I remember one Saturday when we were driving across the country with our two young children in the backseat. Our car sputtered and died, and thankfully a lovely older couple stopped and took us to their home. They helped us find a local tow truck and garage mechanic to fix our car on the weekend.
It was a relief to have these hospitable people guide us to where we needed to get advice and help in a new and unknown location.
By analogy, as a new Christian, you may feel confused or even overwhelmed when it comes to deciding how to begin reading the Bible? Who do you ask? Where do you go for advice?
Where To Begin
Like many challenging opportunities, the toughest part is knowing where to begin. And this is especially important because the Bible is unique. It is God's personal communication with you. Scripture is more than words on a page (or screen) but a spiritual experience. God actually speaks to us through it and uses it to transform our lives.
Which Bible Translation?
Since understanding what you are reading is crucial, it's helpful to pick a Bible translation faithful to what the original languages said but is also readable. Three of my favorite English translations are:
Although others are excellent as well.
Which Book Do I Start With?
The next question is, "Where to begin reading?" Remember that the Bible is not a novel but a compilation of sixty-six books by forty different authors written over 1,500 years in various literary genres and historical circumstances.
Start by learning about Jesus in one of the first four books of the New Testament called the Gospels. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) focus on Christ's birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Each Gospel is written for a specific audience.
The first book I recommend reading is John. John was known as "the disciple that Jesus loved" (John 13:23), and his Gospel is a great place to start to appreciate who Jesus is as the perfect God-man.
After John, read Luke, who is a first-rate historian and chronicler. Then read Acts, also written by Luke, which tells of the early church after Jesus ascended back to heaven.
After Acts, it makes sense to read some of the letters (or "epistles") written by six apostles (Paul, James, John, Peter, Jude, and the unknown author of Hebrews). Each letter was written to Christians addressing various issues on how to live faithfully within the context of their church community and local culture.
Since Paul wrote most of the New Testament books, it makes sense to read his letters first. Begin with Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. Follow these up with his more challenging book of Romans. This masterpiece letter profoundly affected some of history's most famous Christians, including Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Wesley.
Now To the Old Testament
Now take a break and go to the Old Testament and read Genesis and then Exodus.
After reading these Old Testament books, return to the New Testament and read James, 1, 2, and 3 John 1, 2 Peter and Jude.
Then back to the Old Testament books to read stories of the Israelite's faith journey in Joshua through Job.
After this, you can finish Paul's letters Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
Returning to the Old Testament, read Solomon's advice in Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
At this point, you have a good grasp of the Bible and can decide what you want to read or re-read!
But consider using a "study Bible" or commentary to dig deeper into the text and to help you understand the literary and historical contexts of the more challenging books of the Bible. Some of these harder-to-understand books include:
- The Old Testament books of Leviticus through Deuteronomy
- The seventeen "Major and Minor Prophets" books (Isaiah through Malachi)
- The New Testament books Hebrews and Revelation.
What About Other Reading Guides?
This order should help you start with easier-access Bible books and graduate to more challenging books. This order should help overcome the frustration of starting at the book of Genesis and attempting to read straight through.
Another beneficial study approach is to read the "One-Year Bible" (online or in a printed Bible) that breaks down the entire Bible into 365 segments. Each segment includes readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Proverbs, and Psalms. You can start reading the January 1st entry or pick it up mid-year and continue through the following year.
How Do I Prepare for Reading the Bible?
To maximize your time with God's Word, find a quiet spot to read. Have a notebook to write your insights and questions while reading.
Before reading, pray that God will illuminate his Word by preparing your heart and mind to receive what his Spirit wants to show you (John 16:13). After you pray, read a few verses from Proverbs (wisdom for the day) and Psalms (worship songs you can use as a prayer) and then move into your Bible study.
How Much Do I Read?
Set realistic goals to help you maintain a daily schedule. Plan on reading through an entire book of the Bible (a little bit at a time). And avoid jumping around. Studying God's word is a life-long marathon, not a sprint.
Read slowly and thoughtfully. Remember, when interpreting Scripture, there is only one meaning for every passage. And that is the author's meaning for his original audience [LINK to blog Investigating Scripture with the CIA]. But once we know the original meaning, we can discover the underlying universal principle. Then we can apply that principle to our current time and situation.
When To Start
The best way to begin reading the Bible is to start today! There are many additional reading plans available on the internet and Bible apps. The above recommendation is only one of many. Start today and commit to reading God's word every day for the next thirty days. By the end of just one month, you will feel nearer to the Lord, be more at peace, and will see God helping you living life more like Jesus.