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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Let anyone with ears to hear listen!'

David Rhoads works to create first-century experience of Scripture

David Rhoads utters Jesus’ words, as recorded by Mark, when he proclaims, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:9). But it’s clearly his message too. Performing New Testament books and teaching seminarians how to do that, Rhoads strives to give Christians today an experience of listening to the spoken word that echoes all the way back to the first century.

Practicing what he teaches, David Rhoads
Practicing what he teaches, David Rhoads performs Scripture from the heart, from memory, during a gathering at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago where he is professor of New Testament.
“The New Testament writings were originally performances to a communal audience—because 95 percent of the people weren’t literate,” said Rhoads, professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. “Each writing is like a score for a musical concert or a script for the theater. We’ve lost the experience of the oral performance of the New Testament. It’s like we read the score but we never hear the music. Or we read Shakespeare but we never see a play.”

Rhoads has been on a mission to change that for some 30 years.It started when a back injury confined him to bed for a month, and he spent the time memorizing the Gospel of Mark. He’s since performed Mark more than 300 times—sharing his passion for the spoken word with congregations and other audiences nationwide.

“My initial motivation for learning it was that I thought it would help people experience the Gospel through a different medium,” Rhoads said. “It would be fresh for them. I don’t try to repeat how the ancients did it. I just try to bring it alive for today’s audiences. And it does seem to have that effect on people. But it also turns out that memorization and performance of Scripture have become my main tools for doing research.”


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