Oral Bible Storytelling – Why This And Why Now?


As many scholars believe, it was the Apostle Peter who asked Mark to write down the good news as told and taught by Jesus. And as Jesus said, he only told things he received from the Father. This historic event reminds us today that the Gospel of Jesus Christ already existed in oral form. It was equally understood by a community believers and it had authority in that they believed it was the Word of God. Then the believers spread Jesus’ sayings and teachings by telling it to other people and so the Church grew. They spread the Word orally because, after all, the majority of them were not literate in the languages of education and business of their time.

It was necessary to write Jesus’ teachings on papyrus, their version of paper at the time. Persecution against the followers of the Christ was on the rise. The believers would soon scatter and the church elders driven away or killed. God’s story needed to be maintained. And so began the tradition of writing scripture on paper from generation to generation. This was done so that all of the people living during each of those times could know with accuracy what Jesus actually said. But only the people who could read had access to those words. 

Jesus’ words were passed on unchanged from one generation to the next. But one thing did change along the way. We seem to have lost the oral telling of Jesus’ very own words in dramatic fashion. We, the literate society, began to rely mostly on reading Scripture rather than telling or hearing Scripture. We developed some very good commentaries to help us understand our translations. We produced inductive methods to find those deeper and seemingly endless hidden treasures in Scripture. We then passed on our literary values in our mission to the world. As a result, many more people gained access to God’s Word through literacy training.

Even so, after 200 years of this sort of mostly Western mission focus, there are still millions of non-literate people who do not enjoy the same access. That is, the same access to God’s Word that the early church had. Now it appears that things are changing. Now we hear much talk about “Oral Bible Storying,” but it’s nothing new. Western mission agencies have used that method in various places at least since the 1970’s, probably even earlier.

Now providing people with access to the Word through oral methods, even before written methods, is coming on strong. The question is why now? Why do you think that after so long, now in the 21st Century, this mission focus is increasingly so popular? I can think of several reasons, but I’d like to know your reasons. Of course, if you are part of the non-literate and often majority society, you will not be able to read this blog much less engage in this conversation unless someone tells you about it first. Still, the question remains, why this and why now?