I recently bought what’s called a “Reader’s Bible”. It’s an edition of the Bible that doesn’t have verse divisions or footnotes of any kind. The chapter divisions are there, but in very light print, out to the side of the Biblical text. The idea is to allow you to read the text free from distraction, much like someone in centuries past might have read the Scriptures from a scroll.
This is a great way to experience God’s Word, and one I would recommend to you. I first did this on vacation last year when I took a copy of The Reader’s Gospels with me, and read all four Gospels in two weeks. You tend to read longer portions at one sitting, and it’s easier to see the flow of the text, especially in the narrative portions of the Bible.
Now let me tell you why I’m going to stop doing this.
I’ve been reading from my Reader’s Bible for about a month and a half. I decided to read from this edition of the Scriptures because I felt I was marking too much in my Bible as I read. It was slowing me down, and I wanted to read the Bible free from any urge to underline a verse or a word.
But after about six weeks, I began to feel some dissatisfaction with my reading experience. I realized that I wasn’t really engaging with what I was reading. My eyes were just skimming over the words of Scripture, and often my mind would be thinking of something completely unrelated. Despite reading “without distractions”, I found myself even more distracted. My soul felt starved.
So a few days ago, when I came to church to do my normal Saturday stuff (yes, preachers do work more than one day a week), before I did anything else, I went to my study and got down a copy of the Bible I got on vacation many years ago. I’d purchased it in the little bookstore at Gray Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, with a gift certificate given to me by my brother Curt. It was the New American Standard Bible, and based on my underlining, I’d read many portions of it before. But I found that I hadn’t read the epistles of First and Second Peter. So I settled down with this Bible and a red Flair pen (my favorite underlining pen for a Bible, if the pages are thick enough to prevent bleed-through). I spent a wonderful time reading through First Peter, and underling special verses or significant phrases. And when I was done, I could feel my soul going: “Ah-h-h-h-h!” I felt spiritually fed, and it felt so good!
For many years I have purchased a new Bible every time I was ready to begin reading it through again. There is something exciting about a new, unmarked copy of God’s Word! When I start into it afresh, I feel like I’m “marking my paths” again as I underline key verses and phrases, and even circle meaningful words. It’s like greeting old friends. And I find that when I preach, underlining key verses helps me to find my place at a glance, even when I’m not reading from an underlined portion.
I know there are some that are horrified at the thought of marking in a Bible, as though you are defacing God’s Holy Word. If you feel that way, I can respect that. As long as you’re reading your Bible, you’ll get no argument from me.
But the church I grew up in emphasized studying your Bible, and encouraged underlining, highlighting and making notes in the margins. Evangelist B. R. Lakin used to say, “A clean Bible is a lean soul.” Another old saying was, “People who have Bibles that are falling apart usually have lives that aren’t.” Somewhere along the line I came to look at the Bible as a workbook, something to be read, studied, underlined, and written in. That’s how I still look at it today.
And the venerable old Scofield Reference Bible, with all its helpful notes and chain references, got its start from someone underling in their Bible. As a young lawyer, Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield was converted to faith in Christ. Not long after, he entered the offices of a friend who happened to be reading his Bible when Scofield arrived. To Scofield’s horror, he saw his friend drew a line across the page, and he exclaimed, “Oh! You’ve ruined that Bible!” But his friend patiently showed him what he’d done. He had carefully underlined Acts 8: 5 – “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.” Then he drew a line to Acts 8:8 – “So there was much joy in that city.” He explained to Scofield that wherever the Gospel of Christ is preached and received with ready hearts, there is always much joy. A light dawned upon young C. I. Scofield, and he began reading and marking his own Bible. His studies eventually resulted in the Bible that bears his name. But it all started with someone underlining some verses in God’s Word.
There are many ways to mark a Bible, using many different colored pens. But I keep it simple. I just use a red Flair pen, and underline favorite verses when I encounter them, or a verse or word or phrase that speaks to me in a special way. When I go through a particularly challenging section of Scripture like Leviticus, I find it helps me to underline or circle the words “atonement” or “forgiven” whenever I find them. In genealogies I will underline familiar names of important Biblical people, or “hidden gems” like 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.
I freely admit that I can mark too much. This is why I tried to use The Reader’s Bible, telling myself that I wouldn’t mark in it. I haven’t, and I won’t. It’s now in my upstairs studio at home, to be used there. Occasionally it’s good to read a portion of the Bible through in one sitting, like the book of Ruth or Ephesians. Some even recommend reading through one of the Gospels in one sitting. This is a wonderful way to let the words of Scripture flow through your soul, and one of the many ways of reading and meditating on God’s Word. And I will read the Scriptures that way again, from time to time.
But as for me, on a day-to-day basis…well, I’m happily “marking my trails” once again in a brand new copy of God’s Word…with larger print than I used to read, I’m afraid!
So, instead of my usual sign-off, I think I’ll just encourage you to get your Bible and a pen or a pencil, borrow a phrase from Roy Rogers, and simply say:
“Happy trails to you!”
Soli Deo Gloria!