With 66 books and over 1,000 pages, knowing where to start when reading the Bible can be overwhelming. If you’re wondering what order to read the Bible in, you’re not alone!
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: read the New Testament first, starting with the Gospels. Then go back and read the Old Testament. Within each testament, read the books in the order they appear.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over the most popular methods for reading through the Bible and help you decide which approach is right for you.
Read the New Testament First
When embarking on reading the Bible for the first time or looking for a new approach, many experts recommend beginning with the New Testament before diving into the Old Testament.
Start with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John offer accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. These provide a helpful foundation for understanding the central message of Christianity before exploring other parts of the Bible.
Many Bible reading plans start here to give believers and seekers alike important context for the rest of the Bible.
Then Read Acts and the Epistles
After gaining a grounding in the Gospels, readers can turn to the Book of Acts and the Epistles. Acts provides an inspiring history of the early Christian church while the Epistles contain letters of teaching and encouragement from Church leaders that shaped the faith we know today.
Finish with Revelation
The Book of Revelation can require prior biblical understanding to fully grasp its apocalyptic imagery. As such, it makes for an appropriate capstone to reading the New Testament. Revelation reminds believers of the glory that awaits them while also driving home the importance of staying faithful no matter what persecutions arise.
By following the common sequence of the Gospels, Acts/Epistles, and Revelation, readers can gradually build biblical literacy and appreciation. Following the story arc of Jesus to the early church bolsters spiritual wisdom so that the entire Bible becomes more enlightening, meaningful and applicable.
Read the Old Testament Afterwards
Read Genesis First
Many recommend reading Genesis first in the Old Testament before diving into the other books. As the first book, Genesis provides the foundation for the rest of the Bible by recounting God’s creation of the world and the beginnings of humanity.
Understanding this background information can be hugely beneficial when delving into the later Old Testament books.
Reading Genesis first also allows readers to understand the origins of concepts like sin, covenant, promise, and redemption that become central themes throughout the rest of the Bible. Grasping these key ideas early on makes the rest of the Old Testament much more comprehensible.
Go in Order Through the Old Testament
After reading Genesis, it can be helpful to go in order through the other books of the Old Testament. This provides a sequential, chronological account of Biblical history and the development of the Jewish nation.
Reading the books in order allows you to trace the unfolding of God’s covenant relationship with His people from Abraham to the kings of Israel to the prophets and exile.
Following the order also enables you to see connections between books more clearly. For example, the books of Chronicles retell some of the historical accounts already covered in Samuel and Kings. Seeing the different perspectives provided on the same events can give more nuance and depth.
Option to Read Psalms and Proverbs Separately
However, given the wisdom and poetic nature of books like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, some recommend reading these separately from the main Old Testament narrative. These books contain timeless truths and encouragement that can supplement your reading at any time.
Ultimately, the order you read the Old Testament in is flexible. While reading in order can provide helpful context, don’t be afraid to jump around! There is no one perfect way. The most important thing is that you prioritize spending time in God’s Word consistently.
He will speak to you through its pages however you approach reading the Old Testament.
Gives Historical Context
Reading the Bible in chronological order allows readers to follow the events as they occurred in history. This gives greater context to the stories, as the surrounding political, cultural, and religious settings are made clear.
For example, the conquest of Canaan under Joshua is more meaningful when it’s placed between the Exodus from Egypt and the era of the judges. The rise and fall of Israel’s monarchy is easier to follow when the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are woven together in historical sequence.
Seeing the Bible’s accounts unfold in chronological order helps readers gain insight into cause and effect. We understand why the Israelites called for a king after reading about the failure of successive judges to lead the nation faithfully.
We grasp the backdrop leading to the divided kingdom after Solomon’s death. The prophets’ warnings of exile ring clearer when read alongside the corruption of the kings. This bird’s-eye view aids our comprehension greatly.
More Complex Than Canonical Order
While a chronological reading can enrich our understanding, it also requires more effort. The books of the Bible weren’t written to align perfectly with the calendar. Chronicles overlaps with Samuel and Kings, for example, and many prophetic books are anthologies spanning decades.
Psalms includes prayers and songs from different eras. Only by carefully cross-referencing passages can we construct a timeline.
This means that reading chronologically involves breaking up biblical books and fitting portions of them together like puzzle pieces. Many Bible reading plans will specify which chapters or verses to read in which sequence.
This fractured method can feel disruptive, as we bounce around the Bible piecing together the story.
Requires Reordering Books
To read in chronological order requires reshuffling the order of books in the Bible. Exodus through Deuteronomy, which form a theological unit called the Torah, must be kept together. But the historical narrative then jumps to the book of Joshua.
The stories of the judges in the book named for them, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings follow. Lamentations fits between 2 Kings and Ezra to align with the fall of Jerusalem.
The order of the New Testament also shifts in chronological reading. The Gospel of John includes much unique material, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke can be integrated as one story. Acts as the sequel to Luke’s gospel comes next.
Paul’s letters and the other epistles can then be interspersed through Acts according to their internal chronology. This realignment of books takes considerable attention but places the unfolding of biblical history center stage.
The thematic order of reading the Bible groups books together by topic or theme. This approach aligns books that cover similar subjects, allowing you to do an in-depth study on a particular theme.
Groups Books by Topic
Some common thematic groupings include:
Good for Focused Study
The thematic approach is helpful if you want to conduct an in-depth study on a particular topic. For example, you could read all the wisdom literature to gain a thorough understanding of biblical wisdom and how to apply it.
Or you could focus on the history of Israel by reading through the historical books. This concentrated approach allows you to fully grasp the biblical material on a theme.
Missing Broader Context
The downside to the thematic order is that you miss out on the broader context and overarching narrative of the Bible. Since books are grouped by theme, you lose the chronological and historical flow that reading from Genesis to Revelation provides.
Some thematic connections between books in different sections may be missed. So while excellent for focused study, the thematic approach should usually be supplemented with reading books in their biblical order as well.
Where to Find Bible Reading Plans
Pre-Made Plans for Each Approach
There are many pre-made Bible reading plans available, depending on what approach you want to take. Popular Bible apps like YouVersion and Bible.com offer reading plans for chronological reading, yearly cover-to-cover plans, topical plans focused on certain themes, and more.
Many study Bibles also include reading plans in the back. For example, the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible includes several reading plans catered to reading with biblical theology in mind.
If using a study method like SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer), printed journal Bibles like the She Reads Truth Bible or Inspire Bible contain space to write notes using that framework. Devotional apps like Bible.com also adapt their reading plans for SOAP style journaling.
Printed Plans or App Options
Bible reading plans are available in both printed and digital formats. Popular Bible apps and websites offer free reading plans covering several methods and time frames. These digital plans make it easy to track progress and often include devotional content.
However, many readers prefer having a physical reading plan printed out or in a journal Bible. This allows for writing notes by hand rather than on a device.
Using a printed Bible reading checklist is also preferred by those who want to disconnect from technology. Tracking progress on paper requires discipline, but avoids digital distraction. Apps can be helpful though for easily looking up passages or taking notes on the go if you don’t have your printed Bible with you.
Tips for Sticking to Your Plan
Having a Bible reading plan is great, but actually completing it is tough without consistency and perseverance. Here are some top tips for sticking to your reading plan long-term:
- Set reminders to keep you accountable to the daily schedule
- Join an online community doing the same plan for encouragement
- Read first thing in the morning before getting distracted
- Use sticky notes or highlights to keep track of where you left off
- If behind, use audio recordings to catch up during commute time
The key is prioritizing Bible reading time each day. Life gets busy, so you must intentionally set aside time for reading God’s Word. But communities and reminders aid consistency. Approach your plan with realistic expectations rather than strict legalism.
If some days are missed, get back on track the next day without guilt. The important thing is developing Bible reading as a life-giving daily habit through whichever approach works for your needs.
With several valid ways to read through the Bible, deciding on the right approach depends on your goals and learning style. Reading the New Testament first provides a foundation before diving into the Old Testament. Following the books’ canonical order keeps the historical narrative intact.
A chronological or thematic plan may help focus your study on a particular topic or timeline. No matter what reading plan you choose, the most important thing is to open your Bible and engage with God’s Word every day.