How do I read the Bible?
The first time I read the Bible, I just decided to read it. After blocking out all distractions, I dug in. I read from Genesis 1:1 straight through to Revelation 22:21. That was a mistake. But how should I have read the Bible?
If you ask a hundred Christians, you will get 100 different ways to read the Bible and a hundred reasons why that’s the right way. You are about to get one of those ways from this Christian.
Last week, I talked about whether or not you should actually read the whole Bible and how doable it actually is.
I received a comment from a reader that said, “I have a new goal.” It suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to caution her from reading it the way I did the first time. That is the purpose of this week’s post.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2)
The reason that reading the Bible from the front end to the back end was such a mistake is because it is not entirely assembled in the order in which the events took place.
The Bible isn’t completely assembled in chronological order.
That is why, if you want to consume the entire Bible and get the most out of it, you must take care to read it in a particular order.
The Bible is God’s special revelation to believers. The Bible is God’s method of letting us know the history of His creation, the salvation of His creation via Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, and His ultimate conclusion of Christ’s second coming.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Without the Bible, we would not know of these things.
Is there a proper order to read the Bible?
Here is where the “ask a hundred Christians” comment applies.
There is certainly a chronological order in which events take place and/or were written. Opinions vary on the best, or even necessary, order in which to combine the New with the Old Testament.
Some prefer to begin with John or Romans in order to capture the importance of salvation before turning back to the beginning. Personally, that approach seems beneficial to someone who already knows the Bible.
I would not dream of arguing with the spiritual relevance and importance of both John and Romans. I would even recommend going back (as I have) and spending more time in these books. But I would not necessarily defend reading them first.
Or look at it this way…
Say you have seen all of the Marvel movies so far. You have, right? Okay. Now say that you feel like The Avengers (the first one) is the best of the franchise so far (which should be obvious). Then, someone asks if they should just watch The Avengers before watching Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, or Captain America.
Okay, they may enjoy it. They may even feel like they got it. But how much of the story have they actually missed out on? A ton. Most of it in fact.
If they had seen all the movies in the right order, they would have gotten a whole different, and more complete, understanding.
They wouldn’t have to wonder what the deal was between Loki and Thor. They wouldn’t have to wonder where Tony Stark got all his money and his fancy hood ornament. They would better understand where the Tesseract came from. You feeling me? Ok.
Now we’re petting the same dog.
If you skip over parts of the Bible you might as well tell God you can figure life out on your own. Without reading the entire Bible, how could we:
appreciate God’s grace without fully understanding how little we deserve it?
appreciate the forgiveness of sin without grasping the severity of sin by following the growth and impact of sin in the Old Testament?
we angered God enough to destroy all but eight people with the flood
we angered God enough to destroy the Tower of Babel
Israel angered God enough to hand them over to their enemies and…
…we hadn’t even murdered His Son Jesus yet?
You can’t really fully grasp the reasons for some of God’s decisions until you hear Him answer Job for four chapters: BECAUSE I’M GOD, THAT’S WHY!
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind…” (Job 38:1)
I recommend the fully (or as fully as possible) chronological approach.
Understand that reading the Bible in the proper order is more than just organizing the 66 books in the right order.
You can coast through the first six books in a fairly straightforward manner (with the exception of a visit from Job), but you’ll only be 10 chapters into the book of Judges when you will need to start reading 1 Samuel.
Then, you’ll fold your way back and forth through those books (by way of 6 or 7 psalms) before 2 Samuel and the Chronicles join the party.
Before you finish 2 Chronicles, the Kings will make an appearance. By then, you should have experienced (arguably) the rest of the Psalms (all in a particular order), and the books of Ruth, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.
And you can forget about reading the Prophets straight through without help.
A map could be helpful.
There are about 3500 years of history covered in the Old Testament. When reading it though, it can seem like parts of the Bible were dropped on the floor and scooped up in the wrong order.
But when you start putting the pieces in the right order something incredible happens. God’s voice will become more audible. Much sweeter. So how do we get that?
My personal reading tool of choice is Biblehub’s Old Testament Bible Timeline. This timeline lays out every chapter, and every page of the Bible in a sensible order that is based on a great deal of scholarly consensus and numerous biblical resources.
I will concede that even they saw reason to put the first chapter of John in the beginning.
Anyway, I have a printed copy of this timeline with me whenever I sit down to a reading of the Old Testament.
With the New Testament, there is a chronology of Jesus’ time on earth that is captured in the four Gospels and so a reading of the New Testament should begin there.
The Gospels flow into the Book of Acts as Jesus ascended into heaven, the Apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was murdered. Saul of Tarsus was recruited by Jesus to stop killing Christians and start saving them. Saul changed his name to Paul and the spreading of Christ’s Church was in full swing.
Essentially, I’ve found no compelling argument to read the New Testament in any order different from what is printed. If you find one, follow it.
There are several choices of orders in which to read the Bible. Pick one and begin reading. Then continue reading until you are finished. It won’t take as long as you think.
The important thing is to read it. All of it. It’s God’s Word. God’s voice. Don’t you want to hear all God has to say?
By the way, when you read the Bible, you are tuning in to what God has to say. He wants to tune in to what you have to say too. So always begin your Bible time by praying.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.