- The Gospel According to John
Without question, this book of the Bible is the most magnificent thing I have ever read. The Good News begins with creation, casting Jesus as part of the Creator, the incarnation of the Word of God. Scripture itself is fully embodied in the Son of God according to John (and Karl Barth’s theology). Some of my favorite chapters in Scripture are in this book, from chapter 3’s meeting with Nicodemus to 8’s mercy for the woman caught in adultery to 15’s description of Jesus as the true vine from which we grow to chapter 17’s prayer for unity to Pilate’s questioning in 18–in all of these John continues to emphasize the theme of God’s immense love for us and the obedience that we exhibit as a natural part of our love for Him. The final paragraph suggests that all the books in the world could not contain the acts of the Word of God, and I like to think that’s true because the acts Jesus did continue to be seen in the lives of every heart changed by his message of redemption and love. Every time I get around to this book in whatever my Bible reading plan is, I get really excited.
- The Book of Psalms
The Psalms beautifully describe many different aspects of what it means to have a relationship with the God of the universe. Although collected from several authors, many of these are by King David, and connecting these responses to his personal narrative can help us understand our own ability to relate to God. Some of the most beautiful and varied language ever written is in this book. Reading this book convinces me that man’s ability to relate to God was the same one thousand years before and one thousand years after Christ: throughout history we all fundamentally rely on God’s mercy and love and can only trust His promise that what He has promised (that only He can provide salvation from our sins) is true.
- The Book of Deuteronomy
God’s Law for His chosen people, Deuteronomy is a beautiful book because rather than being an arbitrary list of rules for a tribal people in a desert (as many people assert), it constantly explicitly reaffirms how much God loves us. But this book isn’t just the Law–it also contains key events from the history of Israel, many of which detail their failure to obey the laws given to them by a pillar of fire. But similarly we deny the ways we see God affect our world by our own sin, so to see God’s love even in the face of our disobedience is an incredible thing.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Romans
When I say “top fifty” books of the Bible, I don’t mean to imply any of these books are more worthy of our attention than others (this list, like all my others, is a relatively arbitrary ranking of my preference). Asking some friends what their top choices are, they often ask me to clarify “top to read with someone else,” “most impactful,” “one I enjoy most,” etc. Romans would be in my top few in probably every category. This book is Paul’s deepest and most explicit explanation of what it means to live a life dedicated to a man who died two thousand years ago. I’ve heard people say that if you could only save one chapter from Scripture, it’d be Romans 8, but start to finish this book is essential in its explication of principles found throughout the rest of the book.
- The Book of Isaiah
I’ve seen some secular research saying that this book was written after contact with contemporary eastern religions in large part because it focuses in on the oneness of God, for the first time really asserting that other gods don’t exist and that God’s people need to be completely devoted to Him. That’s a fascinating observation, and while I don’t think there’s too much here that isn’t in the first five books, Isaiah is perhaps the Romans of the Hebrew Bible, explicating and expounding upon God’s plan for His people in a time of diaspora, making it clear how essential God’s restorative justice and power are needed in the world.
- The First Epistle of John
The Apostle John wrote in absolute terms that appeals to an ideological understanding of life in Christ. For him, the world is a place of extreme light and dark where humans may choose to either walk step by step with Christ, or reject God eternally. Like his Gospel, this letter makes it clear how high the stakes are, but how immensely great God’s love is for us.
- The Book of Jeremiah
Jeremiah had to endure some terrible things for the sake of the Word of God, but in exchange he got to hear from God just how much He loved and longed for His people. Like Isaiah, this book is a fantastic in part because of its breadth–it hits many major points of doctrine in an intensely personal way. Like all my favorite books, it makes it intensely clear the two things that make Christ’s appearance on this earth necessary: God’s love for His creation and His utter separation from the sinfulness of humankind.
- The Book of Jonah
One of the shortest books in the Hebrew Bible, Jonah is comprised of several distinct sections that are all remarkable on their own. People tend to fixate on the whale, but those people miss the point–this is a story of God relenting in the destruction justly due to a rebellious people because they turned from their sin. That’s incredible! Later, when asked for a sign, Jesus said the only sign He would give (that’s right, the guy who was recorded to have fed thousands and raised people from the dead) was the example of Jonah, who rose three days after enduring God’s wrath for turning from His will.
- The Gospel According to Luke
Growing up this was my favorite Gospel because of Luke’s intense eye for detail. Of the three Gospels that share large chunks of their narrative, Luke’s longer narratives are often the most explicit, and that’s a great thing when he is describing the most incredible event in history if it’s even remotely true: the Creator of the universe descended to earth to live and die so that He could spend eternity with His beloved creation.
- The Book of Malachi
The last prophetic book of the Hebrew Bible, Malachi looks forward to the coming of God’s messenger and the day of God’s justice in exciting ways. Although very small, this book makes it clear how important how we worship God is, and it points back to the law of Moses as how we ought to serve the Creator.
- The First Epistle of Peter
As far as Bible characters go, Peter gets stuff wrong substantially more than he gets it right. However, we see how great God’s grace was for him in that he went on to be one of the most influential figures in the early church after being a complete doofus. His first letter includes some fantastic encouragements about life in Christ.
- The Book of Leviticus
This book often comes up as the example of one of the hardest books of the Bible to read. I’m not sure why people think that. Leviticus constantly emphasizes how much God loves His people. While Deuteronomy is a bit stronger of a book, Leviticus is still a constant delight to read.
- The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Striking a nice balance between the high theology of Romans and practical day-to-day advice of some of his other letters, Paul gives some powerful advice that is as applicable to us as it was to the first century church. While navigating the differences in how to apply this book is challenging (and parts do rub some people the wrong way), first Corinthians goes into detail with practical solutions on many topics.
- The Epistle to the Hebrews
Hebrews bridges the world before Christ with the world after Him, emphasizing how both before and after the cross God’s people are saved not on personal merit, but because of their faith in God.
- The Gospel According to Matthew
Maybe all of the Gospels should have been higher on this list, because if there was only one of them, it’d likely be near the top of the list regardless of which it was. Matthew focused on how Christ fulfilled prophecy and how He is a king over God’s people. Taken by itself, it’s the greatest story ever told–the king over all things that after promising salvation to His people for generations descended in person to be with them forever.
- The Book of Daniel
A mix of history and prophecy, Daniel’s early chapters tell incredible stories of faith in God at a time where His people had perhaps the most reason to doubt His love. Daniel is one of the few characters in Scripture that there is nothing really negative about, and his book includes useful example and exhortation about trusting God by keeping an eternal perspective on history.
- The First Book of Samuel
Luke’s Gospel mirrors the opening of Samuel, and this fantastic book of history is so helpful because of how clear it is who are the good and bad examples. From the heroic example of Jonathan to David’s faithful trust in God to the corruption of Saul to the lifelong service of Samuel, the book is powerful and exciting.
- The Book of Job
I’ve heard that the two books that are most popular with Russians are Job and Ecclesiastes. Both books can seem pretty dark on the surface, as following God is presented as something that can go very poorly sometimes. But Job shows us God’s sovereignty is supreme even in the worst of circumstances, as well as cementing that no one, even the most righteous person, is righteous enough on his own merit.
- The Epistle of James
This book is packed with warnings and encouragements. Some of the hardest advice to follow is in this book, but also some of the most encouraging promises for those that pursue God honestly and wholeheartedly in the midst of trials.
- The Book of Ezekiel
Another book from the exile, Ezekiel’s mix of prophecy, rebuke, and promise of redemption is a fantastic reminder of how much God hates sin and yet wants to bring His people out of it and into His presence.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians
One of Paul’s most encouraging books, Philippians reminds us to pursue the promises that are ours through the victory Christ won for us on the cross. The closing chapter is an especially fantastic reminder of how we can deal with the troubles in our lives by taking things to our God in prayer, knowing He will grant us peace.
- The Book of Exodus
The start of the return to the Promised Land, Exodus details how God wanted to bring His people out of slavery and into a place where they could dwell in His presence forever. We too can inherit those promises and see God’s power and order over the things that enslave us.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
Paul gives a beautiful explanation of what it means to be in Christ in regards to how we relate to other believers. This encouragement to pursue unity with others is one of the best in Scripture.
- The Book of Joshua
In Joshua, God’s people inherit the Promised Land, led by a man who would be a type (an analogy) for Christ. In the face of great adversity, God leads His people into the fulfillment they had been promised since His covenant with Abraham. While not all milk and honey, the missteps in their journey once more remind us to avoid sin and instead set our sights on following God.
- The Gospel According to Mark
For awhile I asserted that I didn’t like Mark because of his choppy, this-happened-then-this-happened style. The times I have read it since then I have been amazed at how powerful and challenging the Gospel narrative is even with its minimal commentary.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians
We are a new creation, Colossians promises, if we have turned from our old selves and instead chosen to be counted with Jesus. While not the only letter Paul wrote that emphasizes this, Colossians devotes the most per capita to explaining what it means to actually be a new creation.
- The Book of Proverbs
This is one of the most difficult books of the Bible to understand because some of the verses in this book seem to contradict verses almost immediately adjacent. But what Proverbs emphasizes is the importance of wisdom, which allows us to understand the godly response to complex situations.
- The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy
Paul’s letters to Timothy are more personal than the letters to the churches, and like you’d expect from a letter to a friend, more encouraging. In this letter Paul builds up Timothy and pushes him to pursue Christ more and more closely.
- The Book of Zechariah
Like in many of the minor prophets, in this book God promises restoration for Israel. In addition though Zechariah links Joshua (a type for Christ) with the great high priest, as well as several other important prophecies that point to the coming salvation.
- The First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
The Thessalonians got a lot of answers to questions about the prophecied end, but what sets these answers apart is how practical they are for dealing with the death that still exists in the world.
- The Book of Ecclesiastes
In high school this was my favorite book, and it has a distinctively different tone than most other books in Scripture. Solomon’s advice has been interpreted in different ways, but I like to think that Solomon uses extremes to point out the immense value of following God in comparison to all other things.
- The Second Epistle of Peter
This is an important little book that helps encourage us in the line between those who preach the Gospel and those who perpetuate falsehood. Like First Peter, this book shows how immensely God changed Peter and used him to share the truth.
- The Acts of the Apostles
What do you do after receiving the most incredible news of all time? Acts shows how the lives of the disciples and early converts were completely changed with a new mission to reach the world with the message of Jesus.
- The Book of Ruth
Ruth gives a short but practical example of God’s redemption provided for those outside of the family of God.
- The Book of Amos
A book of warning and judgment, Amos once again shows God’s promised salvation for His people. Every prophecy of judgement comes paired with a promise of restoration.
- The Book of Micah
Like so many books of the Bible, Micah emphasizes the value of justice and holiness to God, and His plan to bring it to His people.
- The Book of Genesis
The first book of the Bible spans massive chunks of time and features a wide variety of styles which can at times be difficult to understand, but shows how God’s plan from the beginning has been to make a world with people in His image that revere justice and peace, and the lengths He will go to bring restoration when humans break from fellowship with Him.
- The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy
Filled with practical advice for churches and those serving Christ, first Timothy is very encouraging.
- The Book of Habakkuk
Habakkuk emphasizes the importance of faith and the assurance of God’s power over difficult situations.
- The Second Epistle of John
John’s second and third letters are the two shortest books in the Bible, but second John takes that time to emphasize how important it is that we love others.
- The Book of Lamentations
Like some of the darker Psalms, Lamentations shows the genuine cry of the heart for the restoration and peace God promises, and shows the trust we can have in God in the midst of that pain.
- The Third Epistle of John
A kind word of encouragement to choose the absolute good of God instead of the absolute evil that is outside of God.
- The Book of Hosea
Even though judgement comes for His people when they stray, Hosea assures us of the love God has for His people even when they reject Him.
- The Book of Joel
God’s judgement is sure, as well as the coming of His Spirit. Both judgment and blessing come from the God who judges from His place of ultimate holiness.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
Paul emphasizes that God’s family is to include people from the ends of the world.
- The Book of Zephaniah
God’s salvation comes to all nations in this little book that’s packed with remarkable promises.
- The Book of Esther
One of the few places in the Bible where you won’t find God’s hand explicitly referenced on every page, but this book of God’s deliverance makes His hand remarkably obvious.
- The Book of Nehemiah
The story of God’s people rebuilding the wall and finally drawing nearer to His will after straying from Him for generations.
- The Epistle of Jude
This is one of the most unusual books in the Bible, but Jude, a half-brother of Jesus, gives some fantastic advice on how to follow God in life.
- The Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
More advice to a church that was asking about God’s coming judgment, Second Thessalonians also has some encouraging words to continue on in the process of growing closer to God.
- Honorable Mention: The Revelation of the Apocalypse of John
My favorite book growing up because of the end times prophecies, Revelation is a bit more confusing now. But this final book of the Bible promises God’s ultimate victory and reconciliation of all creation.
- Bottom: The First Book of the Chronicles
This is my least favorite book not because it’s bad or because it doesn’t have anything valuable, but because I find the historical narratives very difficult to determine the moral we’re supposed to take away (not to mention its long section of genealogies). But to sing its praise, it does detail God’s covenant with David and His faithfulness to Him in difficult times.