Bible Marking

On 6th January 2022 I recommenced something I hadn’t done in over 30 years–marking my Bible.

I used to make marks in Bibles–underlining or highlighting significant verses; very occasionally making a brief note next to a verse; making a copy of the ‘Bridge to Life’ diagram and verses in the back pages, etc.

I stopped making notes or underlining in my Bibles, as I said, something like 30 years ago1. The reason I stopped was because I didn’t want to be distracted the next time I read a passage by something I had underlined or noted on a previous occasion. I wanted each time I opened my Bible to be an opportunity to see new, fresh things in the text.

So what changed? I was watching some videos by an American Presbyterian Pastor by the name of Matthew Everhard on this very topic and he endorses the idea of writing in your Bible to effectively (and over time) make it your own study Bible.

So on the 6th January I made my first intentional mark in a Bible. There have been plenty of unintentional marks as I’ve dropped pens into or over my Bible over the years.

In the intervening five-or-so weeks since I began writing in my Bible again I’ve completed reading the books of Genesis, Matthew and Mark. (To be fair, I did commence Genesis and Matthew on 1st January). Most chapters have some sort of marking or notes recorded in them. In addition to underlining significant verses or passages I also place certain words in boxes where they are repeated or draw contrasts. For example I have drawn small boxes around occurrences of the word ‘parable’ in Matthew 13 or the words ‘right’ and ’left’ in Matthew 25:33 and 41. I also draw interconnecting lines between different parts of the text such as Judas’ desire to betray Jesus in Matthew 26:16 and Jesus’ confirmation of that in verse 25.

The types of notes that I make include:

  1. Comments about the text or context.
  2. Observations on the book/passage/text. This can include notes about years, ages, places.
  3. Lists (eg. the signs of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age in Matthew 24:5-12).
  4. Questions that arise in my mind about the text.
  5. Prayers that I can pray from the text. These are generally very short and take the form of ‘Lord, may I be like this’, or ‘May I not be like this’.
  6. Cross references to other related Scriptures. I do this sparingly because otherwise it could occupy a lifetime!
  7. Parallel passages–particularly between Gospel accounts.
  8. Name meanings.
  9. Indexes or ordinals to number off events or occurrences (eg. the seven ‘woes’ recorded in Matthew 23).

So what kind of pen works for me? I originally tried a normal fountain pen with fine nib but the ink bled into the paper too much (as it is designed to do). I switched to some iron gall or pigment ink but it leaked out of the pen too much and wasn’t fine enough. I tried an Artline 220 (superfine 0.2mm in black). It worked OK but I think black is too distracting. I’ve moved onto a Sakura Pigma Micron 005 (also 0.2mm but in blue). The blue is less obvious–particularly in underlining. I also have a red and green Pigma to try out at some stage.

But equally important to the questions of what to write and what pen to use when marking my Bible is what Bible to mark in? If you want to be able to write whole sentences or make more than the briefest notes then a wide margin Bible works best. The Bible I’m current writing in is a Crossway single-column legacy ESV Bible. As the name suggests, the text is in a single column (easier for making relevant notes that attach to the text), but the margin in this Bible is 33mm wide–plenty of space for lists, sentences, etc.

What do I see as the positives to marking your Bible (versus the potential distraction of underlining)? Engagement with the text! I am physically responding to the Word of God through making notes, asking questions, formulating simple prayers, noting contrasts or repetitions. This clearly could be done in a separate notebook, but then you lose the connection with the text itself. I also have plenty of unmarked Bibles in the house should I feel the need to read a ‘clean copy’ at any time.

The method I use also provides a way of making more detailed notes, but that will be the subject of another post.

  1. It may be longer. ↩︎