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To Highlight or Not to Highlight: Two Methods for Mark-ups

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I sometimes joke that I grew up with a book in one hand and a pen in the other.  Reading and writing are such a deep part of me.  Putting my words down on a page is how I express my thoughts most clearly.  Just ask my parents about the notes of apology that I used to write, and how I’d fly them down the steps as a paper airplane when I’d been sent to my room for one reason or another.

One of those periods of “time out” must have stemmed from my scribbling in my books and I took that lesson to heart.  As I went through school, attended church camp and small group Bible studies, something always caught in my spirit and formed a knot in my throat, as I watched in horror while others wrote in their books or Bibles.

Nowadays, if asked, I would tell you that my favorite tool for Bible Study (besides my NLT Illustrated Study Bible, of course) is a set of highlighters.

So how did I transition from conviction to confidence in marking up my Bible?

Lighthouses in the Storm

Recently, I was blessed to be a guest on the Cultivating Jewels Podcast, where the host, Amber, asked me,

If someone is interested in learning more about the culture and history of the Bible, where would you encourage them to start?”

And though I started my response with,

The very first thing I always encourage our women to do is to talk with the Author of the Book.  So spend some time in prayer.”

I quickly turned my focus to my own experience in Bible Study and what has helped me to connect with God’s Word.

“My advice when studying the Bible is to take your time reading through the passage, making notes of the context, as you are reading, that can teach you more about what is happening.  

I like to use highlighters.  I like to write in the margins, if possible.  That is something that really took me a long time to feel comfortable with.  My Timehop app reminded me of a post that I shared a couple of years ago about how I used to look down upon my friends who used to write in their textbooks in college.  And I guess I scoffed at one of my friends, at one time as she was highlighting.  

She told me, “Bree, you know, I own this book.  I bought this book.  I don’t intend to return it.  It’s not from the library.  This is a way I map out and provide myself with some lighthouses during the stormy times of life.  That way I can come back to and find the information and know where it is so I can find it more easily.”

I’m grateful for that friendly advice and admonishment!

A Highlight on Highlighting

I have found so much freedom from that friend’s words!  So much so that the majority of the books I own will never be able to be donated or sold because they’re so full of colorful highlighting or underlining with writing in the margins.

What a blessing it is to have their quick references to refer to!

And before you start to feel that little voice of conviction telling you that you will just mess things up if you try, let me remind you that these highlights are for YOU and no one else.

As long as you can make sense of why you highlighted a particular quote or passage, what your scribbles mean (even with their misspelled words), and why you drew an arrow from one section to another, for years to come, then you’ve done it right.

There is no right or wrong way to make references for future versions of yourself to be reminded of important lessons learned.

But I don’t want to leave you high(lighter) and dry, so here are a couple of highlighting systems for Bible Study that you can use to help you establish those lighthouses for the next storm:

  1. Context Clue Highlighting – This is the approach I use when studying Scripture.  You can use colored pens or highlighters to underline and make notes of context clues.  I used different colors for the following:
    1. Time period, 
    2. the names, 
    3. key phrases, 
    4. and additional context clues down in the footnotes.  

For the visual learnerscheck out my videos on how I highlighted the book of Ruth.  We’ll soon have videos on the book of Philippians, as well!

  1. SOAK Bible Study Method – One of our community members, Stacey Mendro, brought this method of highlighting to our attention in one of our recent Online Biblical Studies.  Check out the color chart that Women Living Well has put together to help indicate specific topics as you study.

Reminder – you can start either of these practices at any time.  You don’t need a clean, new Bible!  Just start where you are today.

Our favorite tools for Bible Highlighting and Notes:
Because we know you’ll ask. 😉

Do you have a specific method you use when highlighting your Bible?  If not, which of these methods do you think might be most helpful for you?

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  1. Hallelujah! I started taking sermon notes in my Bible a while back and at first felt so guilty. Then I realized they were always there instead of on a pamphlet I threw always years ago! I think God is pleased I’m using His Word to learn and apply His Word. I’m still over-highlighting (especially for Bible Recap) but that’s between me and my Bibles and God! Couldn’t agree more about the Bible you showed. It’s sooo good.

  2. As a college student, I started using my fine blue ballpoint to make notes in the margins of my Bible. I include notes from sermons or from my own quiet times and I often include the date. Seeing those dates now reminds me of God’s faithfulness in every season of my life.

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