Reading the Bible

Here’s the big disclaimer up front: I’m not religious myself, so my treatment is basically that of any other work of literature. For example, devout Christian readers may prefer the inspirational nature of Psalms over the craziness of Revelation (which I love) or the oddities of the many rules in Leviticus. As far as gospels go, they might prefer the miraculous tales in John over the more parable-driven nature of Luke. I don’t have specific recommendations for readers coming from other religions, but I think it’s commendable to see what else is out there, so to speak.

However, I do think the Bible is worth reading. Simply put, the Bible is the greatest fountain of allusion in English-language literature. It’s also one of the greatest sources of idiom, perhaps second only to Shakespeare. Many of the stories within are ones you’ll have seen before, or at least their structures may be familiar, with more-or-less similar details. There’s an incredible amount of cross-reference within the Bible itself—reading more tends to unlock more self-referential meaning.

This isn’t to say the Good Book is a great book on literary merit alone. It contains its fair share of contradictions, for one. Large chunks of it are intensely boring: extended genealogies, lists of laws, census taking, explanations of the goings-on of political factions in some-year-or-other BC. Despite this, I think it’s probably worth reading the interesting parts, for anyone interested in literature as a whole. It’s definitely worth a complete read-through for anyone currently taking its contents as literal truth.

There’s a lot about the Bible that isn’t hard fact, since it’s under scholarly dispute. I’ll mostly gloss over those kinds of issues here, but it’s good to know that there’s plenty more to dig into under the surface, if you like. I figure you’ve got enough on your plate just reading the material at hand.

How does the numbering/indexing system work?

This section is for beginners. The Bible is divided into “books”, the books into “chapters”, and the chapters into “verses”. “Books” can be an overstatement—some books are only a few hundred words. Let’s look at a few numbering examples.

Genesis 1 is the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Book names are often abbreviated, so you might see “Gen. 1” instead. Verbally you would say: “Genesis one”.

John 3:16 is the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the book of John. Verbally: “John three sixteen”. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are collectively known as the “gospels”, so you might hear people refer to the “gospel of John” rather than the “book of John”.

Luke 15:11-32 is a range of verses, from 11 to 32 in the 15th chapter of Luke. Verbally: “Luke fifteen, eleven through thirty-two”.

Many books in the New Testament are structured as letters (e.g. those written by Paul). Another commonly-used word for “letter” is “epistle”. For example, you might hear “The Epistle to the Ephesians” or “Letter to the Ephesians” or just plain “Ephesians”. Collectively, these letters of Paul’s are “the Pauline Epistles”.

There are a few instances where books have numbers. For example, there are “1 Chronicles” and “2 Chronicles”. Verbally: “First Chronicles, Second Chronicles”. Watch out because “1 John”, “2 John”, and “3 John” are especially confusing. These three books are distinct from the gospel of John (which is simply called “John”).

The most confusing example I could come up with is this:

1J. 2:3-4, 5, 6:7

If you figured out that this reads as “first John, chapter two verses three and four, chapter five, and chapter six verse seven” you’re almost certainly good to go.

If you additionally knew that there is no sixth chapter in 1 John, and so these numbers are nonsense, you should probably be teaching me instead of the other way around.

Which version should I read?

It’s important to remember that there is no one single version of “The Bible”. This isn’t exactly like other literature—for example, you might have different translations of The Odyssey, each emphasizing different aspects (e.g. translational literalism, or rhyme scheme, or poetic nature of the imagery). However, the basic content of The Odyssey is pretty much set.

With the Bible, there can be entire books or chapters missing from different versions. For example, Protestant and Catholic Bibles will have differences. There can also be books included that belong to the “apocrypha”—books that aren’t canonical. The word “apocrypha” has different meanings according to different groups of people, and you might also see “deuterocanonical” or other descriptors like “pseudepigraphical”. “Apocryphal” books may or may not show up in a given version (and can be just as interesting to study as the other books). Unless you’re truly going into this to find all the “weird stuff”, it’s probably fine to grab any readable version.

There are many versions, with helpful three-letter acronyms. I’m no expert, but I can talk about versions I’m at least vaguely familiar with. If you like old-timey language, there’s the King James Version (KJV or KJB for “King James Bible”). If you like novelty, there’s the New International Version (NIV), the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), the New American Bible (NAB), and the New King James Version (NKJV). There are versions aimed at skeptics and versions aimed at believers, but I don’t think those are super necessary since you can make up your own mind. There’s even a delightfully short comical version: The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness. Unfortunately the jokes make more sense if you’re familiar with biblical material beforehand…but gaining that familiarity is why we’re here!

My first read-through was with the NIV “Adventure Bible” (a gift from some relative or other, with the purple mountains cover), but nowadays I only own a copy of the NAB (School & Church Edition), which is better for referencing. I think the language of either NIV or NAB is fairly straightforward, which is great—I don’t recommend going too fancy at first. Unless you totally love the flow of the language (“hither” and “lo” and “thee”), don’t read KJV. Some versions go to greater lengths than others to be literal word-for-word translations, and I tend to prefer those, all else being equal.

Physical format is important as well. The NAB version I have has super thin pages, prominent verse numbers and two-column formatting—it’s like reading a 1500-page newspaper in tiny print. Instead, I might recommend you get a “reader’s Bible”. It becomes easier to get into a reading flow when you’re not constantly being interrupted by verse numbers. Single columns of large-enough text make it more like reading any other book. If you ever feel the need to look up a specific passage, the internet makes that easy enough even without chapter numbers (which most “reader’s” versions will still have regardless)—just type in the words. There are also versions divided into 365 parts (for easier reading over the course of a year) which might be appealing to some, and of course large-print versions (which tend to come as a set of volumes).

My recommendation if you’re planning on reading straight through is to pick up an ESV Reader’s Bible (the one I’m thinking of is “Cloth Over Board, Timeless Design”). The translation is more literal (and literary) than most without being overly flowery, and it’s got a killer single-column format, a nice cloth cover, a couple of ribbon bookmarks included, and verse references which get out of the way of reading.

If you’re instead only interested in reading selected passages, you can do that online for free with fast searching, which might be ideal. However, if you’d like a physical book, you could do worse than the NAB (School & Church Edition)—it’s what I’ve used to form my recommended verses below. It has “tabs” on the margins that make it easier to thumb through to a specific book. I’m sure any version with verse numbers would do just as well, and there’s a huge amount of variety to pick from if you have some specific desire or other.

Which parts should I read?

Should I just read straight through?

If you’ve got the time, dedication, and willpower, it’s fair game to read it straight through! However, if you get to the genealogy part of Genesis (starting in Gen 4) or even as far as the travel itinerary of Exodus, or lists of rules in, e.g. Leviticus or Deuteronomy, and you find it to be a total slog, definitely switch to reading selected parts.

Reading straight through is quite an undertaking. Of course, it is a rather large amount of material, but it’s certainly finite. I’d guess that for someone not used to super long reads, it’s finishable within several months of reading somewhere around an hour a day. If you’re used to longish books, you certainly know better than I do how quickly you read.

So long as you’re willing to look up names, it’s not an especially hard book to read (unless you get KJV or similar), but there are lots of “slumps”—parts where you’re just getting lists of boring rules, or the history of some tribe or other. My favorite stuff is consistently where things wax more literary—proverbs, parables, stories about the exploits of kings, weird prophecies, eschatology….

My initial straight read-through took me a few months (almost a whole summer) and that was back when I was a kid without any other responsibilities besides reading and taking breaks to play outside or whatever. I might even do a full re-read again in the future, but I think for most (read: almost all) people I know, I’d recommend starting with selected parts.

Thoughts on Selected Readings

Listed below in the next section are my reading recommendations for someone who doesn’t want to read the whole Bible but wants to soak up the flavor of the most important parts. For most people, having some subset to read is a good idea, but of course your taste may be drastically different from mine. Browse the selections of others if you’re not loving these.

I recommend reading the first few chapters (Genesis) and the last few (Revelation) in their entirety, to bookend your experience. I’m a pretty big fan of both books, even discounting their positioning.

If I had to pick a favorite genre of biblical material, it’d be Jesus’ parables (see Matthew 13:34). For the best parables, you’ll want to read selected parts of the gospels. My absolute favorite parables are from Luke, but many are retold in each of the gospels.

There are loads and loads of references from literature back to the Bible—I certainly don’t know them all, and haven’t tracked them down here. However, hunting these down can be fun and somewhat enlightening. As an example, Ecclesiastes 1:5 starts with “The sun also rises…”.

Other than that, I tend to recommend the most famous stories, and stories that are just plain weird (and therefore interesting). I’d skip over most of the laws, but some are genuinely weird enough to be interesting. I somewhat prefer the New Testament, but it’s also much shorter than the OT, so I doubt my recommendations are really even close to balanced.

I recommend a “skim” in certain cases when picking out verses is tedious. For example, it really doesn’t matter how many cubits long Noah’s ark was, but the overall story is good to know.

I’ll try to mention every book, but sometimes it’s probably better just to skip a book and not waste your time. It’s almost always better to read a bit more surrounding context when you can, but I’ve tried to make my selections self-contained as much as possible while keeping them short.

Selected Readings

For your convenience, I’ve also collected my selections into Mitchell’s Bible, a 324-page PDF version of the KJV.

Old Testament

Genesis 1-4

“Let there be light”. The story of creation. Adam and Eve. Cain kills Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Stop at Gen 4:17 to avoid boring genealogy part 1 of many.

Genesis 6:5-13

People are being wicked so a flood is threatened.

Genesis 7-8 (skim)

Great flood, story of Noah’s ark.

Genesis 9:7

“Be fruitful and multiply”.

Genesis 9:8-17

The rainbow as a symbol of the covenant with Noah.

Genesis 11:1-9

Tower of Babel.

Genesis 19:15-26

Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.

Genesis 22:9-12

Abraham told to sacrifice Isaac.

Genesis 32:24-27

Jacob wrestles an angel.

Genesis 46:1-7

Migration to Egypt.

Exodus 2:1-10

Moses is born and set adrift down the river.

Exodus 3:2-6

God speaks to Moses as a burning bush.

Exodus 5:1

“Let my people go.”

Exodus 7:8-12

Aaron throws down a staff which turns into a snake. Pharaoh’s sorcerers do the same. Aaron’s snake eats theirs.

Exodus 7:14 - Ex. 11 (skim)

The ten plagues: water into blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of firstborn.

Exodus 12 (skim)

Passover.

Exodus 14:21-22

Parting of the Red Sea.

Exodus 16:4

Manna from heaven.

Exodus 20:1-17

Ten commandments.

Exodus 32:1-20

The golden calf.

Leviticus 11 (skim)

Which foods are unclean. Leviticus is full of these kinds of rules and it’s hard to know what different people will find interesting. I’d recommend skimming the whole book and looking for interesting ones yourself.

Leviticus 25:8-12

Rules for jubilee year.

Numbers 14:25-27

Forty days in the desert. “Land of milk and honey.”

Numbers 21:5-9

The bronze serpent. People were being bitten by snakes. They prayed for God to take the snakes away. Instead, God told Moses to construct a bronze snake. If you get bitten by a snake, but then look at the bronze snake, you’re cured. Underrated story.

Numbers 22:21-32

Another underrated one. “The talking ass”. Balaam’s donkey sees an angel (hiding in an alley) and becomes afraid. Balaam beats his donkey with a stick. Then God makes the donkey talk; it basically asks “why are you beating me with a stick?” Then the angel appears to Balaam and also asks why he beat his donkey with a stick.

Deuteronomy 11:26

“A blessing and a curse”.

Deuteronomy 14:3-21 (skim)

Repetition of rules for which animals you can eat. Ibex, addax, and oryx: all allowed!

Deuteronomy 27:14-26

The twelve curses. A nice counterpoint to the ten commandments.

Joshua 6:1-5 (skim 6:6-21)

The siege of Jericho. Joshua has his soldiers circle the city, carrying the ark and rams’ horns. They circle once on the first day, twice on the second day, … six times on the sixth day. On the seventh day, the rams’ horns are blown and the wall falls down.

Judges 15

An absolutely amazing story. Samson ties the tails of 300 foxes together pairwise, with torches. (Firefox?) He sets the foxes loose on the Philistines’ grain, vineyards, orchards, etc. which burn down. The Philistines get mad. Three thousand men from Judah tell Samson “not cool bro, the Philistines are our rulers”. They bind him in ropes and take him to the Philistines. Then, Samson’s rope bonds spontaneously melt away, so he grabs a nearby donkey jawbone and kills a thousand men with it.

Judges 16:17-21

Samson tells Delilah that the secret of his strength is that he never shaves his hair. Delilah tells the Philistines, who shave Samson’s hair.

Ruth (skim)

The first of many very short books. It’s relatively literary—mostly a dialogue between Ruth and Boaz.

1 Samuel 3:1-8

Samuel gets called by the Lord in the middle of the night. He thinks it’s Eli calling him. “Here I am, Lord”.

1 Samuel 17:1-51 (skim until verse 32)

David and Goliath.

1 Samuel 28:7-19

The medium (witch/psychic?) of Endor.

2 Samuel 12:1-5

Nathan tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man.

2 Samuel 18:9-14

Absalom is riding a mule, but his hair gets caught in a tree and he starts hanging by his hair, while the mule runs off. This is resolved when Joab thrusts a pike into Absalom’s heart.

1 Kings 6 (skim)

The building of Solomon’s Temple.

2 Kings 2:1-12

God wants to take Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind, but Elisha wants Elijah to stay. Whirlwind postponed, they keep walking on. Then, a flaming chariot rolls up while they’re walking and takes Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind.

2 Kings 4:38-41

Elisha visits some prophets. Someone added poisonous gourds to their vegetable stew. When they start eating, they realize it’s poisoned. Elisha throws some flour/cornmeal into the stew, and it’s no longer poisonous.

2 Kings 4:42-44

Elisha turns 20 loaves of bread into enough food for a hundred men. This echoes the (more famous) story of Jesus with the loaves and fishes.

2 Kings 6:4-7

Someone is using an ax on a tree, but the head of the ax falls into a river. Elisha throws a stick in the water, and the head of the ax returns to the surface.

1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles (skip)

I find both these books pretty boring. 1 Chronicles starts out with some genealogical tables (see what you’re missing out on by not reading cover-to-cover). There’s some recapitulation of what David and Solomon did in previous books.

Ezra, Nehemiah (skip)

Another couple of short books, not much worth reading unless Temple restoration, city wall dedications, bans against mixed marriages, or yet another rehash of passover interest you.

Tobit 3:6

Part of Tobit’s prayer for death. It gets pretty metal in parts: “command my life breath to be taken from me, that I may go from the face of the earth into dust.”

Tobit 6:7-8

A boy asks an angel about the medicinal value of a fish’s heart, liver, and gall. Turns out burning a fish heart near someone afflicted by demons removes the demons permanently. Rubbing the gall onto someone’s eyes cures their cataracts. Angels are so knowledgeable!

Judith (skip)

This book chronicles some wars and then Judith travels around a bit.

Esther (skim)

Esther becomes queen and Purim is a thing.

2 Maccabees 6:1-5

Things fall apart: a senator from Athens comes and dedicates the Temple to Zeus. Some Gentiles have sex with prostitutes in the middle of the Temple.

2 Maccabees 15:37-39

The author of this book admits it might be mediocre, but it’s the best he could do.

Job 2:1-10

God and Satan conspire to test Job, but Job refuses to curse God’s name.

Psalm 23

Psalms are like little songs themselves, and often get made into songs, so if you’re interested in adding music to your experience, you could look around for some of them. Psalm 23 is possibly the most famous psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, for nothing shall I want” and “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and “my cup overfloweth”.

Psalm 27

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom do I fear?”

Psalm 30

“You changed my mourning into dancing”. Shows off the fairly typical thanksgiving/praising nature of many psalms.

Psalm 34

“Let us exalt his name”. “I will teach you the fear of the Lord”. God watches over the bones of the just, ensuring not one is broken.

Psalm 46

“God is our refuge and our strength”. Some cool imagery of nature, and how nature exalts God.

Psalm 62

“God alone is my rock and my salvation”. “Mortals are a mere breath”.

Psalm 117

A tiny one. “Praise the Lord, all you nations”.

Psalm 119 (skim)

The longest psalm, and the longest chapter in the whole Bible. It’s an acrostic in Hebrew, so knowing the Hebrew alphabet might vaguely help. (Many English versions list out the Hebrew letters.)

Psalm 121

“The Lord is your guardian” on a journey of climbing upwards.

Proverbs 1:1-7

Introduction to the proverbs, as written by Solomon. Once you comprehend proverbs and parables, you unlock wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”. Proverbs are fairly pithy, and I’ve listed many. I tried to paraphrase rather than quote too often.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust the Lord and keep him in mind. “He will make straight your path”.

Proverbs 4:23

Guard your heart, everything in your life flows from it.

Proverbs 6:6

Study the ant if you’re lazy, and learn from it.

Proverbs 10:31

Wisdom in words and being a just person are related.

Proverbs 12:15

Fools seem right in their own mind, but those who listen to the advice of others are wiser.

Proverbs 13:24

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

Proverbs 14:12

Some things seem correct at the time, but lead to terrible ends.

Proverbs 15:1

Mild wording calms anger, a single harsh word enrages.

Proverbs 16:9

People think they plain their moves, but really it’s the Lord guiding them.

Proverbs 16:18

Pride goeth before disaster, and a haughty spirit before the fall.

Proverbs 17:17

A friend will always be a friend, a brother will be there in a time of need.

Proverbs 17:22

Joy brings health, sadness brings ill health.

Proverbs 22:6

Train a child one way, and he’ll act that way when he’s old.

Proverbs 22:7

The rich rule the poor, the borrower is a slave of the lender.

Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron, people can sharpen each other.

Proverbs 28:13

Confessing your sins is the way to find mercy.

Proverbs 30:5

God is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Proverbs 31:8-9

Speak on behalf of the disabled and destitute, defend the needy and the poor.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A time for everything.

Ecclesiastes 4-12 (skim)

Some rules, less “picky” than Leviticus or Deuteronomy, and more about general moral wisdom. Keep your vows. Don’t be covetous. Nobody never sins. Beware the entrapment of women. Be patient. Keep the commandments above all. That kind of thing.

Song of Songs 1:7-17

Your typical love poem type stuff. If you like that kind of thing, read the whole book; it’s short.

Wisdom 1:13

“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living”.

Wisdom 7:22, 8:17-18

Solomon discusses the nature of wisdom. In the rest of the book is a recapitulation of some history (false idols, manna, etc.).

Sirach 9 (skim)

“Wisdom” about women, friends, and rulers. “Give no woman power over you”. Don’t dine with a married woman. Don’t lose old friends. Don’t offend people with the power to kill you. Rulers are like skilled sages.

Sirach 15:11-20

People have free will, and should use it to be loyal to God. Don’t say “it was God’s will” or “God led me astray”.

Sirach 29:23

“Be content with what you have”.

Isaiah 24

Wicked people cause the apocalypse.

Isaiah 62:4-5

Jerusalem as God’s bride. Later echoed by Jesus’ bride—the church.

Jeremiah 5:1-6

Bemoaning the corruption seen throughout Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 10:24-25

Physical circumcision is no longer enough. “These nations…are uncircumcised in heart”.

Jeremiah 19:10-12

God says he’s going to smash the city of Jerusalem as one might irreparably smash a piece of pottery.

Jeremiah 52:12-14

Jerusalem burns.

Lamentations 4:1-8

Poetic description of Jerusalem besieged. “The daughter of my people is as cruel as an ostrich in the wilderness”.

Baruch (skip)

Short book, contains some more talk about Jerusalem ending its captivity.

Ezekiel 29:1-5

Metaphor of Egypt as a crocodile to be thrown into the desert.

Ezekiel 30:20-24

God promises to break Pharaoh’s sword arm, and strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon. God-given gains.

Daniel 1:11-16

Daniel asks not to get nice food and wine, but rather to receive vegetables and water. After ten days, the people eating vegetables and water look healthier and better-fed than those eating from the royal table.

Daniel 3:19-24

Nebuchadnezzar orders Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown into an intensely hot furnace. The flames devoured the strong soldiers who were ordered to throw them in. However, the three men are unaffected, and walk around the flames singing praises to God.

Daniel 6:17-25

Daniel is falsely accused. Upon hearing this, King Darius throws him into a lions’ den. God closes the mouths of the lions, so Daniel remains safe. Then, the accusers are tossed in (along with their wives and children) and get their bones crushed by the lions.

Daniel 14:23-27

The Babylonians were worshipping a magnificent dragon as a living god. Daniel claims he could kill the dragon without a sword. Daniel makes cakes by boiling a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair. He puts the cakes in the mouth of the dragon, and it bursts.

Hosea 10 (skim)

Yet another description of the punishment of idolatry. Nearly every book in the OT has some kind of statement against having false idols.

Joel (skip)

Another tiny book, about how God’s people are blessed with salvation and a judgment day is coming.

Amos 8:1-2

God shows Amos a basket of ripe fruit. Then God tells Amos “the time is ripe, I’ll no longer forgive the people of Israel”.

Obadiah (skim)

An absolutely tiny book—shortest in the OT. Like many other OT books, contains warnings for the nation of Edom.

Jonah 2

Jonah and the whale.

Micah (skip)

Warns evil people not to be evil, or face judgment.

Nahum (skip)

More judgment and ruination stuff.

Habakkuk (skip)

Habakkuk talks to God about who deserves woe.

Zephaniah (skip)

Doom, judgment, reproach.

Haggai (skip)

“Y’all should rebuild the Temple” -the Lord.

Zechariah 6:1-8

The four chariots with different-colored horses (red, black, white, spotted) representing the four winds of heaven. Later echoed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Malachi 3:22-24

Last words of the OT.

New Testament

Matthew 1:18-25

The Holy Spirit makes Mary conceive Jesus.

Matthew 2:7-11

The magi follow a star to Bethlehem and present the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:16

Herod orders the massacre of all infant boys in Bethlehem.

Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist preaches some, and claims a far greater preacher is coming.

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus asks John the Baptist to baptize him. Post-baptism, there’s a voice from the heavens.

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus fasts for forty days in the desert, and is tempted by the devil. “Get away, Satan!”

Matthew 4:18-22

Jesus passes the fishermen Simon Peter and Andrew. “I will make you fishers of men”. He also picks up James and John, sons of Zebedee.

Matthew 5-7

The sermon on the mount. Contains the beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”), “salt of the earth”, “love thy enemy”, The Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father who art in heaven”), “no one can serve two masters”, “judge not lest you be judged”, the parable of dust specks and planks in eyes, “pearls before swine”, the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Great stuff.

Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus is on a boat with his disciples during a storm. Jesus sleeps through the waves until somebody wakes him. “Why are you terrified, O ye of little faith?” He calms the sea. “Who is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

Matthew 9:2-8

People bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins. The people want more. Jesus eventually heals the man, and tells him to pick up his stretcher and go home.

Matthew 10:32-33

“Who acknowledges me, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Whosoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father”.

Matthew 11:28-30

“I will give you rest” and “my yoke is easy, my burden light”.

Matthew 12:10-14

Jesus cures a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees take note.

Matthew 12:25

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”.

Matthew 13

Jesus teaches a large crowd from a boat. Parable about seeds falling on good earth. Parable of the mustard seed. Parable of the yeast. Jesus explains why he uses so many parables. Jesus re-explains the parable about the seeds. Parable of heaven being like a buried treasure.

Matthew 14:22-33

Walking on water.

Matthew 15:33-38

Jesus feeds four thousand people from a few loaves and fishes.

Matthew 16:13-20

Peter says Jesus is the Messiah. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. “Keys to the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus tells his disciples not to tell others he is the Messiah.

Matthew 16:23

“Get behind me, Satan!”

Matthew 16:24-26

“Take up your cross and follow me”. “What profit is there to gain the whole world and lose one’s life?”

Matthew 17:20

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you”.

Matthew 18:8-9

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”.

Matthew 18:12-13

Parable of the lost sheep, in which a man rejoices over one lost sheep found again, when he still has ninety-nine.

Matthew 18:21-22

Forgiveness seventy-seven times.

Matthew 19:21-26

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus expels the merchants from the temple.

Matthew 21:18-22

Jesus curses a fig tree, which immediately withers. Promises his disciples they can do the same if they have faith.

Matthew 21:28-31

Parable of the two sons. One verbally refuses to work, but does, the other says he will work, but doesn’t.

Matthew 21:42

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

Matthew 22:21

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Love God with all your heart” and “love thy neighbor as yourself”.

Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus explains we do not know when the time will come, so stay vigilant.

Matthew 25:14-30

Parable of the talents.

Matthew 26:14-15

Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Matthew 26:26-28

The Last Supper.

Matthew 26:33-34

Jesus tells Peter, “before the cock crows, you will deny me three times”.

Matthew 26:41

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

Matthew 26:51-56

Jesus is arrested. A disciple cuts of the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus says those who take the sword will perish by the sword. After all, he could call down legions of angels at any moment. It gets meta: Jesus says the prophecies must be fulfilled as they were written. The disciples run away.

Matthew 27:3-5

Judas regrets betraying Jesus, and hangs himself.

Matthew 27:33-65

Jesus is crucified and buried.

Matthew 28

Jesus is resurrected. “Make disciples of all nations”. “I am with you always”.

Mark 1:2-8

John the Baptist again. Note that much of the material of the gospels is repeated between them, so I’ll try not to recommend the same stories too many times. Also note that Mark and John start with Jesus’ baptism, unlike Matthew and Luke who start with the story of Jesus’ birth.

Mark 2:16-17

Jesus eats with sinners, and explains that he came to help sinners, not the righteous who do not need help.

Mark 6:34-44

Loaves and fishes again. This time five loaves (instead of seven) and five thousand people rather than four thousand.

Mark 8:1-9

Loaves and fishes. Seven loaves, four thousand people.

Mark 12:41-44

A poor widow contributes what she can to the treasury. Jesus explains how she put in more than the rich, because they gave their surplus, but she gave everything she had.

Mark 14-16 (skim)

The arrest, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As mentioned, much of this is the exact same as in Matthew. However, it can be good to read this same story in different words, since the whole ordeal is a pretty rich source of allusion for lots of other bits of culture.

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel comes down and announces to Mary that she will be giving birth to Jesus, son of God.

Luke 2:1-14

Jesus’ birth. There was a census, so Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem. Jesus was born in a manger because there was “no room in the inn”. Angels appeal and praise God.

Luke 2:41-52

As a twelve-year-old, Jesus was sitting in the temple asking questions to the teachers there. Everyone was amazed with him. Joseph and Mary swing by, but didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he said he’d be in his “Father’s house”.

Luke 5:1-11

The story of Jesus encountering Simon Peter, James, John yet again. However there’s a bit more detail here since Simon Peter was reticent to follow Jesus.

Luke 6:20-49 (skim)

The “Sermon on the Plain”. Similar to the sermon on the mount, but some people claim these were different events. See for yourself.

Luke 10:29-37

Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Luke 12:16-21

Parable of the Rich Fool.

Luke 14:15-24

Parable of the Great Feast.

Luke 15:1-7

Parable of the Lost Sheep (again).

Luke 15:8-10

Parable of the Lost Coin. Very similar to the lost sheep.

Luke 15:11-32

Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Luke 16:1-8

Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

Luke 16:19-31

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Luke 18:1-8

Parable of the Persistent Widow.

Luke 18:9-14

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

Luke 22-24 (skim)

Once again, the story from the Last Supper through the resurrection.

John 2:1-12

Wedding at Cana.

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world he gave his only son…”.

John 10:1-18

Jesus as a shepherd.

John 11:1-44

The raising of Lazarus.

John 13:1-20

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.

John 14:6

“I am the way and the truth and the life”.

John 13:34

“I give you a new commandment: love one another”.

John 16:18-25

Jesus talks about how the world hates him, without cause.

John 18-21 (skim)

Another take on the big story: Jesus arrested through appearing to his disciples.

Acts 1:6-12

Jesus ascends into heaven, his followers have a “what do we do now?” moment.

Acts 1:21-26

The apostles wanted to find a replacement for Judas, since Peter pointed out another person should take that position. There were two good candidates: Barabbas and Matthias. They all prayed, then the two drew lots and Matthias became an apostle.

Acts 2:1-13

The apostles gathered for Pentecost. A strong wind filled the house and tongues of fire appeared, resting on each of them. They all became infused with the Holy Spirit and began speaking different languages. People outside were amazed, hearing their native tongues. Some of the outsiders scoffed and dismissed it as too much wine.

Acts 3:1-10

Peter cures a crippled beggar, who jumps for joy.

Acts 5:27-32

The apostles face trial before the Sanhedrin. They insist that they must follow God, not the rules of men.

Acts 7:51-60

Stephen speaks against those who oppose the Holy Spirit, and gets stoned to death, becoming the first martyr.

Acts 8:9-25

Simon the Magician. Simon tries to buy the apostles’ power of the Holy Spirit. Peter responds that it’s foolish to try to buy God’s power with money.

Acts 9:1-9

Saul has murderous impulses against the disciples. He is on his way to Damascus when he is struck down by a blinding flash of light. The light tells him it’s Jesus, and to cool it with the persecution. Saul later gets baptized and starts preaching.

Acts 13:4

The first mission sets off, to Cyprus.

Acts 16:19-34

Paul and Silas are seized and go to prison in Philippi. They are placed in maximum security—the innermost cell, with a watchful jailer. Paul and Silas pray, and there’s an earthquake. The doors of the jail fly open. The jailer is going to kill himself in shame over the escape, but Paul tells him not to since they were still just sitting in the jail cell. Then the jailer has them over for dinner.

Acts 20:7-12

Paul is speaking in an upstairs room. Eutychus, sitting on a windowsill, gets tired and falls asleep as Paul talks on and on. He falls from a third-story window and dies. Paul checked on him, but then kept talking until daybreak. Then, Eutychus was alive again.

Acts 28:11-31

Paul arrives in Rome, essentially founding the papacy.

Romans 7:1-6

As a wife is bound to her husband by the law, but released if the husband dies, the followers of Christ have become unbound from the letter of the law and instead bound to the new spirit of the law.

Romans 9:30-32

Righteousness is not attained by works, but only by faith.

Romans 12:4-5

Metaphor of the members of the church as parts of the body of Christ.

Romans 13:11-14

It’s later than when think, that is, the time of salvation is nearer than we think.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

The body metaphor is extended further.

Galatians 3:23-29

More contrast between faith and law. “There is no male or female, slave or free…all are one in Christ”.

Ephesians 6:10-17

“Put on the armor of God…loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate…faith as a shield…the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit”. Quite the outfit.

Philippians 1:12-14

Paul comments on his imprisonment’s impact on fearlessly spreading the word.

Colossians 3:5-9

Paul recommends against certain kinds of sin.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Most epistles start with this kind of section, giving thanks to God. I don’t have much else to say about Thessalonians so you may as well read that one.

1 Timothy 4:1-4

Timothy is warned against paying attention to deceitful spirits pushed by hypocritical liars.

2 Timothy 4:9-13

Paul seems lonely, saying Luke is the only one with him, and asks for Timothy and Mark to join. Paul asks for his cloak he left in Troas.

Titus 2:9-10

Titus is a short book, not too much to say. Simply pointing out another feature of many of the epistles: a recommendation that slaves should be obedient to their masters.

Philemon (skip)

Short and skippable.

Hebrews 8:1-6

Jesus is described as the High Priest who’s taken his rightful seat at the throne of heaven.

Hebrews 13:1

“Let brotherly love continue”.

James 3:13-18

True wisdom comes from humility, and cultivating peace.

1 Peter 3:13-14

Those who suffer in the name of righteousness are blessed.

2 Peter 3:14-18

A nice epistolary ending, including a recommendation to strive to be blemish-free before the Lord.

1 John 1:5-8

Metaphor of God as a light, and avoidance of walking in darkness.

1 John 2:18-19

Because so many antichrists have shown up, it must be the final hour.

2 John, 3 John (skip)

Shortest books in the Bible. Skip unless you feel a desire to read a full book.

Jude (skip)

Similar to 2 Peter. Mostly about not following false leaders.

Revelation 1:9-20

John (the namesake revelee) has a vision. I won’t spoil the imagery for you.

Revelation 4-9 (skim)

My opinion on Revelation is that if you’ve come this far, you may as well read big chunks of it. It’s got some really fun imagery and amazing things happen. If you want to skim, make sure you get the general meaning of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The Four Horsemen are also in here.

Revelation 10

An angel comes down with a small scroll and says…something. John was about to write it down, but was instructed not to. John is then told to swallow the small scroll, which he does.

Revelation 12

A woman with a crown of stars is giving birth, and a huge red dragon appears (Satan), ready to devour her newborn. The woman gives birth and flees. Then “war broke out in heaven” as some heavenly angels fight the dragon and its cohort of angels. The dragon is defeated and thrown down to earth, trying to track down the woman giving birth. The woman gets eagle wings and tries to fly away, but the serpent shoots water from its mouth to wash her away. However, it’s too late as the earth opens up and absorbs the flood. (I implore you to read this stuff, hopefully it doesn’t take much convincing after all that!)

Revelation 13

Two beasts arrive on the scene, with ample accompanying descriptive language, and we learn the number of the beast.

Revelation 16

There are seven bowls full of God’s fury, which some angels are instructed to pour on the earth. Each causes a different interesting effect—festering sores, seas and rivers turning into blood, making the sun hot enough to light people on fire, plunging Satan’s kingdom into darkness causing people to bite their tongues, drying up the Euphrates river, and causing thunderstorms plus an earthquake.

Revelation 19:11-end of the Bible

Some badass stuff: fiery lakes of burning sulfur, Satan getting out of prison after a thousand years and gathering armies from across the earth, a golden city encrusted with jewels. The final conclusion.