Do you read the Bible like most books, in order from beginning to end? Or are there other recommended ways to read it? This is a common question because the Bible is a long book. It can seem confusing and even intimidating at first to know where to start.
Everyone who wants to start reading the Bible has been there. I want to share with you what I’ve learned from my experience of reading through the Bible and helping others do the same.
Should you read the Bible in order? Most people should not read the Bible in order. It is better to start with the books that give an effective overview of the main message of the Bible. This works best for most people because the books of the Bible are not all arranged in the actual order of events.
Of course, there isn’t just one right order to read the Bible. The important thing is to engage with God’s Word. You can always come back to read the books later. This is what I did when I first “read through” the Bible.
If you get stuck, just move onto another book and then come back to it later. It might make a lot more sense then.
There’s a list of the recommended order and other options below. It’s a better way because many people who try to read the Bible in order from cover-to-cover tend to get stuck and stop reading. Only a few really determined or disciplined people are able to finish it.
If you’re ready to start reading the Bible right away, you might want to jump ahead to that list. If you’re interested in a more detailed answer so you’ll be confident that it’s the best way to go, let’s take a closer look.
Is the Bible Meant to Be Read in Order?
The Bible is not arranged in the order to be read, but by the type or genre of the books.
In the Old Testament, all of the books of the Law are grouped together – the first 5 books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Then there are the books of History. After that are the 5 books of Poetry. Finally, there are the Prophets.
The New Testament starts with 4 accounts of the Gospel, the life of Jesus Christ. Then there is one book of history, the book of Acts. It’s followed by many Letters or Epistles. The last book is the book of Revelation, which is the genre of Prophecy.
If you want to find out more about how the Bible is arranged, you can read this article: How the Bible Arranged: Its Main Structure & Meaning.
Many people start out doing well through Genesis and Exodus, but get bogged down somewhere near the third book, Leviticus. Leviticus goes into the details of the Law that you can come back to at a later time. Instead of reading in order, you can skip to Joshua, the first book of History, to pick up the major storyline of the Bible for now.
Then when you get to 1 & 2 Kings, skip over 1 & 2 Chronicles for now because they cover much of the same history. The slightly different perspectives and different purposes of those sets of books can be explored later.
Then in the New Testament, since there are four accounts of the life of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – you can just read Mark to start out. You can come back to the other 3 accounts at a later time to compare and contrast the different things that each account emphasizes.
Comparing the different Gospel accounts is a great study, but one account will be okay for now. Skip on over to the book of Acts, the History type of book, in the New Testament, to see where the major storyline picks up after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The recommended order below takes a sampling from each of the types of books in the Bible.
Best Order to Read the Bible for the First Time
These 15 books are recommended to start out with as they cover all the major themes and storyline of the Bible. The list includes books from every category or genre of the Bible.
Best Order to Read the Bible for the First Time
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
After reading these 15 books, you can read the remaining books in any sequence after that to enrich your overall understanding of the Bible and fill in more of the details.
If you’re interested in this approach and want more background information, you can check out this article which includes a brief summary of each of the books in this list.
Another Option: Read the Bible in Chronological Order
Another option is to read the Bible in the order that the events actually happened. This approach would be to take the books and sometimes smaller portions of the Bible and arrange them in chronological order.
The arrangements of the books in the Bible are not chronological. For example, the historical book of Ezra can be enhanced by the prophetical books of Haggai and Zechariah even though they are not in the same section. Haggai and Zechariah were prophets that encouraged the people during the time of Ezra, so it’d be helpful to know what they said when you read Ezra.
As an example, if you read in the Bible in order, you would read all the historical books and then reading the prophetical books afterward. Rather than doing that, it makes more sense to read the Historical books along with the Prophetical books that happened during the same time as them.
The recommended list in the section above follows a roughly chronological order of the major events and storyline of the Bible. This second option puts the entire Bible into chronological order.
One way to read the Bible in chronological order is to find a Bible reading chart that organizes it that way. Crossway has a good Chronological Bible Reading Plan that’s divided into 365 days. Click on the image below to download the PDF.
Another good way to read the entire Bible this way is to get a chronological Bible like the One Year Chronological Bible NLT (Link to Amazon). It’s conveniently laid out into 365 daily readings in chronological order.
NLT is a good translation for general reading. The convenience of having the Bible laid out in chronological order is great for developing a Bible reading habit.
Some Bible apps have a Bible Reading Plan feature that includes a chronological feature. If you like the convenience of reading the Bible on your phone, this might be a good option. Some people prefer to read a paper copy without distractions. You have both options available.
Keep in mind that there are some differences in interpretation of the order of events. Not every list and chart will agree, but the differences are mostly minor. Don’t let these minor differences bother you. The major pieces will be just about the same.
Start Reading the Bible Today
There’s no one right order to read the Bible. Reading the Bible from cover-to-cover is also an option, especially if you’re not new to the Bible. For most people, I’d recommend the list above.
Don’t feel limited by the order or the details. If you find something really interesting, feel free to stay there. Read the same book again. Keep reading and encountering God in His Word. Let Him lead you on this exciting journey.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Tim. 3:16-17 (ESV)
Before you go, you might find this explanation and summary of the Bible helpful: The Bible Explained for Beginners (Simple Guide & Diagram) The diagram below is from that article.