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.
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.
|Matthew||Jewish||Jesus as the Messiah who fulfills prophesies (Matt.13:34-35)|
|Mark||Roman||Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Mark 10:45)|
|Luke||Greek||Jesus as the “friend of sinners” and the perfect|
Son of God & “Son of Man” (Luke 7:34)
|John||Not specific||Jesus 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 Good to Read Next If You Want to Get More into the Old Testament
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 Is Good to Read Next If You Want to Get More Into the New Testament
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 Good To Read Next If You Want to Explore More Who Jesus Is
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 ESV Study Bible (link to Amazon) is the one that I would recommend the most.
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.
|Before you go, here’s an article I wrote about 11 Ways to Study the Bible (Link opens in a new window). See which one might work well for you so you can get the most out of your readings in Mark.|
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