What book of the Bible should a new believer read first?
Great question. There are so many to choose from! I’m going to suggest two options. Before I make my case, I want to give you some general encouragement. Then, I will explain why I think you may want to begin your Bible reading adventure either in Genesis or John.
Before You Read the Bible for the First Time
I’m excited that you’re setting out to read the Bible. There is nothing in the world more worthy of your time than listening to God in His Word. Let me try and dissuade you from two dangerous thoughts as you embark on this life-long journey.
No matter where you flip to in your Bible, you’re landing in God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). Every book of the Bible is God’s Word to us, given out of His love. God gave us the Scriptures to equip us for life and train us to be godly—to be like Him. In His wisdom, God gave us a book full of other books, to equip us for every experience we will meet in this life (2 Peter 1:3). Every part of the Bible was written for your good.
So friend, don’t succumb to an internal pressure to read the “right” thing. If you’re reading the Bible at all, you’re reading the right thing.
I want to rescue you from another dangerous thought. You may have heard that the Bible is a life-changing book. Perhaps you’re reading it for the first time because you long for transformation in your life. That’s a great reason to pick up the Bible. But you must understand that the Bible is not an end in itself—that is, the power of the Bible lies not in the book, but in the person who wrote it.
But there is a way to pick up the Bible and miss the point. Jesus corrected some people in the book of John who did just that:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40 NIV).
It’s easy to come to the Bible hoping for spiritual direction, better perspective, new ideals, an encouraging thought, or practical wisdom. Like these people Jesus addresses, we too are in search for life. The Bible does guide us (Psalm 119:105), make us wise (Proverbs 1:5), enlighten us (Psalm 19:8), and train us in righteous living (2 Timothy 3:16), but all these blessings only truly come to us through faith in Christ, not apart from Him. When you open your Bible, the words you read are the voice of the Lord who loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2:20). Reading your Bible is a means of knowing Him.
Before you open the Bible, ask God to reveal himself to you, to help you hear His voice through His Word, and to help you get to know Jesus.
We’ve come all this way and you still need your question answered. So what book of the Bible should you read first? Let me give you two options.
Consider Reading John First
Here’s a brief case for why you should read the Gospel of John first. The apostle John, who authored this book, explicitly tells us this book’s agenda:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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 20:30-31 ESV)
John wrote his Gospel to convince us that Jesus is exactly who He says He is—the Son of God, the promised Rescuer to whom the whole Bible points. The Holy Spirit inspired John to write this book in a way that would lead us to believe in Jesus. John’s ultimate goal is that we would come to know Jesus personally, and being reconciled to God through Jesus, that we would experience the life that is truly life.
Hopefully you can see why this book would be a fantastic place to begin your Bible reading.
Consider Reading Genesis First
I’ll give you an equally great second option to read when you first open the Bible—Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
Naturally, reading the beginning of any book would help you understand the rest. However, Genesis proves to be a more important beginning to a story than any other beginning you have ever read. You desperately need to read it. It’s the beginning of God’s story, but it is also the beginning of your story. The Bible isn’t fiction; it’s the story of reality. It’s the story we actually live in, the one our Creator gave us, as though Shakespeare handed Hamlet the transcript of his own play.
Not only is Genesis the beginning of God’s story and yours, but it’s also the bedrock. Themes woven throughout the Bible find their source in Genesis, the patterns in plot that recapitulate throughout the Bible first appear in Genesis. The promises that are fulfilled in the rest of the Bible are first given in Genesis. In fact, just the first 11 chapters of Genesis are quoted from over 100 times in the New Testament! Reading Genesis will lay in your mind the foundation for a biblical worldview, and thus help orient you to life in general.
Take Your Pick!
Friend, two books I recommend that you read first—you can decide between them. Open John, and you’ll meet Jesus, who Himself is the best gift you could ever ask for in this life. Open Genesis and enter the story of the Bible. As you open the Bible for the first time, I pray you will find that instead of inviting God into your story, He has invited you into His.