Posted by: alisonwalley | 10 May 2009

Bible notes and study Bibles

This post springs from Catherine’s comment on my last blog. On the subject of Bible reading notes she’s disappointed with failure to tackle some issues – specifically that of Old Testament violence. (I guess she may have been reading Joshua.) So I started asking, what exactly should we expect from Bible reading notes? What are they for?

Of course, one hopes the authors of notes have an idea what they are writing for, and I hope they’d say that part of it’s to help people understand what they’re reading better. And yet… how far should daily Bible notes go in dealing with serious issues (such as that one of OT violence)? Should they? Can they? In a very short space, you obviously can’t expect a lengthy exposition of what could be a very complex problem.

Now let’s just think again about what we’re doing here. A time of daily Bible reading and prayer has often been called a ‘quiet time’ – a time with God when we can hear him speak and speak to him. (Even Jesus needed that, as we see from the first three gospels.) Or you could call it ‘devotional’ time, although I’m not keen on that word**.

So, yes, daily Bible reading does help us to learn about the Bible, but first and foremost it should be a meeting with God. Bible notes are generally, and understandably, a single small page of text for each day, so it would unreasonable to expect in-depth discussion of certain issues, though we should expect enough engagement with the text to challenge and inform. I am very wary of notes which don’t give you any background to the text, but I don’t want to have to wade through lots of explanations in the (often very short) time I spend reading every day.

There’s a place in Bible reading notes for short introductions to books or subjects. Some notes have discussion topics which deal with problem issues.

However, and this is where I come on to the second part of my title, I think we’re talking about two different things here. As I said above, the critical thing when I have my daily ‘quiet time’ is to hear God and respond to him. I may well learn something new from the Bible but this isn’t the time to be able to investigate in depth. That’s where the study Bible comes in.

In English there are currently some tremendously good study Bibles available. Now you could use one of these in your daily Bible reading. But they perform a different purpose. Read the Bible daily to meet with God; use a study Bible to get deeper into God’s word and understand it better.

More on study Bibles another time.

**‘Devotional’ to me is more associated with the idea of someone ‘doing’ devotions, i.e. introducing a meeting with a short Bible reading and comment. And while I think that’s a good idea, in the context of personal, daily Bible reading it could just lapse into readings which are simply designed to give you a ‘blessed thought’ for the day. And there are notes which do just that.

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