MARK HIS WORDS: MAKING THE MOST OF BIBLE HIGHLIGHTING
By R. Herbert
It doesn’t take long for most Christians to discover that a marked Bible can be a whole lot more useful than an unmarked one. Not only does Bible marking make important verses stand out, but also it enables us to add notes and symbols that help us remember, review, and teach from the word of God.
But Bible marking can end up with a mass of blotches, corrections and changes if it is not planned carefully, and it can become a drain on our valuable study time if it becomes overly complicated. This article shares some guidelines that can help you get the most out of effective Bible marking and highlighting.
Printed, eBook, or Online?
If you elect to use a printed Bible for marking, be sure to choose one with thick enough paper that writing and coloring does not “bleed” through to the other side of the page. Also, if you use colored pencils, be sure they are graded “soft” as hard pencils will cut through the paper and do not highlight well. If possible, purchase pens and markers that are made for the job. You can find such marking tools by searching for "Bible marking pens" online, but be sure to read the customers' reviews to learn more about the options. A particularly popular type of colored marking pen uses gel rather than liquid ink, and these and similar pens and markers minimize the risk of page cutting and ink bleeding. In any case, it’s wise to test any marking tools you are considering using on the corner of a blank page at the back of your Bible.
Today, we are fortunate to also have the opportunity to use digital Bibles that can be purchased for Kindle, Nook and other eBook readers, and online Bibles which can be accessed for free at sites such as BibleGateway.com. The latter option is particularly useful as you can access your Bible notes and highlights from any computer, anywhere. Marking eBook and online Bibles can be much faster and easier than marking paper Bibles, and the electronic formats largely avoid the problems associated with physical marking and highlighting. Not only do we not need any special equipment other than our computer or eBook reader, but also we can change or update our marking system or notes at any time – a huge benefit. The old story about the believer who changed denominations and had to buy a new Bible is as much a humorous comment about Bible marking as it is about differing doctrines!
Types of Marking
Whatever our decision regarding the type of Bible we want to work with, there are basically three types of Bible marking: highlighting, adding symbols, and adding notes. All these methods are essentially used to categorize and explain scriptures – usually by linking them in some way. We will look at these forms individually.
The most common form of Bible marking, by far, is highlighting. This can be done with a single color to shade verses to make them stand out. Single color marking can be very useful, but it is often more effective to use two, three or even four colors. Anything beyond that can get a little unwieldly, but using two colors we can, for example, highlight verses showing the way of good and the way of evil or verses on God’s nature and man’s. We can add other colors to highlight subjects such as prophecy or doctrine – whatever we feel would be most useful for our own study and usage. Some "systems" of Bible marking use a great many colors, or use colors for things such as "who," "when," "where," and "why," but systems such as this can lead to over-marked bibles that become a dizzying mess of rainbow colors – sometimes within the same verse! On the other hand, having more than one color option is certainly good, and this is an area where some of the online Bible sites could improve. Many of the sites that enable highlighting of verses have only one color available. But some eBook readers such as the Kindle allow four color marking and our favorite online Bible site, BibleGateway.com, also has the added functionality of four color marking.
Some people like to purchase plastic stencil templates to draw small symbols or numbers in the margins next to verses to signify certain types of material. This is something most electronic formats do not offer, but it is of limited value as marginal symbols are not as precise as highlighting which can be applied to even a single word, and drawing symbols can be time consuming. However, for those using electronic Bibles who like symbols, some sites, like BibleGateway.com, do enable effortlessly placing a star next to a verse to “favorite” it. Stars can also be used to temporarily mark a scripture that you want to come back to and study further at a later time.
Marginal notes are perhaps the trickiest part of Bible marking. In printed Bibles it’s easy to run out of space, and once the note is written, corrections or changes are difficult and usually look unsightly. This is an area where electronic formats definitely surpass physical marking. Notes saved to digital and online Bibles can be of virtually any length and can also be updated, corrected or changed without any problem. If the Bible you are using does not have a center reference column or footnotes, it can often be helpful to chain link a few scriptures on important topics starting at a key scripture you can easily remember. Notes of this type can be expanded as time allows, but even a short selection of key verses can be useful. Perhaps the easiest way to make such a chain reference is to search any term on a Bible website and then select the scriptures from the list it provides. BibleGateway.com has a useful feature in this regard, in that when you search a topic having many scriptures, for example "Love," the site will not only pull all the occurrences of the word, but will also list first a key or "famous" scripture (in this case, 1 Corinthians 13) that is a good place to begin your reference chain.
Reading Between the Markings
Whatever system of Bible marking you elect to use, it is usually important to keep it relatively simple. The whole idea of highlighting, for example, is to make key verses stand out. When a Bible is covered in highlights, symbols, references and notes, that purpose can be lost. That is one of the reasons we specifically recommend the use of BibleGateway for online study. There may be others, but that site is the only one we know of that provides readers with a toolbar that allows them to choose to see all their marked verses at the same time, or just their highlighted verses, favorited verses, or verses with notes. If your electronic Bible is well marked, having the option to select what kind of marking you want to see at a given time can sometimes be helpful.
It’s always a good idea not to mark or highlight extensive connected sections of scripture, no matter how important a large section might be. An entire highlighted chapter is not "highlighted" at all. We have to be able to see between the marks to see what is highlighted. One way we can work with this principle is to highlight a few key words showing the main points of the verses.
Finally, although this article is meant to stress the value of Bible marking, we should always remember that all Scripture is important (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we need to spend time with unmarked verses as well as those highlighted, numbered, starred or noted. All the color coding and annotation in the world does not help us to deeply understand the Bible itself (especially if we begin to spend more time marking than reading!). Used carefully, however, in conjunction with simple prayerful reading, Bible marking can be tremendously helpful. But always remember, full and effective Bible study reads between the markings as well as utilizing the tremendous value of marked verses!