Suppose a Christian were stranded on a deserted island and could only select 12 books of the Bible from which to read. Which books would be most valuable? Which books are most important for understanding the character of God, the person of Christ, how God redeems a fallen world, the mission of the church, and the daily life of a believer? Pause for a moment and consider which 12 books you would select in such a (terrible) situation. Not which books you like best, but which are the most important.

I can already feel pushback, “But they’re all important!” Yes, I heartily agree — they are all important. They are not only important — they are God’s inspired Word. Moreover, in a crucial sense, you need them all to have access to the whole counsel of God. But all books are not equally important for all people living at every historical moment. Obadiah’s oracle against Edom was extremely important for an Edomite living in the time of Obadiah, and I’m sure that John’s little letter to Gaius (3 John) was really important to Gaius. Moreover, each contains important lessons to learn about God and his ways (the holiness of God and faithfulness to God’s revelation, for example). But neither are as important as the following 12 books for understanding redemptive history, God’s character and promises, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the mission of the church, and the daily life of a Christ-follower.

Thus, in my opinion (… and this is just my opinion; you are welcome to disagree), here are the 12 most important books of the Bible.

Genesis: Creation, fall, flood, promise, patriarchs —how could we get along without Genesis?

Exodus: Redemption out of Egypt, the Ten Commandments, the tabernacle.

Deuteronomy: Deuteronomy sets up the storyline for much of the rest of the Old Testament with its blessings and curses.

Psalms: This book leads the way in worship, praise, lament, recalling God’s past works, and so much more.

Proverbs: Profound wisdom for life, rooted in the “fear of the Lord.”

Isaiah: Breathtaking prophecies, thoughtful reflections on the character of God, promises of what will come in the future. Sometimes called “the Romans of the Old Testament.”

Matthew: One of the three Synoptic Gospels (the others are Mark and Luke). It was the most-used of the Synoptics in the early church, thus its selection over Mark and Luke.

John: There is no better book in the Bible for coming to know the person of Christ and entering into faith in him than the fourth Gospel.

Acts: Pentecost, early Christian fellowship, the spread of the Gospel, Paul’s missionary journeys. So much would be lost without it.

Romans: The most influential book of Christian doctrine ever written. Sometimes called “the Isaiah of the New Testament.”

Hebrews: Connects the Old Testament with the New like no other. Displays Jesus as greater than … everything.

Revelation: All of history moves toward a climax. God will win in the end.

Now here is my concern in drawing up this list. I fear that someone reading this post will decide to ignore the rest of the Bible. That would be tragic! Think of all that you would miss: the conquest of Canaan, the extended explanation for the exile in the divided kingdom, the book of Daniel, important parables like The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan, amazing letters of the New Testament like Ephesians, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John — not to mention so very much more! Please don’t under any circumstances ignore the rest of the Bible.

But when it comes to drawing up a list of six important Old Testament books, I have the apostles on my side, since five out of six Old Testament books I have chosen are the most-frequently-quoted books in the New Testament. Proverbs is the exception, coming in at number 7, one place after Leviticus. My inclusion of two Gospels in the list makes sense (at least to me), since Jesus is the center of all of Scripture — and, really, you need one Synoptic Gospel (Matthew, Mark or Luke) plus John to get a fuller picture of Jesus. And Acts and Romans … I couldn’t live without those two books! Hebrews pulls a lot of the Bible together (as do Matthew and Romans, by the way). And Revelation may be super hard to understand, but it vividly points toward the culmination of God’s purposes in history, and you’ve got to know where you’re headed if you’re going to live in light of the future.

Here is one application, and the reason for this post. Whatever else you decide to study in the Bible, be sure to spend adequate time in these crucial 12 books. On a church level, whatever else you decide to preach in your churches, be sure to preach, teach, and encourage people to spend time in these 12 books — as well as all the other 54 books of the Bible!

This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.