A friend recently asked…
Should I read the Bible from cover to cover or maybe mix up some of the chapters?
This is a GREAT question! There are loads of ways you can read and study the Bible. (Do note that reading and studying are not always the same thing.) The “best” way to approach it depends a bit on who you are and where you are, personally, in your spiritual journey.
My friend’s question, however, points to a much more basic question:
Where should I start reading the Bible?
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.— 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Yes, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful. That doesn’t mean all Scripture is easy to understand. Especially if you’re new to reading and studying.
Part of me wants to say “Start anywhere! The Holy Spirit will guide you.” Yes, the Holy Spirit can and will guide you, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a more methodical approach so as to not get in over your head too quickly.
Just getting your toes wet…
If you’re a NEW BELIEVER or someone just picking up a Bible for the first time…
I recommend starting with the Gospels. The Gospels include four books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are found at the very beginning of the New Testament.
You’ll see that these four books are all about the life of Jesus. Each is written by a different person and, therefore, offers a different perspective.
Gospel means “good news” and since Jesus IS the good news of grace and salvation, it’s a fitting name for these writings and a great place to start
Looking for a chronological story…
If you’ve been a believer for a while, maybe you’re looking for a more cohesive overview of all of Scripture. In that case, a more chronological approach is good. Start at the beginning.
A lot of people might take issue with me here, but… After finishing Genesis and Exodus, I would go to Joshua. You’re on a good track to get an overview of ancient history, so you want to stay on that route for a consistent, sequential narrative… but you also don’t want to get lost in the Law and give up.
Leviticus and Deuteronomy are both books of Law, and they put everyone to sleep. Numbers is a giant census, so it’s another snoozer. These books definitely have their place and there are a few interesting stories tucked inside (you can find a donkey talking back to a prophet in Numbers 22 and the final words and death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy). But these three books are where Bible Reading Plans go to die.
If you skip ahead to Joshua, you’ll continue the chronological story of the Bible.
- 1 & 2 Samuel
- 1 & 2 Kings
1 & 2 Chronicles follows 1 & 2 Kings, but it’s a bit redundant. While Kings tracks the monarchical history of both Israel and Judah, Chronicles re-tells that timeframe from only as it relates to Judah. Personally, I love getting multiple perspectives, but it can be tricky to read chronologically. There’s a bit of jumping around. So, it’s up to you. When you finish Kings you can jump ahead to…
After that you’ll get into poetry and prophets. Almost all of these overlap with the historical books. The prophets were speaking to the kings. The psalms and poetic books were written by kings and prophets during seasons of trial, war, sacrifice, victory, and repentance. They are writings of worship and wrestling with God.
If you check your cross-references (usually indicated with footnotes or subscripts), you can usually see which writings are concurrent and how they weave together.
A little warning about Judges…
Now, be forewarned: Judges is CRAZY. Like, those people needed serious help. Which is why God gives it to us to read!
You’ll note a repeated phrase: “…and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” This couples with the other repeated phrase: “…there was no king in Israel at this time.” These two together point to Israel’s failure to walk with God as their King. It’s an incredibly weird, oft disturbing book, but it’s also fascinating. And here’s my take-away: God is never done with those He loves. If He can use wackos like Samson and insecure outcasts like Gideon, He can use you and me too. It’s kinda beautiful that way.