A self-directed reading plan and study guide for people that are new to the Bible and want to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Most people that are new to the Bible approach it like any other book that they read—they start at the beginning and read linearly through to the end. However, this often leads to frustration because a linear reading approach does not readily facilitate an understanding of the Bible as you are reading it. The Basics of the Bible study guide takes a different approach by studying the books of the Bible in a non-sequential order, which more readily allows the big picture of the Bible to emerge. Basics of the Bible study guide is the resource that launched the basicsofthebible.org website, and is available in slide format, and eBook readers including ePub format and Kindle format (download, unzip and transfer to Kindle reader). A compact print version on legal size paper is also available.
Welcome. This course is designed for the person that wants to learn what it means to become or be a follower of Jesus. Many people that seek this knowledge realize that the Bible is where they must look, but have been hampered in their quest for one reason or another (e.g. intimidated by the size of the Bible, don't know where to begin, tried to read the Bible but couldn't make sense of it, got discouraged, etc.).
This is a self-directed study to assist you in your quest for answers. It is intended to take you rapidly through select books of the Bible to give you a "big picture" overview of what it means to be or become a follower of Jesus, and to become familiarized with the Bible—which is the definitive handbook for those who want to follow Jesus. For maximum benefit, plan on spending about 30 minutes every day for the next few weeks.
The course consists of two parts: the first covers the basics and can be completed in two weeks. The second part "digs deeper" into the Bible and takes an additional five weeks of daily reading. This study lays the basic foundation for understanding the Bible and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
After completing this course, you will be equipped, empowered and excited to continue your study of the Bible.
Most people that are new to the Bible approach it like any other book that they read—they start at the beginning and read linearly through to the end.
However, this often leads to frustration because a linear reading approach does not readily facilitate an understanding of the Bible as you are reading it. This course takes a different approach by taking you through books of the Bible in a non-sequential order. As such, this facilitates a greater understanding of the big picture of the Bible as you are reading it—that is, as you progress through the daily reading schedule, you will understand more and more what the Bible is saying.
You will need a Bible and a pencil or highlighter.
It is not necessary to buy a study version of the Bible for this course, but you may find it beneficial in the long term to start this course using a study Bible. If English is your native language*, choose a modern Bible translation—NIV, NRSV, NASB, ESV and NKJV are all excellent choices—but avoid paraphrase versions for this study. (Paraphrase versions are excellent for getting a different perspective on a word in the original Greek or Hebrew text, but this type of study should be saved for later in your journey.)
*Generally, you'll understand the Bible best in your first language, so feel free to use that translation if it is available in your native tongue. If you are bilingual, use the language with which you are most comfortable
Carve out time each day to complete the readings.
This course requires about 20-40 minutes of focused, uninterrupted daily reading. Every day before you begin reading, pray to God asking that the Holy Spirit would give you insight and understanding into what you are about to read.
Read the Bible selection as quickly as you can without skimming or speed reading (if you have a study Bible, do not stop to read the commentary notes, or do so only sparingly). If you notice a verse of interest, highlight it or underline it with a pencil, but do not stop to contemplate at this point in time yet (instructions will be given at the end of the course on how to read the Bible contemplatively and how to effectively use study Bibles and other commentaries).
It is important to read every day—missing a day or two will make it more difficult to remember where you left off and will also make it harder for you to develop a "big picture" view of the Bible.
The Bible consists of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain 39 books written by many different authors over a one thousand year period, between approximately 1400-400 BC. Except for a few sections, it is written entirely in Hebrew. A more detailed description of the Hebrew Scriptures is included later in this study, but for the purposes of this introduction, it is sufficient to summarize that the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole tell of a special and unique task that the Creator God gave to the descendants of a man named Abraham—the Israelites. The purpose of this task was that the Israelites were "commissioned" to tell all the other people of the world about the Creator God. The Hebrew Scriptures contain many references of the coming of a Messiah (which is the Hebrew word for savior or rescuer).
The Greek Scriptures contain 27 books, also written by several different authors over a period of approximately 50 years, around 40-90 AD. The Greek Scriptures show how the Creator God entered into history by becoming a human, fulfilling what was written in the Hebrew Scriptures about the coming Messiah (Savior). The Messiah is a descendant of Abraham named Yeshua (Joshua), or as translated in English, Jesus. The Greek word for Messiah is Christos, from which the title Christ is derived. Today, we put the name and title together: Jesus (the) Christ.
Old Testament Structure and Timeline
New Testament Structure and Timeline
To see graphic in other languages, visit Bible Structure and Timeline Infographic page.
The Bible is numbered so that it is easy to navigate and find a particular passage.
Most of the books are divided into chapters (a few of the smallest books have a single un-numbered chapter), and each chapter in turn is divided into verses. A verse is typically one or two sentences. Even those that are unfamiliar with the Bible have probably heard someone quote or refer to John 3:16. This means the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16. When looking up books in the Bible, refer to the table of contents. In this example, the book of John, or the Gospel of John as it is known by its longer title, is located toward the back of the Bible. Once you locate John, flip through a couple of pages until you reach chapter 3. In most Bibles, the font size of the chapter number is much larger than the rest of the text whereas the verse number is a small superscript number embedded within the text itself. See examples:
11In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Basics covers three books from the Greek Scriptures (commonly referred to as the New Testament) and a portion of the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly referred to as the Old Testament):
1st letter of John*
*Not to be confused with the Gospel of John; the 1st letter of John is located near the end of the Bible
Mark: a fast-paced and vivid account of the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Written by a disciple of Jesus named John Mark.
1st John: the most succinct and eloquent writing in the entire Bible on the loving aspect of our Heavenly Father, the Creator God. Written by John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus' closest and most beloved disciples.
Genesis 1-11: a big picture summary of creation and the aftermath of mankind's rebellion against the Creator God. This portion of the Bible forms the foundation for understanding the entire Bible.
Romans: a profound and stunningly clear description of the depravity of mankind and how to be reconciled with the Creator God through faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Written by Paul, the first missionary to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and Greece.
Day 1: Mark 1-4
Day 2: Mark 5-8
Day 3: Mark 9-12
Day 4: Mark 13-16
Day 5: 1 John 1-3
Day 6: 1 John 4-5
Day 7: Genesis 1-3
Day 8: Genesis 4-5
Day 9: Genesis 6-8
Day 10: Genesis 9-11
Day 11: Romans 1-4
Day 12: Romans 5-8
Day 13: Romans 9-12
Day 14: Romans 13-16
Focus point: Mark 2:1-12
I can tell someone that I forgive them of their sins—all of their sins, mind you, not just the ones they may have committed against me personally. It would be bold and presumptuous of me to make such a claim, but nevertheless, I could still say this to someone and no one could prove one way or the other if my announcement actually worked or not. That is because there isn't any obvious or visible sign that proves whether or not I actually had the power and ability to remove their sins—they would look just the same as they did before I made my audacious announcement.
Here, Jesus provides the physical evidence to His claim that He (and He alone) has the ability to forgive sins. First, He says to the paralytic that the man's sins are forgiven, but then Jesus goes on to actually prove it—He connects His words of forgiveness with His words of healing. The paralytic is instantly cured—Jesus used His words to show His power over disease, the man was healed; therefore His words of healing must be true. Jesus used His words to state that He can forgive sins; likewise these words must also be true.
Do you see the striking difference between my claim to have the power to forgive sins (in which I provide no proof), and Jesus' claim to have the power to forgive sins (in which He provides spectacular proof)?
Focus point: Mark 8:31-38
This passage introduces a theme that you will see throughout all four gospel accounts—before Jesus' death and resurrection, the disciples completely misunderstood the purpose and intent of Jesus' plan. They thought that Jesus came as a conqueror-king that would deliver the oppressed Israelites out of the hands of the foreign rulers (Rome).
This is why Peter "rebuked" Jesus here—Peter is essentially saying, "Jesus, that's crazy talk—you're here to deliver us, not sacrifice yourself—let me remind you of the game plan…." Jesus must correct Peter (and not for the last time!) and remind him of the true game plan—that Jesus came to usher in a new kingdom, the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that looks completely different from our worldly ideas of a kingdom.
Keep this thought in mind as you read through the gospel accounts and it will help you understand a great deal of the "confusing" things that Jesus said to His disciples—it sounds confusing to us because we have the same incorrect mindset that Peter had.
Focus point: Mark 12:28-34
The modern equivalent to a scribe would be a Bible scholar or Theology professor—one who studies the Scriptures in the original language and knows it inside and out. Isn't it curious that a scribe is asking Jesus what commandment is the most important? The scribe is referring to the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible—today we call this the "Law." In Hebrew, torah simply means "instruction."
We will get to a study of the Law later, but for the purposes of understanding this passage, there are hundreds of laws and instructions described in the Torah, so the scribe is asking: which of these is most important? It is likely that the scribe was hoping to trip Jesus up and get Him to say something inconsistent or to say something that could easily be proven wrong (after all, he had a Ph.D. in the Scriptures). Instead, Jesus condenses and summarizes all of the Law into two commandments: it's all about your relationship with God as highest priority, and your relationship with fellow humans as second priority. Everything else—all the detailed rules that you read about in the Law—fall naturally into place if you have these two commandments in the right priority.
You can see the transforming power of Jesus right here in this passage—the scribe had hoped to trick Jesus, but instead was completely convinced and changed by Jesus' answer to his question.
Focus point: Mark 14:53-65
The religious leaders were looking for a way to lawfully have Jesus put to death and rid themselves of Jesus' meddling in their territory, so to speak. In verse 58, an accusation is made that Jesus used magic or sorcery as His source of power, which was an act punishable by death according to the Law. But the accusation didn't stick because of conflicting testimony. The chief priest must then "ratchet" things up a notch, and hopes to trap Jesus in blasphemy—claiming to be God or equal to God—an act also punishable by death. Now, instead of the conflicting testimony of the false witnesses, Jesus Himself answers the chief priest's question (much to the delight of the chief priest, for this is exactly the claim he was hoping Jesus would make)—Jesus confirms that He is the Messiah. This sealed Jesus' fate, for now the council had the "legal" basis for imposing the death penalty. At that time, since Israel was under the control of Rome, criminals convicted of capital punishment had to first have the approval of the regional Roman leader before the sentence could be carried out.
Stop and think about it for a moment: if Jesus were just an ordinary man (as the council thought), then good riddance—just another crazy person claiming to be a Messiah (people still claim this today); but the difference is that Jesus wasn't just another crazy person, He rose from the dead, proving that He was indeed the Messiah. No false Messiah has ever done that, they are still in the grave.
Focus point: 1st John 3:1-10
Many people find it unusual or strange that the Bible uses familial language so often. Many people have an idea that God is a distant, incomprehensible figure. When we reflect on the scope and size of creation, it is easy to get this feeling about the Being who brought forth the entire universe. Yet, John wants to make it clear, using language that we can easily understand and relate to, that God is like a wonderful father who pours His love out on us.
As you read this section, try imagining that you are God's "favorite" child (for the purpose of emphasizing the point John is making in verse 1) and see what a difference it makes in your understanding of God's loving character. But also be mindful of the other point that John is making here—this lavish love is only for God's children. And just who are God's children? We find that out in the next chapter.
Focus point: 1st John 4:7-16
This is perhaps one of the finest explanations in the entire Bible about the nature of the relationship that we can have with our loving Heavenly Father—and the basis of that relationship is love.
At first glance, it may sound similar to what many other philosophies and religions say, that one has to intentionally express love to God and to others and once you do that, you are a loving person and God is pleased with you. But re-read verse 10 and notice the striking difference between John's explanation and that of the "world's" explanation: it is not by us expressing love to God that brings us into a relationship with Him—it's the other way around! God expresses His love to us, and that is how we become His children. Most people believe that the "work" has to be done on our side in order to make us pleasing and acceptable to God. Not so. Isn't it wonderful that the "work" is done by God and not us—this is one of the reasons why the gospel, that is, the "Good News" (for that is what the Greek word gospel means in English) really is good news.
Now look at verse 15. This verse answers the question raised yesterday—who are the children of God? Do you now see how to enter into a relationship with our loving Creator God? It is only by believing in Jesus Christ, our wonderful Savior!
Focus point: Genesis 3:1-13
I can't overemphasize the importance of this chapter in understanding the rest of the Bible. There are few chapters in the whole Bible that are as critical. Rather than comment very much on it, I recommend that you read and re-read this chapter frequently during The Basics and Dig Deeper studies—there are many other passages in Scripture that will shed more light and color on what we commonly refer to as "The Fall"—that is, the fall of mankind from a state of perfection and grace. We, as descendants of Adam and Eve, no longer have this perfect fellowship with the Creator God. The rest of the Bible is God's wonderful plan to bring us back into that fellowship with Him. But as you will discover, the rest of the Bible also shows how mankind, sadly, repeatedly rejects God's wonderful plan, even to this day.
Focus point: Genesis 4:1-12
This passage tells the account of the first murder in the history of mankind. It is implied, but not explicitly stated, that the reason that Cain's sacrifice was not pleasing to the Lord is because Cain didn't give the very best of his harvest but held the best portions back for himself; whereas Abel gave the choicest portion of his offering. In other words, in Cain's heart, he didn't put God as the first and highest priority. Today it is no different—we too hold back the best for ourselves—it is in our very nature.
Focus point: Genesis 6:5-8
The depravity of mankind only further deteriorated since the days of Cain and Abel, until it was in such a state that God was grieved to the heart—not that God has a heart like we do, but the author here (tradition states it was Moses) is using imagery that we can relate to in order to understand how God felt. Stop and think of that for a moment—God has feelings and emotion, such as grief and pain. That is an astonishing thought for most people, but it is true. This passage introduces the account of Noah, who found favor with God and through whom God would remake the world and re-establish the human race through a catastrophic flood.
Focus point: Genesis 11:1-4
The important thing to take note in this passage is how quickly mankind is back to its self-centered, self-sufficient ways. In verse 3, notice how industrious and hard-working the people are here and that their goals are self-aggrandizement ("make a name for ourselves"). Sadly, there is little difference between the people today and those described here. Like them, we feel that we don't need God, we can do it ourselves.
It may sound strange or counter-intuitive, but it was actually an act of mercy that God dispersed the people and confused the languages—had the people been allowed to continue on in their quest for independence, no one would have been left who even remembered God. By dispersing the people, God was able to isolate a particular man from which He was going to build a whole nation of people that would tell the rest of the world about the wonderful Creator God.
We will return to this point in history in the Dig Deeper lesson, but first, we need to get additional background material to make better sense of this special people.
Focus point: Romans 1:18-20
Paul is saying here that it's no use to plead ignorance—you can't show up before the throne of God and say, "Oh, sorry, I didn't know you existed…you should have made yourself more obvious." God has left all of creation as a testimony to His existence.
Re-read verse 18 to see what Paul says about people that attempt to feign ignorance—he says that someone who does this is a wicked person who suppresses the truth. Have you ever known someone that failed to see something about themselves but it was obvious to everyone else? Maybe it was a problem they had, some compulsion such as overspending, overeating, alcohol addiction or repeatedly making bad relationship decisions. Don't you feel a little bit of pity for them—they can't or won't see something that is plain to everyone else around them. Now amplify that ignorance—actually, it's not true ignorance but a suppression of reality—on a much grander scale. Let say, the size of the universe—for that is how large of a witness there is to the Creator God—how foolish would it seem for a person to continue to deny the existence of God? Paul would say that it would be foolishness to the point of wickedness.
Focus point: Romans 8:1-4
This section of Romans contains one of the most lucid and sobering descriptions of mankind's disposition towards evil. As we read through chapters 5-7, we are struck to the heart because we feel that Paul is not describing himself but instead has somehow gotten into our heads and discovered the deepest secrets about ourselves that we have kept hidden from everyone else.
Try this exercise, re-read Romans 7:7-25. At the end of verse 25, stop and breathe a heavy sigh of relief—imagine that you've just finishing running a marathon and are so glad and relieved that it is over. Then immediately read Romans 8:1-4. This passage is a breath of fresh air—imagine it, the heaviness of sin (like a grueling marathon), and then the lightness and freedom of being done with it—forever! That is how you should feel as you read through Romans 8, light as a feather through your new-found freedom in Jesus Christ.
Focus point: Romans 10:9-13
Re-read Romans 10:13 and let the words sink into your ears, your heart, your very being. Isn't it wonderful to know that this is a promise from God that we can bank on and trust in? This is an excellent passage to memorize so that you can recall it anytime you need a burst of wonder at the amazing promises that our Creator God has given to us.
But just who is the "Lord" that Paul is referring to in this passage? In today's culture, it is very common to say or believe that there are many ways to "call on the name of the Lord" and that in essence, all the various religions are just different ways to the same God. But are they really? Is the Lord that Paul is describing here the same that our pluralistic society today defines? For the answer, we have to go back a couple sentences to verses 9-11. Here in these verses, who does Paul say is the "Lord" that is able to deliver on the promise given in verse 13? With that answer in mind, you may also want to memorize these verses as well.
Focus point: Romans 13:8-14
In Romans, you have heard Paul refer to the "Law" on many occasions. Just what is this Law that he keeps referring to? To answer that question will require more background reading in the Bible—in fact, we won't get to a detailed study of the Law until after we finish the Dig Deeper section. But for purposes of getting a big picture overview of the Law, this section of Romans provides one of the best summaries in the entire Bible. Keep this overview of the Law in mind as you continue your study through the Bible, so that when you finally do read about the Law (which is quite comprehensive), you will not "get lost" or mired in the details of the Law. You can refer back here to Paul's summary in order to keep you grounded in understanding the true and underlying intention of God when He gave the Law to the Israelites. In Paul's masterful way of expressing ideas, he introduces, or rather reminds us that the ultimate purpose of the Law is to lead us into love, which should sound very familiar to what you just recently read in the 1st Letter of John.
Even though we've only read a little over three books of the Bible (out of a total of 66), you should already be getting the sense that the Bible "answers itself." That is, the various books of the Bible, even though they are written by many different authors in many different places and time periods, are harmonious and complementary to one another. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that the Bible contains the answers to many of the perplexing questions we have about life—if we are willing to invest the time to search for the answers and be open to listening to what God is saying to us through the words of the Bible. This is one of the main goals of the first section of this course—recognizing that when questions "come up" as we read through the Bible, the answers are ultimately found in other passages of the Bible itself. This is why we said at the beginning of this course that we can understand the Bible better and better as we are reading it.
As you continue your journey through the Dig Deeper study, keep this in mind—in fact, knowing that the answers to your questions might be "just around the corner" makes it very exciting to read through the Bible and you will find yourself not wanting to put it down!
The Dig Deeper study continues building on the readings from The Basics study. Again, the emphasis is on selected books from the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) and you will also finish the book of Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):
Gospel of John
Luke: the most detailed account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Noted for numerous historical references and attention to detail. Written by Luke, a Greek physician and co-worker of Paul.
Acts: also written by Luke, which chronicles the work of the first apostles after Jesus gave them His Great Commission (see below). The work of many apostles and co-workers are detailed, but particular emphasis is paid to the missionary work of Peter and Paul.
Ephesians: a succinct letter from Paul to the believers in Ephesus explaining the victorious life that we can have as followers of Jesus.
Genesis 12-50: detailed account of the Creator God's special relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the forbearers of the nation of Israel.
Gospel of John: like 1st John, an eloquent and profoundly moving account of the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
Matthew 28: the Great Commission that Jesus gave his followers—these instructions are the most important and highest priority task of those who follow Jesus.
By now you have a basic understanding not only of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also a better idea of the underlying reasons for His Life: to come as the Messiah, ushering in a new kingdom of Life and conquering the old kingdom of Death. Death: to die on our behalf in payment for our sin—because we are incapable of paying that debt ourselves. Resurrection: to defeat death and leave a testimony in the historical record about the validity of His claim to have conquered sin and death.
In the Dig Deeper study, we will do just that—dig deeper into the Bible to discover more and more about our wonderful Savior and God. We will learn about what the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection did and how they shared and spread the "Good News" to people in Africa, Asia and Europe. In the middle of the study, we'll revisit the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures to learn the fascinating background of the patriarchs of the Israelite people—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then we'll return to the Greek Scriptures to read the stunningly moving account of Jesus by John, one of Jesus' closest disciples. We will then finish with the last chapter of Matthew's Gospel, to learn about the most important command of Jesus to all those that follow Him.
Day 15: Luke 1-4
Day 16: Luke 5-8
Day 17: Luke 9-12
Day 18: Luke 13-16
Day 19: Luke 17-20
Day 20: Luke 21-24
Day 21: Acts 1-4
Day 22: Acts 5-8
Day 23: Acts 9-12
Day 24: Acts 13-16
Day 25: Acts 17-20
Day 26: Acts 21-24
Day 27: Acts 25-28
Day 28: Ephesians 1-3
Day 29: Ephesians 4-6
Day 30: Genesis 12-14
Day 31: Genesis 15-17
Day 32: Genesis 18-20
Day 33: Genesis 21-23
Day 34: Genesis 24-26
Day 35: Genesis 27-29
Day 36: Genesis 30-32
Day 37: Genesis 33-35
Day 38: Genesis 36-38
Day 39: Genesis 39-41
Day 40: Genesis 42-44
Day 41: Genesis 45-47
Day 42: Genesis 48-50
Day 43: John 1-3
Day 44: John 4-6
Day 45: John 7-9
Day 46: John 10-12
Day 47: John 13-15
Day 48: John 16-18
Day 49: John 19-21, Matthew 28
Luke 15: three parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son), illustrating the great love that God has for mankind.
Luke 19: the story of Zacchaeus; the parable of talents (in Luke's account, a very dramatic illustration emphasizing the importance of using the skills God has given to us for His Kingdom work); and the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem, one week before His death.
Luke 22-23: the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus.
Acts 26:17-18: the book of Acts is one of the most exciting to read in the entire Bible. As such, it is hard to summarize such an amazing book in a few sentences. Consider the speech of Paul in chapter 26, verses 17-18, as you reflect back on the book of Acts, for this is a model of what Jesus would have us do even today. That is, to bring others out of darkness and into the light.
Ephesians 2:8-9: one of the most compact summaries in the entire Bible about what it is that followers of Jesus believe. This is an excellent passage to memorize.
Ephesians 4:11-13: this passage is one of the best summaries of the variety of "jobs" that believers of Jesus do (v. 11), the underlying purpose of these jobs (v. 12) and the reason why God views these jobs as so important (v. 13).
Ephesians 6:10-18: an essential passage for understanding how believers are to actively "equip" themselves for service in God's Kingdom work. If you have been "employed" by the King (i.e., you have become a follower of Jesus), return to this chapter and re-read it whenever you are facing discouragement, disappointment or defeat in your work for the Kingdom.
Genesis 12:1-7: the promise God made to Abraham—one of the most foundational passages in the entire Bible.
Genesis 27: the account of Jacob stealing the birthright from his twin brother Esau (with a little help from his mother Rebekah). It is from Jacob that the 12 tribes of Israel (and eventually the whole nation) are descended.
Genesis 37: the account of Joseph, Jacob's eldest son by Rachel and how he was sold into slavery by his 10 older half-brothers.
Genesis 45: the exciting conclusion of the account of Joseph, and the unveiling of God's purpose behind the years of his tribulations.
John 3: a profound yet simple and clear explanation that Jesus Himself gave on the reason that we should become His follower and how to do so.
John 11: perhaps the most moving description in the entire Bible about the deep compassion of Jesus. Here, Jesus is so distraught and moved by the death of His friend Lazarus that Jesus weeps at his grave. This passage is foundational on many levels—understanding the humanity and emotion of Jesus, understanding the perspective that Jesus had in regard to the ultimate fate of mankind (death), and understanding that death (and disease for that matter) are not in God's original plan for mankind.
John 15: part of Jesus' final instructions to His disciples, which is only recorded by John. In this chapter, Jesus explains the relationship that believers have to God through Him.
This is it—the best description of what the followers of Jesus are supposed to do with their time left on this planet. In terms of getting guidance on our purpose in life, Matthew 28:16-20 is the most important set of instructions in the entire Bible. Don't misunderstand—the rest of the Bible is very important in building up many different aspects of the life of a follower of Jesus, but no other passage can compare when it comes to answering the question: "What exactly does God want me to do with my life?" Of course, there are many different ways that God's will can be done, and the work that God calls for one believer will likely look very different from the work He calls for another believer. We must trust (and pray) that the Holy Spirit will "fill in the details" that are specific to our own situation. But here, let's summarize the big picture of the Great Commission that Jesus gives us:
Go: actively go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Another word for go is "leave," as in leave your comfort zone.
Make disciples: teach others what God has shown you through your relationship with Jesus Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Baptize them: soak them in their relationship with Jesus so that it transforms their life in highly visible and noticeable ways.
Teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded: help them "dig deeper" and continually grow in their walk with Jesus.
Wow. Hopefully this is how you are feeling as you finish up the Dig Deeper study.
Isn't the Bible an amazing book that you might not have appreciated before? Have you felt the Holy Spirit "speak" to you and give you insight during this study? If so, wasn't it exciting and wouldn't you like to experience more of that? The good news is that you can! Through the process of this study, you should now feel equipped to be able continue on your quest for answers. The remainder of this guide gives you a plan in which you can read the rest of the Bible. The readings are again in a non-sequential order to facilitate understanding the Bible as you are reading it.
But before you continue on, let's learn an important lesson from the book of Acts. While I hope this study guide has been helpful to you, let me also give you a cautionary note: don't just take the words in this study at face value—instead be a "Berean." Take a look at Acts 17:11 to see what I mean:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Being a Berean means to examine and study the Scriptures for yourself to see if what Paul (or anyone else) says about God is true. As you embark on your journey, I encourage you to be a Berean for the rest of your life.
Congratulations! You now have a basic understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You now should also have more confidence in your ability to read, interpret and understand the Scriptures and feel empowered to continue your study of the Bible. This is exciting because, for the rest of your life, as you continue to read and re-read the Bible, you will likewise continue to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of the Bible and as a result, grow closer and closer in your relationship with Him.
The remainder of this study guide provides you with a proposed reading order to complete the rest of the Bible. Depending on your reading speed and the amount of time you commit each day, you can expect to finish the entire Bible between 3-12 months. The important thing is not how fast you read but what you learn during the process—speed reading through the Bible for the sake of finishing it does little good if you miss the message.
Like The Basics and Dig Deeper lessons, the following plans also take you through the Bible in a non-sequential order, again to facilitate better understanding of the Bible as you are reading it. Continue your daily prayer that God give you His Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are about to read—and expect that you will be wonderfully rewarded.
The Law: known as Torah in Hebrew, which means "instruction;" the Law consists of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Tradition states that Moses is the author of the Torah.
Historical books and Prophets: known as nevi-im in Hebrew, these are the books that contain detailed historical accounts of the leaders and rulers of the Israelite people. The books of the prophets must be studied closely with the historical books, since it was to the leaders that their warnings were directed. The historical books include: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. The prophetic books include: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Lamentations.
The Writings: known as ketuvim in Hebrew, these are books of poetry and include: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (also known as Song of Solomon). In Hebrew tradition, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel are considered part of the ketuvim, but a better understanding of the Bible as a whole is gained when these books are grouped with the historical books.
Historical books: consisting of the four Gospels and Acts. The Gospels are named according to the author: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew and John were two of the twelve disciples of Jesus during His earthly life and ministry. Mark was likely a young man who was among the larger band of disciples that followed Jesus. Luke was a Greek physician who came to believe in Jesus through Paul's missionary work. He also authored Acts.
Letters: as implied, these are letters written by the apostles, who were the leaders of the group of believers that emerged immediately following the resurrection of Jesus. Most of the letters were written by Paul, which include: Romans,1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Next comes Hebrews, the author is uncertain. Finally, are the letters by James (the half-brother of Jesus), 1-2 Peter (one of the 12), 1-3 John (one of the 12) and Jude, (Jude could either be one of the 12 or the half-brother of Jesus).
Prophecy: the only prophetic book of the Bible is Revelation, which tells of the return of Jesus to finalize His Kingdom after there has been sufficient time for all the nations to have a chance to hear and to respond to the message of salvation by believing in Jesus the Messiah.
The remainder of the Bible can be read and studied by breaking up into the following subjects:
Prophecy and end times
Life in the "Body of Christ"
Warnings against false teachers
Old Testament (OT) History: Conquest–Judges period
OT History: Monarchy period
The writings of David and Solomon
OT History refresher: David and Solomon
OT History: Divided Kingdoms period
OT Prophets to the Northern Kingdom
Detailed study on the Southern Kingdom
OT History: Exile and the Restoration
The books of the Law describe how the Creator God called a nation of special servants, the Israelites, and gave them the task of telling the whole world about Him. You will quickly discover that the Israelites failed in this task time and again. Yet God never abandoned the people of Israel, even to this day and He will still fulfill the promise He made to Abraham in Genesis 12. The books of the Law lay the foundation for understanding all the historical and prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures and even more importantly, for understanding how Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) perfectly and completely fulfills the requirements of the Law on our behalf. If He hadn't, we wouldn't be able to have a relationship with our Creator and would remain His enemy (through our own doing, not His).
Here, instead of diving right into the details of the Law (where the chances of getting "lost" are pretty high), we start with the letter to the Hebrews, which is the best summary and explanation of the Law in the entire Bible. The Law begins with the book of Genesis, but since you've just completed reading that book, there is no need to repeat it in this study. Then, after reading Exodus through Deuteronomy, the study is again "framed" by another explanatory book on the Law—the letter by Paul to the Galatians, which provides a wonderful way to "stop and look back" on what you've just read.
Hebrews: a detailed description of how Jesus the Messiah perfectly and completely fulfills the requirements of the Law on our behalf.
Exodus: the historical account of the rescue of the descendants of Jacob from slavery in Egypt in preparation of the formation of the nation of Israel. The first time the Creator God makes Himself widely known to the nations.
Leviticus: detailed regulations for the Israelite people and their leaders.
Numbers: the account of how the Israelites didn't trust God and as a result had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy: after the unbelieving generation died in the wilderness, the new generation had to be re-instructed in the Law.
Galatians: a letter by Paul that gives a succinct summary of the Law and how through Jesus, we are released from the bondage of the Law to live Spirit-filled lives.
The Bible speaks considerably about future events—in both the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek Scriptures (New Testament).
Some events described in both testaments have been fulfilled, whereas others events have yet to take place. Some prophecies are obvious in their fulfillment, such as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, whereas it is not as clear in other cases. As we read through the Bible, we should not overly focus on determining if a certain prophecy has been fulfilled or not, but rather try to learn what God is telling us through the words of the prophets. Here, we take a closer look at the books of the Bible that speak directly about end times. The readings are ordered so that by the time we get to the final book of the Bible, we can better understand the visions described in Revelation. You will notice that Revelation unveils and explains many of the mysterious visions of the prophets, particularly Zechariah and Daniel.
Matthew: one of the 12 disciples of Jesus who was of the tribe of Levi. He wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience, emphasizing how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and Law of the Hebrew Scriptures.
1-2 Thessalonians: letter by Paul to the believers in Thessalonica, who had questions and some anxieties about the end times.
Isaiah: the prophet that wrote the most about the coming Messiah. Considered second only to Elijah in importance and prominence of the Old Testament prophets.
Joel: visions of the coming judgment and of an age when God's Spirit will be poured out upon many people.
Zechariah: visions of the coming Messiah and His new kingdom.
Daniel 7-12: visions given to the Hebrew named Daniel during the Exile period (6th century BC) and are a prelude to the visions given to John in the book of Revelation.
Revelation: visions of the end of the age, when Jesus returns to finalize His Kingdom.
The Bible and Paul in particular, speaks frequently of life in the "body of Christ"—the gathering together of local believers for the purpose of enlarging the Kingdom of Jesus and to encourage, help and support one another. This study takes us through the books in the Bible that speak most directly on the "body life" of the believer—that is, how we should live our lives as disciples (that is, followers) of Jesus.
1-2 Corinthians: perhaps the definitive books on life in the body of Christ.
Philippians: the joy of having a new life through Jesus Christ.
Colossians: how Jesus is everything that we need.
James: character traits of a disciple that truly believes and follows Jesus.
1 Peter: hope for the believer that is facing trials and suffering.
Titus: the virtue of self-control in the life of a believer.
Philemon: an example showing what true "body life" behavior looks like.
Four of the New Testament authors, Paul, Peter, John and Jude give specific and detailed warnings about false teachers that try to lead believers astray. When something is repeated so often by so many different writers, we should take special note, thus the reason why we have a specific study on this subject. The following letters are very brief, but packed with powerful lessons. Don't feel the need to rush these short books, but instead spend some time contemplating and re-reading their message before continuing on to the next study.
1-2 Timothy: Paul's instructional letters to Timothy, a young leader in the church in Ephesus (located in modern-day Turkey).
2 Peter: a prophetic letter cautioning believers to be ready for the forthcoming day when apostasy (turning away from God) is common.
2-3 John: very brief letters warning against false teachers and those that would hinder believers in their work for the Kingdom.
Jude: warnings about false teachers that had infiltrated the community of believers and were already in positions of leadership.
After the death of Moses, Joshua led the people into the Promised Land to establish the nation of Israel. Following the settlement, there was a long period where Israel was ruled by decentralized leaders called Judges. Ruth and the beginning of 1 Samuel also take place during the Judges period, which is why they are included here in this reading section. These books set the stage for the next period, where Israel was ruled by a king.
Joshua: account of the Israelites conquest of the land promised to them by the Creator God and the division of the land among the 12 tribes.
Judges: a period of approximately 400 years when Israel was ruled by leaders called Judges. When the people turned away from God, their enemies conquered them, but God called up judges to deliver the people and restore peace.
Ruth: the account of the family line of King David. Ruth and her husband Boaz are the great-grandparents of David.
1 Samuel 1-7: introduction to the Kings period of Israel's history. Samuel was the last of the Judges and a prophet that God used to select the first two kings.
After the Judges period, three monarchs or kings ruled over Israel. This period lasted 120 years during which time Israel's wealth and prominence among the surrounding nations greatly increased. This lesson takes us through the so-called United Kingdom period of Israel's history, so named because all 12 tribes were united under the rule of a single king.
The first king, Saul, had great potential but his heart did not follow God. The second king, David, was a "man after God's own heart" and is still today considered the one of the greatest figures in all of Israel's history. His son, Solomon, was the third and final king of the United Kingdom period. He started off with a heart for God, but over time, he drifted away, which set in motion the events that led to the division of Israel into two nations.
1 Samuel 8-31: the first king Saul and the rise of David.
2 Samuel: the rule of David after the death of Saul.
1 Kings 1-11: the passing of David, the reign of Solomon, his wisdom and the temple that he built to honor God.
In this section, we take a break from the historical books to read through the literary and poetry books attributed to David and Solomon. For this study, we'll focus just on the books of the Psalms and Proverbs.
Psalms: most of the Psalms are attributed to King David—74 of the 150 bear his name. Twelve are ascribed to Asaph, nine to the Korahites, two to King Solomon, and one each to Ethan the Ezrahite and Moses. The remaining 51 Psalms have no designation. The Psalms are considered the most beautiful and moving portions of the whole Bible. They are worship songs (note that the English word song is derived from the Hebrew word psalm) and many contain instructions on what instruments are to be played or what tune is to be used. Thus it is no wonder that believers of the Creator God throughout the ages have used the Psalms as their source of inspiration for the worship music of their generation. See a visualization of the beautiful structure of Psalm 119 and how this psalm helps us better understand the Creator God of the Bible.
Proverbs: a compilation of wisdom sayings, most of which are attributed to the wise King Solomon but also includes the sayings of other wise men of Israel, including Agur and Lemuel.
Whenever anything is repeated in the Bible, whether it is the repetition of a single word, phrase or verse, or whether it is entire narratives, this is God's ways of saying to us: "pay very close attention." Thus, before moving any further in our historical study of Israel, let's revisit the lives of David and Solomon, the two most prominent and important kings in Israel's history.
The historical account given in the book of Chronicles is very similar—oftentimes identical—to the accounts we recently read in the books of 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings. However, the Chronicler (and we don't know the identity of the author) makes a special point of highlighting and commenting on the rule of King David. Recall that it is from the line of David that the Messiah (Savior) is to come, thus the importance that God has placed on this period of Israel's history. Don't think of it as boring repetition, but instead look at the special emphasis that God wants you to pay very close attention to—having this kind of mindset as you read through Chronicles will allow the Holy Spirit to teach you more about God.
1 Chronicles: a commentary on the life of King David.
2 Chronicles 1-9: a commentary on the life of King Solomon.
Among the most exciting and epic writings in the entire Bible. The remainder of 1-2 Kings tells how Israel became divided: the Southern Kingdom of Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the remaining ten tribes. Immediately, the first king of Israel adopted the Egyptian idolatrous practice of bull worship and as a result, there never was a ruler out of the 19 kings in Israel that did what was right in the sight of the Lord.
The Northern Kingdom was conquered around 722 BC by Assyria and the people scattered throughout the Assyrian empire, never to return. Non-Hebrews inhabited the land and it became known ever-after as a defiled land full of idolatrous mixed-bred people. This region would come to be called Samaria in Jesus' day. The Southern Kingdom of Judah fared only a little better. Out of 20 kings, there were eight that did what was right in the sight of the Lord. Nevertheless, Judah too was punished and was conquered by the Babylonians around 586 BC. The people were taken into captivity and it is here that the Hebrew people became known as "Jews" which is a shortened version of Judah.
1 Kings 12-22: the account of the kings of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
2 Kings: the continuing account, including the fall of both kingdoms.
Most of the prophets spoke against the idolatries and wickedness in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Hosea and Amos are two prophets whose message was directed solely against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Interestingly, Amos was a prophet in Judah at the time of his prophecy against Israel.
Hosea: a stinging indictment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Amos: judgment of Israel is at hand.
As mentioned earlier, repetition in the Bible speaks volumes. A considerable amount of the Prophetic books are directed against the evil rulers of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Much of the historical material will be familiar from earlier reading from 1-2 Kings. Here, we revisit the demise of Judah and take a closer look at what the prophets of that day were saying against Judah. This study prepares us for the final historical portion of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Exile and Restoration period.
2 Chronicles 10-36
2 Chronicles 10-36: the remainder of the Chronicler's commentary on the kings of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Note that the Chronicler almost completely ignores the Northern Kingdom (Israel) except in passing, when they fought against Judah.
Micah: although mainly directed against the evil kings of Judah, Micah speaks of the impending destruction of both Israel and Judah.
Nahum: this book is actually directed against Nineveh and the Assyrians, but is included here in this study since the events were relevant at the time when the Northern Kingdom had already been conquered and only the Southern Kingdom remained.
Habakkuk: warning to Judah of the coming Babylonian invasion.
Zephaniah: warnings against Judah that doom is at hand.
Jeremiah: known as the "weeping prophet," Jeremiah frantically warns a hard-hearted people of Jerusalem's eminent destruction.
Lamentations: a poetical lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. Attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, thus it is included here in this study.
The day that the prophets had warned of had finally arrived—the kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Unlike the Assyrians that completely destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel nearly two centuries earlier, the Babylonians were different kinds of victors. They allowed the people of Judah to retain their cultural identity even though many were deported from Jerusalem to Babylon (modern day Iraq). It was here that the Hebrew people became known as the "Jews" (short for Judah)—from which we get the modern term "Jewish" when referring to someone descended from the 12 tribes of Israel.
Exile was the most humiliating thing that could possibly happen to the descendants of Abraham—it seemed that God abandoned His people. But God did not abandon His people and moved in amazing and miraculous ways to restore a remnant of the people to the capital city of Jerusalem and rebuild it. The Exile lasted 70 years, and the events of that time, as well as the restoration are what we will read in this lesson.
Ezekiel: some of the most amazingly descriptive and horrifyingly vivid visions in the entire Bible. Ezekiel spans the events leading up to and including the Exile as well as the first phase of the Restoration process.
Daniel 1-6: the account of 4 young Hebrews drafted into the Babylonian court during the Exile; and the conquest of the Babylonians by the Persians.
Ezra 1-6: the first phase of the Restoration, where the Persian king allows Zerubabbel to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.
Esther: an account of a Hebrew girl that was chosen to marry the Persian king just in time to prevent a plan to annihilate the Jewish exiles. If it weren't for Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah would not have lived to lead the remainder of the Restoration process.
Ezra 7-10: the second phase of the Restoration, where Ezra returns to Jerusalem to rally the people.
Nehemiah: the final phase of the Restoration, led by Nehemiah who oversees the rebuilding of the walls and fortifications around Jerusalem.
There are three prophets to Judah after the Restoration: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. We read Zechariah earlier in the study, so we won't repeat the reading here. Here, we also include Obadiah, even though his message was against the neighboring kingdom of Edom—distant relatives of Israelites, who were descended not of Jacob's line, but that of his twin brother Esau.
The two groups had always been at war, just as Jacob and Esau were.
Obadiah: punishment of Edom for their participation in the plundering of Jerusalem in four invasions documented in 2 Chronicles.
Haggai: rebuilding of the temple after the return from Exile.
Malachi: a final warning to the disobedient Israelites.
There are four books that complete our study of the Bible. These books are last because they are the most difficult or the most widely misunderstood. Saving them for last hopefully helps us understand them better than if we had attempted to read them earlier in our study.
Job: an exhaustive and profoundly enigmatic (much like the subject) analysis of the issue of suffering. It is almost entirely a work of poetry, making interpretation on this difficult subject even more challenging. See The Book of Job in Color from basics of the bible.org and Ten Principles for Understanding the Book of Job (pdf) for more help in understanding the Book of Job.
Ecclesiastes: a commentary on the futility of living without making the Creator God a central part of your life. Read an Essay from basics of the bible.org on the book of Ecclesiates entitled A Time to Mourn and a Time to Rejoice (pdf).
Song of Solomon: beautiful poetry with sensual imagery that speaks about love on many levels—between a husband and wife, and between the loving Creator God and His people.
Jonah: the well-known account of the prophet that was swallowed by a whale, but one in which most readers completely miss the point. This book is all about the grace of God and how we as depraved humans, much like Jonah, don't understand what God is trying to do. Today, we are no different than Jonah was in his day.
Before giving some recommendations on reading material that will help you understand the Bible better, let me emphasize the primacy of the Bible with respect to other books—the Bible stands alone because it is the inspired Word of God. Other books may be helpful, thought-provoking and some can even be life-changing, but don't let them take a higher place in your mind than the Bible. Be on your guard (remember the study on false teachers!), for some books may have an appearance of godliness, but will actually lead you astray. This is why we should not let ourselves be overly dependent on other people's commentaries and opinions on the Bible—and by the way, that includes this study guide! Remember to let the Bible speak for itself. If we are open to hearing what the Bible has to say to us, the Holy Spirit will speak to us and instruct us in God's ways.
With this in mind, I don't want to discourage you from using helpful tools either. Below are some recommendations to get you started:
- Other versions of the Bible, including paraphrase translations and Greek word study Bibles. You can even buy parallel Bibles, which contain several translations side-by-side, so that you can get a deeper perspective of the Scriptures by seeing different ways that the original language can be expressed (this is especially useful if you speak two languages).
- My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.
- A Bible handbook such as Halley's.
You've begun an amazing journey and I hope that this study guide has been helpful in getting you started. The importance of the Bible in the daily life of a follower of Jesus is told to us in Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
It is my prayer that God will continue to lead you into a deeper and deeper relationship with Him through faith in His son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. As you now continue on your journey, I leave you with the encouraging words found in Jude, verses 24-25:
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Luke 2:14
First edition published in 2008 by Shawn D. Handran. Released
in 2012 under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0
Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ or
send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View,
California, 94041, USA.
Dedication: To Osman, who inspired me to make this study guide.
Acknowledgments: I thank Daniel Tu for reviewing and suggesting the use of high-lighted text (first edition); my wife Debra for reviewing and many helpful suggestions; and Dr. George Stulac for his theological review.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission.