Johnny Cash Reads the Entire New Testament

The best gospel recordings—by Aretha Franklin, The Sta­ples Singers, The Carter Fam­i­ly, even Elvis—hum with a deep sin­cer­i­ty that can be tru­ly mov­ing, despite the unin­ten­tion­al­ly fun­ny earnest­ness of bal­lads like “He Touched Me” (not to men­tion some of those album cov­ers). You can add to the list of South­ern gospel greats the name of John­ny Cash, who, like Elvis, got his start singing gospel and returned fre­quent­ly to the hymns of his youth. Unlike the King, how­ev­er, Cash also returned to the fold in the 1970s, part­ly influ­enced by his wife June Carter.

Cash would record a total of eight solo gospel albums with Colum­bia Records over his career, and a sort of old-time gospel great­est hits with The Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet (Cash, Elvis, Jer­ry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins). He wrote a 1986 nov­el­iza­tion of the life of the Apos­tle Paul called Man in White, and a song of the same name (below), and in 1990, the aging star record­ed the entire New Tes­ta­ment, New King James Ver­sion. Hear the Gospel of Matthew above, and lis­ten to the whole thing on Youtube. Run­ning over 19 hours, the record­ing was repack­aged in 2008 as a DVD called Chap­ter and Verse, with a slideshow and a CD of 14 of Cash’s gospel record­ings.

Like his life and career, Cash’s reli­gious jour­ney was tumul­tuous, but once he’d kicked his addic­tion, he became some­thing of a “staunch, con­ser­v­a­tive Bible thumper,” writ­ing in the intro­duc­tion to The Man in White, “Please under­stand that I believe the Bible, the whole Bible, to be the infal­li­ble, indis­putable Word of God.” His the­o­log­i­cal views may have tem­pered over the years, but they remained staunch­ly Evan­gel­i­cal to the end of his life. That said, Cash “was a pri­vate man and pre­ferred to keep his faith to him­self,” once declar­ing, “If I’m with some­one who doesn’t want to talk about it, I don’t talk about it. I don’t impose myself on any­body in any way, includ­ing reli­gion.”

As in every­thing else Cash record­ed, his con­vic­tion comes through in his read­ing above. While he didn’t preach, he did prac­tice what he under­stood to be the val­ues of his faith, stand­ing up for the poor, impris­oned, and oppressed and against the pow­er struc­tures that con­stant­ly beat them down. Cash’s humil­i­ty and com­mit­ment to prin­ci­ple have inspired mil­lions of peo­ple who share his beliefs and mil­lions who don’t. To learn more about this lit­tle-dis­cussed side of the Man in Black, lis­ten to the one-hour radio doc­u­men­tary below from Pub­lic Radio Exchange.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ani­mat­ed Video: John­ny Cash Explains Why Music Became a Reli­gious Call­ing

Two Prison Con­certs That Defined an Out­law Singer: John­ny Cash at San Quentin and Fol­som (1968–69)

The First Episode of The John­ny Cash Show, Fea­tur­ing Bob Dylan & Joni Mitchell (1969)

Har­vard Presents Two Free Online Cours­es on the Old Tes­ta­ment

Free Online Reli­gion Cours­es

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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