can add to our growing faith as families.
How it started
The Bible was first written only after generations of being used as an oral text. This means that most of the words we now read were originally heard by people listening to someone else speaking them rather than reading the words. The culture was different, of course, and most people weren’t able to read and write, so recording words in a written format was specialist work, not like the word-generating technology we have today! This was true when the Old and New Testaments were written, and throughout most of history.
Most of the people who have lived and heard the words of the Bible could not have read it for themselves, so they relied on the words being read and repeated to them by others. This is why so many churches were covered in paintings of biblical scenes, why the first plays in England are said to have been undertaken by clergy in church and why the invention of the printing press changed everything.
Since then, the Bible has been translated into English (and hundreds of other languages), paper has become cheaper, education has become compulsory and most people in the world can now access the Bible in a written format. However, I propose that just because we can read it doesn’t mean this is the only or even always the best way to access God’s word.
Learning and spiritual styles
Research into the way people learn has shown us why pictures, dramas and stories are so fabulous. We now know that people learn in different ways, called learning styles. The most basic version of this is VAK: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. While it’s interesting to work out people’s learning preference, I prefer to use methods that work for all three, for example using pictures while telling a story and giving people something to do with their hands while I’m talking.
When it comes to faith, it has been well documented that we also have different spiritual styles, so it seems pretty obvious that we shouldn’t stick to one method of teaching the Bible or promote a single way in which people can connect with God through it.
I discovered that the audio Bible works well for my kinaesthetic daughter, who likes to play with Lego, draw or create random creations, but is listening intently to the story as she does so. It’s a classic Listening to the Bible July 40 Forming faith rituals mistake to make to assume that because someone doesn’t look as though they’re paying attention they’re not. I love to write and draw while listening to sermons, so this really shouldn’t surprise me.
Seasons of life
For some people in certain situations and seasons of life, connection and learning will come easily through reading the Bible. I found this applied to me until I became a parent, and overnight I became an audio book fan, including the audio Bible. I found my sleep-deprived brain could still take in a little of what I listened to during long night feeds and this made me feel less like it was ‘wasted’ time (although clearly feeding a baby isn’t ever wasted time!). I found that the tiny slots of time while washing up or putting laundry away could be filled with a little audio that helped me connect with my adult brain, which otherwise felt as though it was turning to mush.
There are surely other seasons when an audio Bible might be the only form we can connect with, such as during illness or sight loss. But how about when we’re just tired and need to close our eyes? There is surely no loss in the power of God’s word to speak to me just because I am not reading it!
As I shared audio books with my children in the car, I discovered that we could cover huge amounts in a much shorter time than we could if I had been reading it. We used an audio recording on the YouVersion app in the car, and I was amazed at how long a story they would not only allow me to play but actively engage with. One time we were listening to the Exodus story in Exodus 1-15 in preparation for Passover and they asked for a longer car journey so we could carry on with the story! I love how this method helps us get to grips with massive stories such as the Exodus or the Easter story in a way that would take us days or weeks otherwise. If you’re heading off on long car journeys over the summer, why not consider listening to the Bible as you travel?
Another thing listening to the Bible together does is put me on the same level as my children. We are all listeners, all wanting to grasp the story, all with questions, all with ideas. It levels the playing field and helps to make exploring the Bible together become a journey we pursue side-by-side rather than positioning me as the teacher. I like this, as it also releases me from the job of reading the ‘script’ and gives me more space to ask questions, to wonder myself about the words, and to pay attention to their words and body language as they explore.
Current culture and additional needs
While reading is still currently the dominant form of learning in our culture, this isn’t the case for many people. Children under the age of about 7 learn better when they don’t have to navigate text. For anyone who struggles with reading – for whatever reason, at whatever age – they may be better off with an audio Bible. And for the generation growing up with YouTube as their teacher, this may be the way they learn everything. Perhaps what they need is videos of people reading the Bible.
A quick search provides a plethora of options, for example videos of Bible verses with gentle, spa-type music to go to sleep with or guided meditations. Some are just a voice and others are dramatised, which personally I find easier to listen to. I found many of the readers’ voices really hard to listen to, but this is subjective, so it’s worth listening to a few. Many have no pictures of the person reading. Some have videos of lakes and skies instead, while others just have a static photograph. Maybe you could make your own if you need something more visual!
Listening as a route to speaking
Listening to the Bible and repeating what has been read is one of the simplest ways of learning Bible verses. I’ve recently learned Shakespeare this way with my 6 and 7-year-olds, and realised that if they can learn ten Shakespeare quotes and use them with comedic effect in everyday life how much more could they learn and use Bible verses? We have learnt quite a few by using them in our weekly Shabbat meal, so that by listening to the same verses each week our children have learnt at least five sections of scripture. This would be easy to do using an audio Bible, just by putting the same verses on each day or each week. Over a period of time, just hearing means that we become familiar with the words. And by knowing the words we have an opportunity to discuss their meaning, to meditate on them and to share them with others.
Let’s do it!
There’s no time like the present, so grab your phone and open a Bible app with an audio option. Choose a Bible verse or shortish passage you’d like to listen to. It might be one that is speaking to you at the moment, one you are preparing a talk on, or one you would like to know off by heart and listen to it with your eyes shut. Allow the words to help you create images, feelings and thoughts about what you’re hearing. You may enjoy doing a creative activity such as Lego or colouring while you’re listening. Listen to it on repeat and start joining in with the words as you remember them. Listen four or five times, then record yourself saying it. Find out if you know it, correct any mistakes and listen again. Reflect on the different experience of listening compared with reading. Share this with someone!