Whether you are a new Christian or just curious as to what the Bible is all about, you’ve made the decision to start reading this important book. But the Bible is a really big book, with lots of pages, and it may seem a little intimidating at first. And there’s the Old Testament and the New Testament and, looking at the shelves in a book store, there seem to be so many different versions. It can all seem very confusing, so where do you start?
I was there once, too. Twenty-five years ago, when I started thinking about God and the Bible, I faced this same dilemma. One day I simply walked into a local bookstore, bought a $3.99 paperback Bible, found a quiet place, and started reading. At page 1. “In the beginning…”
To my linear mind, this seemed perfectly logical. But was it? I learned later on that there are many ways to read the Bible and some ways could be better than others. I did go on to read the Bible from cover to cover, but also jumped around a lot as I got involved in a church small group study and followed along with my church’s weekly sermons. But I do think there is a better way for someone who is new to the Bible.
First a word about Bible versions. There are many English translations available, from the very Shakespearean sounding King James Version to the contemporary Message Bible, and all points in between. Regardless of the translation you choose, if your mind and spirit are open to God, the Holy Spirit will bring the words alive to you; all are based on the inerrant original manuscripts and translated by dedicated people committed to making God’s Word available to all. With that said, I feel the New Living Translation, or NLT, is a reliable translation that is very easy to read and understand. Perfect for getting started!
Now, for where to start. As much as I love the book of Genesis, I do not necessarily recommend starting there as I did. I think there is a better way. In terms of an overview; the Bible is actually one large book made up of several smaller books. And those smaller books are divided into two larger sections called the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within the Bible there are eight “genres” or types of writing. They are: historical, law, wisdom, psalms, prophecy, apocalyptic, the Gospels, and the Epistles (or letters). All these various books and genres can be a source of confusion and when we’re getting started, it really helps to have some guidance.
I can think of no better guidance than that of the late Reverend Billy Graham. Almost certainly the greatest evangelist of the last 100 years, Graham is known to have suggested starting with the Gospel of John. This is the fourth book of the New Testament. John was one of Jesus’ disciples, having walked and studied with Jesus for three years before Jesus was crucified. John went on the be a great leader in the early Christian church and his Gospel account helps us understand the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. It tells the story of the greatest life ever lived, the life of Jesus, and what Jesus did for us. It is an excellent place to get started so start here.
Next, according to information I found on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Associations’ website, Graham suggested reading the Acts of the Apostles (also called, simply, Acts), because it tells us what His first disciples did in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. In the days, months, and years following the ascension of the risen Jesus into heaven, the church grew rapidly, led by the courageous twelve apostles (and later, Paul) who literally risked their very lives to tell others about Jesus. The book of Acts is exciting and riveting, to this day I find it hard to put it down once I get started reading. I am confident you will experience the same!
After the Gospel of John and the book of Acts, Graham suggests we would do well to read the letters (epistles) of John (they are very short and there are three of them) followed by Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Then you may want to read Romans, which sets forth the great doctrines which Paul taught. Once you have finished reading these books, read through the rest of the New Testament. There will be certain things you read and may not understand, but ask God to help you and trust the Holy Spirit to bring you understanding. As you progress in your reading I am certain you will begin to experience the nearness of our Creator.
At first, commit to reading 10-20 minutes every day. Promise yourself you will do this every day for a whole month. I think you will be amazed before you are halfway through. The Bible is not a book about perfect people, quite the contrary, it is a book full of amazing stories of imperfect people just like you and I. Once you get started you will find the characters easy to relate to and their various stories as gripping as any movie you’ve ever seen. Try to read at the same time each day. And it can help to find a special quiet place where you can read undisturbed. Ask God to help you understand and trust that He will guide you.
My prayer for you is that you will be captivated by the Bible and that you will find yourself growing closer to God every time you read!
For more information, please check out the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website by clicking here.
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