I want to start reading the Bible. Where should I begin?
The Bible is unlike any other book in the world. It is actually an anthology, produced by approximately 40 people over more than 1,400 years. Its human authors are as diverse as shepherds and kings. Yet the book is a cohesive whole, inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and meant to bring people to knowledge of Him. With more than 66 books and 31,000 verses, where is a good place to start reading the Bible?
For those who have not previously read the Bible, the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is a great place to begin. It lays the foundation for our understanding of God, humanity, sin, and redemption. Continuing through the second book of the Bible, Exodus, helps us understand the Jewish people through whom God sent our Savior, Jesus.
Many suggest going to the New Testament gospel of John next. It is the fourth book of the New Testament and was authored by the apostle John. John was one of the 12 original followers of Jesus and was considered to be part of Jesus' inner circle, along with James and Peter. John's Gospel includes many of the teachings of Jesus and emphasizes the deity of Christ. John 20:30-31 gives the purpose of the Gospel of John: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
After completing the Gospel of John, it would be most helpful to continue with the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), also known as the Synoptic Gospels. These books provide a narrative of Jesus' life and ministry, including His teachings and many miracles. Often the same event is recorded by each of the three writers, but reading the accounts from different perspectives can illuminate details that enrich one's understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Following the Gospels, the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament provide both the early history and teachings of the church. Acts provides an overview from Luke (author of the Gospel of Luke) that covers approximately the first 30 years of the church's history. The epistles offer teachings in the form of letters written by Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, and the author of Hebrews. Revelation chronicles the apostle John's vision of the last days.
Of course, the Old Testament is inspired by God as well and comprises about three fourths of the Bible's text (including 39 of the Bible's 66 books). It covers the time period from the creation of the universe to approximately 400 BC, including Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Abraham and his descendants, Moses and the people of Israel, the period of the judges and kings of Israel, the prophets, and the return of the exiled Jewish people to Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah. In addition, an understanding of the Old Testament helps to better understand the teachings and history of the New Testament.
The Bible is God's Word to humanity. While John is a great place to begin, the important thing is to read the Bible and to apply its teachings in your life—starting today! As James 1:22-25 says, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing."
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