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Reading the New Testament for the First Time

I recently heard Al Franken, reared as a Jew, say he had never read all of the New Testament. I suspect many Christians haven't either.

Actually, the New Testament isn't that long and isn't that hard to read with enjoyment. It's definitely not as obscure or boring as some other ancient religious books. But it can be intimidating (and a little boring) if you read the "books" of the New Testament in the order in which they occur in modern Bibles.

The 27 "books" of the New Testament were grouped long ago by category. The four gospels (introductions to Jesus, but not biographies) come first, then Acts, then various letters addressed to specific churches, then letters addressed to individuals, then general letters (or essays) addressed to Christians at large, then the final book, Revelation, that encourages Christians to bear up under trials and keep the faith.

The traditional order of the books is roughly chronological in that the gospels deal with the life and teaching of Jesus, whereas the other other books speak to issues that arose in Christian assemblies after his death.

There is no good reason, however, to read the "books" in this particular order. They are not, for example, grouped in order of composition. Some of the letters were written before the gospels were composed. Acts is a sequel to Luke but is arbitrarily separated from Luke by the gospel John because Acts deals with events after the death of Jesus.

Furthermore, it is better not to read the gospels back-to-back inasmuch as they repeat much of the same material. A reader of the New Testament can better appreciate and enjoy the individual personalities of the gospels by spacing them out.

Some of the letters are less theologically dense than others, that is, they require less knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) and the culture of Judaism in the first century. These less difficult letters generally outline what the Christian spirit and lifestyle should be.

In the Middle Ages, the "books" of the New Testament were divided into sections called "chapters" and, later on, into "verses" so that people could refer to passages accurately and locate them rapidly. These divisions also make it convenient for someone to read the New Testament in short segments without getting unduly bored or overwhelmed.

That said, I suggest you read the New Testament "books" for the first time in the order below. By reading just three or four "chapters" a day, you can read the entire New Testament in 90 days or less.

1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy
2 Timothy

1 Peter
2 Peter

1 John
2 John
3 John

1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians

Al Franken and others, take note. Here is a three-month reading plan to let you know where Christians in the red states might be coming from. It also will provide you with ammunition to refute "right-wing Christians" who are not really as Christian, by New Testament standards, as some would have you believe.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 14, 2005 9:16 AM.

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