Listening to the Bible

This year, I had been planning to read my way through the new ESV Study Bible I was hoping to get for Christmas. But sadly, due to the supply shortage, it didn’t arrive (I’m getting it this Christmas instead), so I came up with a change of plan. I have been listening my way through the entire ESV Bible in MP3, in a version called “The Listener’s Bible” read by Max McLean.

First Impressions

Max McLean has a rather strange accent, which took some time to get used to. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any British accent reading of the ESV available. The guy is a reading machine though, having completed three versions of the Bible, plus numerous other audio books.

Reading Plan

I decided to go with a similar approach to Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s reading plan. I listen to four or five chapters a day, which is just about enough to cover the entire Bible plus the New Testament and Psalms twice.

It typically takes around 15 minutes, as most chapters of the Bible can be read in around 3 minutes, with some books such as the gospels or historical books averaging more like 5 minutes per chapter.

Getting set up is a bit of a pain. I don’t have an MP3 player that would be usable for navigating the whole Bible, so I use my laptop PC. I keep track of what I’ve listened to in OneNote, and set up a playlist for each day in Windows Media Player. The search feature makes it quick to find the chapter to play, and most media players keep track of your play count for each file, so you can see easily where you are up to if you have lost track.

Holidays are a bit problematic. I have taken my laptop with me on some, while on others (camping!) I have had to catch up on my listening after getting back.


Losing concentration can always be a problem with daily Bible reading. I wondered whether listening would make it easier or harder. My first problem is the simple fact that I have my laptop on, which tempts me greatly to start looking at Twitter, or email or facebook or news.

My second problem is that if your mind wanders, even to think about what you have just heard, the narration just continues. It is especially hard not to let your mind wander, as the spoken word comes at you much slower than reading.

The technique I have settled upon is using the online ESV Study Bible website. This allows me to read along, and highlight bits that stand out. You can add your own notes, and if you own an ESV Study Bible, you have full access to the study notes. Again, it is possible for me to start reading ahead and not really be listening to the narration, but at least its the Bible I’m looking at.

Another issue I found was that having a playlist meant that I quickly moved from a chapter in one book of the Bible to another part of the Bible with barely a moment for reflection, making it seem quite disjointed. I am now tending to listen to at least three consecutive chapters from the same book, which gives a good sense of flow.

And my final concentration issue is children. It’s amazing what mischief they get up to the minute you open your Bible!


I think one of the main benefits though of listening to the Bible is to hear things more in their context (hence the move to consecutive chapters). Probably the most beneficial way I found of listening, when I could discipline myself to do it, was to simply close my eyes and let the story be narrated at its own pace. This is especially useful in narrative parts of the Bible, which I tend to read through really fast with almost no pause for thought.

Another benefit is that, unlike if you attempt to read the Bible in a year, you can (if you are at all like me), sometimes find yourself racing through four chapters in five minutes flat, reading so fast that you can’t possibly have taken anything in. Listening does force you to slow down and take 15-20 minutes over it.


I’m glad I embarked upon this year of listening to the Bible, after going a few years without covering the entire Bible in a year. While I wish more of it had sunk in, I think any way we can find to let the words of Scripture hit us in a fresh way is worth trying.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who has practical suggestions on they keep their mind focused during Bible reading.

4 thoughts on “Listening to the Bible

  1. Hi Mark,
    I’ve been attempting to listen my way through the Bible this year. I originally did it on the PC, but did find it difficult to avoid allowing myself to be distracted. I have deliberately read and listened at the same time, doing both helps concentration, although the fact they are 2 different versions is a slight hindrance!

    Since I bought an MP3 player a few weeks ago, which helps with the PC distraction issue and also allows me to sit somewhere else. I download a book or two at a time, and then delete them off when I’ve done. I have been running through from Genesis to Revelation (currently just finished Hosea)

    I vary my reading, so I do not listen every day, and other days I am listening/reading for 30 minutes or so.

    The recording I have been using is one done by David Field, here:

    My evaluation is that it has been very good for the sake of covering the whole bible in a year, but I have often struggled to maintain concentration and have not done much meditation. I am planning to switch to Spanish for my daily reading next year, and probably slow down the pace in order to do more chewing.

    I don’t have any great tips on keeping the mind focused!

  2. One thing i’ve heard which has helped a bit is to keep paper handy & if something else like ‘i must pay that bill’ springs to mind pause, write it down & move on with the Scriptures knowing that i can do ‘that’ afterwards & not forget.

    Just a small practical thing

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  4. I listen to the Bible and absolutely love it.. For me, the best way is to listen at night when I go to bed. Turn off the light and turn the iPod on.. It’s wonderful. You’re relaxed, there are no distractions or time restrictions and you’re receptive. Like lying back in bed listening to God’s Word unfold, it’s like your parent reading to you. I just soak it in. I recommend James Earl Jones as a wonderful narrator of the New Testament (KJV) and for the Old Testament I’m enjoying the Word of Promise audio Bible.. (NKJV)

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