Is Listening to the Bible the Same As Reading It?
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At MegaVoice, our goal is to promote engagement with the Bible for all people. Language barriers, accessibility issues, poverty, and the pressures of everyday life prevent many people from enjoying God’s Word on a daily basis. If you want to find out more about how you can Partner with us in increasing global biblical engagement, click here.
Have you ever felt a twinge of guilt while listening to the Bible instead of reading it? When all you’re able to manage is audio Bible time on your commute, do you worry you’re cutting corners? Many Christians feel this way and wonder what to do about it.
This article will:
- Explain the differences between reading and listening to the Bible
- Examine Bible verses about listening to the Bible
- Share the best ways to listen to the Bible
- Clarify how long it takes to listen to the ENTIRE Bible (it might be less time than you’d think!)
- Cover five simple habits to improve your Bible study time
Reading vs. Listening to the Bible
In the world of twenty-first century evangelicalism, many of us hold an unspoken ideal in our minds when we think about studying the Bible. We picture ourselves waking up at the crack of dawn and immediately curling up with our Bible. As we read, we enjoy the silence of a peaceful house. We’re not interrupted by work, children, our own tiredness, or a hungry stomach.
Most of us have read inspiring accounts of Christian leaders who rise at 4 AM to achieve this idealized study time. We may read about people who have been doing this for years with great consistency. These ideals are beautiful to behold, and some of us achieve them for short periods of time. Too often, however, we are thrown off our game by a crying baby, a sick child, or a demanding season at work.
We muddle through the day, both lacking the encouragement time in the Word could have provided us and feeling guilty for not checking the box on this perceived gold standard. In our efforts to engage with the Bible despite unpredictable challenges, many of us begin listening to the Bible. A lengthy commute or time spent packing lunches is suddenly imbued with God’s Word. But is this practice inferior to our early morning quiet time?
Rather than getting caught up in narratives about our Bible study that are driven by perfectionism, let’s make an objective assessment of the differences between reading and listening to the Bible.
Reading: Caters to visual learners and strong readers.
Listening: Caters to auditory learners.
Reading: Easier to skim and overlook important details.
Listening: Often requires the listener to slow their pace.
Reading: Requires the reader to grapple with (or ignore!) words and names that are difficult to pronounce.
Listening: Provides the opportunity to learn proper pronunciation.
Reading: A relatively new option historically.
Listening: The way most Christians throughout history have engaged with God’s Word.
Reading: The reader engages with the text in the quietness of their own mind.
Listening: A skilled narrator can offer context, emotionality, and meaningful emphasis. Think about the differences between reading an email from someone and speaking to them on the phone. (Credit to The Olive Tree Blog for this helpful analogy.)
Reading: Typically a solo activity.
Listening: In the absence of headphones, a group activity (either intentionally or unintentionally!).
Reading: Not accessible to people who are blind, people who can’t or don’t read, and people who don’t have a written translation in their language.
Listening: Not accessible to people who are deaf or people who don’t have access to a native reader or an audio recording of the Bible in their language.
Reading: Practicing reading may be good for people who want to work on this skill.
Listening: Practicing listening is a good focus for all believers, since we are called to be “quick to listen” and to “turn our ears to understanding”.
Reading: Doesn’t require a digital format.
Listening: Requires some kind of digital format or someone willing to read aloud.
As you can see, when it comes to reading and listening to the Bible, we’re looking at two very different disciplines. This conversation changes when we consider the needs of people with disabilities or people who speak relatively uncommon languages.
There are situations where reading is the right choice, and situations where listening is the right choice. However, deciding that reading is automatically the better option is simply wrong. Let’s expand that point by examining some Bible verses about listening to the Bible.
Bible Verses About Listening to the Bible
There are many Bible verses that explicitly point to the benefits of listening to God’s Word. However, this is mainly because most people couldn’t read during the time that the books of the Bible were written.
In antiquity, all texts had to be copied by hand using expensive writing materials. Most Bible stories were shared via oral tradition for many years before they were written down. Even then, the Biblical authors knew they were writing to a listening audience. Their audience was composed of hearers, not readers.
Keeping this in mind, let’s explore these rich Bible verses (emphasis added):
Nehemiah 8:2-3 (NIV)
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Exodus 24:7 (Amplified Bible)
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people; and they said, All that the Lord has said we will do, and we will be obedient.
Deuteronomy 31:11 (Amplified Bible)
When all Israel is come to appear before Jehovah thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
Colossians 4:16 (NIV)
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
Matthew 7:24 (NIV)
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
John 10:27 (KJV)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
Revelation 1:3 (NIV)
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
1 Timothy 4:13 (NLT)
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.
James 1:22 (ESV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Ephesians 5:16 (NIV)
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.
A few thoughts: It’s interesting that James 1:22 doesn’t say, “Be readers of the word, and not hearers only!” Ephesians 5:16 is a helpful verse for our purposes as well. We, more than any Christians throughout history, have the opportunity to listen to Scripture with a level of ease and accessibility that would seem unimaginable to Christians of the past! We should make the most of this opportunity in our daily routines.
Finally, all of these verses all point to something of utmost importance:
Listening is a communal activity. It’s a beautiful way for us to engage with God’s Word while also participating with our Christian community.
What Is The Best Way to Listen to the Bible?
Those of us who live in affluent countries are fortunate to have many different ways to listen to the Bible. Millions of people in other countries aren’t so fortunate. Let’s look at the many ways Christians can listen to the Bible.
If you have a confident narrator available in your community, this can be a powerful way to engage with Scripture. This option requires a print Bible in a language that the audience understands. It also requires someone who’s capable of reading it out loud with good diction, pacing, and projection (or with the use of a microphone). In some settings, taking turns reading aloud will give each person present an opportunity to bless others. In communities where many people can’t read or where most people struggle to read confidently in public, this is not the best fit.
Online audio Bibles.
Many audio Bibles are available online through YouTube, private websites, and other sources. While many languages are available, quality and accessibility varies. Sadly, audio recordings do not yet exist in some languages. This method requires consistent and reliable access to Wi-Fi and electricity, as well as a laptop, smartphone, or tablet with a good speaker.
Audio Bible apps.
Audio Bible apps are an increasingly popular option for smartphone users. Apps like YouVersion, Dwell, and Olive Tree offer a selection of high-quality audio Bibles and the option to read along as you listen, which many people love. However, this option also requires access to internet and electricity and language options are limited.
CDs, tapes, thumb drives, microSD cards, and other forms of digital storage.
While these options may seem outdated to some people in the western world, they can be a good choice in creative access countries or in places where WiFi is limited. They may also serve the needs of children and the elderly. However, they still require a compatible player and access to electricity. They are also often difficult to acquire and cost may be prohibitive for individuals.
This option provides the greatest degree of accessibility. Solar-powered audio Bibles do not rely on WiFi, electricity, or separate electronic devices. They are loud enough to play in a small group setting without the need for a speaker. They can serve blind, illiterate, and non-reading populations. They are available in thousands of languages, including hard-to-find dialects and indigenous languages. They are more durable and sharable than smartphones and much cheaper too. They are also secure and cannot be wiped or loaded with alternative materials.
How Long Does It Take to Listen to the Bible?
If your goal is to listen to the entire Bible, there are many resources designed to help you do just that! You may be wondering – how long does it take to listen to the Bible? The answer surprises many people.
In total, the Bible takes about 75 and a half hours to listen to in its entirety. While that might sound like a lot of time compared to other audio books, you could listen to the entire Bible in a year in just 12 minutes a day!
Of those 75-ish hours, about 57 of them cover the Old Testament. About 18 of them cover the New Testament. This data highlights how easy it is to listen to the entire NT in comparison to the OT.
This helpful graph from Crossway breaks down even more data for you to consider:
Most of us have no problem watching an hour of TV a day, or listening to an hour of music or podcasts. If that time was replaced with listening to the Bible, we could make it through the entire Bible in under three months! This should be encouraging to all of us as we realize that saturating our lives with God’s Word may be more attainable than we think.
Five Habits to Improve Your Bible Listening
Our prayer is that you feel encouraged to pursue the right Bible study option for your context, season of life, and learning style. These five tips will help you get the most out of your Bible study time. They apply whether you’re reading the Bible to your family in the evening or listening to a solar audio Bible on a hike! Many thanks to the Bible Project for inspiring this list.
Habit #1: Pray before you listen and any time you notice yourself becoming distracted. Ask God to help you focus and gain insight from your time in the Word.
Habit #2: If you hear the same word again and again, pay attention! This is often a good signifier of major themes in a text. Some people like to listen to the Bible at a slower-than-normal speed to help them truly meditate on the Word. The MegaVoice Envoy 2 E Series devices come equipped with a speed control function, allowing you to listen at your preferred speed.
Habit #3: Listen to the same passage more than once. Most of us remember the phrase, “Repetition is the key to memory!” from our childhoods. This is true studying the Bible as well. Experiment with listening to one chapter of the Bible twice or more times in a single sitting. Listen to a particular passage of Scripture every day for a week. You may be surprised by the new insights you gain with each repetition. This is particularly helpful when grappling with the more dense or difficult-to-understand sections of the Bible.
Habit #4: Follow along in your Bible to underline or highlight passages that especially capture your attention. Many people love reading and listening to the Bible at the same time. They consider this to be the ‘best of both worlds’ approach to Bible study. Give it a try and see if you agree! This is a great option if you have the time to sit down with your Bible but you feel tired or distracted. This method will help you slow down and pay attention to the Word in a new way.
Habit #5: Invite someone to join you! As evidenced by the Bible verses above, listening to the Bible in the company of others is an important part of the life of the believer. Here are some ideas to inspire you to listen to the Bible with your loved ones more frequently:
- If you have a school commute with kids, use the time to listen to the Bible together.
- Get in the habit of listening to the Bible with your family or roommates for a few minutes in the evening.
- Incorporate weekly Bible listening into Bible studies and small groups.
- Play the Bible while you prepare a meal with a loved one or tidy up a room.
A Lifetime of Listening
As an audio Bible ministry, we are obviously invested in the idea of listening to the Bible with regularity! However, both the Bible itself and the experience of other believers confirms that this is a wonderfully legitimate method of studying the Bible. God honors your desire to engage with His Word. He knows that your approach will always be imperfect. As we keep returning to God’s Word with humble hearts, He will use it to shape our thoughts and hopes!
Remember, too, that listening to the Bible in our native languages is a privilege. For people who cannot read, people who don’t have translations in their native languages, and people who don’t have audio recordings of Scriptures in their native languages, this isn’t an option.
Please prayerfully consider giving someone else the gift of listening to the Bible in their native language this Christmas by partnering with us. Learn more here.
P.S. You can also support MegaVoice with no extra cost or inconvenience to you by using Amazon Smile! Find out how here.
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