I worked with a guy once who chastised me because some books on my small office shelves were dog-eared, highlighted, the margins were written in - they had little tabs of yellow sticky-notes showing on the sides of different pages. These were all business books - self-help, personal motivation, planning and accountability, some were just referent documents in book format about the industry within which we worked.
He was chastising me because his dad had always taught him that a person should never mark a book because someone else might read that book and the book should be in pristine condition when you lend it.
My bible is a mess. It’s a Student NIV Bible. This means it has all sorts of great call out boxes about the history and context of certain passages. It has maps, genealogies, topic indexes, read the Bible in a year plans…I think it is the coolest thing every. I follow different read the Bible in a year programs and I use this Bible. There are highlights, underlines, dog-eared pages. I put in the little plastic tabs on the sides of the opening page of each of the books so that I can flip to it easily, (I did not know you can buy them that way, but I’m not going to go buy a new one of those when I have this one). I am a little ashamed to say that there is a coffee cup ring on the page that starts with James 3. James is one of my most highlighted books in the Bible, maybe that’s why the stain is there. It’s a messy bible and it just seems to get messier every year.
It wasn’t always in this condition. It was new once, so it was absolutely immaculate. For a long time it stayed that way. I thought it might be because I had purchased one of those nylon bible covers you can get. You may have one. They have the zipper around the Bible and also a little zippered flap on the front for pens. It may have been 3 or more years that it was just like that my Bible was totally clean and all zipped up. Then Jen and I joined a small group from our church and the problems began. It was a bible study group, so we took our bibles to the gatherings. We studied the Bible, so I had to open it- then, it felt like I was opening it all of the time. My old habits of highlighting, underlining and dog-earing books got the better of me. My bible started to look a little used. I could probably could have still gotten money at a second-hand book store at this point, but we kept reading more. I committed to reading the Bible in a year, and that was it. I even tore a page once, (Exodus 1). I thought about tearing it out, but Exodus 2 is on the back and I decided that the whole book of Exodus might not make sense if I did not have the beginning, so I taped it back in.
There’s this group of old guys, (I have noticed that my version of old has become anyone 10 years or older than me), who has a bible study every Thursday morning in the next table over from where my men’s small group has breakfast. These guys all have their bibles out and are discussing scripture. Some of them have two bibles; one to mark in and one that they keep perfectly clean. It sounds judgmental to say, but these guys are LOUD. Maybe it is the Spirit moving within them or possibly they are nearly deaf. Regardless, they have really messy bibles as well. Sometimes they have messy conversations - quoting different scriptures back and forth to either reinforce each other or challenge each other. I only know because, like I said before, they are loud. My group really is the only people who will sit by them, and even then, we have to huddle in the table a little bit closer to hear each other.
Messy bibles are just bibles that get used a lot. If you are opening that bible a lot, if you are finding scriptures that impact you, you are going to mess it up a bit. I have given myself permission to have a messy bible.
Be wary of bald barbers, skinny chefs and clean bibles.