The Bible is composed of 66 books written by 40 authors. So where does a new Christian begin when they start to read the Bible? Do they read it from Genesis to Revelation? What do pastors, theologians, Sunday school teachers, and even seminary professors recommend a new believer to start reading the Bible? Are there better places to start than others and some books to be avoided at first? Here are my recommendations for the best place to start reading the Bible for a new Christian and an unbeliever.
Where Not To Start
I have actually had non-believers ask me this more than new Christians and this is a great question. The Bible is not strictly written in chronological order. For example the book of Job belongs in the time frame of the book of Genesis. Some have tried to start at Genesis and begin through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, then Deuteronomy, but when they get to certain sections of the Old Testament they can get bogged down in the lengthy genealogies. A good example is found in I Chronicles 9:11-12: “Azariah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the official in charge of the house of God; Adaiah son of Jeroham, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malkijah; and Maasai son of Adiel, the son of Jahzerah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Meshillemith, the son of Immer.” You get the idea.
Where to Start
Since the Old Testament foreshadows Jesus Christ and the New Testament is sharply focused on Jesus Christ, it makes good sense for a new Christian or a non-believer to start reading the Bible with any of the four gospels. My personal preference is the Gospel of John. He emphasizes the love of God as found in Jesus Christ and if you read the first chapter and first few verses of John, you will discover that it starts God’s plan for man even before the creation in Genesis One. Even the book of Mark is a great introduction to Jesus Christ. The gospel of Matthew is slightly more technical in the beginning but would be helpful for those who are Jewish since it emphasizes the historicity and Jewish lineage of Jesus Christ. The book of Luke is also more intricate since he was a physician. But any of the four gospels would be a great beginning point for a new Christian because they focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ which the entire Bible actually points toward since He is the sole means of redemption and salvation.
So begin by reading one or all of the gospels and then I would recommend Genesis. Genesis reveals God’s dealings with the nation of Israel and shows the origins of the people of God and deals with the fall of mankind and the consequences of disobedience. In actuality, the gospel is foreshadowed in Genesis and the Old Testament. When you read the New Testament book of Hebrews and then Genesis, you can see that Melchizedek the high priest and Jesus Christ were one and the same.
A Guide for New or Non-Believers
When believers and non-believers ask me where to begin to read the Bible, my recommendation is my own personal preference. Others may give you other books to start with in reading the Bible. I would recommend that they do not start in the book of Revelation or in Genesis and start reading it through from start to finish. For a seasoned Christian, reading through the Bible is an excellent learning tool but for a new believer, it can be cumbersome and confusing. Revelation is difficult to understand, so for a beginner to start out in that book is asking for confusion and mistranslation of the verses since much of it is written in symbolic language. Here is a preferred order for a new believer or a non-Christian who wants to start to read and understand the Bible:
John emphasises the love of God as found in Jesus Christ
The Gospel of John
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of Matthew
Now where you go from there is wherever you like. I suggest that you repeat the four gospels at this point because you can never go wrong with the very teaching of Jesus Christ Himself. And the book of Mark, written by John Mark, is actually what can be termed as the gospel of Peter since most theologians agree that the Gospel of Mark is actually the work of Peter. The words represent Peter’s eyewitness accounts as transcribed by John Mark. Remember that John Mark was not an apostle and was never a witness to the living Christ while on earth or the resurrected Christ and that by definition is what makes one an apostle.
Where Biblical Knowledge Comes From
The most important element when reading the Bible is to not be in a hurry. Stop and meditate on the words. And pray for the Holy Spirit to open up the meanings and understanding of the Bible It is the Father that reveals spiritual knowledge through the Holy Spirit and He reveals these truths to those whom He calls. If you are wanting to read the Bible, believer or not, this may be strong evidence that God the Father is calling you (John 6:44). Spiritual truths are not actually acquired by human thought alone but as Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven“ (Matt. 16:17). The point is that biblical knowledge is not gained by rote memorization or from academic head knowledge but by God the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said in John 16:13, “But when he, the [Holy] Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”