Which Gospel to Read First – the Best Way for Beginners

If you want to start reading the Gospels to learn about the life of Jesus, it can be confusing or even intimidating to know where to start. Which of the 4 Gospels in the New Testament should you start with, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John? After having read the Gospels numerous times and having taught on them for many years, I want to share with you the way that seems to work best for most people.

In what order should you read the gospels? The best order to read the Gospels in the New Testament is to start with the Gospel of Mark. Mark covers all the essentials of the life of Jesus but does not require as much historical or theological background knowledge as the other Gospels. It is also the shortest of the Gospels.

After reading Mark, you’ll have a good grasp on the essentials of the Gospel and be able to make a decision about which book to read next. If you read any of the other Gospels before Mark, I promise, my feelings won’t be hurt at all because you really can’t go wrong with reading any of the 4 Gospels! But, here are a few things to keep in mind as you read so that you can get the most out of it.

A laminated sign on a tree that reads "Good News is Coming"

Table of Contents

Mark is the Shortest of the Gospels But Has All the Essential Elements

One advantage of starting with Mark first is that it’s the shortest of the 4 Gospels and will take the average reader less than a couple of hours to read through it. It will help you get a grasp of all the essential points of the Gospel. What, by the way, is the Gospel?

Gospel simply means Good News. In essence, the Good News is that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead.

The 4 Gospels tell the Good News of who Jesus is and what He did for us to restore us back to God (1 Corinthians 15:1, 4).

So in starting out with Mark, you would get all the essentials of the Gospel. As I mentioned earlier, you really can’t go wrong with any of the 4 Gospels because they all cover those essential elements. The Gospels only provide a few chapters on Jesus’ earlier years and spend much more time focusing on the final week of His life.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

I wrote an article about an easy way to study the Bible (link opens in a new window) which you can use as you read through Mark. It will help you get the most out of your reading.

The Gospels are not biographies in the usual sense. Mark does not include details about Jesus’ birth. You’ll eventually get more details about it when you read the first couple of chapters of Matthew and Luke. It’s clear that Mark is not writing a biography but he wants to focus on the core elements of the Gospel story.

Jesus’ main message is that God’s kingdom, that is, His rule and reign, had come into the world. This is great news! We see brokenness all around us in the world as people choose to live their own way apart from God’s design. There is pain, suffering, hatred, and confusion. 

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. (Mark 1:14)

Jesus came to tell people about the good news, that God was doing something about it! God’s Kingdom, His rule was coming into the world. Jesus would pay for the penalty of our sin by laying down His life in our place by dying on a cross. He would be raised to life to show that what He said was true.

If you want to get an overview of the book of Mark, and all the books of the Bible, I highly recommend Unlocking the Bible (link to Amazon). It has more helpful insights than any other introduction that I’ve used through the years. And it’s easy to use for those who are just starting out.

Be sure to get the book and not the one with the charts and notes. The covers look very similar.

Which Gospel to Read After Mark?

If you want to read more of the Bible after reading Mark, I would recommend the order that I share in this article: What Is the Best Order to Read the Bible for Beginners? The 15 books of the Bible that I share in that article will give you an effective overview of the entire Bible.

If you want to read another of the Gospels, here are my recommendations depending on where you’d like to go next.

Mark is a great place to start reading the Gospels. You’ll get the gist of the story. Then when you read the other Gospel accounts, you can fill in the rest of the story. Here’s a chart to help you decide where you might want to go next.

MatthewJewishJesus as the Messiah who fulfills prophesies (Matt.13:34-35)
MarkRomanJesus as the Suffering Servant (Mark 10:45)
LukeGreekJesus as the “friend of sinners” and the perfect
Son of God & “Son of Man” (Luke 7:34)
JohnNot specificJesus as God and the Messiah.
There are 7 “I AM” statements (John 6:35)

After you read Mark, you’ll have the pieces you need to make the decision about what you are looking for next. Don’t feel like you have to know right away. Sometimes, you won’t know where to go next until you start moving. Just do the next step.

  • Mark gives the main point of how God responds to our brokenness: Jesus came to die for our sins so that we can be reconciled to God.
  • Matthew gives more background and connects to the Old Testament.
  • Luke gives the chronological order with the most details about Jesus’ life.
  • John goes deeper into the theological content of why Jesus came and what He did.

Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience and includes the most scripture references to the Old Testament. The Old Testament has many prophesies about the Messiah that God would send to save the world from its brokenness and sin. Matthew shows that Jesus fulfills these prophesies. 

This would be very important to the Jewish audience that Matthew is addressing. Matthew starts out in the very first chapter by tracing Jesus’ family tree to King David and to Moses, both very important figures in the Old Testament.

Reading Matthew will enrich your understanding of the entire Bible and the heart of God. But it takes some time to make sense of it all. It’s a different culture, geography, and has new theological ideas. The Old Testament is quite long and having some background on the highlights of its history will be very helpful. Eventually you will be able to appreciate all of it, but for now, you can’t go wrong with focusing on the life of Jesus in Mark.

Reading Matthew next will help you begin to connect the pieces. I suggest you read Mark first because you can simply focus on Jesus’ life without having to know about how it ties into the Old Testament. If you want to do just that, you know where to go next: Matthew!

Luke’s emphasis is to give an orderly account from the beginning to the end (Luke 1:1-4). Luke includes the most details about Jesus’ birth, His family tree (from His mother’s side), and much more examples of Jesus’ life and teaching.

Luke also wrote the book of Acts in the New Testament which continues the story of the Gospels. Acts is like the sequel to the Gospels.

Reading Luke and Acts will give you a great foundation to study the rest of the New Testament. It’ll set you up to study the letters or epistles written to different cities or people. And then there is the book of Revelation at the very end. And that covers the entire New Testament!

John is the most different from the other Gospel account. I like to think of John as the creative, connector, relational-type compared to the other 3 Gospel writers.  John is a great book to read next if you want a change of pace from the other 3.

The majority of Mark’s content is covered in Matthew and Luke.

That’s why when you’re reading, oftentimes, you’ll see the exact same story or teaching, sometimes with the exact same wording in those 3 Gospels.

John ends up at the same place, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, as do all of the other 3 Gospels. But John draws attention to stories and teachings of Jesus that the others don’t. John also focuses much more on the personal conversations that Jesus had with people.

But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

At this point, you might have already thought: Why do we have so many accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible? Wouldn’t one or even 2 be enough?

Why Are There 4 Gospel Accounts?

As you probably noticed above, each one is writing to a different group of people with their own interests and needs. Different Gospels will “speak” differently to different people. Which one do you connect the most with?

If 4 different filmmakers were to make a documentary film about your life would they all focus on the same things?

Would they tell the same stories? What themes would they bring out from your life’s journey? What order would they tell it in? What challenges would they focus on?

There is a principle in the Bible that says things should be established by the evidence of 2 or 3 witnesses (2 Corinthians 13:1). We have a sure record of who Jesus is and what He did from 4 authors to tell the story of Jesus’ life.

After having read Mark, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be your favorite one. My favorite book of the Bible is often the one that I’m reading at the moment, so my current favorite Gospel is the Book of Luke!

If you’re looking to go more in-depth in your study of the Bible, a Study Bible is a great resource. It takes the most commonly used Bible study resources and puts it all together in one volume along with the text of the Bible. I’ve used dozens through the years and the CSB Tony Evans Study Bible (Link to Amazon – Opens in a new window) is the one that I would recommend for those that are just starting out.

Here’s my prayer for you: May the God who put a hunger in you to know Him – May He open the eyes of your heart and reveal the beauty of Jesus Christ to you. May your heart be opened to receive God’s truth, comfort, and strength no matter what you might be going through. And may God bless you on your journey!

Is the Bible meant to be read in order? The Bible does not need to be read in order. The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by around 40 different people over a period of 1600 years. All the books fit into the main theme of God’s restoration of the world to His original design through Jesus Christ.

What is the best order to read the Bible for the first time? Gospels, such as Mark, is a great place to start. Acts is the story of the early Church. Genesis explains the origins of everything and sets a foundation. Exodus explains the history of Israel. Ephesians explains how to apply the Good News. Revelation ties it all together and points to the future.

If you found this article to be helpful, here’s are a few other articles that I think you might enjoy:

The Bible Explained for Beginners (Simple Guide & Diagram)

Difference Between Old and New Testament: With Simple Charts

How to Get to Heaven According to the Bible: It’s NOT by Being Good

God bless you on your journey!

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David Kim

I'm David Kim and the Bible has been a passionate pursuit of mine for many years. This is a site where I get to share with you some of the things that I’ve been learning. I’m a husband, a father, pastor of a Parkway Fellowship Church (Dublin, CA), and a life-long student of the Scriptures.

21 thoughts on “Which Gospel to Read First – the Best Way for Beginners

    1. There’s a simple but effective way to study the Bible called the Sword Method. I made an info-graphic that you can use from that post. If you’re just starting out, I think you might find it really helpful. We also have articles in the Bible Basics section that might be useful.
      Let me know in the comments here or through the Contact page how we can best help.

    1. That’s a worthwhile goal. One way to grow in it is to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Co. 3:16). As you read, re-read and think about how you can apply the Bible to your life, you might also find it easier to remember.

  1. Bro. David Kim, I pray that you are well. I really enjoyed reading this article. I came upon it while just scrolling around entering search terms and I have to tell you, the way that you wrote and phrased this article is a blessing. You didn’t use far reaching terminology and as they say “big words” but you kept it so that anyone could easily follow along and glean whatever information they might need at the time and your links to external sources for additional study are very insightful. We need more pastors with this kind of heart in sharing the Word and in letting people know that even if they aren’t “high minded theologians, GOD’s Word is still for them and will “meet” them wherever they are in their Christian journey. May GOD continue to bless you and your ministry.

    Blessings and Grace

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I’m grateful to hear it was a blessing. May God continue to bless you as well!

  2. Thank you for helping me understand the big picture. I want to get more familiar with the basics of the bible and it’s messages then I will delve deeper into the details. Thank you for your knowledge, experience and support.

    1. I’m grateful to hear it was helpful. That sounds like a good plan. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey and let God reveal the beauty of Jesus through the pages of Scripture.

  3. I heard someone say one of the best ways to get to know God is to read and get to know Jesus. I’ve been struggling with the concept of “why” why does God allow this or that to happen? Or what really is God’s ultimate plan, or is “God’s plan” just a thing Christians say to make us to feel better when times are hard? I have faith is God but still have so many questions and I feel guilty to have these questions. I’ve heard so many times “to just have faith” when I ask these questions. But God gave me a brain for a reason right? I guess I struggle with why does God allow certain things? What’s the point in any of this? None of this is really related to your article but I thought I could start hopefully understanding things more by understanding Jesus. If you have any other resources or advice I’d love to hear it. Thank you for your wisdom and insight to help more people come closer to Christ.

    1. I find a good starting place is with who God is. He is pure, good, with no evil or wickedness at all. Yet, we experience brokenness in our lives and in the world. So, that’s the tension: how do we get from where we are back to God’s perfect design, where there is no brokenness?

      God’s way is through Jesus. As we “read and get to know Jesus,” we sometimes find His power at work in us (to bring hope, comfort, faith, strength). At other times, we experience the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, the humble and meek King of all Kings.

      Through it all, God is maturing us to love Him voluntarily, to partner with Him for His plans to be done in the world, and He will ultimately remove everything of evil in the world. And through it all, He is patient and merciful.

      Here are a couple of articles that touch on some of these things: 1) What is the Meaning of Life According to the Bible? 2) How Does the Bible End?

  4. Thank you for these articles. They’ve been very helpful and encouraging, and I’m looking forward to starting the Gospel of Mark and using the Sword method!

    1. I’m so excited for you! I know that God has many pearls of wisdom and insight waiting for you in His Word. Above all, I pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus to you in a fresh and new way.

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