The spoken word of God

Holy Bible: NIV / New International Version, read by David Suchet, six MP3 CDs (Hodder & Stoughton, €50.00 / £39.99)

Today we are more used to the Bible as text which we read to ourselves. Yet it is clear from the book itself that it was more normal for its original audience to hear it read out in the Jewish synagogue or the Christian assembly.

It is all too often overlooked that Jesus as a teacher read the Scriptures himself in the synagogue – as portrayed by James Tissot in one of his series of notable Bible reconstructions. As a literate man Jesus was unusual in his own day.

So the right way to hear the revelations, not only of the New Testament, but also of the Old Testament, which Christians saw as making straight the way for a new life, is to hear them read aloud.

These comments are by way of introduction to a new venture, which will hopefully be a great success. David Suchet has been engaged by the publishers to read the complete text of the Bible in the New International Version, the translation of the Scriptures which is the mostly widely used among the various Christian traditions.

This is a thing that has never been done before by a single person. 

David Suchet is one of the most accomplished actors of our day. He is famous, of course, for his by now classic embodiment of Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s Catholic detective (though his religion is not made all that much of in the many books devoted to him).

But Suchet’s other work has revealed a wide variety of treatment.

He is an ideal choice, with a distinctive voice, a smooth and yet textured delivery, and fine presence and control of breathing.


Reading aloud is an accomplishment which in fact very few people can achieve. What the voice can achieve in the expression of emotion comes as a gift to only a very few persons. One thinks of General de Gaulle, Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas.

(Most poets, these days, are poor at reading their poetry – one would think having written what they are saying they might be able to recite it from memory. This not an impossible thing: it was commonplace in the old Irish tradition.)

This recording will be found useful not only by individuals, but also by parish groups and prayer circles. It might be noted though that the NIV does not contain the deuterocanonical texts (‘the Apocrypha’ of Protestant tradition) which makes it incomplete for some Catholic usages, but as the interest of this recording will, I suspect, be on the Pentateuch and on the New Testament this will not detract from its use and its enjoyment by many Catholics.

The revelation of God’s word was once a tale told aloud. Some texts such as Genesis, The Song of Songs, Job come alive in this way; so to do the Gospels, especially the Epistles. These are personal letters from the apostles clearly intended to be read aloud in the Christian assemblies to which they are addressed.  

To hear them read aloud in their integrity today is to relive, in a way, the experience of the early Christians, for whom the Word of God, especially the powerful narrative of the Passion and Resurrection, was indeed something new, with fresh things to be realised at every hearing.