Can You Read the New Testament Before the Old? Discover the Best Bible Reading Tips

When I first picked up a Bible, I wondered if I could dive into the New Testament before tackling the Old. It seemed like a daunting task to start with the ancient stories and laws, especially when I was more curious about the life and teachings of Jesus.

Can You Read the New Testament Before the Old? Discover the Best Bible Reading Tips

Many people face this same dilemma, and it’s perfectly normal to question where to begin. The New Testament offers a more accessible entry point with its focus on love, grace, and redemption, which can provide a solid foundation for later exploring the rich history and prophecies of the Old Testament. Let’s explore whether starting with the New Testament might be the right choice for you.

Understanding the Structure of the Bible

Many wonder whether they should start with the New Testament or the Old Testament. It helps to first understand how the Bible is structured before diving into specific sections.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament, also called the Hebrew Bible, consists of 39 books. It includes history, poetry, prophecy, and laws. It’s divided into several parts:

  1. Pentateuch (Torah):
  • The first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  • These books cover Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the life of Moses.
  1. Historical Books:
  • Cover Israel’s history from entering the Promised Land to their exile and return.
  • Books include Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 & 2 Samuel.
  1. Wisdom Literature:
  • Books like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
  • Contain poems, songs, and wise sayings.
  1. Prophetic Books:
  • Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
  • Minor Prophets: Hosea to Malachi.

These sections provide a deep understanding of God’s relationship with humanity and convey the anticipation of the Messiah.

The New Testament

The New Testament focuses on the life, teachings, and works of Jesus Christ and the early Church. It’s comprised of 27 books and divided as follows:

  1. Gospels:
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
  • Narratives detailing Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
  1. Acts of the Apostles:
  • The fifth book, often referred to as Acts.
  • Chronicles the early Church’s development post-Jesus’ ascension, focusing on figures like Peter and Paul.
  1. Epistles:
  • Letters written by apostles to various churches and individuals.
  • Paul’s Epistles include Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and others. General Epistles include James, Peter, John, and Jude.
  1. Apocalyptic Literature:
  • The Book of Revelation.
  • Contains visions and prophecies about the end times and Christ’s return.

The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and emphasizes the new covenant through Jesus Christ.

As a youth pastor with over 20 years of experience, I’ve often heard this question: “Can I read the New Testament before the Old?” It’s a good question, especially for those new to the Bible. Let’s dive into why many find starting with the New Testament beneficial and explore practical advice for getting the most out of your reading.

Benefits of Reading the New Testament First

Jumping straight into the New Testament can be enlightening and rewarding. Here are a couple key perks:

Gaining a Fresh Perspective

When diving into the New Testament first, you’re immediately introduced to the cornerstone of Christian faith—Jesus Christ. You get to see His life and teachings right away. This provides context and clarity for understanding the prophecies and laws in the Old Testament. For example, reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) offers firsthand accounts of Jesus’ ministry and miracles. These narratives shed light on why Jesus is central to Christianity.

Accessibility and Relatability

The New Testament’s language is generally more accessible and its themes are directly relevant to daily life. Letters like Paul’s Epistles can feel like straight-talk life advice. Take Romans 12:2, for instance: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It’s practical, direct, and applicable to modern challenges. Comparatively, the Old Testament can sometimes be dense with laws and genealogies, which might be tough to navigate initially.

Practical Steps for Reading the New Testament

Start with the Gospels

Begin with the Gospels for an immersive introduction to Jesus’ life. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide varied perspectives on the same events, enriching your understanding. For instance, while Matthew emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, Mark portrays Him as a powerful, miracle-working Son of God. This rounded view helps grasp the multifaceted nature of Jesus’ ministry.

Move to Acts and the Epistles

After the Gospels, read Acts of the Apostles. This book continues the story, detailing the early Church’s formation and growth. It’s basically a sequel to the Gospels, showing how Jesus’ teachings spread. Then, dive into the Epistles. These letters contain valuable teachings on living a Christian life. For example, Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It’s like receiving a pep talk from Paul himself.

Use Study Guides and Commentaries

It’s okay to need help understanding complicated passages. Study guides and commentaries can provide context, breaking down tough verses. For instance, a commentary on Revelation might explain symbolic imagery that seems confusing. Websites, apps, or good old-fashioned Bible study groups can also be great resources.

Tips for Deepening Your Understanding

Reading the Bible can seem overwhelming, especially when deciding where to start. Some say you should begin with the Old Testament, while others swear by starting with the New Testament. Being a youth pastor for over 20 years, I’ve heard this debate countless times. Let’s dive into whether you can start with the New Testament and explore the challenges it might bring.

Challenges of Reading the New Testament First

Sure, starting with the New Testament can give you an immediate look into Jesus’ life and teachings. But it also has its hurdles. Here’s what to consider:

Contextual Understanding

The New Testament often references the Old Testament. Without background knowledge, these references might leave you puzzled. For example, Hebrews 11 discusses faith through the lens of Old Testament figures like Abraham and Moses. If you don’t know their stories, you might miss the full depth of the message.

Missing the Historical Foundation

Old Testament events lay the groundwork for the New Testament. Key concepts like covenant, prophecy, and law originate there. Take the concept of Messiah: the New Testament proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. If you’ve never read those prophecies, the significance may not fully hit home.

Ready to start reading? Let me share some practical tips that’ll make your journey smoother.

Tips for Starting with the Old Testament

Begin with Genesis

Genesis sets the stage with creation, the fall, and God’s promises. These themes recur throughout the Bible. Understanding Genesis gives insight into humanity’s relationship with God.

Use Study Guides

Study guides can help clarify confusing passages. They offer context and explanations, like why certain laws existed or the significance of specific rituals.

Focus on Key Books

If the Old Testament feels too long, focus on key books. Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and Isaiah provide major themes and prophecies that reappear in the New Testament.

Steps to Incorporate Both Testaments

Read in Parallel

Reading a chapter from both Testaments each day can provide a fuller picture. You’ll see how Old Testament prophecies and narratives connect to New Testament teachings.

Join a Bible Study Group

Bible study groups offer community and insight. Sharing thoughts and questions with others can deepen your understanding and keep you motivated.

Reflect on Scripture

Daily reflection helps internalize what you read. Journal your thoughts and prayers, noting connections between Testaments. This practice brings scripture to life and aids in memorization.

Recommended Approach to Reading the Bible

Whether you’re new to the Bible or have been reading it for years, a structured approach can enhance your experience. It’s not just about what you read but how you dive into the scriptures that make a difference.

Suggested Reading Orders

There are various ways to approach reading the Bible. Here are a few orders you might find helpful:

  1. Chronological Order: Start with Genesis and follow the events as they occurred. This gives a more cohesive storyline. Reading in this order helps understanding of the sequence of historical events and their context.
  2. Canonical Order: Read straight through from Genesis to Revelation. This traditional method is straightforward and often recommended for first-time readers. Familiarity with the canonical structure helps when referencing specific books and passages.
  3. Thematic Order: Focus on specific themes. For example, read about creation, then move to covenants, then prophecies, and finally, fulfillments. This order helps in understanding how different parts of the Bible connect.
  4. Life of Jesus: Begin with the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then supplement with prophetic books, Psalms, and the Epistles. This way, you get a comprehensive look at Jesus’ life and teachings.
  5. Interweaving Testaments: Read a book from the Old Testament followed by one from the New Testament. This method reveals the continuity between the two Testaments. It helps see how Old Testament themes and prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament.
  1. Use Study Guides: Many study guides offer explanations, historical context, and reflection questions. They can be invaluable, particularly during challenging parts like Leviticus or Revelation.
  2. Join Bible Study Groups: Community insight can clarify difficult verses. Hearing different interpretations broadens understanding and provides support through the journey. This is a good way to stay motivated.
  3. Journal Your Readings: Keeping a journal helps in processing what you’ve read. Write down thoughts, prayers, and questions. Journaling can turn reading into an interactive dialogue with the text.
  4. Reflect on Scriptural Cross-References: Many Bibles have cross-references listed in the margins. Use these to see how different parts of the Bible relate to each other.
  5. Pray for Understanding: Take a moment to pray before and after reading. It’s about connecting with God, not just acquiring knowledge.

Incorporating these approaches can make reading the Bible more fulfilling. It’s a big book with a lot of ground to cover, but with persistence and the right methods, you’ll find it incredibly rewarding.


Whether you choose to start with the New Testament or the Old Testament, the key is to find a reading approach that resonates with you. There’s no right or wrong way to dive into the Bible. By exploring different reading orders and using helpful tools like study guides and journaling, you can make your journey through the Scriptures both enriching and enjoyable.

Remember, the goal is to deepen your understanding and strengthen your faith. So take your time, reflect on what you read, and don’t hesitate to seek support from study groups or prayer. Happy reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I start reading the Bible with the New Testament or the Old Testament?

It depends on your preference and goals. The New Testament offers a direct introduction to Jesus’ life and teachings, while the Old Testament provides historical context and foundational stories of faith. Some readers prefer starting with the New Testament because it’s more accessible and shorter.

What are the benefits of starting with the Old Testament?

Starting with the Old Testament helps readers understand the historical and cultural background of the New Testament. It provides a richer understanding of biblical themes, prophecies, and how they are fulfilled in the New Testament.

Is there a recommended order to read the Bible?

There are various reading orders, including chronological, canonical, thematic, focusing on the life of Jesus, and interweaving Testaments. Each method offers unique insights and can enhance the overall reading experience.

How can I enhance my Bible reading experience?

Using study guides, joining Bible study groups, journaling your readings, reflecting on cross-references, and praying for understanding can significantly enhance your Bible reading experience. These practices help deepen your understanding and make the journey more rewarding.

What is the thematic reading order?

The thematic reading order involves choosing themes or topics and reading passages related to them from both the Old and New Testaments. This approach helps in understanding specific subjects in-depth and how they are addressed throughout the Bible.

Why is journaling readings recommended?

Journaling allows you to reflect on and record your insights, questions, and personal responses to the scriptures. It helps in tracking your spiritual growth and provides a valuable reference for future reflections.

How does reflecting on cross-references improve Bible study?

Cross-references help connect different parts of the Bible, showing how passages relate to each other. Reflecting on these connections enriches your understanding of biblical themes and the continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

Can reading the Bible be a group activity?

Yes, joining a Bible study group can be very beneficial. Group discussions provide diverse perspectives, foster a sense of community, and can offer support and accountability in your Bible reading journey.