Mailbag Question: Where To Start Reading In The Bible?

Here’s an email I received in my mailbag:
I have never even read the Bible before! I start but I can’t understand it or it’s so blah. Do you have any recommendations about where I should begin at? …I really want to understand the word of God. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I just don’t know where to begin.” – Heather

Heather – thank you for the excellent question. The Bible can be a challenge to read because it does not read like an ordinary book from cover to cover. It was written over thousands of years, by nearly 40 authors and in several languages. To put it in simple terms, the Old Testament gives us a foundation for who God is, his character and the foreshadowing of Christ’s coming. The New Testament is about Jesus’ life, crucifixion, resurrection, the spread of the gospel and instructions for Christian living.

So where do you start? Let me go book by book in order of where they fall in the Bible and explain it – I will give you my recommendations as I go. Hold on to your seat – cause here we go on a ride through the entire Bible!

The Book of Genesis tells us how God created the world, how mankind fell into sin, and the impact of the fall. This book is necessary for a complete understanding of God’s word.

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are filled with the Jewish law – which can be difficult to read…so you may want to save those books for later in your journey. But don’t miss them because all of God’s word is meant to be read!

Joshua through Job gives a lot of Jewish history. When I studied these books I kept a “Character of God” journal – where I wrote down all the things I learned about my God. I learned so much about how my God works in the lives of real people. These are not hard to read but they are not the place to start. Once you have a good foundation – head over to these books.

Then there’s Psalms – which I LOVE – as history and poetry collide, again the character of God shines brightly. This is what I am reading in my quiet time currently.

Next comes Proverbs. It’s a favorite of mine. It is filled with God’s wisdom for relationships – marriage, parenting, friends and neighbors. This is a great book to commit to memory.

Ecclesiastes is a wisdom book and Song of Solomon is a great book about having a loving marriage…if you want to read some hot stuff – read here lol!!!

Isaiah through Malachi are prophetic books and again a very difficult read…don’t avoid them – but save them for later.

Then there’s the gospels – This is where you start!!! If you want to know more about Jesus, his life and teachings you MUST start in the gospels – the book of John is the most common book people refer beginners to – and I agree. All four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are wonderful – but they overlap each other – so you may not want to read all four in a row. Start in the book of John!

In Acts – we see Jesus ascend into heaven and the beginning of the Christian church as we know it today. This is the sequel to the gospels so I recommend you read this after you read a gospel.

Then there’s the book of Romans – this book clearly defines salvation and grace – I love this book. So after reading the Gospel of John, then Acts, read Romans. If you read these three books -you will have a very strong foundation for what you believe!

From there we delve into the epistles – they are all helpful for how to apply the principles of God to practical life – but some are easier to understand than others.

My favorites are Ephesians, Philippians, James and I John. I recommend you read these next after reading John, Acts and Romans.

Then finally we come to Revelation – a book of prophecy about the end times. This is a hard book to understand but certainly a fascinating one. Read it when you feel comfortable with some of the other readings above.

So, turn off those cell phones, ipods, and televisions and open God’s word – the Bible. The only place on this planet that you will find a word from God and what he wants you to do with your life is on those pages. Pray and ask God to help you to understand his word and then dig in and enjoy!

And for my seasoned Christian Bible readers – please chime in – what are your favorite passages and what would you recommend for those who are new to Bible reading? There is no right or wrong answer to this question so it’s okay if you have a different suggestion.

The key is – Walk with the King!


  1. This is a great overview Courtney. For a first time reader, I agree that your John, Acts, Romans plan is a great one. I have to admit that two of my most favorite books are not on the typical list, though. If you want to read a beautiful love story complete with heartache and loyalty, read Hosea. It's such a great picture of how God loves His people. And … I LOVE Revelation. It's probably my favorite book, because it's so much about God's relentless pursuit of people. To help sort it out, I suggest using resources from Precept Ministries.

    I love to read great characterization, history, inspiration, truth, and understanding … and it's all there in the Bible!

  2. You are so right about Precept Ministries – my mom has led Kay Arthur studies in our church for over 25 years! She's leading Hosea right now! Thank you for sharing your favorites!!!

    I love God's word, it's hard to pick favorites – but you are right Revelation is a fascinating one!!!

  3. Perfection Courtney! Something to possibly suggest is getting "The Message." It is easier to read- like story format- and is written in modern English. I often read New King James and the Message side by side. It helps illuminate The Word in a fresh light. I had a friend who became a Christian and she was having a hard time reading the Bible. I gave her a gift of The Message and it whetted her hunger for the Word. She is now 8 years into her walk and has a steadfast passion for The Word! :o)

  4. Courtney -that's a great overview! I thought Heather and others who are unfamiliar with the story of the Bible might be interested in my "God's Big Story" – I wrote it with people with little Bible background in mind, to help them understand the overall flow of Scripture before they dive in:

    Julie and I are on the same page – I love Hosea and Revelation. But, definitely don't start there!! 😉

  5. Kristi – yes – thank you for leaving your link! You have a much more detailed overview that would be helpful!!! Thanks for your input!

  6. Great overview. I've been a Christian since 1995 and while I know a lot of the bible it's all been surface knowledge. I am going back and "relearning" and having it become a great resource within me. I like listening to podcasts and Luke Chandler with the Village church has an entire series on Luke – I think it's like 48 messages. I think this is a great alternative for people who struggle reading the bible and understanding it. It's a good starting place at least. 🙂

    I also like Beth Moore studies as they are really indepth.

  7. I have to agree with starting with one of the Gospels! John is my favorite author. I've read his books over and over and over. It's almost like sitting on Grandpa's lap and listening to him tell stories of Jesus! So comforting!

    What helped me tremendously my first time reading completely through the Bible was having a good study Bible that included study notes for the verses. Mine has notes for almost all the verses, and it also has maps, definitions and cross-references to other similar and supporting passages. My favorite version is the New King James.

    I also love the Precept studies! I have taken two classes with Courtney's mom — they are phenomenal for digging in and understanding the Word!

    Christine Schwaben

  8. Wow Courtney that was a great synopsis of the bible. Did you happen to learn that at Moody Bible?? 🙂 So great to share the beauty and complexity of the scriptures! My fav are the Psalms because it is full of human emotion; pain, joy, sorrow and praise. I can so relate to that!

  9. I remember Kay Arthur saying that if she could choose the most important books of the Bible to study, she would recommend Genesis, Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. These are probably not books for beginners, but doctrinally you would have the whole Bible in a "nutshell" even if you could read no other books of the Bible.

    Like some of your commenters said, reading the Bible in several different translations really helps a lot too. The NIV, Message, even the older "Living Bible" which is a paraphrase are good starting points.
    Bev (Courtney's Mom)

  10. Great post! The Old Testament is my favorite to read 🙂 I love reading about the people and their stories and seeing God respond!

    – Melodie

  11. This is great! Thanks!!
    I am just starting to read the Bible and everyone says to start with John but wasn't sure where to go from there.
    Thanks again!

  12. Hello-
    I just happened to read this question & post and wanted to share a wonderful resource I recently found that is guiding me in reading the Bible (for the 1st time).
    This allows you to choose a reading plan (there are about 20) which is a preselected/organized reading plan that allows you to go through the Bible in a set amount of time. Reading are assigned daily. You can complete them daily but the great part is that you can go back if you miss a day or forward if you'd like.
    Each reading plan has a short description of what will be covered so you can choose the reading plan that best suits your needs.
    I am reading the Bible with the goal of completing it in a year. The mix of my reading plan consists of Old Testament mixed with New Testament daily.
    I hope this is is useful to some of you out there!

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