I had never read the Bible, which is to say, the whole Bible. The extent of my Bible reading had been the passages read during Sunday Mass and the occasional daily Mass. So when I learned about Dr. Taylor Marshall’s plan for reading the entire (Catholic) Bible in one year, I decided to do it.
This particular plan (there are many) breaks the Bible into 365 bite-size pieces, each consisting of two readings from the Old Testament and one reading from the New Testament — for example, Genesis 17–18, Psalm 9, and Matthew 7. I read from the Douay-Rheims version, published by Baronius Press, 2015. Each day’s reading took about 15–20 minutes.
Is this better than spending 15–20 minutes each day to read the Bible straight through? Probably not. But I found daily progress points helpful. Plus it was like reading two books at the same time, which, come to think of it, it was. Whatever the approach, at the end of the process, you are acquainted with the entire narrative.
I use the word “acquainted” deliberately to express the idea that reading the Bible once does little more than familiarize the reader with the contents of the entire book. As with reading a novel or watching a movie, you do not get it all the first time through. I would go so far as to suggest that when it comes to the Bible, you would not, by yourself, get it all in a lifetime of re-reading.
So why do it? Here are my ten takeaways from reading the entire Bible in a year.
1. Catholicism is a religion of faith and morals. Most Catholics I know are focused on the morals part. I liken the situation to the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. When Jesus visits their house, Martha busies herself with the necessities of hospitality (morals), while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus to hear what He has to say (faith). Martha complains, but Jesus tells her that Mary “has chosen the best part.” Daily Scripture reading re-focused me on the faith part of Catholicism.
2. Reading the entire Bible got me to that minimal level of knowledge that is required for advancing to a deeper understanding the Faith. In other words, my Bible studies have not ended. Reading the Bible awakened in me a desire to know more about many of the passages that I had read. It has led me to seek out many wonderful commentaries that are available online. Sure, you can read the Bible by yourself, but I am finding other people’s scholarship to be of enormous benefit.
3. I was probably not alone in thinking the Old Testament is interesting, but, as a Catholic, the New Testament is more important. Now I understand why the preponderance of the Catholic Bible comprises the Old Testament. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, in discussing how to identify false messiahs, suggested we ask, “Did anyone know you were coming?” Now I see how the Old Testament, with its prophecies and prefigurements, is essential to the New Testament. No religious leader, ancient or modern, can claim a backstory as powerful and compelling as that of Jesus Christ.
4. “There is nothing new under the sun.” I had no idea that this saying is a verse from the Bible, but there it is in Ecclesiastes 1:10. When it comes to vices and all manner of bad behavior, I found that the Bible chronicles all of it: anger, jealousy, deceit, adultery, treachery, betrayal, dishonesty, murder, sodomy, sacrilege, and all the rest of the deadly sins. They are all in the Bible, yet people commonly call it “the Good Book.” I think that is because the Bible also contains love, patience, sacrifice, perseverance, heroism, and all of the virtues. It shows us plainly which is which. Now, when I find myself thinking we live in a time of unprecedented madness and depravity, I can take some small consolation in knowing that it is not unprecedented.
5. Reading the Bible in 2019, the year of the Amazon Synod, I was particularly struck by (or I was particularly sensitized to) the one offense that occurs over and over again and is punished over and over again throughout the Old Testament: idolatry. It began early, while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. His brother Aaron, wishing to appease the impatient people, fashioned for them an idol in the form of a calf made of gold. It did not go well for them when Moses came down from the mountain, and I have no idea why the idolaters in the Vatican Gardens can think it will go any better for them. Nothing angers the God of Abraham quite like idolatry.
6. As I read the Bible, I thought about today’s feminists. They manifest their “strength” by killing their unborn children. But the Bible has stories of strong women who took on true adversaries in life-or-death situations. They had no need of labels, but “heroines” would be a good one. Consider Esther, who risked all to save the entire Jewish nation. Or Judith, who slew King Nebuchadnezzar’s top general while he slept. They were not social justice warriors. They were just warriors.
7. Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar, he is known to history. So are Ptolemy, Cleopatra, Augustus Caesar, Herod, Pontius Pilot, Alexander the Great, and King Darius. They are all in the Bible. Yet many documentaries about the Bible insinuate that events did not happen and people (including Jesus Christ) did not exist, unless modern scholarship can provide proof thereof. I now regard these documentaries as suspect. After reading the whole book, I put the burden of proof on modern scholarship to refute the biblical accounts.
8. “Feet of clay” is another saying that, I learned, comes from the Bible. Today it is commonly used to mean a character flaw in a person of prominence. I found the Bible to be loaded with such people, but the two that stand out are King David and his son, Solomon. For all his greatness, David committed adultery and murder. Solomon, for all his wisdom, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and when he was old, he worshiped the idol Moloch. These things I had never heard read from the pulpit. Learning about these towering figures taught me two things: one, we do not get the whole story from the Sunday readings, and two, character flaws in our religious and temporal leaders do not necessarily negate their abilities and achievements.
9. Reading the Bible got me interested in the general subject of bibles, especially the various versions and translations. It quickly became clear to me that the Bible — even the Catholic Bible — can be and has been subtly altered by people with an agenda. For this reason, I find the best Bible commentaries to be those by scholars who can read the Bible text in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.
10. What I thought might be drudgery turned out to be something I looked forward to every day. Oh, sure, there were some pretty dry genealogies to slog through, but most days, the reading was riveting. From the conquests of the Maccabees to the bribery of the Roman tomb guards to keep their mouths shut about the events of Easter morning, the book drew me in.
There you have it: my ten takeaways from reading the entire Bible in one year. And there is a bonus benefit: I am now a better Jeopardy player.
Raymond Kowalski is from Rochester, New York. He is a product of parochial elementary schools and The Aquinas Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and a law degree from The George Washington University. After a forty-year career in communications law, he is retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Virginia. They are the parents of three and grandparents of five.