Posted by: alisonwalley | 26 April 2009

Hitting the right notes

I was introduced to reading the Bible fairly young using Bible reading notes. It became a bit of a ritual and I got to the stage where I used to feel guilty when I hadn’t read my verses for the day. Later I got fed up with notes, and decided to try just reading my Bible – a chapter or a section at a time.

The trouble with that was that I soon got mechanical about it again. It’s all too easy just to read the verses without properly thinking about them. And when you do start to think about them you often don’t know what to think. What does it mean? Does this passage really apply to me now? How can this be so blood-thirsty? What’s this with all the images in Revelation? And so on, and so on.

Bible helps have been around in English since nearly as long as the Bible has been in that language. One very widely used Bible in 16th century England was the Geneva Bible, which included cross-references and introductions to the different books. It also included marginal notes which, as this was a Protestant Bible, were very anti-Roman Catholic in places. (There’s a photo of it on Wikipedia, showing one of the maps.) You could call it the first study Bible.

Well there are plenty of study Bibles around today. But however useful they are, that’s not always what we want. So Bible reading notes can be a great help. Here are some of my conclusions on the best sort of notes. You can disagree if you like, but I think I’ve got pretty good reasons for these:

  • They need to take you through the Bible in a systematic way. Notes that take a couple of verses from completely different parts of the Bible each day don’t do that.
  • The best ones are those that don’t try to do your thinking for you. It’s good when they ask you questions and make you think about what you’re reading.
  • They should be written by someone who’s aware of modern culture and the pressures we all face every day (sounds obvious I know).
  • They should challenge you.
  • Most important, they should be Christ-centred.

The aim is to help us is to grow in the Christian faith and for that we need to read with understanding. But, and it’s a big but, Bible reading isn’t an intellectual exercise. Without prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit it’s too easy to get back to the mechanical ritual again.

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