Let’s be clear upfront: Religious biases aside, the New Testament is WAY cooler than the Old Testament. God’s a lot nicer, there’s a lot less holier-than-thou, you’re-all-goin’-to-hell stuff from prophets, Jesus is a lot more compelling than anyone in the Old Testament, and Paul might be the most influential writer in world history.*
That’s why, if you’re gonna try to take down the Bible, start with the New Testament (unless you’re Jewish; that’d be nonsensical [although, do Jews ever attempt to read the whole Bible?]). If you get tired after one testament, you’ve read the good one. And if you decide to soldier on, it’s a lot easier making it through 1 Chronicles knowing you’re almost done.
But if you’re a buffet-style pick-and-choose reader (and who isn’t in these ADD times of ours?), here’s how they stack up in the New Testament:
Jude is the patron saint of desperate causes. Like finishing this book! (j/k…it’s like 300 words long. Plus the author is a different, more obscure Jude. No, not that one either.)
Not surprisingly, the inspiration for the FOX sitcom is both brief and relatively unentertaining.
25. 1 Peter
Most of this list favors epistles that were authentically written by Paul. This is the one that makes me have to say “Most of the list…”.
23. 3 John
22. 2 John
21. 2 Thessalonians
It deals with a slave named Onesimus. I know someone who once dated a guy named Onesimus. He was pretty cool, but he wasn’t really anything to write home about. Get it?
18. 2 Peter
17. 1 John
It’s like the Gospel of John, except not quite.
15. 2 Timothy
See: 1 Timothy.
14. 1 Thessalonians
Col 1:15-20 is pretty cool.
This is the top inauthentic Pauline epistle.
11. 2 Corinthians
Now a lot of people really like the Book of Revelation. A lot of people read it even though they don’t care for Jesus or Christianity or even religion. While Revelation is undeniably cool and different, here’s a warning: Anyone who really likes the Book of Revelation is out-of-their-minds insane. Do not associate with them. They tend to enjoy both fire and vengeance, often at the same time. You heard it here: Avoid them at all costs.
8. 1 Timothy
I’ll be honest: A lot of this has to do with the fact that my name is Tim.
6. Acts of the Apostles
5. 1 Corinthians
Because even though it’s clichéd, 1 Cor 13 is the best chapter of the Bible.
The angry rough draft to Romans, this came after the infamous Antioch Incident* when Paul split from Peter. It basically boils down to this: “If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
*The Antioch Incident is arguably the second most significant moment in Christian history that doesn’t directly involve Jesus the human (I mean, all moments in Christian history involve Jesus the idea). In case you’re wondering, the Emperor Constantine’s making Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire is probably No. 1. Other events in the conversation include the Vulgate of St. Jerome, the Schism of 1054, the Babylonian Captivity, the (sigh) Reformation, Vatican II, Pope Leo the Great sticking it to Attila the Hun, and the football career of Tim Tebow.
The gospel of the Gentiles… therefore the gospel for me. It’s the first book I read, and Luke 14:11 is one of my favorite verses.
The final draft of Galatians, it excises the anger and presents Paul’s arguments for what is to become Christian doctrine in coherent and organized form. It deals with participation in Christ and a movement away from the Jewish adherence to laws that were less about religion than about forging a distinct community (i.e. Leviticus). This is probably why Christianity is its own religion and not a Messianic sect of Judaism.
One of those rare works of art that lives up to all expectations. It’s kind of the gospel as written by Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese—a new journalistic take on Matthew, Mark, and Luke (or, collectively, Q). It includes the tremendous “In the beginning was the word” opening, a clear callback to Genesis and an acknowledgement that what the gospel is trying to do is nothing short of starting over with a new covenant for a new time. There’s a reason John 3:16 is on so many signs at sporting events (to be on TV, of course), and 3:17 is an underrated follow-up. Lastly, 16:33 might be Jesus’ best line: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
Greatest. Story. Ever.