Reading the Bible is an important part of the Christian life. It helps a person learn about God’s nature, character, and promises. The Bible, whose writings are inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17), also has stories about faithful men and women, which convict and encourage believers today. But where should a person start reading the Bible?
The Gospel of John is a great place to start reading the Bible. The stories in John teach people about who Jesus Christ is, what he is like, and why he came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:11). It’s also one of the easiest books in the Old or New Testament for a new Bible reader to understand.
How long will it take to read John? What books are good choices for reading after John? What is a Study Bible? What are some tips for reading the Bible regularly? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How Do You Study the Bible? to learn more.
Bible Reading for Beginners: Focus on Jesus to Start
Some who are new to reading the Bible may be inclined to start reading Genesis because it’s the first book listed. Others may turn to a book that piques their curiosity like Proverbs or Revelation.
While reading any part of the Bible is better than not reading it at all, there is wisdom in learning first about Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing Jesus personally and the New Testament’s teaching about him will help readers understand the rest of the Bible.
What are the Gospels? The first four books of the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — are biographies of Jesus. Since the Gospels are biographies of the same person, there is overlap between them, just like there would be if a person read four books about the life of George Washington or Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet, each Gospel has unique stories, a different author’s perspective, and even the overlapping stories are told in different ways. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the best books to read first when a person is new to reading the Bible.
How long will it take to read John? The Gospel of John has 21 chapters. Depending on a person’s reading level and the translation they are using, each chapter takes 5 to 10 minutes to read.
For those who are new to Bible reading, recommended translations include the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New Living Translation (NLT), or the New King James Version (NKJV).
How should I start reading John? The best practice is to read the Bible every day. If a person misses a day, they should simply resume their habit the next day. For those who are new to Bible study, reading one chapter a day, followed by prayer, is a great 15-20 minute routine to establish.
When should a person read the Bible? Many Bible readers like to start their day with Scripture and prayer — and a nice cup of coffee! Others prefer to read at night because the morning isn’t an ideal time for them for various reasons. What is the best time for new Bible readers? The best time is whenever their mind and heart are alert and receptive to what they are reading.
Also see How Many Verses Are In the Bible? to learn more.
4 Tips for Establishing a Daily Bible-Reading Routine
- Minimize distractions: don’t have the television on or music playing; keep phones out of reach or on silent if possible; read when young children are asleep
- Discuss the chapter: it’s helpful for people to talk to others about what they are reading because it increases understanding; small groups and Sunday school classes are great for this
- Take notes: some people like to underline or highlight words, phrases, and verses in their Bible; others prefer to keep the text clean and take notes in a journal; either way improves retention and helps readers focus
- Use an audio Bible: reading is difficult for some people, but audio Bibles, which can be found free online, can help; the best option is to listen to an audio Bible while following along in a hardcopy Bible; listening to the Bible while walking or driving may also be an option for some people
Bible Reading Beyond the Gospels
If a person reads one chapter of John each day, they will finish the book in about three weeks. After that, there is wisdom in reading Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and then Acts, which is the fifth book in the New Testament. Some may want to incorporate Psalms or Proverbs into their routines as well.
Matthew, Mark, or Luke: All four Gospels have certain stories in common, like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Yet among the four, John is the most unique, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke share a similar perspective. If a person reads one of those three books after John, what they will be reading is 90% new.
Acts: The Book of Acts comes after the Gospels in the New Testament because it’s a continuation of the same story. Acts explains what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Luke is the author of Acts, and considered it a sequel to the Gospel that bears his name.
Readers will encounter incredible stories, speeches, prayers, and tremendous examples of faith and perseverance in the book, as God lays the foundation of the Church.
Psalms and Proverbs: Psalms and Proverbs are books in the Old Testament. While they can be read in isolation like any other book of the Bible, many people like to read them alongside their daily Bible reading.
For example, in addition to reading their daily chapter in a Gospel, Acts, or any other book, people will also read a chapter in Psalms or Proverbs as well. Those who are new to reading the Bible may not want to add too much to their daily routine to start, but this is a good option to consider in time.
Also see Bible Reading Plans to learn more.
What is a Study Bible?
Study Bibles are excellent resources that new Bible readers should strongly consider. Study Bibles contain explanatory notes to help people understand what they are reading.
They commonly include maps, charts, timelines, and pictures. Every major English translation has a Study Bible and most have multiple options. Recommendations include (links go to Amazon):
- The NIV Study Bible (thousands of notes; full-color pictures, maps, etc.)
- The ESV Study Bible (thousands of notes, dozens of articles; fewer pictures)
- The NLT Study Bible (thousands of notes, incredible visual aids)
What should someone read after the Gospels and Acts?
The suggested order below is for each reader’s consideration. What’s most important is not necessarily the exact order in which the books are read, but establishing a daily habit of Bible reading.
- James: The Gospels and Acts are narratives. However, most of the New Testament books are epistles or letters. James is a great introduction to reading letters because it’s easy to understand and it’s only five chapters long.
- Ruth: Ruth is in the Old Testament. At only four chapters in length, it’s a great way to get a taste of Old Testament narratives. Ruth and Boaz are shining examples of faithfulness to God and each other.
- Romans: Considered one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written (inside or outside the Bible), Romans teaches about beliefs that are central to the Christian faith. Some readers may have to read these chapters a little slower than normal or re-read certain passages to ensure they are absorbing all of what Paul says about Jesus and what it means for people.
- Genesis: Though Genesis is one of the longest books in the Bible, readers love its stories. The first quarter of the book teaches about the origins of the universe, Earth, people, families, work, and sin. The remaining portion of the book tells readers about the origins of the nation of Israel.
- Ephesians: Ephesians is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in the town of Ephesus. Its message is positive, uplifting, and edifying. One of its best-known passages is about spiritual warfare.
- Philippians: At only four chapters in length, the New Testament letter of Philippians is a quick read. Yet readers will be amazed at what Paul wrote in this letter, given the fact that he was in jail for his faith when he authored it.
- Daniel: The Old Testament prophet Daniel is a shining example of faithfulness to God. Readers love the stories about Daniel risking it all to stand up for his faith and for surviving being eaten by lions because of God’s intervention.
- Hebrews: This unique New Testament book contains incredible teaching about Jesus. Though it’s more advanced than the four Gospels, Hebrews rewards the diligent study of readers by teaching them more about Christ, faith, and perseverance.
- 1 Corinthians: Though not as upbeat as letters like Ephesians and Philippians, 1 Corinthians is one of Paul’s finest works. The church at Corinth was undergoing significant trials when Paul wrote the letter, but the themes of faith, hope, and love will move the hearts and minds of readers.
- Revelation: The last book of the Bible is one of its most mysterious. First-time readers will marvel at the imagery, symbolism, and intensity of the descriptions. What’s clear when the reader finishes Revelation is that because of what God did in the person and work of Christ, good will triumph over evil in the end.
Also see Why Does the Catholic Bible Have Extra Books? to learn more.
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