Book Review: Written To Be Heard

We live in a culture that is obsessed with written ways of learning. Hundreds if not thousands of books and e-books are published everyday designed to communicate information via the medium of reading. Anachronistically, we presume that this is the normal way of learning/formation throughout the world for all centuries. But clearly this is a false assumption. Even today, most of the world uses oral, not written, modes of communication. Ancient stories and valuable histories are passed down throughout the centuries orally. While oral ‘things’ are being converted into written form, we lose an element of their richness in the translation process.

Written to be Heard’ argues that the Bible, particularly the words of the gospels, were meant to be heard, not read. Consequently, when we read instead of hearing, we lose some of the richness and even miss the mark in grasping their key messages due to an unintended medium. This has the potential to lead us into erroneous interpretation.

Paul Borgman and Kelly James Clark attempt to recover and understand the message of each gospel as it would have been received by its original (oral) hearers. They argue that the gospels were oral performances. This method of learning was advantageous and common in preliterate societies. In modern society, this is lost because our mode of understanding is different. On account of this, the authors of this book attempt to analyze with fresh ‘ears’, re-’hearing’ the gospels through the lens of ‘oral performance’.

This book is stimulating. Somethings you won’t agree with and other things you will find compelling. It’s primarily written for an academic audience, but that is not to say that anyone cannot learn much from this book.


I thank Eerdmans for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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