So you’ve picked up a Bible or downloaded an app, and you’re ready to start reading. Awesomeness, that’s what we like to hear! The problem is, now you’ve got this dense book that’s over 1000 onionskin pages or an app with 60+ subsection books. Looking at that, you might start to feel like a deer in the headlights. You could start reading at the beginning, sure, like any other book, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the Bible doesn’t exactly read like any other book—for example, like a novel with a definable beginning, middle, and end. While it does start with “in the beginning” and end with what’s widely referred to as “the end times”, the books between aren’t chronologically ordered in standard print. Not to mention the genre of writing varies from stories to wisdom literature to poetry to letters to chronologies and laws. In fact, the laws start within the first two books, which can throw off a lot of first-time readers!
So, where to start? There are a couple places you can begin that can help maximize your journey into reading the Bible without leaving you lost, confused, or overwhelmed. One thing I would highly recommend for starter is this: pick an easy-to-understand translation. What that means may vary from person to person; I have lots of friends who find a more literally-based, technical translation is actually easier for them to absorb, whereas I tend toward The New Living Translation, The Passion Translation, and even The Message with their modernized language. The important thing is to find a translation you can understand and absorb, otherwise no matter where you start, you’re liable to wind up lost!
Once you’ve picked a translation that suits your particular learning style, it’s time to dive in! Consider kicking off your adventure into the Bible with one of these:
- Start with the New Testament Letters
Make no mistake, the Bible does create a cohesive whole, and the best way to gain a full understanding is to read the whole thing. However, lots of places—especially the Old Testament—can be overwhelming to the new or out-of-practice reader. By contrast, the New Testament letters, which hold a ton of relevance to believers today, tend to be presented in more straightforward language and terms. It’s easy to read just about any chapter of Paul’s letters and walk away with knowledge gleaned! Much of the language is clear and comprehensible, and what isn’t can be explained with an easy-to-understand commentary (our own Revised English Version is great for this, as the web-based translation links every verse directly to its corresponding commentary! Check it out at revisedenglishversion.com).
The New Testament does reference its Old Testament companion, but a full and complete scope of the Old Testament isn’t necessary for the first-time reader to gain valuable insight into their standing with God, their purpose in His plans, their conduct as expected by God, and more!
- Start with Proverbs & Psalms
These two books are chock full of practical, approachable wisdom, exhortation, and reflections that appeal to the hearts and minds of both the new and long-time reader of Scripture! While intricacies still abound—how can they not, coming from the mind of God?—these two books are among the easiest to understand and apply from the Old Testament regardless of one’s experience with the Bible. Proverbs in particular contains extremely straightforward and applicable groundwork for a wisdom-focused life; in fact, it’s often quoted even by non-religious folks as a good compass for a profitable life. Psalms, written in the style of poetry and song, can occasionally bring up some subjects that are a little harder to navigate, such as human suffering, intense feelings of loneliness or abandonment, unresolved injustice, personal attacks, etc., but these also resonate and are presented in a way that is, again, approachable and comprehensible.
So much value for practical living can be found in Proverbs and Psalms, and it doesn’t take a theological degree or years of Bible Study to benefit from the contents of these amazing books!
- Read the Bible Chronologically
If you’re like me—primarily and preferentially a reader of novels—then as much as possible, you like a book you can read beginning to end and get the full storyline mostly in sequential order. As mentioned above, with the Bible, that’s not the easy case. The standard Genesis-through-Revelation printing actually jumps around quite a bit in terms of the order of events, which can be difficult for even seasoned readers to follow along with! I had been reading the Bible my whole life, but it came alive for me in new, easier-to-understand ways when I used an app to read chronologically. The interplay of events absolutely popped in this style, making it much clearer how certain occurrences affected one another and how God’s plans and purposes flowed together from beginning to end.
If you’re interested in reading the Bible cover-to-cover but find the prospect daunting, I highly recommend finding an app, website, or reading plan for a chronological readthrough. This can help you get a framework for the timeline as well as events themselves that creates an invaluable foundation for understanding the Bible as a comprehensive whole!
Feeling a little less intimidated about where to start? I hope so! But if you’re still overwhelmed, there are TONS of other tools that can help kickoff your Bible reading! You might look into devotionals—which help break up certain books, topics, themes, etc. into bite-sized chunks; annual reading plans, which give you a manageable portion of Scripture each day; or you might try an audiobook of the Bible if you’re more of an audible than visual learner!
Thankfully, in His great wisdom and love, God knows how diverse His children are in how they approach, ingest, and retain knowledge. He’s empowered so, so many folks to bring the Bible across in many different ways—various translations, visual and audible media, versions without chapter and verse numbers for a different flow, and so much more! If you seek, you’re certain to find one that works for you. But for now, I hope these tips help you take that first step into reading—and enjoying—the Bible!
Author’s Note: Looking for an easy-to-read summary of the Bible, its origins, and its contents to augment and improve your reading experience? CLICK HERE to check out “Learning to Enjoy the Bible” by Dan Gallagher, a fantastic summary book for both new and seasoned Bible readers—bringing details of Scripture to life in a simple, clear, and comprehensive way!