Far and away the most popular letter I've ever written is the one on Bible marking. It is also long and overwhelming. I'm sharing the same principles again in this series of letters, choosing a tutorial format that will hopefully be more useful. My motivations for marking haven't changed, and are discussed at length in the original Bible marking article.
I know how much you love the idea of colored pens and pencils, and we'll use them a lot with inductive study worksheets. I do use color in my Bible, but very sparingly and for a specific purpose. We'll get to that tutorial a little later on. Today I want to start with the basics.
The absolutely essential tools
- A copy of the Bible. This need not be expensive. Some of my favorite Bibles to read and mark are hard covered pew Bibles. The Bible program on my smartphone was a free app and features extensive marking tools.
- A pencil. The beautiful thing about using a pencil is that you can grab any pencil anywhere in the world and it will be essentially the same color. If you're annotating within a Bible app, pencil (or gray) is usually an option.
That's it. Really. That's all you need for marking your Bible effectively. Simple really is better most of the time.
The #1 Principle for Marking Scripture
Underline just a word or short phrase within the passage rather than highlighting the whole thing.
If I could teach just one principle of annotation, this would be it: LESS IS MORE. When you're reading along and a verse really speaks to you, stop and think. What word(s) emphasize the aspect of that verse that the Holy Spirit illuminated? You could just underline or highlight the whole verse, but chances are just a word or two will bring out the meaning that blessed, comforted, convicted, or challenged you.
Marking less helps you remember more.
Here are some different types of underlining to try. Sometimes you'll need a couple of types to keep the markings distinct within a passage.
- dotted ...........
- dashed, _ _ _ _ _
- bold (using the side of the pencil lead instead of the tip)
- wavy, ~~~~~~~~~~
- and double. =========
In your mind, think of Psalm 23:1.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
Mentally highlight just a word or two at a time, and see how it brings out a different aspect of the truth as you meditate on that word.
- THE LORD -- not my experience, not my church, not my education -- THE LORD is the one who protects, feeds, cares for, and heals me.
- The Lord IS. Not was, not will be, IS. Right now. No matter what is happening, it is under my Shepherd's watchful eye.
- The Lord is MY Shepherd. He's not just the Shepherd of my church, or my parents, or just the pastors and missionaries. He's MY Shepherd. He's concerned about every aspect of my life and well-being.
- The Lord is my SHEPHERD. Not my goatherder driving me with a stick. Not my rider whipping me and spurring my sides. Not my hunter. Not the slaughterhouse worker. My Shepherd. He will lead, and tend, and care for me no matter what the cost to Himself. He will protect me from myself when necessary, too, even if that causes me frustration or pain.
Passages and Chapters
Here are a few ideas for marking longer passages and chapters. Many of the items I mark are a result of sitting under great preaching or through my own inductive Bible study. I don't mark all of these in every chapter in my Bible -- I choose the one or two that bring out the truth.
- Mark major divisions (In Hebrews 11, for example, marking "by faith _______" divides the chapter neatly into sections.)
- Mark just the verbs. Actions reveal character. (Proverbs 31:1-10, I Corinthians 13, and Hebrews 11 are all good candidates for this)
- Underline each time the same word occurs in the original language in a distinct way. (Galatians 6:9-10 "season" and "opportunity" are the same word in Greek)
- Underline repetitions in English: "mind" or "minded" in Philippians 2.
- Underline phrases that denote the motive or reasoning behind an action or command (they often begin with because, for, for this reason, that, so that, etc.) This will give you a glimpse into the heart of the person (or Person) doing the action or giving the command.
- Philippians 2:14 is a familiar verse to most parents: "Do all things without murmurings and disputings" But have you looked at the reason for this command in vs. 15-16 which starts out with the word "that?"
Many people reading along with these letters are in countries where colored pencils or highlighters are expensive or unavailable, so I'll share with you how to mark effectively with just a standard pencil.
Why wouldn't I choose to drag a highlighter over words instead of using a humble pencil?
Good question. I want to preserve the simplicity and readability of the text as much as possible for future use. Underlining these words in pencil will remind me of the study and meditation I did without making that the only thing I see every time I read that passage. Color highlighting is used extensively on working copies during inductive study, but is best used sparingly and for very specific purposes in your daily driver Bible.
Underlining as you read, listen, and study God's Word is a habit that will help you apprehend the truths. In my next tutorial we'll cover framing a verse, vertical lines, and other simple pencil marks that help reveal the truth in a portion of the Word.
Bible Marking Tutorial Series
Back to Basics, Pt. 1 - Essentials
Marking a Topical Study with Chain
Marking for Professor Horner's Bible Reading System
- Marking for Evangelism
- Marking for Counseling
- Marking for Teaching
Marking for Professor Horner's Bible Reading System
Linked up at Titus 2 Tuesdays #90