Writing in the Margins

Our adult Sunday School class is using the Animate Curriculum on the Bible right now. This past week, we were talking about our Bibles. For some of us, the sacredness of the text keeps us from marking the pages with notes.

For me, I have many copies of the Bible. But the one I call “my Bible” is well worn. I lugged it to each class in seminary. I’ve written sermon notes in the margin. It has been my companion for 15 or more years. It is a New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, NRSV.


apparently, I have lots of opinions on Corinthians.

I also have my grandfather’s Bible, that he used to take with him as he visited prisoners in the jail back in the 1940s. I can feel where his hand held the Bible as I hold it. My grandfather died when my mom was young, so I don’t have many connections to him. This is one connection.

But after that discussion, I’ve been thinking about Judy.

Judy was a long time member of the church. She was on hospice, and had been for a while. She was ready to go “home”. I was visiting with her, and she’d already told me she wanted John 14 read at her service. “But don’t read that NRSV nonsense,” she told me. “I want King James.”

“Okay,” I said. “Why? What is it about the difference in translations for you?”

“NRSV wants to put me in a ‘dwelling place’ and King James talks about ‘mansions’. I want my mansion!”

We laughed about it and I promised her I would read the King James at her service. I also shared with her another passage from 2 Corinthians 4-5, when Paul talks about our earthly life being ‘tents’ but our heavenly life being the solid dwelling. “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 5:1)

She turned to her daughter and said, “get my Bible and write that down. Highlight those verses. I want to remember them.”

Judy died a few days later.

As I watched her daughter take notes in her mother’s Bible, I thought, “that’s how I want to live. I still want to be taking notes in the margin when I’m on hospice care”.

How do you read your Bible? Is it marked up? Or do you take your notes elsewhere, leaving the pages clear and clean?

13 thoughts on “Writing in the Margins

  1. Ohhh, like that. I am going to write in the margins now. Up until now, I have only taken scholarly notes. I have always written a journal which allows me to do my own commentary.


  2. I have a dozen or more Bibles, most of them for work and about half in other languages. The most personally important ones to me are the one I had all through Sunday School / confirmation / college, which is, indeed, all marked up, and the one I got for confirmation, which is beautiful and has mostly sentimental attachments. I have several translations of the Tanakh now and that Stuttgart Hebrew Bible but I never got as attached to any of them. We will give mom’s Bible (KJV) and her confirmation hymnal to my nieces as mementos for their confirmations. In the end, Mom used a Kindle Bible, I think it was the ESV.

    My dad wants John 14 for the text for the sermon at his funeral and he also definitely wants “mansions.” My mom picked Romans 5:1-11. She also forced me to read Romans 8:28 to her, which I think you mentioned recently somewhere.

    Not to be maudlin, but on the topic of bedside Bible conversations:





    • Thanks for sharing these.

      Romans 8:28 is what got me through my pregnancy in college. I also like the Marci Revised Standard Version (MRSV) translation of “We know that in all things, God is working together for the good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.”


      • I like your translation 🙂

        it’s not something I’ve believed for a very long time, but I was grateful to know that there were things that mom wanted to say to me however obliquely and that she was able to do that. These conversations are so hard, and so important.


    • Definitely marginal, mine – WaPo obituary daily, Letters to the Editor (daily), FREE for ALL (Saturdays) – and then put these into MS Word documents (yes there are Legion) and FB and Tweet @tombxtOnNET also @BobGone each day.


  3. I am a margin writer and underliner, too. I have 4 bibles from the last 40 year, I guess about one new translation per decade, that highlight my life and thoughts at that time. They are a precious treasure. I can’t relate to people who don’t underline and take notes. How do they process what is being taught, I wonder? (LOL)


  4. Pingback: Wednesday Festival: Marginal Notes | RevGalBlogPals

  5. Mostly I underline…both scripture and the footnotes, which I love more than anything. Writing in the margins has to be done small enough to fit but big enough to decipher a week, a month or a year or so later. That’s where I have
    a problem.


    • small is essential: nine syllables, six or even (many) three syllables – in three lines, equal number: then put these into MS Word documents – mine are barely legible (even to me) before they even get “cold” on the page(s). I do not put these on the Bible page(s) but do on church bulletins, newspaper articles, magazines – and on old envelopes, recycled – but not restaurant napkin(s) – we eat out seldom.


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