Tuesday, March 6

[retro] quiet time

O.K. I get occasional people who look at me and my bible and ask what on earth I'm doing to my poor bible.

I start with this bible. I guess I don't mind talking about bible translations. I find it useful to talk about them in terms of altitude. The more time you spend in close detail, the more detailed of a translation you'd want to see, right? If I were trying to do a word-for-word study, I wouldn't use a paraphrase.

However, in 2000 and in 2001 I tried reading the bible through in a year and FAILED MISERABLY. Why? There's lots of reasons (including my own weakness as number one). One of them, however, was because I simply couldn't get through the NASB Old Testament (sorry Dr. Archer!). In 2004, I read the NLT through in a year, and made it (barely).

I've been using the ESV for about three years, and have found it a wonderful translation for my everyday reading.

Anyways, next I copy an outline from a reputable evangelical commentary into the margins of the bible. I usually read a little introductory material, either from the Reformation Study Bible, Fee and Stuart, or an introduction like Longman or Carson just to get my bearings straight.

I use Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils. The case rocks, the colors don't bleed, and the pencils are triangular so they don't roll away. I use them for categories that I've made up over the past 5 years.

Dark green are commands to follow ("Be Holy").
Light green is good examples.
Dark blue are commands to avoid ("Don't pray like the Gentiles do").
Light blue are poor examples (and the shortest pencil)
Orange is important structural elements in the book itself.
Black is idolatry.

I use a pen (usually from a hotel that I've stayed at recently) to make a couple of other marks. Triangle for attributes of the Father, crosses for Christ (red) or redemption (brown). Glory is a brown sunburst with yellow inside. Worship is a brown circle with green on the inside (combining "glory" with "personal growth"). Red pitchforks are demonic activity and the Spirit is marked with an ≈. Brown circle with orange inside is covenant. And so on. . .

I go through a crazy order on the scriptures where I read Pentateuch, gospel, poetic, epistle, prophetic, historical then back again. I have an excel spreadsheet with all the books of the bible and track which books haven't been visited in a while.

At the end of each quiet time, I mark the passage with the date. I then pray through the passage, using the coloring as reminders. "Lord, I praise you that you are" . . . "Help me to grow in" [green] and "God, please help me avoid the errors of" [blue].

I've also gone through cycles of copying out a book of the bible in my own handwriting. Proverbs was a long one, and Ephesians was shorter.

All this to say, it's a crazy system that makes sense only to me. It stops me from allowing scripture to pour through my brain like a pipe. It forces me to SOAK IT UP and gives me a better chance to LIVE IT OUT.


colet1499 said...


Interesting post. Your bible must look like a rainbow inside. I usually just underline with a pencil and highlight with a dry yellow highlighter. I'm a teacher so I have to be careful on how much I highlight. I'll get confused when I'm reading because I've marked so many things.

I've made the transition from the NAS to the NIV and am now in the NRSV. I'm not sure I like some of their translating decisions though. My trouble with finding an ESV to use is I can't seem to find a good study bible. I need to keep looking, I guess.

Susan Elliott said...

Matthew, since your title was called "quiet time", maybe you are waiting for another blog to explain how you maintain the outside condition of the leather on your Bible (when it isn't in Croton) since you were diplaying some of the products that you use inside. I think this would not only be a valuable instructional resource, but you could also demonstrate how, instead of washing the feet of your small group when they come, you polish their Bibles for them. I look forward to this ministry of nacho night and leather care. (Of course I could go out and buy the leather care stuff myself, just like I buy the soap to wash my own feet, but it is so much nicer to see small group ministry in action.) Susan

Matthew Westerholm said...


the ESV Reformation Study bible is very nice, but you might wait for Wayne Grudem and Justin Taylor's work on the new ESV STUDY BIBLE to come out later this year.


you are so funny.


I bought the cheapest leather I could (bonded) and use a leather sponge on it each week (or so) to keep the leather in shape. Then monthly, I use the leather lotion http://www.wilsonsleather.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1834945&cp=1835416&parentPage=family
to keep it extra nice.

Susan Elliott said...

There is a spray too...Remember Lisa said "Don't spray it near the nachos."

Jeremy said...


Welcome back to the Fellowship! Excellent strategy for Bible marking. I am trying to devise my own system but I think yours might be right on line. Any chance we could see a picture of one of the marked pages of your Bible? Always enjoy the [retro]!

jmoon said...

i just showed this post to a friend, and he was wondering if you could post a picture of one of the pages.

it would be interesting to see. I color code my lessons when I teach, but it's nowhere as complex as this, though the motivation behind it is one that i need to hunger for, too.


Matthew Westerholm said...

yeah, i'll post some pics. but can't tonight. see why on the new post: 8 minute segments.