Scripture and You

How Should I Mark My Bible?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
We're often asked this question. Today we offer what we trust will be some practical advice.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

We're often asked, "Should I mark my Bible? Can you recommend a system?" Today we offer what we trust will be some practical advice.

As Indispensible as a Knife and Fork

Yes, absolutely, mark your Bible. Beginning your personal Bible study or listening to your pastor's sermon without a pencil handy is a little bit like setting the dinner table without a knife and fork (or chopsticks if you're Chinese). Never open your Bible without praying for the Holy Spirit's illumination of His Word, and a pencil handy in anticipation of answers to that prayer. Don't feel compelled to write something just for the sake of writing, but be prepared. Prayerfully marking your Bible helps you ingest and digest the Word of God.

I've been using the same Bible for the last twenty-six years, and it is full of notes. For the last couple of years it's been falling apart, but I could hardly bear the thought of giving it up long enough to have it re-bound. A friend in the ministry recommended a trustworthy bookbinder who specializes in re-binding Bibles, and I now have it back in first-class condition. I missed it greatly for the weeks it was out of my hands, but I made photocopies of the pages for passages I knew I would be using in upcoming articles, sermons, and broadcasts, before turning it over to the bookbinder.

Practical Notes

If you're just starting out in Bible study, or replacing your present Bible, look for one that has sturdy paper and lots of white space around the edges for notes. Several publishers offer wide-margin Bibles especially designed with notes in mind.

For very practical reasons, use a pencil rather than a pen or highlighter. Writing done in pencil can be changed or corrected, while ink is permanent. You might make a mistake in writing. You may write something in your Bible that you wish you could later erase or change, because you understand God's Word better a year, five years, or twenty years down the road. Ink (even ballpoint) or highlighter color will bleed through the paper of most Bibles, making an unsightly mess. Also, pen points can easily puncture or tear a Bible page. A mechanical pencil with either .5 or .7 millimeter type HB lead, available in most office supply stores, will work well without the risk of smearing what you write or damaging the page.

Why Do It?

Why should you mark your Bible? Let me suggest two reasons. First, it will reinforce the things you learn in your own reading and study of God's Word, so that you can continue to profit from that learning and build upon it. As you read through the Bible over and over again (this should be every Christian's habit, but sadly few do it) your markings will remind you of past discoveries, and help stimulate new ones.

Second, a well-marked Bible is a testimony to pass on to children, grandchildren, and other loved ones. I have the Bibles of both of my late parents, and it is interesting and a blessing to sit down and read their notes, whether it's a cross-reference between two passages, a divine promise that was particularly meaningful, the way of salvation underlined for use in personal witnessing, a thought gleaned from a sermon, or some point of application of the Word to their own lives. Many people consider the well-marked Bibles of their forebears among their most precious possessions.

A Marking System: To Use or Not to Use?

If you search the Internet and religious bookstores, you'll find many suggested systems for marking your Bible. But I think you'll soon find that those systems are usually artificial and inflexible. They can actually limit rather than enhance your ability to record the things God brings to your attention. Some of them would require you to carry a "marking kit" with you in order to be able to make notes in your Bible while in church. That would be pretty distracting to those around you! I suggest that you simply give yourself the freedom to receive and record the Spirit's illumination of His Word in whatever manner seems most suitable. "Keep it simple" is perhaps the best advice I can give.

Examples

I'm not holding myself out as the model of a Bible-marker, but perhaps you'll find a few examples of the kinds of markings I've done in my own Bible helpful. All of these are in Ephesians.

  • I've noted a cross-reference between Ephesians 1:3-6 regarding God's choosing a people in Christ before the foundation of the world, and Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 2nd Timothy 1:9-10 to "share with me in the sufferings for the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ before time began."
  • At Ephesians 1:19, I've noted that this short verse contains four different Greek words for the power of God, each having a different significance (dunamis, inherent power; energia, efficient power; ischus, mighty power; and kratos, effective power).
  • At Ephesians 2:8, I've noted that the word "it" is a neuter in the Greek, which means that it refers to both "grace" and "faith" as being "not of yourselves [but] the gift of God."
  • At Ephesians 2:16, I've noted that this verse in context implies that Christ's cross-work effectively restores believers back to a state in time before Jew and Gentile existed as separate groups in God's sight.
  • At Ephesians 2:16-18, I've also noted that Christ's work to "reconcile" in 16 is an aorist in the Greek - a one-time event at the cross, never to be repeated - while "we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father" is a present active indicative - signifying continual and unending access to the throne of grace.
  • I've noted the mention of the three Persons of the Trinity in 4:4-6.
  • At 5:1, I've noted that the word translated "followers" of Christ is, literally, imitators or mimics.
  • At Ephesians 6:1-9, I've noted that these verses relate the intent of the fifth commandment ("Honor your father and your mother") to the employer/employee relationship, and by implication, to other areas of submission to God-ordained authority.
  • In several places I've underlined words and drawn pencil lines to show connections of parallel thoughts, such as "But God" at 2:4 and "But now" at 2:13; the repeated phrases in 5:22-29 ("as to the Lord" - "as also Christ" - "just as Christ" - "just as the Lord"); and the series of forceful verbs regarding our putting on the armor of God in 6:13-19.

These are just a few examples, and you can see that they are of many different kinds. It's also worth noting that they came through many different means. Some were the result of personal reading and study. Some were the result of sermon preparation. Others came through listening to sermons on Ephesians over the years. At least one of them (the note at 2:16) came from reading a book of sermons on Romans, which made reference to Ephesians.

Marking With God's Goals in Mind

Never forget that marking your Bible is not a mere academic exercise. It is God's desire, as you study His Word, "that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light" (Colossians 1:9-12). As you prayerfully read God's Word, make those things your goal.

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