Imagine for a moment that a friend has asked you three questions pertaining to the Bible. First, he or she wants to hear your explanation of what it is. You respond quickly, “It’s the Word of God,” and then you embellish your answer with a few superlatives. “It’s the greatest book ever written, the best seller of all times, and a collection of sixty-six books all bound together in one magnificent volume,” you exude. And you’re right.
Your friend’s next question requires a bit more thought. “Exactly what is in the Bible?” the friend asks.
“Two major sections,” you reply with confidence. “There’s the Old Testament, which traces the interactions of God with the Hebrew people. These thirty-nine books let the reader know how the Hebrews lived and worshiped. On a more important level, the Old Testament contains the promises that God revealed through a handful of carefully chosen prophets. Christians generally view this collection of ancient books as a record of how God prepared his people for the coming of Jesus Christ.”
“Which leads to the New Testament,” you continue. “These twenty-seven books show the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises and prophecies. They tell the story of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, and include his famous challenge to his disciples to go into the world and spread his message. In fact, Christians still follow this ‘great commission’ by talking about Jesus with people who may not know him.”
Now comes your friend’s toughest question. “Okay, you’ve told me what the Bible is, and you’ve told me what’s in it,” she or he says. “Now explain what’s in it for me.”
Good Book or God’s Book?
Unless you can honestly articulate what’s in the Bible for you, then this “greatest book ever written” is little more than another best seller, an interesting history of other times, other places, and other people. It lacks relevance. It’s a good book but not God’s book. It’s a quirky compilation of teachings, lessons, and sayings that may seem out of touch with a world in the the twenty-first century. Unless you relate to the Bible on an everyday basis and on a personal level, it comes up short when compared with the scores of self-help books produced each year by modern Christian authors.
The Bible is much more than another religious resource. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (niv). God-breathed? This means that God breathed life into it. While you might be strengthened by the concepts and illustrations presented in contemporary books, you read the Bible to learn directly from your heavenly Father. He gave it to you to teach and encourage you as you grow in your new faith.
For many new Christians, the Bible doesn’t seem “reader friendly.” So many pages! they complain. So many names that are impossible to pronounce! They assume that the obvious place to begin their study is with the phrase “In the beginning….” They think—wrongly so—that they are expected to absorb the Bible in sequence, from Genesis to Revelation.
First: The Gospels
While the whole Bible is important in the life and growth of the individual, the gospels constitute the primary lens through which the believer views the entire Bible. Since this is so, as a new Christian, consider beginning with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Start with them, but not necessarily in that order. Choose Mark as your first reading assignment because it is written as a narrative, is full of action, and is simpler and more direct than the other three. It vividly tells the story of Jesus.
Read the entire Book of Mark at one sitting. This will take about an hour and a quarter if you read it aloud and much less if you read it silently. After Mark, work your way through Luke and notice how the author stresses the availability of salvation for all people. Read Matthew next and be aware of the emphasis on Jesus as a teacher. Finally, in John, you’ll recognize the seven signs that point to Jesus as the Son of God.
As you continue your reading program, select the shorter letters written by Paul, such as Ephesians and Philippians, and then read the opening eight chapters of Romans. By this time you will be familiar enough with the New Testament to make your own selections. Before long, you’ll be ready to turn to Genesis and learn what it was like “In the beginning….”