I bought my journaling Bible, which is the NLT “Inspire” Bible from Tyndale Publishers, because I like to take notes as I study Scripture. I have several notebooks that I set aside over the years for this purpose, but I find the entire setup a little clunky for the way I spend time in the Bible. My daily habit for Bible study generally happens right before sleep. I sit in my bed with a lap desk, a cup of tea or coffee, and a nest of pillows all around, and I read Scripture and chat about it with my husband while he falls asleep. We both enjoy this arrangement, and the addition of a separate notebook for my scribbled questions and thoughts is workable, but inconvenient.
The Bible isn’t the only thing I study in this way. As a history student in college, I had to read literally thousands of pages. I did a majority of that reading at night before sleep, in bed with a book, a lap desk, and a pen or pencil. I wrote in the margins of my textbooks as I was reading, and then I would come back to those notes later when preparing for exams or writing papers.
It feels natural for me to study the Bible in that same pattern, and I began to really want a Bible that had wide margins for taking notes to accommodate my study style. I googled “Bible with margins,” and a whole subculture popped up that I’d never heard of before. The world of “Bible journaling” filled up every result page for margins in the Bible, and it was both dazzling and…odd.
There were people painting in Bibles and doing serious paper art in Bibles. There were hundreds of tutorials on YouTube about calligraphy and modern script/font art for Bibles. There were literally thousands of videos about coloring techniques, both secular and religious. And, of course, I also found what I was looking for: Bibles with wide margins designed for artists to color and draw and paint in.
I was a little miffed at first. I’m a bibliophile (a lover of books themselves, not just the reading of them) first and foremost, and this looked like deliberate and disrespectful destruction of books upon first glance. I wanted to write notes in my margins, not paint all over them! I recoiled from the whole concept of this “journaling art,” which many of the artists spread out over the text in their pages. That rubbed up against my strictly reverence-oriented upbringing as a Catholic, as well. I didn’t relate to this kind of artistic expression with people slathering pages with paint and texture compounds, going at them with heat guns and literal irons.
People ironing Bible pages, y’all.
But there was method to all their madness, and my curiosity was keenly piqued. I will confess that it irritated me to see all this accommodation for grown adults using crayons with no market consideration made for adults who actually wanted to study, but that reaction was rooted in my self-centered pride, and I knew it, and so I shut it down fairly quickly.
I have no natural gift for visual art. I can’t even draw neat and orderly stick figures without major concentration, and I certainly don’t paint…but these Bibles made for art had wide margins that were perfect for my uses, too.
I got stuck on the Inspire Bible because it was the only NLT version available with margins in it. I derisively referred to it as the “coloring book Bible” for a while, but even though I didn’t want a coloring Bible, I did want those margins. There were a lot of Bibles out there with margins and no coloring art, but they were all in either ESV or KJV translations. My desire to keep the NLT translation I was accustomed to overrode my hesitation, and I bought the coloring book Bible.
It arrived and I immediately commenced to taking notes all over this thing. It. Was. Perfect. It was exactly what I wanted. And…hey, I’m a girl. I like flowers. The art inside was very pretty. I decided I didn’t mind all of the illustrations and I didn’t give it any more thought.
I have a daughter, so there are crayons and colored pencils all over my house. I was on the phone one afternoon, and my Bible was on the desk next to me. It was lying open to the title page of Lamentations and, as I talked, I began to mindlessly doodle over the line art flowers with a blue pencil. After I hung up from my call, I realized what I had done and had a bit of a panic. I’d just ruined my brand new Bible! Thus it was that my first coloring foray in Scripture was an attempt to clean up the mess I’d made. Afterward, however, I had to admit to myself that I really enjoyed coloring that page (pictured above). The result was crude as far as coloring techniques go, but it didn’t feel like I’d ruined it anymore. I actually thought it was pretty.
After that, I started coloring the title page of each book that I finished in the Bible, and when I look back at them now, I can see the progression of my coloring abilities. I went from pretty basic, childlike coloring (which is cathartic and perfectly lovely) to more adventurous methods and feeling freer to try things. I no longer worried that my scrawls in color would “ruin the Bible.”
I found that I was spending a whole lot more time considering and meditating on the Scriptures I’d just studied through the coloring, and I was retaining certain passages and verses much more easily. I was getting a lot of good out of this whole coloring gig, and I couldn’t find any part of it that was bad.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of articles expressing concern over the Bible journaling craze, and I am the first to admit that some of those concerns are valid. I’m a huge advocate for rooting out biblical illiteracy, and as I discussed in one of my previous posts, there are a lot of Bible-adjacent activities we moderns engage in that actually replace Bible study rather than enhancing it. So the concern is: Are people spending time learning in the Bible, or are they just replacing study time with superficial arts and crafts? Is this practice bringing people to God’s Word with humility and seeking, or is it actually fostering a lack of reverence for Scripture?
I don’t know the answer to that for other people. I’m not a teacher or a bonafide scholar and I don’t have any answers about the condition of other people’s relationships with our God or his Scriptures. I don’t personally like the idea of coloring over the text in my Bible, and I don’t personally like the practice of placing loud life application art all over it, either, but you know what? There are extremes of blasphemy on one end and extremes of legalism on the other, just like everything else in life. I try very hard to live my life in the middle because I think that’s where a healthy relationship with God and the church and the Bible exists. I cannot spend my time trying to morally police other people’s Bible art. It just isn’t my place.
I color in my Bible. I write in my Bible. I enjoy both activities tremendously, and I have never experienced a season of deeper connection to Scripture. So there you have it. My opinion of Bible journaling is that some of it might be brushing a dangerous line. Some of it probably gets used as a replacement for actual Scripture study. I believe that most of it, however, is just time spent in deeper communication with God’s Word. And coloring is fun. There’s no law against having fun in the Bible.
Color in your Bible. Paint in your Bible. Write in your Bible.
It’s up to you, and it’s between you and God. As for me, I’m glad I got a coloring Bible. I’ve been surprised by the joy it brings to me. It doesn’t replace the study. It doesn’t diminish respect for the text. It adds a new visual and tactile interaction with the study and the text. I think that’s a good thing.