Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

shadytyrone asked a question:

For someone brand new to the faith, what is a good chapter of the Bible to start reading?

Hey dear friend, great question. I think it really depends on your learning style, but I can recommend a few ideas:

– The Book of John is almost always the best place to start. It has a ton of theology and shows specifically what Jesus came to do on the earth. It elaborates on seven miracles by Jesus in ascending order of power (starting with turning water into wine, ending with Jesus raising someone from the dead), and suddenly Jesus gets a hit contract on him because he’s considered too powerful. Jesus gives a few sermons before he dies, sort of like “last words,” and there’s a detailed account of Jesus’s activity after he jumps out of the grave. I also like the Book of Mark, as it’s the “action gospel” and moves very quickly through Jesus’s life, like a Robert Ludlum novel.

– Paul’s letters are extremely important. I would start with possibly Philippians (about joy and unity, written from one of Paul’s prison bids), and then Ephesians (about how Jesus saves us when we could not save ourselves). You might find stuff that sounds archaic or weird (some of his views on women or slaves will initially sound off-putting), but there’s a broader context for those statements, especially since he’s writing in the first century. I’d recommend also reading Colossians and Galatians, then Romans, which was supposed to be his final will and explanation of Christianity.

– Proverbs is all wisdom. It’s timeless. It has 31 chapters and could be done a chapter a day to fill out a month. Some of the Proverbs will reach right through your lungs and shake you up.

– Psalms is a lengthy book, but it contains the spectrum of every single possible human emotion, with every kind of interaction with God. The magnum opus of Psalms is chapter 119, which is the longest book of the Bible and seems intimidating, but it’s wonderful and worth the effort.

– The story of David is incredible (1 and 2 Samuel and the first two chapters of 1 Kings). I’ve taught on David more than any other Old Testament character. He’s endlessly fascinating and his life is the stuff of glorious, epic, Game-of-Thrones-level narrative. David goes from unknown nobody to overnight celebrity to completely scumbag royalty to a redeemed sickly old man. It’s a breathtaking ride, both maddening and heartbreaking. I’m certain that David suffered from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and he doubted God constantly. I guess I get mad at David while reading him because I see him in me, and I so badly want David to be redeemed, as if I would be redeemed, too.

– You could always start from the beginning at Genesis. The first book of the Bible, to be truthful, is pretty difficult to finish. There are alarming parts that won’t mesh with our twenty-first century sensibilities, like genocide and incest and sexual abuse and polygamy and selling kids into slavery. But Genesis is exactly that very story: about the frustrating efforts of a selfish humanity trying to be their own god and exploiting people for the approval that they once had in Him. It’s that simple (and complicated). Over and over, Genesis shows how depraved and awful we can really be, especially when we have zero unchecked authority. When you see it that way, you can see how patient that God really was when you know what He was dealing with. It seems He’s a little “wrath-crazy” in the Old Testament, but in my opinion, God was holding back way more than He should have. Genesis is essentially a case study of humanity’s very worst versus God’s very best.

– For a bit of “advanced reading,” try the Book of James. It has 54 imperative commands within 108 verses, and is essentially all marching orders once you become a Christian. This will grab you by the guts and won’t let go. For more of that, also hit up 1 John, another relentless book of truth and conviction.

– I have to give a shout-out to Ruth and Hosea. Ruth is the sweetest love story in the Bible, almost a romantic comedy, and Hosea is the most tragic, much more of a grand opera. Both are equally important in conveying God’s heart in the tides of human nature, and how much we really need a true love in the fluctuating ricochet of life.


One thought on “Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

  1. Tough question and I think you answer broadly enough to be useful. I have come to put Mark first on the list.
    One small thing (which you would expect from me) is that the word miracle never appears in John, despite some versions printing it so. The word used is “sign”. John is showing the signs that confirm Jesus is God come into the world in love to bring light and life. That point really helps get what John is giving.


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