- Start with “bite-size” While reading the Bible cover-to-cover is worthwhile, it’s not necessarily the best place to start. Pick a book to start with (more on that below) and read it. You do not need to read the book in a single setting. You might want to start by reading just one or a few chapters at a time.
- And, if you are going to read regularly, choose a schedule that fits you. Start with doable goals. You probably should not start with “I’ll read 30 minutes per day, every day.” Start small; be successful; and build on that! Allow flexibility in your schedule (maybe 4 or 5 days a week rather than every day). Of course, you can always read more than you plan!
- Don’t stop reading if you don’t understand what you see. Keep pressing on! You will understand some of it, and, given time, you’ll understand more and more of it.
- Take notes, especially of questions you have. Then meet with a pastor or another believer who knows the Bible well and discuss them.
- Use some method of keeping track of your reading. You could record it on a calendar, or you could use a Bible reading plan. Many Bible apps or Study Bibles have reading plans available. Be more concerned with regularly reading than mechanically sticking to a plan!
- Do not look at the process as a rule to follow (“checking a box” that says you read that day). Remind yourself that this is God speaking to you. Read it as you would a love letter from someone who loves you deeply! On the flip side, don’t beat yourself up if you do not read as planned. In honesty, all of us will have those days when we fail to – or just don’t want to – read as planned. Don’t give up! Instead, pick up the book and start again where you left off.
Where should you start? Wherever you want! It depends on what you want to achieve and your present knowledge of the Bible. If you want to read the entire Bible, start with Genesis. If you want to read the New Testament, start with Matthew. Or, start with one of the easier books! Here are a few ideas for books to start with if you do not have a plan. You do not need to read them in this order; I list them in the order in which they occur in the Bible:
Genesis. This is the “book of beginnings” and sets the stage for everything else that follows.
Psalms. These are songs of Israel. An advantage of reading Psalms is that each chapter stands alone. These songs use a lot of Hebrew poetry with a lot of figurative language. Psalms is a great book through which to learn more about the character of God!
Proverbs. In some ways, Proverbs is a tough book to read since the book is a compilation of memorable sayings often with little connection to the surrounding verses. In other words, each verse or small section of verses stand alone. This book, too, is Hebrew poetry. Keep in mind that proverbs are not promises (unless it says something that God will do). They are general observations of life. For example, “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1), describes how it usually works, but not all the time. In this case, our task is to give the gentle answer, but we cannot control how the other person responds!
John. This book has some of the clearest passages about how we receive eternal life, and thus some of the most basic truths about salvation. John uses the word “believe” more than any other book! On the other hand, it has some complex teachings as well, including the deity of Christ (John 1:1) and the interworking of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15).
Romans. This is Paul’s magnum opus. In it, he describes the extent of man’s sin, justification by faith (“declared righteous”), living in the power of the Holy Spirit, eternal security (“once saved always saved”) and more. It speaks volumes about God’s grace!
Ephesians. This short letter talks about the uniqueness of our salvation (Chapter one speaks of the Father’s role, the Son’s role, and the Holy Spirit’s role in that salvation), the uniqueness of the church, and practical Christian living. It has one of the major sections in the Bible on family relationships.
Philippians. This short letter focuses on rejoicing in the Lord. It has less doctrinal content than most of Paul’s writings, but he does write about the theology of Jesus became man (the incarnation).
Dig in, start reading, and enjoy your adventure!!!!
A Brief Overview of the Bible
Don’t be surprised at first if parts of the Bible are confusing or difficult to understand. That is normal! The good news is, given time and perseverance; it will become easier to understand. Plus, some sections are quite clear, so even if you know nothing about the Bible, it’s still worth pursuing.
The Bible was completed nearly 2,000 years ago. About 40 different authors from different backgrounds and in a variety of settings penned its words over a period of about 1500 years. It contains 66 books; 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. Yet, the Bible is consistent within itself, telling a coherent story. The Bible is not arranged chronologically, but there is a structure in the way the books are arranged.
Genesis through Deuteronomy are the “Books of Moses,” or the “books of the Law.” They are also called the Pentateuch (which means “five scrolls”). The books contain historical narrative from creation to the death of Moses just before Israel entered the land. It also gives the content of the Law (“The Mosaic Covenant”).
Joshua through Esther give the history of Israel from the death of Moses to the rebuilding of the Temple when Israel returned to their land after being deported by Babylonians. The accounts recorded in I and II Kings overlap those in I and II Chronicles. I and II Kings emphasize the idolatry and rebellion of both the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel (respectively consisting of 10 and 2 of the original twelve tribes) which resulting in their conquest by Assyria (the Northern Kingdom) and Babylon (the Southern Kingdom). I and II Chronicles focus on the Southern Kingdom and was written to encourage the remnant to obedience and faithfulness as they returned to their land.
Job through Song of Solomon are called “Wisdom Literature.” They focus on the character of God and on practical tools for living in light of His character. They use Hebrew poetry extensively.
Isaiah through Malachi are the prophets. The first five (Isaiah through Daniel) are called the “Major Prophets,” and the remaining twelve are called the “Minor Prophets,” based on the size of the book. Each book addresses the sins of the nation(s) to which the prophet speaks. They also provide messages of hope for restoration, that God has not and will not abandon Israel and Judah.
Matthew through John are called the “Gospels.” They tell of the life of Jesus, although they are not technically biographies. They focus on his public ministry ending with His death and resurrection. They record events that happened before the beginning of the church (Acts 2) and thus record events which occurred during the last few years under the Old Testament Law. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “Synoptic Gospels” (“seeing together”), as they paint similar pictures of Jesus and His ministry. They emphasize discipleship more than salvation. John, on the other hand, records many different details and events than the Synoptics and has a strong emphasis on evangelism, especially in chapters 1-12 (“..whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John 3:16).
Acts is a unique book in that it gives a historical narrative of the foundation and expansion of the early church. It is a transitional book. Theologically, the church began in Acts 2, but in practice, it took time to spread. Since Acts describes many events unique to this transitional period which are not necessarily standard practices for the church today, we need to be careful in how we apply it to our lives.
Romans through Philemon are the “Pauline Epistles,” so named because Paul was the author. They are instructional books written to local churches or individuals to instruct, encourage, and correct believers. Of these, Galatians through Colossians plus Philemon are called the “Prison Epistles” since Paul wrote them during his first imprisonment in Rome.
Hebrews through Jude are the “General Epistles,” written by several different authors. They, too, are instructional books for the church.
Revelation is an apocalyptic book, emphasizing future events, culminating in God’s final judgment against Satan, the nations, and all unbelievers. It ends with the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth and completes the story which began in Genesis. Revelation contains much symbolism and figurative language. While it is difficult to understand, it is nonetheless understandable!