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In hearing the Bible read, the Word takes flesh before us and changes the souls of those who hear it. David Suchet’s delivery in his audiobook version combines force and gentleness. Never do you sense that he is simply doing a celebrity gig, or offering the Bible as a literary monument; he truly believes in the words.

When I was about thirteen my father bought an unusual Christmas present for the family: the Holy Bible on tape. It was read by a fine old-school actor, Alexander Scourby, and occupied some fifty cassettes (remember those?) in a royal-purple box. Scourby had the voice of a patriarch, rolling and resonant, and the recording brought much pleasure—even if the King James translation wasn’t ideal for this Catholic boy. In any case, I got to know a masterpiece of the English language and was richer for it.

More recently another famous actor has recorded the Bible: Englishman David Suchet. You may know him as detective Hercule Poirot in the popular British TV series. I have always thought him a brilliant actor. As it happens, Mr. Suchet is also a serious Christian—an Anglican—and has been quite public about his faith for many years. He has hosted the fine documentaries In the Footsteps of St. Paul and In the Footsteps of St. Peter. On YouTube you can watch him in discussion with an Eastern Orthodox group in London about having faith in the contemporary world. Mr. Suchet comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful, conservative Christian believer, someone who definitely “gets it.” You can also see a video of him reading the complete Gospel of Mark in St. Paul’s Cathedral, a mesmerizing experience.

Mr. Suchet’s complete recording of the Bible is available as an audio download; you can also obtain separately such parts of the Bible as the New Testament, the Poetry Books, or the Epistles. Mr. Suchet reads the New International Version, a translation which he admits will not please everyone. (At least it’s better than a 1970s paraphrase Bible I once owned. “Judge not lest ye be judged” was rendered as “Go easy on others.”)

I have downloaded the Gospels and am savoring them day by day. Mr. Suchet’s delivery combines force and gentleness—the phrase “power in reserve” comes to mind. He does not give us the nicey-nice Jesus of popular lore; there is an uncompromising sternness and irony in His speeches. When He denounces the hypocrisy of the scribes, the words sting. Never do you sense that Mr. Suchet is simply doing a celebrity gig, or offering the Bible as a literary monument; he truly believes in the words. There is in his reading a humility and directness likely belonging to Mr. Suchet himself.

I bet that the power of David Suchet’s Gospel reading derives, in part, from Hercule Poirot. Mr. Suchet has spoken in interviews about the appeal of the Belgian sleuth—of how he is a “great moral compass” who “when you’re with him, you feel everything’s all right in the world.” As a foreigner in England, Poirot is able to mix with all strata of society; he particularly gets along well with and has compassion for the servant class. He’s an excellent listener, able to see into the workings of a person’s psychology. In the denouement, when Poirot reveals the identity of the culprit, he becomes the instrument of divine justice, bringing what is hidden to light.

A good rehearsal, I should think, for embodying the Son of God and the poets and prophets of the Old Testament. Despite all his roles on stage, film, and television, Mr. Suchet’s Bible will stand as one of his signature accomplishments.

* * *

I would say that David Suchet is, in his low-key way, an evangelist—a rare thing in today’s world and especially in the acting profession. Drama and the faith are not often yoked together, but this is a mistake and listening to Mr. Suchet’s work reminds us of the relationship.

An actor—particularly a fine classical actor like Mr. Suchet—studies the context behind the words he speaks and attempts to enter into the spirit of the times when they were written. Not too dissimilar, when you think about it, from how a thoughtful person should approach the text of the Bible. Such a reader uses rational analysis to bring out proper emphasis, to pace and punctuate, to bring linguistic intelligence and psychological insight, to create audible rhetoric that leaps from the page. To read Jesus’ parables with these principles in mind is not unlike reciting a soliloquy of Shakespeare.

The experience of audible reading used to be an everyday part of our culture. In the nineteenth century American homes were furnished with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, and both were often read aloud by the hearth. Elocution was a widely taught art, and crowds willingly stood to hear lengthy speeches and debates. A stock of popular literature, passed on by voice, created a common literacy. Even more, it helped connect people to the physicality of words, making the text more than merely intellectual.

Nowadays we hear the Bible read in installments at our weekly liturgies (not usually by David Suchet, alas), but sustained reading aloud is rare. Most of our reading is silent and abstract. Yet reading out loud is irreplaceable. It is a social act, incarnating the words and message in a personal way. In hearing the Bible read, the Word takes flesh before us. In the Catholic tradition, the reading of the Word of God at Mass as essentially different from ordinary recitation. It is performative and sacramental—God acting through the reading. The Word changes the souls of those who hear it.

Even listening to the Bible in one’s home can have a similar effect, provided one invests the proper attention. Although many people listen to audio Bibles while exercising or doing chores, the Word of God should never become background noise. The aural Bible is best treated as a springboard for prayer and meditation.

My own love for the Psalms grew from listening to Alexander Scourby’s readings in the evenings. The emotions of the Psalmist were realized vividly in Scourby’s cadences. When I later came to read and pray them on the printed page, the emotion stayed with me and infused the reading. The experience brought out the sense that the whole Bible in its many parts was an organic unity, carried through by the same human voice which might be the voice of God, the prophets, King David, or Christ Himself.

At a time when eloquent speech is at a low ebb, we could all use fine biblical reading—whether in the flesh or in the simulacrum of recording. So here’s to biblical readers, from Scourby to Mr. Suchet to your parish lector. They are unique artists and apostles, without whom we would be poorer in spirit.

Editor’s note: We highly recommend Mr. Suchet’s audio Bible. Should you purchase the version with the complete Scripture you will need a listing of Scripture as it corresponds to the chapters of the audio book. We have appended the one we use at the bottom of this page.

This essay first appeared here in January 2019.

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The featured image, uploaded by user Phil Chambers, is a picture of David Suchet and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

*The Audible parts/chapters are on the left, and the corresponding Bible books/chapters on the right.

PART 1, Genesis 1 – Leviticus 9

Ch. 1-50: Genesis 1-50

Ch. 51-90: Exodus 1-40

Ch. 91-99: Leviticus 1-9

PART 2, Leviticus 10 – Joshua 11

Ch. 1-18: Leviticus 10-27

Ch. 19-54: Numbers 1-36

Ch. 55-88: Deuteronomy 1-34

Ch. 89-99: Joshua 1-11

PART 3, Joshua 12 – I Kings 6

Ch. 1-13: Joshua 12-24

Ch. 14-34: Judges 1-21

Ch. 35-38: Ruth 1-4

Ch. 39-69: I Samuel 31

Ch. 70-93: II Samuel 24

Ch. 94-99: I Kings 1-6

PART 4, I Kings 7 – II Chronicles 29

Ch. 1-16: I Kings 7-22

Ch. 17-41: II Kings 1-25

Ch. 42-70: I Chronicles 1-29

Ch. 71-99: II Chronicles 1-29

PART 5, II Chronicles 30 – Psalm 17

Ch. 1-7: II Chronicles 30-36

Ch. 8-17: Ezra 1-10

Ch. 18-30: Nehemiah 1-13

Ch. 31-40: Esther 1-10

Ch. 41-82: Job 1-42

Ch. 83-99: Psalms 1-17

PART 6, Psalm 18 – Psalm 116

Ch. 1-99: Psalms 18 -116

PART 7, Psalm 117 – Isaiah 14

Ch. 1-34: Psalms 117-150

Ch. 35-65: Proverbs 1-31

Ch. 66-77: Ecclesiastes 1-12

Ch. 78-85: Song of Songs 1-8

Ch. 86-99: Isaiah 1-14

PART 8, Isaiah 15 – Jeremiah 47

Ch. 1-52: Isaiah 15-66

Ch. 53-99: Jeremiah 1-47

PART 9, Jeremiah 48 – Jonah 2

Ch. 1-5: Jeremiah 48-52

Ch. 6-10: Lamentations 1-5

Ch. 11-58: Ezekiel 1-48

Ch. 59-70: Daniel 1-12

Ch. 71-84: Hosea 1-14

Ch. 85-87: Joel 1-3

Ch. 88-96: Amos 1-9

Ch. 97: Obadiah

Ch. 98-99: Jonah 1-2

PART 10, Jonah 3 – Luke 17

Ch. 1-2: Jon 3-4

Ch. 3-9: Micah 1-7

Ch. 10-12: Nahum 1-3

Ch. 13-15: Habakkuk 1-3

Ch. 16-18: Zephaniah 1-3

Ch. 19-20: Haggai 1-2

Ch. 21-34: Zechariah 1-14

Ch. 35-38: Malachi 1-4

Ch. 39-66: Matthew 1-28

Ch. 67-82: Mark 1-16

Ch. 83-99: Luke 1-17

PART 11, Luke 18 – II Cor 11

Ch. 1-7: Luke 18-24

Ch. 8-28: John 1-21

Ch. 29-56: Acts 1-28

Ch. 57-72: Romans 1-16

Ch. 73-88: I Corinthians 1-16

Ch. 89-99: II Corinthians 1-11

PART 12, II Corinthians 12 – Hebrews 6

Ch. 1-2: II Corinthians 12-13

Ch. 3-8: Galatians 1-6

Ch. 9-14: Ephesians 1-6

Ch. 15-18: Philippians 1-4

Ch. 19-22: Colossians 1-4

Ch. 23-27: I Thessalonians 1-5

Ch. 28-30: II Thessalonians 1-3

Ch. 31-36: I Timothy 1-6

Ch. 37-40: II Timothy 1-4

Ch. 41-43: Titus 1-3

Ch. 44: Philemon

Ch. 45-50: Hebrews 1-6

PART 13, Hebrews 7 – Revelations 22

Ch. 1-7: Hebrews 7-12

Ch. 8-12: James 1-5

Ch. 13-17: I Peter 1-5

Ch. 18-20: II Peter 1-3

Ch. 21-25: I John 1-5

Ch. 26: II John 

Ch. 27: III John

Ch. 28: Jude

Ch. 29-50: Revelation 1-22

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