27 April 2014

Bible Marking Tutorial Series: Marking A Topical Chain

Dear Lissy,

I mentioned earlier that I do not recommend coloring certain Biblical concepts and truths with a single color throughout the whole Bible anymore.
Why not?  
  • They aren't as easy to re-find at a moment's notice as you'd expect, especially if the verse is against the gutter. 
  • Most Bible marking tutorials encourage you to mark verses like "God" or "Sin".  How often have you needed to look up a broad doctrinal topic at a moment's notice without a concordance or notes?  We're usually dealing with much more specific problems and needs on a day-to-day basis.  A lying child, anxiety about money, or a friend wondering about the meaning of life are all impacted by doctrine; but each situation requires a very different set of verses.
  • Many verses deal with more than one topic.
  • You need colored pencils everywhere you go or you have to remember to mark later.
  • You have to remember what each color signifies or look it up.
  • A Bible becomes distracting to read when the verses are multicolored.
The method I'm sharing here is my own, but it's based on a little ruler and chart combo that was published back in the 1980's.  The alpha-numeric system was thorough, but very complicated.  It also required that you never misplace the ruler, which of course I did.

Three Important Principles for Marking Topical Chains

Mark only Bible-wide themes that deal with the application of biblical principles in daily life.   
These are verses that I want to find quickly in real time.  I generally don't have the time to look up these verses in my files or a concordance.
  • Sharing the gospel with a friend during a tender moment over coffee.
  • Counselling you and your brothers about a besetting sin, like lying. 
  • Comforting a friend who is suffering or depressed.
  • Personal battles - anxiety about money, impatience, etc.
  • I do not mark general doctrine or topics in my Bible:  God, Jesus, Spirit, sin, promises, commands.  Those markings are reserved for my inductive study Scripture sheets.

Use symbols instead of color.   

But, my sweet baby girl, I know how much you love color, so I promise you that making symbols in all sorts of glittery technicolor won't affect the system one little bit.

Place the symbol at the top right hand corner of the right hand page and next to the appropriate verse. 

This neat technique allows me to flip through my Bible and find an appropriate verse very, very quickly.

Let's take a look at this topical marking system in action.

For sharing the Gospel...

  1. Notice the main verses (8 and 9) are underlined in red.  
  2. I drew a cross in the left hand margin to remind me where the passage begins. 
  3.  The symbol at the top right hand corner of the right page allows me to flip through just the corner of my Bible and find a topic quickly. (Left handed people might find the left corner more useful.)
Marking gospel verses is the only place I use red markings in my Bible. 
I was taught to flip all around to the best verse for each point of the gospel.  I have since found that a single rich passage with one or two verses used to clarify a point works much better.
  • I don't use the Romans Road, per se; but I will often use Romans 3: 10-12, 20, 23,24-25, and 28 when sharing the truth with a Catholic friend.  
  • Eph. 2:1-10 is a wonderful passage to use with friends who are completely unfamiliar with Christianity and the Bible. 
  • We'll discuss evangelism at length your Junior or Senior year of high school and learn how to deal with a variety of situations.
  1. Underline the verse(s) in red.    I choose to have the person I'm counselling read the verse for themselves.  This allows me to say "read the verse in red here."
  2. Draw a cross in the margin beside the verse.
  3. Draw another cross at the top right hand corner of the right hand page.  This will allow you to flip through just the corner of your Bible and find the symbol quickly.  Don't place any symbols on the left hand page or you'll have to flip through in both directions.
  4. If you typically go to another verse while using this one, write the reference beside the verse.  Underline that verse in red so someone else can see and read it easily, but don't mark the cross references with cross symbols in the margins since they're only "support" verses.
  5. As you learn new techniques for different situations, mark them into your Bible.  If needed, a single word beneath or beside the cross at the top corner of the page will help you find the appropriate passage for each situation more easily. 

For counselling and comforting (yourself or others)...

If I'm close to losing my temper with one of you, or listening to a friend weep as she shares a trial she's going through, I need God's Word at my fingertips instantly.  These verses are the direct application of what I know to be true about my God from years of study.  Don't expect to pull out a "scripture hand grenade" and blow the problem to bits.  These verses are more like a wedge for splitting wood.  The force of the blow is doctrinal truth, but the edge on these verses allows them to slip into your soul and place the truth about your God right where it's needed at the moment.  I often pencil mark verses during a sermon or class -- it's that easy and inconspicuous.
Psalm 40:1-3 is both an excellent passage for counselling depression and a beautiful song.

  1. Circle the verse number and place a symbol beside it.  If you're marking a passage, just circle the first number and draw a vertical line down the margin to indicate how far you should read.
  2. Place the same symbol in the upper right corner of the right hand page.  Don't use the left hand corner at all or you'll have trouble finding the symbol again when you need it.  It's ok to have several symbols in a line in the upper right corner.
  3. Keep a key of symbols in a flyleaf of your Bible if needed.  The goal is to create an icon that anyone could identify, but a key will help in time of distress.  A frownie face in a cloud is a pretty easy way to denote discouragement or depression, a $ sign is an easy reminder for verses on money or giving, and an eighth note is recognized all over the world as a symbol for music.
  4. Combine or alter symbols rather than creating unique new ones when possible.  I make a simple emoticon with a wavy mouth and a question mark over its head to symbolize anxiety, worry, or fear.  Putting a $ beside the ? easily reminds me that this verse will be powerful when I'm anxious about money.  A ? and a super simple clock face over the same emoticon can denote verses that help when I'm worrying about the future.
  5. Keep in mind that a verse may need more than one symbol.  A verse may be equally appropriate when you're counselling a little one on the tongue or a teenager on friendship.  Leave enough room for both symbols.
***To find a verse during a time of need, simply flip the upper corner of the Bible page until you spot the appropriate symbol.  As soon as you open to that page you'll be able to spot the matching symbol and circled verse number somewhere on the page.***  Can you see how much easier that will be than trying to find a verse that's been highlighted in a particular color?

For Teaching...

Sometimes I want to use several verses to show the full teaching of God's Word on a subject:  speaking in tongues or commands and consequences of lying are two prime examples.
The first reference in a series on personal finance is marked with a $ sign in the margin and in the upper right hand corner of the right hand page.  In addition, a few explanatory notes and the next reference have been marked.
  1. Circle the first verse number in the set and place a symbol beside it.  If you're marking a passage, just circle the first number and draw a vertical line down the margin to indicate how far you should read.
  2. Place the same symbol in the upper right corner of the right hand page. 
  3. Write the reference for the next verse in the set under the symbol beside the verse.  Link the last verse in the set back to the first one in the series.
  4. Make brief notes in the margin if necessary to further explain the subject.
  5. Note the symbol, the study name, and the first reference in the flyleaf of your Bible.

I <3 U,


Find the first tutorial in this series here and the next one here.
Linked up at Titus 2 Tuesdays #101


  1. Thank you for sharing this! I definitely agree with your point about not colouring in an entire theme - I've done it in the past and it turned some passages into a mess to read. I am just wondering, do you carry your study Bible (in the pictures above) around with you everywhere? I'm trying to find a balance between a Bible that's big enough to contain my notes and yet small enough to carry, which has been a challenge.

    Many blessings to you and your family!

    1. Good Morning, Annie! I hope you've had a great summer. I went through the same challenge several years ago. Most American study Bibles are poorly made, and often fall apart within 18 months of regular use. I've opted to use and carry a thinline Bible and use E-Sword (e-sword.net) for study. The Bible pictured above is an old study Bible that photographs fairly well on my cell camera. I wrote Liss a letter about choosing a Bible a while back here: http://dearlissy.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-changing-challenge-of-choosing-bible.html Have a great week :-)

  2. This is great! Thank you do much for a quick reply and for so quickly posting this!

  3. I appreciate you sharing your bible marking system! I was about to use the traditional coloring by topic system when I came across your article. It seems much more practical for everyday real life use. I especially liked your picture of symbol ideas and am planning to use most of those. I came up with some of my own but was wondering if you could share another picture or pictures of more you use. I seem to be drawing a blank, no pun intended, on coming up with more that are simple to draw but easily recognizable. Thanks so much! And God bless!!

    1. I tend to mark one topic at a time as I'm studying or as my Pastor is preaching through. The symbol is usually created with some combo of letters and very simple symbols (a keyboard is a great place to look) or emoji (simple faces). Verses on hospitality might be marked with a tiny rectangle topped with a triangle to look like a house, verses on keeping quiet or silent might be a little smiley face with an x for lips, etc. Drop another note here if that isn't enough help! If you have that question, Lissy may someday, too. :-)

  4. Thank you for sharing your bible marking system! I was about to start marking my bible with the traditional color by topic method when I came across your article. I think it makes a lot more sense for practical use in everyday life. I especially liked the picture of symbol ideas and am using most of those. I've come up with some of my own but was wondering if you could share another picture or pictures of more you use. I'm drawing a blank, no pun intended, as to coming up with symbols that are simple and easily recognizable and any additional help you could give would be much appreciated. Thanks so much! And God bless!!

  5. Thanks for your very quick reply! Yes, that helps. I haven't thought of emojis to give me ideas. Question again; so I feel like I need to keep the chain on a topic "open" once I note all passages I'm aware of at the time, in case I come across one later I need to add to it. Instead of connecting the last one back to the first one. Have you done that with any also? And if so, do I just make a note of the last one in the chain so I'll know where to go to add more? Thanks!

    1. I always use pencil, so chains are pretty simple to change.

    2. Sorry... If you use pen, consider writing the new reference in as a cross reference or writing a "see also" list in the margin of the last verse in the chain.

  6. Ok, thanks. I'm using pen; I like color:), which doesn't make much difference the way I'm doing it. I don't care if the verses are in any particular order so long as they are connected and I can go through them one to the other. I've started just making a note on a separate index card which verse is the last one added. I can easily refer to this card to see where to turn and start adding onto the chain. I then just update the "new" last verse. It seems simple enough and will work for me. I've done lots of marking today and am excited to do lots more in the future! I can tell it will be very useful. Thank you for all the help you've been with your article and in answering my questions!

  7. I am using all of your symbols to mark important passages but a little confused as to the difference between a gospel passage, a witnessing passage, and an underlined red passage. As well as the passage that I want to place a sold bar next to in order to see passage or verse when bible is closed. Love studying the bible this way.


    1. Thanks for the question! I underline single verses for witnessing in red and put the cross symbol in the margin and in the top corner of the page. This technique allows me to find the verse quickly, and have the person I am working with read the verse. If I have a longer passage, like Ephesians 2, I draw a red vertical colored pencil line down the margin, right beside the text instead of underlining the whole passage. That block of text still stands out, but other study markings won't be obscured. Finally, witnessing is reserved for passages which I with commonly use with unbelievers. Gospel is a larger topic that informs both salvation and sanctification for me. The little book "We would See Jesus" explains this concept well, but your pastor may have another resource he prefers. Enjoy your study!

  8. Do you differentiate by symbol when witnessing to various unbelieving types? For instance, I have a cross with a C for witnessing to Catholics. I am using a cross with 1 for only one way to God. I can see scenarios where witnessing underlined red verses also get a symbol depending on who I am witnessing to

    1. I think that's a great idea to try. My first question is always a variant of "If you died today, why should God let you into Heaven?" Their answer determines where I start more than what church/group they currently attend. Most Catholics and Mormons don't know their own church doctrine. Unchurched people by and large have Buddhist/Hindu opinions on religious matters here in New England.