My wife picked up my Bible recently, because she wanted to do some personal study and it was conveniently at hand. She mentioned to me later that she was quite distracted by my copious notes, scribbles and underlines. She couldn’t understand how I could use this book year after year. But to me, those notes are what make this particular book so valuable — it is among the first items I would grab in a house fire. Those notes, questions, ideas & insights, gathered during my study over the years come back to me with fresh insight each time I read back over them. I could even say (at risk of sounding a bit self-absorbed) it’s like having a Bible study with my younger self. And I sometimes even wistfully imagine some descendant of mine — years after I’m gone — picking up this book and reading that marginalia with some edification.
But the importance of taking notes in Scripture goes beyond just personal enjoyment and edification. I think it is an essential tool in truly immersing one’s self in the Word. I came across a quote today from a classic book called (ironically) “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler, originally penned in 1940. Although Adler’s focus was the study of “secular” literature, I think this is marvelous insight applies with equal force to the study of Scripture:
“When you buy a book, you only establish a property right in it. . . . Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way [to do so] . . . is by writing in it.
Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.
Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.”
So I will continue to scribble in my Bible, and pray that, in turn, the Lord will scribble His words on the margin of my soul.
[Note: the picture of a Bible at the top of this post is not my own, although I do own one that is nearly that colorful. I should also point out that this practice of Scriptural Scribbles has a long tradition. The picture below comes from a page out of a (“Glossed”) Bible that dates back to 1150 ad!]