Is Bible Journaling Good For Bible Study? Three Cautions to Consider

If you walk through your local Christian bookstore or scroll through Pinterest these days, you’ll notice that “Journaling Bibles” have become incredibly popular.

If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, here is a brief description from Christianbook.com, which offers a large selection of wide-margin Bibles meant for this purpose:

If you love to read the Bible—and to draw and journal—welcome to the world of Bible journaling.

As you read each page and meditate on the concepts of Scripture, make the truth of God’s Word come alive by adding your own personal artwork and typography right on the page of your Bible. It’s a creative way to meditate and reflect on your reading.

An amazing array of Bible journaling tools makes it easy to create a visual Scripture entry, using pens, highlighters, markers and watercolors that will not bleed through thin Bible paper.

Gather your tools and head to a quiet spot for your own interactive Bible study and quiet, artful meditation.

In short, in Bible journaling you break out the pens, pencils, and even paint and express yourself artistically in the margins–or, for some folks, across the pages–of your Bible. (Some of the Bibles for sale are specially formatted with “400-plus hand-drawn illustrations ready for you to color.”)

Image Credit

The journaling method of spending time in the Word is being marketed primarily to women as an intimate way to spend time in Scripture. Though I don’t expect I will ever be one to recommend this method, I also do not think that there is anything inherently wrong with it. No doubt, many have found it to be a helpful way to spend consistent, meaningful time in the Bible.

However, just as there is a downside to digital Bibles, the potential exists for the practice of Bible journaling to hinder, rather than help, your time in the Word.

I would humbly suggest that believers keep the following cautions in mind when making Bible journaling their primary means of Bible study.

 

Caution 1: Any Artistic Expression Must Compliment, Not Replace, Bible Study

It is not my purpose to suggest that artistic expression has no place in personal worship. To the contrary, I think that creating art can be as worshipful as writing a hymn when it comes from a heart filled with love for God and a mind filled with the truth of His Word.

However, artistic expression is not a substitute for studying the Word of God. Spending thirty minutes sketching out and coloring a visual representation of Mathew 5:14 is not the same as spending thirty minutes reading, praying about, and contemplating what it means for us to live our lives as the “light of the world.”

There is a place for creativity. God gave you that and so you should use, cherish, and share it.

Be sure that your artistic expression is the result of what you spent time reading, studying, and praying about.

That being said, our time in the Word is about us taking in God’s truth and learning how to apply it to our lives. Be sure that your artistic expression is the result of what you spent time reading, studying, and praying about.

To put it another way: Beware the subtle tendency for your time in Scripture to become a time merely for relaxation or self-expression.

Caution 2: Let the Word, Not Your Creativity, Be the Focus

The Bible is not the medium for your artistic message. The Bible is the message.

The inherent danger in the practice of Bible journaling is that your Bible can become a portfolio of your creativity.

Is it not a fitting metaphor that covering over the words of Scripture with pens, pencils, and paint can very easily obscure the text?

Don’t forget that the Bible is God’s Holy, inerrant, infallible Word. As John Piper said, “God wrote a book. That reality blows me away every time I stop to think about it. Pages and pages of God. His thoughts, His words, His heart. Right there, just a few inches away.”

May God impact all our hearts regarding His Word. It would be a red flag if:

  • The words of God become secondary to your own self-expression
  • You neglect entire pages of His revelation to you because your art didn’t turn out well on that page.
  • The pages of His eternal Word become as temporary and disposable as a sketchbook.
  • Most of your time is spent with visual imagery and little time reading His words.
  • You’re more apt to share your creation with others than your glimpse at the heart of God.

 

Drawn on Bible

In my opinion, this is an example of bible journaling gone wrong. I don’t mean to pick on the person who made this, and the art itself is very well done. Still, it is an example where the pages of Scripture have become the medium rather than the message.

It is of great concern that the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior as recorded in Luke 24 is literally cast into the shadows.

Don’t let the Bible, the very Word of God, become an opaque and secondary element to your creative expression.

Don’t let the Bible, the very Word of God, become an opaque and secondary element to your creative expression.

Rather, focus your time on reading the truth of Scripture and journal (as in actually writing) or draw something with the goal that doing so will help you to reflect on and internalize it. When you do, do it in a way that does not obscure the text, but instead serves to highlight and draw attention to its truth.

Here are some practical considerations:

  • Stick to the margins of your Bible so as not to literally obscure the text.
  • All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Don’t neglect passages or pages of Scripture for subjective artistic reasons.
  • Remind yourself that you are interacting with God’s eternal Word. Reverence is appropriate.
  • Spend the majority of your time digging into God’s Word and let your journaling be an expression and reminder of what you have learned from the text.

Caution 3: Shallow Study Will Not Yield Strong Faith

I am not saying Bible journaling necessarily equals shallow Bible study.

However, this method of studying Scripture runs the very real risk of becoming shallow. Whenever that happens, it is unlikely Scripture will truly serve as a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path (Psalm 119:105).

Journaling in your Bible has the potential to be a great way for you to get more from your study of Scripture. But if you lose sight of what your primary purpose is, you can easily become sidetracked with artistic distractions.

It would be detrimental for someone to spend the vast majority of their study time reading footnotes, commentaries, and perusing the maps rather than actually reading Scripture.

Likewise, it would be detrimental to spend the vast majority of your time in the Word focused on artistic expression.

Sisters-in-Christ, please beware of the very real risk of allowing the opportunity for rich communion with God and His Word to simply become an opportunity to relax and get creative.

Recommended Bible Study Methods

Here are some recommended study methods for those who feel like they would like some help in digging deeper into God’s Word in addition to, or perhaps in place of, Bible journaling:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin

My wife has been using this book recently and has had only good things to say about it. From the back cover:

We all know it’s important to study God’s Word. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. What’s more, a lack of time, emotionally driven approaches, and past frustrations can erode our resolve to keep growing in our knowledge of Scripture. How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible?

Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.


Look At The Book with John Piper

Head over to DesiringGod.org/LABs. Here you will find a large number of videos where John Piper walks you through a particular passage of Scripture.

Print off the passage (double-spaced works best), grab your highlighters and colored pens, and work through the text along with him. You will be amazed at how much you can dig out of a single verse, as well as the incredible connections you can make between multiple verses.

After you get the hang of it, try to tackle the passage on your own first, and then watch the video to see what other insights you can learn from Piper.

Kay Arthur, Precepts Study

Many churches have Precepts Bible studies to participate in. These can be excellent ways to learn how to study your Bible in a rich and meaningful way. From their website:

Precept Ministries establishes people in God’s Word using Inductive Bible Study. “Inductive” means we use the Bible as the primary source of study to learn about God and what the Bible teaches. Precept studies and training workshops are designed to equip you with inductive study tools so you can discover truth for yourself.

Conclusion

Does all this mean you shouldn’t write, sketch, or even color in the extra-wide margins of your journaling Bible? Not at all. These could be great ways to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16).

While some are rightly concerned that Bible journaling might wreck their Bibles, an even greater concern is that it might wreck your study of the Bible.

To help prevent this, I would strongly encourage those who make use of Bible journaling as a part of their regular Bible study to keep the above cautions in mind.

Even good things can become a hindrance to your spiritual growth when used poorly.


Your turn. Do you have experience with Bible journaling?

How do you ensure that it deepens, not detracts from, your study of Scripture?

28 comments
  1. Brenda Harkness ~ Your idea about keeping a stand-alone binder with 66 sections jumped out at me. The thought of processing and sorting the results of years of conferences, retreats and bible studies makes sense. It would be a treasured collection quotes, texts, songs, sketches, poems, etc. that coordinate with the current focus of bible study while connecting with past encounters from that portion of scripture. It would certainly represent core beliefs one has formed over a lifetime. It is the ideal place to add the personal touch of current artistic creativity. This excites me!

  2. I use a separate journal for Bible journaling. I also do not like the idea of putting art in the Bible although I have always underlined and highlighted in my Bibles things that are important history or that God has really spoken to me.
    Like anything, the art can get in the way of study as you say. But many of the tutorials I have watched are young girls and if this gets them into the Bible, I say good!
    Good article. I am glad you wrote it.

  3. If this trend is worthy it will have lasting power. You need to compare time spent decorating Bible passages compared to decorating pictures of your family. Many women are coming into Bible journaling from photo journaling. In my opinion whatever gets you closer to the Word helps.
    I just discovered this trend after being inspired at a woman’s retreat. I decided to use the same Bible I was given at the retreat and I am adding decorated pages rather that writing on the Bible itself. Think decorated Bibles of old.
    Posting on Facebook can inspire friends who are artistic and are not looking at their Bibles at all. Yes, if you are a good artist they will admire the art. But isn’t that a God given gift used to glorify Him?
    Lets think about Christian music, it can be about the voice too. It can be about the tune. But isn’t it also using God’s gifts to give glory? I say whatever causes even a tiny spark to light up a soul is worth doing. We live in a confused world that needs Him more that ever.

  4. As someone who is artistic I did just feel the need to mention that when I first started getting serious about my intention to do daily Bible reading I started with Scripture writing. It was easy at that time to draw a picture to go with the verse and I felt it helped me to focus on what I got out of the verse…however, the more I did the scripture writing the more I wanted to read more extensively, so I do now -and I hardly ever art journal anymore because with the other things I’ve chosen to give time to,I just don’t have the time for it. For others they may have time to read and journal.
    However-something that really bothers me is when I see people draw or paint all over the scripture in their bibles. The example you gave is actually very light opposed to some that I have seen. They start on the portion of page that is empty but it spills over and covers text. Either with paint or stickers.
    As someone who used to do art journaling in regular books I get that it might look pleasing but the Bible is not just any book.
    How are you to return and read the Bible if you’ve covered the words? I understand these people might have more then one Bible but it’s hard to get that from the pictures alone and might lead younger in the faith Christians to cover their only Bible in order to follow the trend. Besides, this it just feels disrespectful to me, I don’t know…

  5. I am not trying to put anyone down or be mean, here, but how has drawing pictures all over the pages of the Bible come to be the definition of Journaling? Because it is not.

    Depending on the heart of the individual and their motivations, I don’t think drawing in one’s Bible is particularly a bad practice or wrong– I am not anyone’s judge. God knows the motivation of one’s heart, not me.

    That said, the real meaning of, “journal” or “journaling” is this:

    noun: A personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis; a diary.

    verb: To write one’s observations or thoughts in a journal

  6. I saw this online and I’m glad a pastor, like Clayton is bringing this up. As a Christian studying the Bible and a college student studying books for my major, and an Art Major my experience and my preparation for practical study is and should be the same.
    A book that is readable from back to front. Does any college student who has paid heard earned money for tuition look for and pay for a textbook that has pages missing, pages painted over with detailed art, drawings, calligraphy obscuring the very text they need to study? Nope. In fact that student will hold on to that book for the semester, and yes they may underline, highlight and use post its they still understand and appreciate the fact that they must need to be able to read it , several times if necessary to pass their exams and even after doing so they will keep it in the best shape possible to sell to another student.
    If secular students know the value of a semester textbook, Christians, as those who follow Jesus Christ, should give their Christian textbook, the Bible the same value. The value of the Bible is that it is the Word of God. God’s letters to us to study and learn from about living a life of faith, a textbook for the subject of life that we use for our entire life. It is a book we are required as disciples Christ to study and meditate on.
    I love that fact that I’ve had my bible so long and that I can read it over and over and I can still remember the first things God has helped me through, shown me. How could it remind, teach, comfort me through the stuff that happens in life if it is purposely covered over with opaque white paint for a better backdrop for art.

  7. I have felt the same way about these journaling Bibles! I myself, will get one so I can write down deep revelation in the margins. Maybe some pretty calligraphy here and there, but we have to check our hearts. Are you reading your bible to only do art in it so you can post a picture on social media of your art work? By no means these aren’t great, there are many beautiful artistic ones that blow my mind, but are you doing it for God’s glory or for your own glory for others to look at your quiet time with God?

  8. I found Bible journaling by chance . I had never heard of it until a couple of months ago . I have my Bibles from many years ago but in all honesty they sat on my bedside table . I bought a journaling Bible and I have read more of the Bible than i did when I was at Sunday SChool . I have since bought a book of the Psalms and I have enrolled in Bible studies . Bible journaling has brought me back to God and his son Jesus Christ , so it has been a very good influence on me . I won’t cover the text though , my own personal choice but i just can’t cover God’s word .

  9. I have a Bible strictly for journaling and art and more than a half dozen other Bibles for reading, comparing, and study. Many people that journal or draw do not feel comfortable covering God’s word and stick to the margins or use a multi media journal. It is personal preference. Although I have other Bibles to study, I still don’t obscure the words in my journaling Bible. But being able to spend time on a page slows me down and actually has me opening my Bible more often and reading God’s word before I journal.

  10. I find myself thinking about both viewpoints here. I believe the Word of God is holy and whole.
    However, the Bible in whatever translation or form is a book. Each person has to determine how they are going to use that solid repreaentation of the Word. For some a mark in the book is unholy. For me, it is a way to record what God is showing me through his words. Neither of us is wrong if we are responding to the tug of God on our hearts. The danger I see in the comments and article itself is to believe that God’s speaks to each of us in the same way, or that we find His Grace through studying the same way. We do not. I agree that no matter your method of study we all must guard against it becoming routine and shallow.

    Just for the record, I choose not to obliterate the words of my journaling Bible and stick to the margins with art work. Someone else may be led differently. I spend more time seekimg what God is saying to me when I journal over when I am reading without journaling. Some would be distracted. The key is to be in tune with where God is leading you. The question then is not, “To journal or not to journal,” “To cover words, or not to cover words,” Rather we should be asking, “Do I concern myself with what others think about what I do with my Bible, or do I spend time seeking God’s words for my journey to him?”

  11. I am new to Bible journaling and have developed an interest in it. As visual learner with a strong interest in sketching and painting. I feel that it has helped me slow down and concentrate on his word. It has also provided me a way to direct my art. Yet at the same time, I agree about your concerns of its potential spiritual dangers. The first one it can become a time to worship the work of our hands in stead of the Lord. Most times I usually complete one illustration a week. Due to time constraints, I have to make a choice, draw or study. Bible journaling can also turn into a vehicle for contemplative prayer and meditation, a dangerous practice of eastern mysticism dressed in Christian terms. As a person can be drawn to one phrase or word. Journaling can end up being just another fad or it can be a way to illustrate your faith. I would like to make my Bible journal a legacy to my children as a reminder of my faith that I lived by and a visual way to convey the lessons the Lord taught me. I also enjoy prayer journaling because It allows me to create illustrations in different mediums and journal pages that are separate from devotional and prayer time. This provides additional opportunity to use time to focus on the Lord that would not have been sat aside for that purpose. The choice is yours, choose wisely.

  12. Many bible journalers have a bible specifically for this purpose. They are very much in the word and mediocre study can happen without using Bible journaling as a scape goat. When people highlight a specific verse it’s because that is what the Lord spoke to them in their study. Upon studying the same text at another time and getting something different from it often creates the need for a bible journal-er to use another journaling bible.
    God is the ultimate creator and gifts us to explore his word in a practical way. You can’t single out this method to be one where people don’t get deep in the word, that happens with many daily devotions equally if not more.

    1. Thanks, Karen. Your comments are appreciated! You’ll note that this article says “I am not saying Bible journaling necessarily equals shallow Bible study. However, this method of studying Scripture runs the very real risk of becoming shallow.” You are right that this can be said of other Bible study methods also, but this particular article is meant for those wanting to keep Bible journaling from becoming shallow unintentionally.

  13. I came here because I journal separately from my Bible and I was wondering what thoughts others may have. Thank you for taking a look at the topic from many angles, Clayton. Here’s my favorite part:

    “It would be detrimental for someone to spend the vast majority of their study time reading footnotes, commentaries, and perusing the maps rather than actually reading Scripture.

    Likewise, it would be detrimental to spend the vast majority of your time in the Word focused on artistic expression.”

    I spend time in the Word every morning, reading online. Sometimes I DO go looking up maps and commentaries…getting distracted from the day’s reading. I re-focus and try to get back on track – without letting my reading program be just a check-mark on the day’s to-do list.
    I definitely use highlighters in my Bible and write scripture cross-references and other notes in the margins. But I don’t think I will be drawing/creating there. God’s Word is alive and holy. Angela stated it well in that she would not draw all over a love letter from her husband.

    My current journal is a big 3-ring binder. Here, I am making 66 separate sections. I’m tearing apart the MANY books I have from womens ministry conferences, and bible study classes. i am putting pertinent pages in the binder, filed under the corresponding Bible book. THERE, I might draw, paint, etc…

    Thanks again for this wonderful article. I love that you added sound resources as well.
    I will share this article with my womens ministry leader. You blessed me today!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Brenda. Glad that you found this article helpful as you consider how to best spend your time in God’s Word!

  14. If my husband wrote me a love letter when we were engaged, I would not draw all over the letter, only allowing “I love you” to be seen. That would be saying, “I don’t really care about the rest of it, I just want to remember this part.” Just as the article was nuanced, I believe our responses in the comments should be nuanced as well rather than simply for or against. Doodling in margins is great and I’m glad there are Bibles which offer this. But to draw all over a page in order to focus on one verse or a portion of a verse is to discount its context in a way that minimizes the inspiration of the word of God in general. It seems to me like one is saying, “this is the part I like and the rest I can do without.”

  15. I agree. I’m also in a creative field but seeing a bible with drawings or big texts overlapping the word of God doesn’t feel right to me. I agree to what Abigail said. Let art take it’s place where it belongs. God’s word can stand alone without putting our creativity. There’s so many ways we can apply our creativy for His glory but not in the Holy Bible. God bless you all!

  16. Thank you so much for your insight and for allowing God to use you to speak wisdom on this topic.
    I just started Bible Journaling late 2016. I have to say, it has transformed my time in the Word.
    I embrace all that you referred to regarding the study and meditation. However, I would say (though to me, the Word of God is Holy) I see the TEXT and the BINDING not as “The Word” and more that I see the altar as being holy. It is the offering to be placed on the altar, not the altar itself.
    I do not consider myself any less a serious student of the Bible because I do a transparent illustration on the page of my bible (that I can STILL read) because the power in the word comes not from it’s printed parchment nor regal gold lined pages as it does that one is putting the Word into practice. Many read and do not journal yet do not LIVE the Word.

    Just thought I’d share my perspective <3

    May God continue to bless you and your ministry, dear brother.

  17. I Bible journal. I have to say, I think you are 100% wrong on this. I’m creative, but I’m not particularly gifted in the arts. I just enjoy it. For me, as for my friends, Bible journaling is no different than journaling with a notebook and the Bible. The difference is, when I look up verses again in the Bible I use as a journal, I see what God has already said to me. The cool thing is, through this style of journaling, I have see how God has answered my prayers. I’m not one to go back and over old journals… but the Bible… I’m in it daily. I also use a Bible app as well as my old trustworthy pocket Bible I’ve had since high school. My Bible I use for journaling is personal and private. It is my conversation with God. There is nothing wrong with writing or drawing over the pages. Believe me, I couldn’t add to the Bible if I tried. I don’t have any better words than are already there. To think that my drawings might overtake the words on the page is purely legalistic. There are also pages where I look back on frequently as a quick visual reminder of God’s promises. If drawing on a page offers that quick reminder throughout the day, that is fine. I also know teenage girls who are memorizing scripture because they spend so much time on a page. The idea is meditating on the word you read while you make the art. These legalistic ideas are why people run from Christianity.

    1. Hi Kristin – Thanks for adding your thoughts on this topic. I appreciate that you feel you disagree with this article, but if you re-read it I think you’ll find that we are in agreement. The purpose of the article is not to dissuade people from Bible journaling, but to help them to do so in a way that does not hinder their study of Scripture. It’s not about legalism, but love.

      It actually sounds like your experience echoes the cautions given in the article: 1. The artistic expression is complementing rather than replacing Bible study. 2. The word, not your creativity is the focus. 3. Deep study of Scripture seems to be the goal, rather than shallow study.

      Again, this article is not about the use of Bible journaling, but providing cautions about its abuse. I’d encourage you to give it a second read with this in mind to see if you still disagree.

  18. First off all Thank You Clayton for this insight. I think this is a important issue and will be ( hopefully) widely discussed among believers.

    I am an professional artist, and absolutely love beautiful pictures with quotes from the bible, and art in general.

    I know God loves!!! art too and all artistic gifts are from Him. However this bible journaling subject has been bothering my heart for a while.

    This is what I feel I need to share with you guys.

    Bible is HOLY. There is no need or personal reason to add anything TO the word written by Lord Sebaot HIM self.

    If one has desire for creating art, let art take it’s place where it belongs. And that place is NOT the Holy Word.

    By all means do add quotes from the bible etc. to your work, and do it with love, but do not add your work to the living word of God.

    When in doubt take this matter directly to the Lord, and ask His opinion and guidance.

    God bless you all, and never stop creating!!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Abigail! You are right—artistic expression is a gift from God to be used for His glory. We just don’t want one gift to encroach on the gift of His Word. Glad to have your perspective here as an artist.

  19. I really needed that thank you it helped me realize that i need to focus on god instead of pictures to go to different verses

  20. For those of us who are visual learning “creatives”, doodling has always been a way of learning and studying and digesting material. In this age of smartphones and tablets, I suspect a number of us would use “journaling bibles” as an artistic outlet and do more of our text study with online digital bibles.

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