The Bible is a large and complex book spanning thousands of years of history. With 66 different books written by over 40 authors, it can be intimidating to know where to start when reading it for the first time. As Christians, reading and understanding the Bible is fundamental to our faith, so it’s important to have a plan when diving into God’s word.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the best places for new believers to begin reading the Bible, provide tips for getting the most out of your reading, and share key takeaways to understand as you embark on this journey. My recommendations come from my experiences as an Evangelical Christian studying and teaching the Bible for many years.
The Bible is the inspired word of God, providing us guidance, wisdom, and truth for living a Christian life. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) says:
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All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Therefore, reading the Bible should be a top priority for every Christian. However, with dozens of books and thousands of pages, the Bible can seem overwhelming for someone new to studying it. Where should you start? What’s the best way to read and understand it? This guide will answer these questions and more.
Here are some key takeaways as you begin reading God’s word:
- The Bible is divided into the Old Testament (before Jesus) and the New Testament (the life of Jesus and early church). Focus first on the New Testament.
- Begin with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to read about Jesus’ life, then move to the rest of the New Testament.
- Take your time, read short passages, and ask questions to properly understand each book and story.
- Pray before you read and ask God to reveal His truth to you through His word.
- Find a reading plan or structure to help guide you through the Bible.
- Referencing a study Bible or commentary can provide useful context and background information.
- Set aside quiet time consistently to read the Bible, ideally every day.
- Joining a Bible study group is a great way to read and discuss the Bible with other Christians.
With these tips in mind, let’s dive into the best places to start when approaching the Bible for the first time or looking to renew your commitment to reading God’s word regularly.
Start with the Gospels
The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are the first four books of the New Testament and provide detailed accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They reveal who Jesus claimed to be and are fundamental to Christian theology.
For anyone new to the Bible, the Gospels are the obvious place to start reading to get familiar with Jesus’ life and teachings. Getting to know Jesus intimately is crucial for every Christian. As Philippians 3:8 (NKJV) expresses:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
Each Gospel provides a unique portrait of Jesus, so it’s important to read all four to get a complete understanding. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and fastest-paced, providing a swift overview of Jesus’ ministry, while the Gospel of John focuses more on His divine nature and spiritual teachings.
When reading the Gospels:
- Pray and ask God to reveal Jesus to you in a deeper way.
- Read slowly and carefully, focusing on Jesus’ words and actions.
- Pay attention to interactions between Jesus and others.
- Notice the specific details chosen by each writer.
- Examine Jesus’ teachings on God’s kingdom and salvation.
- Look for how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
- Contemplate how Jesus’ life and sacrifice relates to your own life today.
Absorbing the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels establishes the essential foundation from which to build the rest of your Bible reading.
Explore the Book of Acts
After the Gospels, the Book of Acts is a logical next step for new Bible readers. Acts was written by Luke as the sequel to his Gospel, and chronicles the early church’s beginnings and growth after Jesus ascended to heaven.
Reading Acts gives insight into:
- The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and His empowerment of believers.
- The apostles’ preaching and spread of the Gospel across the Roman Empire.
- Saul’s conversion to become the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.
- Paul’s three missionary journeys to spread Christianity through Asia Minor and Europe.
- The councils, persecutions, challenges, and miracles the early church experienced.
Acts provides crucial context to understand the epistles that follow as you read the New Testament. It transitions from Jesus’ life to how the Gospel message exploded across continents in just decades, showing how God upheld His promise to make disciples of all nations.
When reading Acts:
- Pay attention to the work of the Holy Spirit among believers.
- Notice the boldness of the apostles in spreading the Gospel.
- Consider how God transformed Saul from persecutor to global missionary.
- Reflect on the challenges faced by the growing Christian church.
- Think about parallels between the early church and the church today.
Read Paul’s Epistles
With the narratives of Jesus and the early church under your belt, the next section of Scripture to focus on is the New Testament epistles. These letters were written by church leaders (mostly Paul) to provide teaching, correction, and encouragement to early churches throughout the Roman Empire.
Paul’s epistles in particular give clear explanations of Christian theology and doctrine central to the faith. Some of his most notable letters include:
Romans: Paul’s magnum opus on salvation, righteousness, and justification by faith.
1 & 2 Corinthians: Writings addressing ethics, spiritual gifts, church order, and resurrection.
Galatians: Paul’s defense of salvation by faith alone, not works.
Ephesians: A letter emphasizing church unity in Christ and God’s plan of salvation.
Philippians: Joy and encouragement for believers in the midst of hardship and persecution.
Colossians: Christ’s preeminence over creation and false, human philosophies.
Reading these letters will strengthen your doctrinal foundations and equip you to explain core tenets of Christianity. Pay attention to the historical context, metaphors, exhortations to holy living, and rich theology contained in these epistles.
Read the Rest of the New Testament
At this point you’ve read the major parts of the New Testament – the narratives, history, and theology. Don’t stop! Take some time to read through the other books and letters:
Hebrews: Explains Christ’s superiority over the Old Testament law.
James: A practical book on living out authentic faith through good works.
1 Peter and 2 Peter: Encouragement for believers facing persecution.
1 John, 2 John, 3 John: Focus on love, discernment of truth, and obedience.
Jude: Warning against ungodly teachers distorting grace into license to sin.
Revelation: Apocalyptic prophecy depicting God’s ultimately victory over evil.
Each book provides unique details to complete your understanding of the New Testament. Reading them will equip you with a thorough grasp of the Bible’s second half.
Expand into the Old Testament
Up to this point we’ve focused only on the New Testament, but the Old Testament is equally important as God’s inspired word. The Old Testament lays the history, poetry, prophecies, and foundations leading to Jesus and the Gospel message revealed in the New Testament.
Here are some key Old Testament books to focus on first as a new reader:
Genesis: The origins – creation, humanity’s fall into sin, God’s covenant with Abraham, and the patriarchs.
Exodus: Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and God gives the 10 Commandments and the Law.
1 & 2 Samuel: The rise of Israel’s monarchy and stories of kings Saul and David.
Psalms: The prayer and poetry hymnal of the Bible. Rich in worship and emotion.
Isaiah: Grand prophesies anticipating the Messiah and God’s restoration of Israel.
Daniel: Dreams and prophecies including the end times and God’s eternal kingdom.
Malachi: The last Old Testament book, anticipating the coming Messiah Jesus.
These books provide narrative history interspersed with crucial prophecies pointing to Jesus Christ. As you read, notice foreshadowing and symbolism predicting Christ’s future sacrifice and redemption for mankind. Finding Jesus in the Old Testament will deepen your Bible understanding.
Helpful Tips for Reading the Bible More Effectively
Reading through the major sections of the Bible outlined above can take months or over a year. Here are some tips to help you read the Bible more effectively and get the most out of your time studying God’s word:
Set aside quiet and consistent time – Schedule a regular time each day to read, even if just for 10-15 minutes. Quiet your heart, pray, and commit this time solely to meeting God through His word.
Read short sections – It’s better to read one or two chapters thoughtfully per day than rush through large sections without comprehending. Let God’s truth marinate.
Use a reading plan – Pick a Bible reading plan or schedule to structure your progression through books. Reading Plans on the Bible app or websites like BibleStudyTools.com can help with this.
Read multiple translations – Comparing translations like NIV, ESV, NKJV helps gain full meaning. Paraphrase versions like The Message can also provide fresh perspective.
Reference a study Bible – Study Bibles have annotations explaining terms, historical context, meanings, etc. to enrich your reading. The NKJV Study Bible is quite thorough.
Discuss passages with others – Joining a Bible study group provides community to discuss revelations, questions, and applications of your reading.
Pray before reading – Ask God to open your heart and mind, teach you by His Spirit, and conform you to Christ. Scripture is meant to be read in an attitude of prayer.
Meditate and memorize – Meditating on verses and scripture memorization cement God’s word deep within us, to be recalled and lived out.
Apply to your life – As you read each passage, ask yourself “How does this apply to my life today?” Scripture is meant to transform our hearts and actions.
This guide provides a strategic pathway to dive into God’s word for anyone new to studying the Bible. Begin with the Gospels to know Jesus intimately, then Acts to understand the early church. Paul’s epistles establish core doctrines and the rest of the New Testament completes the picture. Finally, key Old Testament books add context and history.
Absorb the Bible slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Find support through Bible studies and discussion groups. Lean on study resources and translations to illuminate your reading. Most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you each day through God’s living word. He will clarify truth and align your life closer with Jesus. Be patient and persistent – spending regular time in the Bible will enrich your relationship with God and understanding of the Scriptures.
May this guide set you on a journey to treasure the Bible and draw nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ!