The importance of personal Bible notes
In my last post, I mentioned that I spoke at BibleTech:2010 about user annotations in Bible software. In this post, I want to talk about why I felt support for personal notes was important, and why it wasn’t enough to just use someone else’s notes.
In my presentation, I gave the following reasons why annotations are important:
- Makes the Bible text personal and real to you.
- Reinforces understanding of the text.
- Enables you to act on what you have learned in a real situation.
- Enables you to find the truth yourself.
I’m not sure if I realised it at the time, but my opinion of what was important in Bible study came largely from my upbringing as a Christadelphian. And this affected how I viewed Bible software.
In speaking at an ecumenical conference I was following a new trail, one far from the Christadelphian norm. I doubt that any other Christadelphians have spoken at BibleTech before or since. But I was still bound by Christadelphian principles. And that is nowhere better shown than in my final point: “Enables you to find the truth yourself.”
I don’t know whether I meant it this way, but I knew Christadelphians had The Truth (and most other Christians didn’t - probably including everyone in the audience). We were a community of Bible students with no central authority, and we were each meant to find the truth for ourselves.
Of course, in practice it wasn’t so simple. We used to joke that we had to study the scriptures independently and come to exactly the same conclusion as everyone else. But we did really think that anyone who studied the Bible with a truly open mind would come to the same conclusion as us. All this in spite of the fact that most Christians disagreed with the Christadelphian view, including plenty of knowledgeable Bible students.
In standing with this philosophy of personal study, I was also standing against what I perceived as the “Logos philosophy”. Logos was the largest company in the Bible software industry, and had organised and sponsored BibleTech. But, while I admired much of what Logos software could do, I was unconvinced by the methods of Bible study they encouraged.
Logos allowed users to build up a large library of Bibles, commentaries, and other resources, and then efficiently search and compare those resources. They talked about the “network effect”: the resources were more valuable when they were used together and linked together. For any passage or concept you could easily find and compare the views of great theologians throughout the ages. This led to a much more centralised view with recognised experts, rather than the decentralised Christadelphian notion of everyone having to seek out the truth for themselves. It was similar to the church councils making important decisions on doctrine through the ages - decisions that as a Christadelphian I considered wrong.
My point was that you can’t just look to the experts: you have to take ownership of your own opinions. I wasn’t against consulting other people’s opinions, but I was against that being the principal Bible study method used. Instead, I preferred to try and figure out my own interpretation, then look at other sources to try and find my blind spots.
A major advantage of this was that I was better able to remember and apply what I learnt. I can still remember key points of many of the talks I have given over the last 10 years. I’m sure there are very few things I read in commentaries over that time that I remember. I wasn’t the world’s greatest expert on the Bible, and I’m sure some of the points I made were arguments from ignorance. But it was still more useful than having hundreds of valuable opinions locked up in a library somewhere that I didn’t read and couldn’t apply in my life.
My other concern with the Logos model was the expense. Expert views don’t come cheap, especially if you want a thorough, well-balanced library. Studying the Bible text and coming to my own conclusions may have taken time, but it didn’t cost me anything.
And this wasn’t just about me: I may have been a member of a very exclusive denomination, but I thought the Bible was important and wanted it to be available to everyone. I made my software freely available, and I wanted people to be able to study the Bible with it, come to their own conclusions, and record them for later reference. And yes, I must have hoped that those conclusions would be the same as mine. But that was secondary to the fact that they cared enough to study the Bible at all.
We software developers can easily get caught up in details, but that was my real goal: to make tools freely available that would help people discover and internalise the truth of the Bible. To turn it from words on a screen to a message that would change lives. What better vision could there be?