Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why I Don't Take Notes In My Bible

I'm not telling you not to take notes in your Bible. Below are my thoughts from my experience, though I do have a recommendation for note takers.

Writing in your Bible is OK. In fact, you're encouraged to take notes in your Bible. That was the message from my Sunday school teachers when I was kid. I agreed with them in theory, but not in practice. I don't know why.

Why didn't I follow this guidance? I don't remember thinking it an act of rebellion. I just felt an aversion to marking in my Bible. I went with my gut.

More recently I've found a reason not to write in my Bible. When I'm reading the text, that's all I want. It's the same reason I don't primarily use a study Bible. I don't want my reading of the text skewed by someone's interpretation. I also don't want my reading skewed by my own interpretation!

Then and Again?

If I've made notes in a passage, then when I read that passage again the note will take my mind back to what I was thinking the last time I read that passage. A note taker might say, That's the point! Or, rather, the note shouldn't take me back to what I was thinking, but rather to what the Spirit told me.

My feeling is that I don't want the meaningfulness of the text then to distract me from its meaningfulness now. That is, I don't want to miss the application to my life today because my notes are reminding me of my situation—the hopes, circumstances and challenges—ten years ago, or even last year or six months ago. The note taker may argue that I'm missing something else.

Notes and Narrative

I've heard people say their Bible notes tell the story of their spiritual journey over the years. I think you know I believe in the importance of knowing one's story! I'll also grant that when I critique note taking, I'm knocking something I've never tried. Not to say I haven't taken notes from Bible readingI just always do so in a separate notebook. So, in some regards I agree with the note taker in spirit.

I agree there is value in documenting what the text (and hopefully, the Spirit) have taught us over time. There's also value in just recording the questions and thoughts that pop up. I will not, however, concede that all we have is a disagreement over method.

My concern is for keeping space open for new words from the Word. The note taker may claim he or she has continually understood new aspects of the text over the years without interference from his or her past notes. If that's the case, maybe this question is a to-each-his-or-her-own kind of thing. Still, I'll offer a recommendation to the note taker.

Fresh Pages, Fresh Eyes

Don't read only your note-taking Bible. Keep also a Bible that you never annotate. Spend a week in it every so often. Give yourself opportunities to read the text as though you were reading it for the first time. See what you see that you haven't seen. Will I make the converse concession, to spend a week now and then making notes in a separate Bible? I don't think so, but maybe I should.

I have some inclination to mark a certain 52 words in my current church-carry Bible. If I go through with that in the next week, you can read all about it right here. In the meantime—if you trust the Holy Spirit living in you as the guarantee of the salvation accomplished by Christ, then the only wrong way to read your Bible is not to read it. So, whether or not you take this note-taking or non-note-taking advice (from a kid who mostly listened to his Sunday school teachers), read your Bible!


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