Forgiving Margin

12 03 2008

When it comes to Bible reading and study, people often fall into one of two camps – the markers and the non-markers. Those in the former school will often sport a copy of the Scriptures which is well-worn and ink stained with thoughts and insights which have come to them over the years. Their margins might contain thoughts which emerge from private study, which they have picked up while listening to preaching, or quotes on verses from commentators which are particularly illuminating.

Those in the latter camp are generally appalled at the thought of making such marks. Their prejudice against writing in their Bible might be cultural (none of the books on their shelves have a single crease or notation) or spiritual (feeling that it is some form of desecration to write on holy writ).

I think I fall between both camps.

I always hesitate before I write something in the margin of my Bible. For me there is the handicap of being left handed. My handwriting wavers dangerously between being a juvenile series of unconnected letters, and being a scrawl worthy of any NHS prescription. Then there is the problem of what to write, and what not to write. A thought that seems rich and powerful to me today, may not seem so in a few months, and I might look back with regret that I’ve marred the margin for no good reason. Another factor is that I preach quite a bit, and I worry about being distracted while ministering by marks and comments made in the past. I also don’t like the sense of ostentation that can accrue to having an ink-laden copy of Scripture. If I have to share my Bible with someone they might on the one hand form an excessive and unrealistically positive picture of my spirituality (if they fall into the marking camp) or could possibly pass out in the pew at such sacrilegious scrawling on Scripture (if they belong to the non-marking crew).

With all of those reservations, however, I still mark my Bible. There are times when God speaks so personally, when a truth comes home so profoundly, or when a preacher expounds a passage so precisely, that I feel an overwhelming compulsion to remind myself of it in days to come. For a while I marked my ESV Cross Reference edition, but soon ran out of space in the minuscule margin, as well as having to look at ink-bleed on the back of each page.

Last spring, when we had reached our decision to follow God’s leading into cross-cultural mission, a very dear friend and spiritual mentor bought us a copy of the ESV Journaling Bible. This has been a panacea to my Bible marking split personality. The margins are ruled, wide, and forgiving, and there is more than enough space to record multiple thoughts on any one verse. For my 30th birthday I got the Bible rebound into beautiful leather, and it has now become a treasured posssession. I don’t use it for my daily devotions at the moment (I’m reading through the NIV Study Bible), but when a thought, quote, or piece of clear guidance comes during my reading of the Word it is marked with joy in the margin.

This has left me with only one loose end in terms of Bible marking morality – what about the academic work I need to do in Scripture? In years to come I don’t want notes and quotes from Bultmann and a whole host of other infidels to cloud the clarity of what God has said to me through His Word. Another ESV solution has proven pretty good in this area – the single Gospel editions of the ESV printed by The Good Book Company. I’m working on John’s Gospel and have been able to purchase one of these for £1.00, which allows me to work through passage exegesis, making marks as I go, without leaving indelible print on my conscience.

Whether you’re a marker or non-marker, isn’t it great to record the ways in which God speaks to us, rebukes us, and encourages us through His living Word for the glory of His name? For some it may mean a journal or diary whose pages are laced with God’s grace, and for others a margin marked by God’s mercy.




4 responses

12 03 2008
Exiled Preacher

I’m a non-Bible marker. But then, I never mark any books.

13 03 2008
Andrew and Carolyn

Hi Guy,You definitely ARE a non-marker, I think it sounds like you’re of the ‘by temperament’ rather than ‘by conscience’ type!!I kind of defy my own categories…I mark very few of my other books, but do mark my Bible!!Thanks for your comment.

14 03 2008
David R.

I used to be a Bible marker too. I cringe when I look back at the mess I made of a Thompson Chain Reference Bible when I was in my teens.More recently my Bible would have been dated to when God guided me using certain Scripture and worthwhile commentary notes. Then I changed from NKJV to NASB one year and had a decision to make as to whether or not to update my new Bible with all the old comments.The solution was a Paper Blanks notebook. I note guidance and thoughts from my readings as well as worthwhile quotes from books and sermon MP3s. This gives me much more room and I can choose who sees it! It is gathering value as I can occasionally look back over notes of books I have read a while ago and it helps me keep a summary of that book in my head.

15 03 2008
Andrew and Carolyn

Hey Dave,Thanks for your comment, Big Bro!! I think you’re right about the notebook in terms of having a portable resource of readings, sermons, and God’s guidance without making a lasting mark on your copy of the Scriptures.The ESV Journaling Bible is good in terms of format for making those kinds of notes with plenty of room. It’s interesting, though, that I don’t necessarily gravitate towards using it as my normal everyday Bible, which is free of my own annotations. I view it more as a notebook which happens to have the advantage of containing the Bible’s text on each page.I really appreciate all of your encouragement about the blog, Dave.

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