Do You Own a Bible?

books

In this classic work, How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler makes the following observations on owning a book:

There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher’s icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your blood stream to do you any good.

Confusion about what it means to “own” a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type—a respect for the physical thing—the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn’t prove that its owner has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them.

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers—unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books—a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many—every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.) . . .

But the soul of a book “can” be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini’s score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores—marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author.

How much more should these words apply to the Bible?  Do we merely own it by having a nicely-bound copy sitting somewhere in our homes, or have we and do we continually seek to devour it?  The point is not about whether we literally mark up or dog ear the Bibles we own.  The point is this: are we seeking to make the “soul” of the Bible part of our own?

“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:15-16)

4 thoughts on “Do You Own a Bible?

  1. Max Wein says:

    Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos–lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann

  2. kaitiaki says:

    The story is told of a theological professor who applied for a job and was asked to bring his Bible to the interview. He arrived to find others before him all with nicely bound Bibles and was almost ashamed of bringing his.working Bible. At the interview the faculty asked to see his Bible which was passed from member to member. As the last man handed it back to him the chairman announced he had the job. “But,” he said, “what about the interview?”
    “We wanted a man who not just possesses a Bible,” was the reply, “but one for whom it is a daily discipline to study and imbibe its precepts. Yours is the only Bible we have seen today which demonstrates that its owner uses it constantly. Dog ears, copious notes and a well worn cover show this is true of you. It is you we want in out seminary.”

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