Reading the Bible regularly is one of the best habits a person can establish because Scripture is God’s communication to people. However, the Bible contains 66 separate books, many of which have different authors, settings, and themes, and it can be challenging — especially for someone who is new to Bible reading — to know what order to read the books.
When it comes to the reading order of biblical books, it’s wise to start with the Gospels since they are biographies of Jesus Christ. Then read Acts, James, 1 John, and the Paul’s Letters. After that, read the rest of the New Testament. Then, in the Old Testament, start with Genesis, Psalms, and Daniel.
Why start with New Testament rather than the Old? Why read James and 1 John after the Gospels? Why start reading the Old Testament with Genesis, Psalms, and Daniel? What is a Study Bible? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Best Study Bibles: 15 Great Options to learn more.
Suggested Reading Order of New Testament Books
Most of the time, when people start reading a book, they open to the first page because that’s where the story starts. While Genesis starts the story of the Bible and is an extraordinary book, God’s communication to people is ultimately about the person, life, and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Why start with the New Testament? The New Testament tells the story of Jesus and the community of believers he established, called the Church. The Old Testament looks forward to the arrival of Christ by means of prophecy, typology, and foreshadowing. Yet the New Testament teaches readers about his birth, his death and resurrection, and everything that happened in between.
The Old Testament is also much easier to understand after readers have a basic understanding of New Testament teachings.
The best place to start reading the Bible is with the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — because they are eye-witness accounts of the life and teachings of Christ. Because they are biographies of the same person, they contain overlapping stories, but each Gospel also has unique characteristics as well.
John is a great Gospel to start with because it’s the easiest to understand. After John, the suggested reading order is Mark, which is the shortest Gospel, followed by Matthew and Luke.
Reading the Gospels in any order will help people understand Christ better. It’s not necessarily the order in which they are read but a person’s devotion to understanding and applying the teaching in the Gospels that is edifying and life-changing.
The reason Acts is a great choice to read after the Gospels is that it’s a continuation of the same narrative. Luke is the author of Acts, and he intended it to be a sequel to the Gospel that bears his name.
The four Gospels end similarly with the resurrection of Christ. Acts starts with the disciples interacting with the resurrected Christ before he ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to earth.
Acts then goes on to tell the story about the community of believers in Christ who the Holy Spirit used to establish his Church on earth.
James and 1 John
The New Testament contains different literary styles or genres, like biography (see above). Yet, the genre found most in the New Testament is epistle or letter. Just as it sounds, letters are written correspondences from one person (an Apostle) to other believers, like an individual or church.
James and 1 John (not to be confused with the Gospel of John) are great books to read after the Gospels and Acts because they are short, easy to understand, and contain memorable teachings.
- In James, readers will learn about faith and works, resisting the devil, and the power of prayer.
- In 1 John, readers will learn about walking in the light, not loving the world, and testing the spirits.
Also see Why Are There Seven Extra Books in the Catholic Bible? to learn more.
Paul, an early convert and missionary in the Christian church, wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. His writings contain some of the most famous passages ever written (e.g., 1 Corinthians 13), but some who are new to Bible reading may find some of his teachings difficult to understand at first.
Thankfully, reading them gets easier with a little time, practice, and perhaps a Study Bible (more below). Paul’s Letters in the New Testament are organized according to size. In order, they are:
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
There is wisdom in reading Paul’s Letters in the order they appear because of how important Romans is to Christian beliefs. However, if a person desired a suggested reading order based on which ones are easiest to understand, the recommendation would be Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy and Titus, 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, and then Galatians.
Also see How to Study the Bible for advice on how to get the most out of your reading.
The rest of the New Testament
After Paul’s Letters, people should read Hebrews to Revelation, minus James and 1 John, because they appear earlier in the suggested reading order list. The books in this section include:
- James (see above)
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John (see above)
- 2 John
- 3 John
A person can read these books in order. However, a suggested reading order based on the books that are easiest to read would be Jude, 2 and 3 John, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and then Revelation.
Study Bibles are a great resource for people who are new to reading Scripture. They are Bibles that contain explanations of verses on every page, as well as maps, charts, and pictures. Recommendations below.
Suggested Reading Order of Old Testament Books
By starting with the three books below, readers will grow in their understanding of God’s creation of the world, sin’s invasion of it, people’s struggles as a result of it, and God’s plan to redeem and overcome it.
- 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.
- Psalms: Many Bible readers consider Psalms one of their favorite books because of the beauty of its descriptions and the way it speaks for people who long for God, struggle with sin, and live life in a world infected with sin.
- 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.
The Old Testament contains 39 books, three of which are suggested above. A person can read the remaining books in order. If some want a suggested order based on ease of reading, then the recommendation is below.
Please note that the order is just a recommendation. It may be best to use it as a starting point for considering what books to read and study.
- 1 and 2 Samuel
- 1 and 2 Kings
- Song of Solomon
- 1-2 Chronicles
- 12 Minor Prophets (Hosea-Malachi, minus Jonah)
Also see Roman Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox Comparison 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:
- 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)
Study Bibles are helpful because they provide a range of features that enhance the reading and understanding of the Bible. They include features like explanatory notes, cross-references,...