Why would I write on my Bible? Why highlight a verse when they’re all good? What if I want to take back what I did?
These are all questions that stopped me from ever getting into the highlighting underlining Bible marking madness that so many have embraced! However, I have to admit that this summer I gave in. In fact, gave in is an understatement. It would be better to say I plunged in, headfirst with enthusiasm. “What caused this change?”, you (maybe) are(n’t) asking. I’ll tell you. I realised that underlining and writing can be an excellent tool that helps me read the Scripture deeper and more attentively.
My biggest problem with approaches to marking the Bible is that most boil down to being nothing more than colour coding, which doesn’t really help me read the Bible. Instead, it just clutters a page and brackets off the Scripture in an unnatural way. Black = sin, Blue = Jesus, Red = anger, Green = marriage, and it goes on. For me, these approaches distract reading and study rather than assist.
What I am proposing here is something very different. So if you think like me, perhaps this will be useful for you. I came up with a very similar system to Jim Hamilton’s, and it is probably still in flux but I thought I would share it since I am excited about it and finding it very useful.
Tools you will need
This is where I feel like I’m writing for a craft blog instead of a theology blog.
- A Bible. I got the new ESV Personal Reference Bible just for reading (my teaching Bible is massive).
- Pens. I recommend pigment pens, which are excellent for Bibles since they don’t bleed and are very precise. I got the Sakura 01 Ink Colour set.
- Ruler/Straightedge. If you’re like me, a crooked line in your Bible will keep you up all night.
The Bible Marking System
Here is my system so far, matching the Micron pens above.
- Green: Literary devices and themes. I use this colour to represent anything of structural (Gen 2:4, 5:1, 6:9 etc.) or thematic (Gen 3:15, 4:25, 9:9, etc) significance I find in a book. You may want to use two separate colours for these, but I’m running with the one for now.
- Red: God’s actions or something significant or central to the book. The red stands out very starkly so it’s an appropriate colour.
- Pink: God’s glory/name/character, as opposed to God’s actions. “To the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12) would get a pink underline.
- Black: Anything notable, interesting, or repeated within a section rather than the whole book (which would be green). When you read a page, black underlines tend not to draw your eye as much, so it blends into the background.
- Brown: Person/place/date. I don’t underline every name or city, but when it is repeated or appears important. In the New Testament epistles I am using brown to highlight eschatological contrasts (ie. “but now”). It draws attention to a prominent theme in the NT.
- Purple: Purple indicates royalty/kingship or Messianic language. Jacob’s prophecy over Judah, for example. This helps me notice the expanding theme of the Messiah throughout the whole Bible.
- Blue: Faith, such as Abraham doing what God commands; or lack thereof, such as Israel’s repeated grumbling in the wilderness.
- Light brown: Allusions or quotations of earlier Scripture. This is very helpful since there are so many allusions to earlier Scripture but I easily miss or forget them.
So as I read large portions of the Bible or Biblical studies books, I keep my eyes open for these themes. It helps me pay attention better, notice things I may not have seen before, record insights I may forget, but also helps me find things again easily when I skim through a book
Bible Marking Examples
Here are three examples of the method in action. Forgive the crummy iPhone photos. Click on any of the images for a larger version.
Genesis 9 (left)
Being “fruitful” and “multiplying” is an important recurring theme in Genesis (green). They were given to Adam and Eve (Gen 1:28) and here they reiterated to Noah. God’s covenant with Noah is established (red) and the sign is the rainbow (black)
Genesis 11-12 (right)
“These are the generations” break up larger sections in Genesis (green). God’s covenant with Abram is established (red), and He promises to bless Abram (green), which calls to mind Adam and Eve (Gen 1:28) Lastly, Abram’s obedience is noted (blue).
Romans 1-2 (left)
A central point of Romans 1 is the fact that mankind is without excuse before God (black). A recurring word in Romans 1 is “exchanged” (black), and so is the phrase “God gave them up” (red).
I’ve put together this post because I’m finding this method to be very helpful in my daily reading and ongoing study of the Word. I’m able to quickly find important themes, and this aids my reading.
We all want to be better readers of the Bible, so why not try something new like this?
So do you mark your Bible? If so, how? If not, why not? Do you like this method? Why/why not? If you end up using this system, or if it looks good/bad to you, please comment below!