This past summer, I shifted my approach to studying scripture on an extremely practical level in hopes of finding a way to capture my engagement with a specific book or passage each time I read it, and keep that study for future reflection.
For years, I’ve simply used an NRSV pew bible with minimal notes and a journal to record insights. In the bible, I note the date each time I read a passage, giving me a wonderful record over the years. My three bibles record dates from 1988 to 2015, and for some passages, like Proverbs 31 (describing a most fabulous, creative, diligent, wise business woman), dates upon dates.
The book of Ephesians, which the Holy Spirit has kept me anchored in for the past five years, is another one that shows consistent engagement.
While my two previous study bibles finally fell apart due to poor bindings, my current one is still intact, yet has become uninviting for new underlinings and notes.
The journal record of my study is also not easily organized, as they are mixed in with the days’ musings. My goal was to find a simple way to collect my study notes, commentary gleanings, Greek word studies, prayers, and insights with the text itself, and in a way that can be filed for future reflection.
While I love the latest and greatest technology and know that software, such as Logos, offers digital ways to study, the price tag is daunting. Even more, I know that I learn better when I have a physical text to work with. Color is also important–making the page a creative, prayerful reflection as well as a reasoned meditation on the Word.
Research in cognitive studies also suggests that our brains learn by textual landmarks–where something is on the page, even where it is in relation to the whole book. The act of writing can further embed learning–physically writing out an insight in a journal or margin is more likely to remain in long-term memory, than one that is typed.
After some research, I discovered pre-printed KJV and ESV loose-leaf bibles. The wide margins seemed exactly what I hoped for, yet the price tag of $70 and the negative reviews of the thin paper stopped me. I use fountain pens and gel pens, so the paper needs to hold ink without feathering or bleed-through.
To create my own loose-leaf bible for study, I found a free Word doc of the NET bible. Other than the King James Version, the NET bible seems to be the only version on the internet that allows full printing, rather than just copyright-limited sections. (If anyone finds others, please let me know.)
Using a 28-pound paper with an incredibly smooth surface, I printed each book that I’m currently studying and put them in a binder. There is no need to print the whole bible. While it doesn’t allow for cognitive landmarks of where the text is in the entire canon of scripture, it still allows for mental page mapping within the context of the specific book.
With a free resource like BibleHub.com, I can look at the interlinear Hebrew or Greek, recording key words with the text, have any number of commentaries open on my desk, and capture everything in one place, all the while staying close to the text itself.
So far, the experiment has been a success. One unexpected thing I’ve discovered using this format is that that blank margins invite insights and commentary–it actually encourages me to study. It allows me to approach the passage fresh, to hear what the Spirit is saying today.
I still love my well-loved and marked up bible–it’s a record of God’s faithfulness to speak through His word for 15 years. I still use my current bible for church and to record dates when I wrestle with a passage (it’s especially powerful when a verse comes to mind and find that I had looked at it on the same date years prior.)
I still have my two falling-apart former bibles on my shelf and occasionally take them down to smell their pages and go back in time through the notes of a young college freshman just falling in love with scripture. At the times in the past decade when I’ve lost my love of scripture, prayer, even God, God has called me back through their witness.
A bound bible is a legacy, but this new approach offers me a different form of legacy: to study, file away the notes, and over time collect multiple readings for comparing, contrasting, and deepening my personal experience of the text, and making it easier to share in teaching and discipleship.