I love the feel of a new Bible: turning those crisp pages, enjoying the feel of something so new and precious in my hands, even sticking my nose in a book and admiring the scent of the fresh-off-the-presses pages.
It sometimes pains me to “ruin” the pristine-ness of a new Bible by letting the stroke of a pen or the tip of a highlighter tarnish the perfection of a new Bible—but I’m entirely convinced it’s worth it.
Early on in my Christian life, I would avoid marking up my Bible for the reason mentioned above, but now, I can’t read it without a pencil and highlighter in hand. I’m convinced there is just so much to gain by faithfully marking up a Bible during daily Bible study, that not doing it would be like mourning the loss of a close friend.
Five Blessings of Marking Up Your Bible
1. Marking up my Bible helps engage me in more careful study.
Reading my Bible with highlighter in hand encourages me to interact with Scripture as I read and lessens the temptation to read passively, just to get it done. It also helps me see things that are evident in the text that a less-careful reading would miss.
Take my recent study of Ephesians 1:3-14 for example. By simply highlighting repetitions of “in Christ”/”in Him,” “to the praise of his glory,” and mentions of God’s “will”/”purpose,” major themes from the passage leap off the page and deepen my understanding of the glories of God’s eternal purposes in Christ.
2. Marking up my Bible helps with future reading of the Bible.
The next time I dig into the book of Ephesians, my notes and highlights will greatly aid me in reading and getting to the heart of what God communicates to me through the biblical author. Why start from scratch each time reading the Bible? Why not build upon knowledge and understanding God has already revealed to you?
I write down helpful illustrations, useful cross references, or notes about how certain verses/passages fit into the flow of the entire book. This practice has proved immensely helpful as I follow Christ and even as I participate in one of most effective, yet most overlooked, discipleship techniques: reading the Bible one-to-one with a friend.
3. Marking up my Bible helps remember past experiences.
Flipping through the pages of my marked-up Bible take me back in time much like reading old journal entries do. I often think of the blessings and hardships of past seasons and remember how portions of God’s Word were especially precious to me. The tear-marks on certain passages remind me of how God proved faithful and turned trials into seasons of growth and reason for praise. This practice of remembering God’s faithfulness and what He has done will keep us from pride and stagnancy (see Deuteronomy 8).
4. Marking up my Bible helps me to encourage other saints who see my marked-up pages.
I’m convinced that one elderly woman in our Bible study has highlighted every word in her Bible. It looks like she dipped her entire Bible in a bowl of yellow die—and it is a beautiful thing. While I may disagree with her highlighting method (highlighting everything really is highlighting nothing!), I am greatly encouraged as I see the faith of a veteran Christian and her love for God’s Word.
This should not be the primary reason to mark up your Bible, but it is a residual benefit. Your highlighted Bible, along with the godly life that should flow from it, is a bold testimony to those who see it in church and abroad, and proclaims that you are building your life upon the transforming power of God’s Word.
5. Marking up my Bible is visible evidence that I treasure God’s revealed Word.
If you found out that there was $5 million worth of buried gold on property you owned, you would probably go grab a shovel and start digging. Psalm 19:10 describes God’s Word as much more desirable than gold.
When we diligently study God’s Word, seeking to understand and apply it to our lives, it glorifies God by showing Him we believe His Word contains greater riches than Fort Knox’s legendary gold vault. And when we mark up our Bible as we study it, it is visible evidence that we treasure God’s Word.
Charles Spurgeon famously said that, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Let me add my own: “A Bible that’s marked up usually belongs to someone profoundly marked by God’s grace.”
May Thomas Cranmer‘s prayer be our own:
Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.
What to Mark in Your Bible
A few suggestions of what to mark:
- Repetitions of word or idea. This often leads readers to what God is trying to emphasize in a passage or book.
- Surprises. Surprises in the text often lead to a main point in a passage. An example of a surprise is when a man is lowered through a roof by his friends while Jesus is teaching in a house (Mark 2:1-12). Wouldn’t you expect Jesus to instantly heal the man? Instead, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5) to demonstrate to the man and those watching that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10).
- Connecting words/phrases. Words/phrases like “for,” “therefore,” and “because” (among others) help us connect ideas in the text and follow the flow of thought or argument the author is making.
- The structure of a book of the Bible or individual passages. This advanced tip challenges readers to see how the parts of a passage/book fit together in the message of the whole.
- Summary verses that shed light on whole passages or books. John 20:31 shares the reason why the Gospel of John was written, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The next time you read John’s Gospel, read with belief in Christ and life in Christ in the back of your mind.
- In the Old Testament, note when the text points to Christ. This can be prophecies, illusions, types, or reasons why we need a Savior.
- Specific applications or prayer requests that flow from your reading.
- Helpful cross-references.