JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 28, 2005– This year I decided to retire my “first-string” Bible, the one that I had used for church and Bible study for 23 years. I have four Bibles that I use regularly, but this one was my favorite. It was falling apart, and I was afraid that it soon would disintegrate, so I bought an almost identical one and placed the old one on a shelf.
As I shelved it, I thought about two other old Bibles I’d held in my hands. One had belonged to the great R. G. Lee, and it was filled with sermon outlines throughout its margins. My brother’s middle name is “Lee,” in honor of this prince of Baptist preaching. The other Bible had belonged to my grandmother. I leafed through it on the day she died, when my aunt sent me to retrieve Granny’s belongings from the retirement home. I blinked back tears as I read her notes and thought about how she had taught me in the “juniors” Sunday school department.
Our personal Bibles are spiritual autobiographies. Their pages give testimony of our journeys as we’ve sought to hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). As I think about reading my grandmother’s Bible, I can’t help but wonder what my unborn grandchild may think in turning the pages of my Bible many years from now. I can look at it now and anticipate some of those thoughts.
The beloved pastor of my young adulthood in Virginia, the late George Turner, used to say that our Bible is the Bible that we use; he meant that we should study the entire Bible, not just small portions. My retired Bible shows that I love the epic narratives of Genesis and Exodus. The comments taper off, though, in the rest of the Pentateuch. Sporadic intensity in the wisdom literature and the major prophets. A surprising wealth of notes in the minor prophets. The New Testament is almost uniformly covered with notes and underlinings, with the most notes in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There are four or five colors of ink there.
Initials accompany many of the margin comments, the initials of my pastors. These include RF (Roger Freeman, the first pastor whom we chose as a married couple in New Orleans), BH (Bob Horner, who ordained me as a deacon), FP (Frank Pollard, our beloved pastor in Mississippi when our twins were born) and now WL (Wendell Lang, the witty, passionate preacher who is the first pastor our children remember). There are many other comments that are introduced with “DAD,” meaning my father, the faithful pastor who led me through the sinner’s prayer and who continues to preach and to witness to everyone he meets.
I’ve taught Sunday school for 21 years out of that Bible, so there are teaching outlines. I’ve been a lay preacher for 16 years, so there are sermon outlines. I’ve left some drawings my children made on the backs of bulletins. It used to have photographs of extended family members, including some who now serve as missionaries overseas, but I’ve retrieved them and placed them into my new “first-string” Bible, where the photos serve as weekly reminders of their service to the Lord.
I suppose that the next time I go through this process of breaking in a new Bible, I’ll be in my 60s. By then I’ll be even more concerned with the kind of spiritual legacy that I’ll leave my family. Who knows what the next two decades hold? I do, however, know this: my personal Bible documents my spiritual growth. Moreover, it’s a written record of how God has led me to seek after his heart. I can’t wait to see how he leads me into a deeper passion for learning about his word and his love.
Gene C. Fant Jr. chairs the English department at Union University.
By Gene C. Fant Jr.