How to Read the Bible in a Year

Some friends recently made the excellent decision to read through the entire Bible in the course of a year and asked for advice.  When I first read through the Bible in a year it had a transformative effect on my life.  Spiritually speaking, it was like eating a perfectly balanced diet for a year while working out daily!  I felt stronger; I had more energy for doing what I should do!  Although I had more questions, I felt I had more insight into God’s way of seeing things and familiarity with Sacred Scripture.

Here’s my advice about reading through the Bible.  Typically, people want to know what translation to read and what plan to follow.  Since it’s a rather ambitious goal to read through the Bible in a year, and since the goal is survey reading rather than study, I favor taking the path that entails as few difficulties as possible.

My advice about Bible translations is to pick whatever version you find easiest to read and understand.  This advice scandalizes some of my good friends who want people to read only the purest translation, but I stand by it!

I first read through the Living Bible, a contemporary paraphrase translation.  These days the easy-to-read translations include the Good News Bible (also called TEV, Today’s English Version), the New Jerusalem Bible, the Contemporary English Translation, and The Message.

People cannot get all the Catholic books in the Message and in many other Protestant translations (Protestant Bibles have seven fewer books in the Old Testament), so they may want to rule out those.  Look for an imprimatur by a bishop at the front to recognize approved Catholic editions that include all the books.

Another question people have is whether or not to use a Bible with notes.

I think it is really important to own a Bible with notes to consult when questions arise.  Most editions of the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] and the New Jerusalem Bible have notes; the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible has very helpful notes, but so far only includes the New Testament.

Nevertheless, when reading through the whole Bible, I prefer NOT to use a Bible with extensive content footnotes since the temptation to read the notes as one goes along can cause readers to bog down.

If people want a Bible that is already formatted for daily reading (which really helped me), the Catholic One Year Bible is a great option.  Various translations are available at Amazon including the New Living Translation (an update of the version I first read) and the New Revised Standard Version.  The Catholic One Year Bible gives a daily selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and the deuteroncanonical books.

When I used the One Year Bible I appreciated the variety of readings daily: if one didn’t speak to me, very often another did.  The only thing I didn’t care for was the canonical order of the books—I’d rather spread the four gospels through the year rather than read them all at once at the beginning.

If you choose a Bible that’s formatted for daily reading that begins with Jan 1, I suggest starting at whatever the current date is.  At this point in the year, catching up is hard to do, and keeping current with the day’s date is a helpful motivation to stay on track.

Here’s another good option I just discovered on Amazon: My Daily Catholic Bible: 20 Minute Daily Readings.  This edition provides one OT and one NT reading from the New American Bible Revised Edition, along with a daily quotation from a saint.  (Previous editions exist using the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition.)  It spreads the Gospels through the year and looks very promising.  Another promising feature is that it gives readers the option of starting any day of the year and checking off readings as they are completed—another way of staying on track that allows a bit more flexibility.

For people who simply want a plan to read through the whole Catholic Bible, there are a variety of them online.  You can just google Catholic Daily Bible Reading Plan.  Here’s the link to one I found:  My friend and colleague, Dr. Mary Healy, just sent me a reading plan she created that includes two OT readings of diverse genre with one NT reading per day: Bible_in_a_year.

Other reading plans (that include the option of audio recordings of readings) are available on the Bible App for an IPhone, IPad, IPod or Droid and elsewhere on the internet.

Hope this post will help some Catholics to read through the entire Bible in a year.  It’s not too late to start!



Filed under Peter Williamson, Reading Scripture, Uncategorized

23 responses to “How to Read the Bible in a Year

  1. For those a bit more ambitious, add the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church to your efforts, A handy pdf from the Coming Home Network can be found here:

    A nice three month plan for reading through the Bible historically is provided by Jeff Cavins:

  2. Peter S. Williamson

    Both the reading plans you suggest are great additions. I’ve saved copies to share with others. Thanks!

  3. Tso

    For those a bit less ambitious, you could always just read the daily Mass readings and get, in three years, almost the whole Bible.(And what is left out is, in the wisdom of the church, not likely to be all that beneficial perhaps.)

  4. Peter S. Williamson

    Dear Tso,
    I used to think what you say above, but then learned I was very mistaken.
    The truth is that if a Catholic reads the Sunday and daily Mass readings everyday for three years he or she will read only 71.4% of the New Testament and 13.5% of the Old Testament! (Detailed information about lectionary coverage is available at

    Very much that is important is left out, especially of the OT. St. Paul says that “all Scripture”–referring at the time to the OT–is inspired and useful for instruction, correction, training, etc. (2 Tim 3:16). The Church is not failing us by selecting only some texts to read at Mass–she just never intended that our Scripture reading be confined to Mass!

    AS a seminary professor I have seen the consequence of seminarians who during their undergraduate philosophy studies only read the lectionary selections. Because they read or hear everything out of context, they are not familiar with the biblical books themselves or where anything can be found. In order to understand the Bible we need to read through, what is traditionally called lectio continua.

    Pope Benedict himself has strongly urged this. Before he was elected pope he used to exhort bishops who came to Rome on their ad limina visits recommending that all bishops and theologians read through the New Testament once per year and through the Old Testament once every two years.

    • I appreciate your response. I often hear it said that one would hear the “whole Bible” if he were to just go to Mass every day for three years. Obviously this is far from correct. On top of that, this doesn’t account for regular readings missed due to feast days and optional readings used on certain occasions, which often break the flow of the narrative and omit portions as presented in the Bible.

      • TSO

        Thanks, I had no idea that one wouldn’t get to anywhere close to the whole Bible in 3 years just by reading the Mass readings. I may have to get “My Daily Catholic Bible” since that seems manageable.

    • Thanks Dr. Williamson for your post, especially for repeating the exhortation of Pope Benedict for Bishops (and by analogy for priests and faithful) for yearly Scripture reading. I have found it a joy, and a challenge, to try to keep the congregation “up to speed” on the context of some of our first readings in daily Mass – lately from Samuel. God bless you

  5. The Journey Home/Coming Home Network has an excellent pamphlet for reading through the bible in a year along with reading through the whole CCC at the same time. It is very doable. My wife has been practising this method for three years. As former Protestants (I was an ordained minister for two decades) we take bible reading to heart. It’s great to meet and encourage Catholics to know and love the sacred Scriptures.

    Here is the link to the downloadable, freely distributed pamphlet from

  6. Michael Demers

    I really like the Healy reading plan. Thanks,
    -Mike D.

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