I know that the Bible is a big book, and it might seem difficult to know even where to start. I’ve found that books can be one of the most helpful things when learning to read the Bible. A good book can open your eyes and encourage you in your faith. But how do you know which books to choose? There are hundreds of thousands of Christian books available, and more are being published all the time! How do you know which are the best ones?
Let me help you. I’ve chosen five books which I think will help you to understand the Bible, even if you’re a complete beginner. I hope these give a good cross-section, so together they will help you understand the Bible and Christianity more broadly.
Before we begin, there is just one thing I’d like to say: when you’re looking for books, please don’t look simply for new books! C.S. Lewis, the Christian author most famous for his Chronicles of Narnia books, once wrote an essay about why you should read old books. It’s well worth reading. I’ve tried to include here older and newer books, but my suggestion is to try to read tried-and-tested books alongside modern books.
All that said, let’s get into it!
#1: A Study Bible
The first book I would recommend is… the Bible! But not just any old Bible – I would suggest beginning with a study Bible. What is a study Bible? Alongside the actual text of the Bible, it has notes which help to explain things in the text. Good study Bibles will often have other articles in them to help introduce Biblical themes, as well as introducing each book of the Bible. I would suggest that a good study Bible is the most useful thing you can buy to start understanding the Bible.
So, which study Bibles are good? There are two which I would recommend – the Zondervan NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible (both available in various different editions). I have personally used the ESV Study Bible but I have heard good things about the NIV Study Bible also. I believe there is little to choose between them, apart from your particular translation preference. I use the NIV translation of the Bible day-to-day and in all the Understand the Bible videos. If you’re new to the Bible, I would recommend it as a good general purpose, easy-to-read version. (The other one I recommend which is a bit easier to read is the New Living Translation. There is an NLT Study Bible, but I don’t know much about it. If you use the NLT, you might want to check it out!)
#2: A Bible Reading Companion
The next thing on my list is a book to help you read the Bible day-by-day. There are lots of daily Bible reading notes. I know some people use the Bible in One Year App to help them. My suggestion for one book to begin with is Through the Bible Through the Year by John Stott. John Stott was a very capable Bible teacher, who for years was the rector of a large church in London. What I really like about this book is that it’s not complicated: for each day you have a short Bible reading and a page explaining it. It takes you through the whole Bible (in short!) and you focus on the Christmas and Easter passages at those times.
I think this book is a really good way of getting into reading the Bible every day and helping you understand it.
There are also lots of daily devotionals, you can see a round up of some of them here.
#3: A Bible overview
Another thing that will really help you to understand the Bible is a Bible overview. It’s so helpful to be able to pick up a Bible and know, whichever book you’re reading, roughly where it comes in the timeline of the Bible and how it fits in with the big picture. In fact, the What is Christianity? course on Understand the Bible is basically a mini-Bible overview. The most helpful thing I’ve ever done in understanding the Bible was an ‘Introduction to the Bible’ course, which was basically a Bible overview. It really does help put things together.
My suggestion for a Bible overview is God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. It’s a readable overview of how the whole Bible fits together, looking at it through the perspective of God’s Kingdom.
This is also available as a video course (and we’ve run it in our church before).
The most important thing
As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the books which have been significant in my journey of understanding the Bible. There are lots of books which have been really helpful to me – but the most important thing hasn’t been any individual book (apart from the Bible itself!). The most significant thing is the day-by-day journeying with God, reading the Bible, praying, worshipping with other Christians, hearing sermons. It’s all significant in understanding the Bible.
I hope that these books will give you a head start. But remember that understanding the Bible is a journey, not a destination! In fact, I’d say that the more you understand the Bible, the more you realise there is to understand. It’s like walking into a building when it’s dark and thinking it’s only small, but then over time beginning to realise that it’s actually the size of a cathedral.
The most important thing is never to give up. God rewards those who seek him. As Jesus said:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8
Want more? You might enjoy the What is Christianity course, which is a short Bible overview.
Over to you
What books have been the most helpful for you in understanding the Bible? Let us know in the comments below! 👇