You are a new Christian. Or someone that you know is a new Christian. You (or they) want to start reading the Bible. Where should you begin? In other words, what’s the best book of the Bible for new believers?
The word “best” here is subjective. What I think and what someone else thinks could be different and, in some sense, we both could be right. Reading the Bible is better than not reading the Bible. Any place would be great, really. But some places in Scripture seem more advantageous than others for beginners.
Over the years, I have found that many people recommend the Gospel of John as the best place to start in Scripture. Not a bad choice by any means. I love the Gospel of John. It’s a beautiful book. But in John’s Gospel, there are some tough sayings and interesting imagery that can be confusing if not read in its proper context. Again, John is great, but I think we would do well if we skip back two Gospels.
If you are a new Christian, the best place to start reading in the Bible is the Gospel of Mark.
Why the Gospel of Mark is the Best Book of the Bible for New Believers
Here are a few reasons why I say so:
1. The Gospel of Mark gives you Jesus.
I know, I know. The whole Bible is about Jesus. Read from a redemptive-historical perspective, you can find Jesus in the books of James and Jude and Jeremiah. He is the point of every page. And yet, the Gospels are just different.
They are different because they give you the words, actions, and deeds of Jesus up close and personal. We see an intimate image of Jesus as we read a biographical sketch of his life, something new believers should immerse themselves in. In particular, the Gospel of Mark focuses on the actions of Jesus (more on this later), which quickly helps a new believer understand Jesus’ life and ministry.
2. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest Gospel.
You will ask, “If you recommend a Gospel for a new believer, couldn’t Matthew or Luke or John suffice?” The answer is — yes, of course, it will. But at 16 chapters, the book of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, making it less intimidating than, say, Luke, which is 24 chapters long. You can read Mark in less than 90 minutes. It’s a book that you can read in one sitting over and over again.
3. The Gospel of Mark is Action-Packed.
The Gospel of Mark is jammed-packed with stories. It’s choppy, with new scenes beginning and ending quickly. The word “immediately” appears 42 times, showing that Jesus wasn’t just standing around doing nothing. It’s an exciting book to read, one that will surely keep and capture the attention of a new believer.
In his book King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Tim Keller captures this idea well when he writes: “Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like “immediately” to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. The Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today.”
4. The Gospel of Mark is Fairly Easy to Understand
Not that a new believer won’t have any questions about Mark’s Gospel as he or she reads it. I still have questions when I read it, and I’ve read it countless times. But the Gospel of Mark, on the whole, is not that hard to get. There are no genealogies. There aren’t an abundant amount of difficult sayings (although that whole thing about handling serpents and drinking poison is (Mark 16:18). The Gospel of Mark is a quick, fairly easy to understand biographical sketch of Jesus’ life.
5. The Gospel of Mark is About Discipleship
The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is discipleship. That’s the main point. As my ESV Study Bible tells me, “The ultimate purpose and theme of Mark is to present and defend Jesus’ universal call to discipleship.” Discipleship means walking with Jesus. It’s a call to love and obey Jesus, to emulate his character, and to be prepared to suffer as he did. This is something a new believer needs to grasp. This is why the Gospel of Mark is a great start.
I’m thankful that a new believer would ask this question. It’s evidence of God’s grace. I remember when I first fell in love with the Scriptures and how I longed to know the Word. I still do long to know it more than ever before. But I didn’t get this way overnight. Everybody has to start somewhere and few places of the Bible are better for new believers than the Gospel according to Mark.