Scripture Marking

March 8, 2005 | 31 comments
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Just for fun, I googled “marking scriptures.” The first three results are Mormon sites. Result #4 does not have anything to do with scripture marking, but is a Bible site that encourages bookmarking. Then it’s back to the Mormon sites. Only one other site in the Top 10 results is from another denomination.

Maybe I have the jargon wrong. How about “highlighting scriptures”? Well, that brings a whole new raft of results, none of which has anything to do with using ink or pencil … until Result #6: “Book of Mormon Study Guide.” I also tried “underlining scriptures,” and received mixed results, with a few links to non-Mormon resources, but not many.

Then I hit paydirt: “Bible marking”! Whew! We are not alone.

I still wonder whether we are sane. We buy scripture marking supplies. And we develop special color-coded marking programs. But why?

If most people mark scriptures as an aid in locating meaningful passages in the future, they do a very poor job of it. Last week in Priesthood meeting, for example, one of the members of our ward sitting near me opened his scriptures to Alma 32. Everything was marked in read. Everything! Including the footnotes! With my usual tact, I asked, “Do you like that chapter?” Then he leafed through other parts of his book and revealed large splotches of red throughout. I don’t see how this sort of marking could possibly aid in finding particular passages.

In fairness to this fellow, I had done similar things before I stopped marking my scriptures. When I came upon a passage that had some meaning to me, I marked it. It doesn’t take very many times through the scriptures before large passages are marked. The funny thing about this exercise is that I never went back to the marked passages because they were marked. I went back because I wanted to re-read Alma 32. Once I realized that my marking was pointless as a finding tool, I gave up marking altogether. Now my scriptures of almost 20 years are as clean of highlights as the day I purchased them. They contain an occasional margin notation in lead pencil, but no colored marks.

In the age of electronic scriptures, marking seems even less relevant for finding scriptures. When I really need to find a scripture now, I search for it, either on my desktop or my PDA. Will electronic scriptures spell the end of the market for scripture marking pencils?

Probably not. Most of us will continue to use paper scriptures long into the future, and I suspect that most people do not use marking as a finding tool. If I were an anthropologist doing a Mormon ethnography, I would probably conclude that scripture marking is not functional, but merely a means of expressing of love for a particular passage. When people have been moved by the words of a prophet, they want to show it! Under this theory of scripture marking, the implicit goal is to have page after page of solid color. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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31 Responses to Scripture Marking

  1. Ben S. on March 8, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    I spent a few hours on my mission marking thelittle letter of every JST, Greek and Hebrew reference in the footnotes in orange. That way I never missed one on my regular reading.

    Marking as a way of finding scriptures is pretty useless. Marking as a way of marking emphasis or central themes may be helpful, especially to those who are less-familiar with the scriptures.

    I still tend to write in cross-references and notes.

    I encountered a woman on my mission who had colored every word of every page in the BoM, in about 17 different colors. She’d never read it, just colored it. She was a few fries short of a happy meal.

  2. Bryce I on March 8, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    On my mission I started using Post-it notes in my scriptures to write on. I got more area to write on that way, plus the original text remained clean.

    Then I got married and my wife borrowed my scriptures. She didn’t like having to pick up and replace the note to read the text underneath, so she took some of them out.

    Moral: Don’t let your wife borrow your scriptures.

  3. Geoff Johnston on March 8, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    I love marking my scriptures and it does help me find what I’m looking for. I use all sorts of colors with no particular pattern. My primary pattern is to really mark up the ones I want to find first in a chapter (like blue on the verse outlined in yellow or something). I’m usually pretty good remembering the chapter but remembering the verse is not so easy. Once I get to the chapter the marking saves me all sorts of time finding the desired verse. This is especially useful when a verse comes to mind on the fly while I’m teaching a class. For instance I might know the concept I’m looking for in in section 93 somewhere so when I get that far the markings get me the rest of the way… Plus all those notes in the margin mean I have a lesson ready at all times when my scriptures are there.

  4. Kaimi on March 8, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    Gordon writes:

    “And we develop special color-coded marking programs.”

    I’ve never tried to develop a scripture marking program myself. But I’ll bet if you collected all of the slashdot-reading crowd over at M-star, they could write up a scripture-marking bot pretty quickly.

  5. Jed on March 8, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Like Ben, I find the marking most useful for the footnotes in the Bible. I mark the footnote letters and the lines down below in various colors so I am sure never to miss them while reading. I still use the color heuristic taught to me in seminary:

    blue = “Heb” or Hebrew (“Heblue”) references
    orange = “Or” or alternate translation references
    green = “Gr” or Greek references
    purple = JST references (JST = a “royal” translation)
    yellow = “i.e.” or idiom references (idioms shed light on meaning)

    I also like the multi-colored system for marking chiasms in the Book of Mormon. The X and X’ phrases are one color, Y and Y’ another, and so. My Alma 36 looks like a rainbow.

  6. Gilgamesh on March 8, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    When I was doing a seminary traqining program at BYU, they showed us a marking method for footnotes —

    Hebrew – Blue
    Greek – Green
    OR -Orange
    IE – Yellow

    and at the beginning of each verse with a JST – draw a small down arrow in Black pen the underline the ftnote in black. It keeps my scripturese relatively clean and I can teel by the color what type of footnote it is. As for verse marking – I only do particular words that stand out and an explanation in the margin for why they did with a date. I enjoy it because I can go back over the years and see how I have changed in though by comparing the notes.

  7. Steve Evans on March 8, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    I used a color-coding system, then a few years ago lost the key and can’t remember what all the colors mean. Now I’m stuck.

    No, really — I can’t remember.

  8. Bill on March 8, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    I stopped marking scriptures halfway through my first semester of seminary when I determined it to be pointless for me, however useful others may have found it. I still have those scriptures, with a few isolated and lonely green crayon markings, testifying to an aborted program. In fact, they are still the ones I use. Think of all that peer pressure I resisted over the years.

  9. ronin on March 8, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    I do not mark my Scriptures, and like Gordon’s, there are as clean today as the day I purchased them when I first went to the Temple after I joined the Church 9 years back. I did try marking my very first set of Scriptures with various colored pencils, highlighters etc, but only managed to ruin the Scriptures what with colors bleeding through the page etc. I prefer to carry a small notebook, and I take notes and write comments down during Lessons and talks. I have a small collection of these notebooks, and I refer to them when needed.

  10. danithew on March 8, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    Marking scriptures was useful for me during my mission because it made it very easy to navigate through them. In my MTC district my fellow missionaries made fun of my “coloring book” as they referred to it. One major part of my MTC missionary experience was taking a cheap Book of Mormon, ripping out all the Isaiah chapters and then comparing them side by side with the KJV Bible Isaiah parts. That made for some interesting marking as well.

    Years later now, I don’t mark scriptures at all. I haven’t really purchased new scriptures so there are marks in the ones I have … but I’m thinking of getting a new set and leaving them largely or entirely unmarked.

    One nagging issue for me has been trying to determine how much importance to give to the footnotes in our scriptures during my personal scripture study. They come in handy occasionally but I’ve finally decided with the approach I am currently using that I can ignore them — except for an occasional cursory glance in a Gospel Doctrine class.

  11. Tanya S. on March 8, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    One of the main reasons I mark a scripture has more to do with the moment of marking rather than having anything to do with finding a scripture later on: it seems to provide a way of making a scripture that stood out to me at that reading stick with me longer. As I mark it, I re-read it and think about it a bit more. The next times through, I tend to linger at those spots longer again. Obviously, I could linger at verses that mean something to me without marking them, pondering them, yet there is something about the physical act of marking them that leaves them in my mind longer, and I like that.

  12. Jonathan Green on March 8, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    I would guess that scripture marking has less to do with the finding a particular passage and more with how we embrace the scriptures and make them our own. Underlining a verse says: this is interesting, important, worth thinking about. One reason I resisted the instructions from my seminary teacher to underline a phrase or verse is because it was her perception of significance, not mine, that would have been expressed.

    Marking up scripture and other books has a very long tradition, and we are firmly in that tradition. It would be nice if our editions of the scriptures had broader margins for more discursive notes, because it’s hard to remember exactly what you were thinking if all you do is underline. Room for a date, place, occasion, and a few keywords would go a long way.

  13. Millennial Star on March 8, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    An Alternative to Scripture Marking: the Integrated Scripture Journal | Scripture Journal
    Elsewhere in the bloggernacle, Gordon Smith has posted his thoughts about scripture marking and why he no longer marks his scriptures. Several of his commentators have described their own scripture marking systems. Back in September of 2004, I wrote a…

  14. Ana on March 8, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    I mark scriptures because there is something about putting pen or pencil to paper that reinforces how I learn. I don’t know what to call that; maybe the education experts here have a name for it. Maybe it just slows down my racing brain enough to make some connections. But the fact remains that if I don’t take notes in Conference, it all falls out my ears. If I don’t mark my book or write in my journal as I study scriptures, all knowledge from said scriptures departs. If I don’t write down what I need to bring to Young Women tonight, I will bring nothing. I may not refer back to those notes, but the act of writing or marking changes the way I remember a thing.

  15. Mark B. on March 8, 2005 at 2:53 pm

    A member of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy told me of the first meeting of that quorum he attended. Elder Packer spoke, and asked each of the men there to go buy a new set of the scriptures. Too often the markings in the scriptures draw our eyes to the marked scriptures, and we skip the unmarked verses–and he wanted them to read without the bias of the previous markings.

    Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem for any of us who still have any memory left. The verses that we memorized almost 4 decades ago in seminary, and the verses that we cited hundreds of times in missionary lessons, stand out from the rest when we read them, whether or not they’re marked.

  16. Kevin Barney on March 8, 2005 at 2:53 pm

    The only time I marked scriptures was during my mission. I never did it in seminary. But on my mission, I felt a need to come to some understanding of the scriptures quickly, and marking was useful towards that end.

    Right after my mission the Church came out with the new editions of the scriptures, so I bought a clean set. And I’ve never felt the need to mark them since. Even though I was now using a new set, I could still find things based on my mission marking experience.

    So in my case, marking was a useful experience, but only one set, pretty much one time through. After that, I just never felt the need anymore.

  17. Rusty on March 8, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    I’m with Ben, that I mark my scriptures to highlight themes throughout that I wouldn’t otherwise notice. I never just underline a verse though. I mark word and make tangential lines and connect them with other ideas, etc. There are certain chapters that use specific words over and over so I mark just that word and add them up and note it at the beginning of the chapter. The most useful color-code I’ve used was to mark in green every instance where it lists an attribute of God. It’s amazing how much greener the Book of Mormon is than the Bible.

  18. Gordon Smith on March 8, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    Great comments. Steve (#7), this could be the answer to your lost key: do your markings agree with any of the systems described?

    danithew (#10), Take the plunge! I love reading unmarked scriptures. It works for Ronin, too!

    Mark B. (#15), Elder Packer’s advice interests me because I have worried about exactly the opposite effect. I have observed this about myself when reading law cases: highlighting suggests that the passage has been found (and learned?), so there is no need to go over it again.

    Tanya (#11) and Ana (#14), I like your descriptions of interacting with the scriptures through marking. Although my present marking is non-scriptural (legal texts), I have had that same experience of re-reading while marking and deepening my understanding.

    Ben, Jed, Gilgamesh, Rusty, et al, My wife is a scripture marker, and it works for her. She knows as much about the scriptures as anyone I have ever met. If I were a scriptural scholar like you guys, I would probably use some sort of marking system, too.

  19. Will on March 8, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    My approach to the scriptures is way too holistic to allow for marking. I don’t even like the fact that our modern versions are divided into verses. It makes them seem like legal or technical documents, and I don’t think that the writers intended that level of precision. Nor do I find many unusually profound or pithy one-liners in the scriptures. The value for me is in the emergent concepts and stories, not in the words or isolated passages.

  20. Gilgamesh on March 8, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    Gordon,

    You give me way too much credit. I mark mostly because if I don’t I may reread the passage and not realize it had any significance. If I leave a small notation in the column it reminds me that at some point in my life I was smart enough to understand what the scripture said.

    All that said, I have multiple sets of scriptures. One for teaching seminary – marked for the students, one for me, marked for me and one blank for pleasure reading (they are all the inexpensive ones) for church I use my iPaq.

  21. Ben S. on March 8, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    “I don’t even like the fact that our modern versions are divided into verses.”

    Amen. Though it facilitates referencing (can you imagine trying to find a passage in Isaiah without a chapter and verse number?), I think it encourages proof-texting and overemphasizes the trees instead of the forest.

  22. A. Greenwood on March 8, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Tanya S., No. 11:

    Just so.

  23. William Morris on March 8, 2005 at 7:45 pm

    I didn’t underline my scriptures on my mission. I too am puzzled by those who have huge chunks of text marked out in red or yellow.

    What I did do was take my slim Romanian translation of selections from the Book of Mormon and annotate certain sections with scriptural references (to the Bible and other passages in the BofM selections — no D&C and Pearl of Great Price to work with) and one or two-word reminders for stories, concepts, etc. that were part of my repetoire. It was great. Once I was done (and I tried to be rather selective so that I could always find my starting points), I had 4-5 places where I could turn and then start in to a talk or lesson.I called it my magic Book of Mormon.

    Unfortunately, one day I lost it.

  24. RoAnn on March 8, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    So many wonderful ideas! This is a great post.

    I had also heard of Elder Packer’s advice, and thought it useful to get a new set of scriptures when I got a new calling that required a different perspective. For many years after my mission, I read the scriptures looking for advice as a parent, as well as for guidance in teaching and serving in auxiliary presidencies.

    When my husband and I went to serve a mission together, I found that my focus needed to change, and having an unmarked set of scriptures helped me read with a fresh eye. I then marked passages that would help me locate on the page verses that I felt I might want to use in our new calling. Like Geoff Johnston mentioned (#3), the markings helped when I needed to teach a lesson or give a talk with little time for preparation.

    Since our mission my areas of focus have changed again, and another set of scriptures is getting marked in a different way. My husband, on the other hand, rarely marks his scriptures. His memory is still phenomenal, and I think he prefers to approach them without the distractions that extensive marking might present. For me, marking is now definitely an aid to failing memory! :)

  25. Sheri Lynn on March 8, 2005 at 8:28 pm

    I would love to have scriptures with wide margins. I don’t mark mine any longer because there is no way to mark them that doesn’t make them harder to read. (I have long thought that for some people marking is a way of showing off that they’ve used their scriptures….especially people who used many colors. Now I know better! Thanks.)

  26. annegb on March 8, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    I underline and highlight my scriptures all over the place and my books, too. Then I dog ear the good ones because I forget where they are. My husband hardly ever writes in his scriptures and he looks down his nose disapprovingly at me when I am writing all over them. I ignore him.

    Like #11, this is my way of learning. I seem to absorb it better somehow.

    I didn’t know this was a uniquely Mormon thing, though.

  27. Shelby Ferrin on March 9, 2005 at 2:46 am

    For me, simply marking is more a way of amusing myself during Sunday School than putting a reference system in place. At one time, just before my mission, I marked stories with clever, pretty designs that mixed colors, though that turned out to have any real value in the long run.

    What I do like to do is make extensive notes in the margins when I have (what seem to me, at least) keen insights into passages. My notes on D&C 76 from a BYU class have come in handy in giving talks and such, and I cherish the insightful connections I made while on my mission and took time to jot down in the Pearl of Great Price.

  28. Mark on March 9, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    My high school Seminary scriptures were heavily marked. My scripture marking habit continued into college and my mission. After returning to college, I bought a new set of scriptures. It was the first time I had shelled out 50 bucks for a book of any kind. I was reluctant to mark them because I loved the way they looked in their pristine condition, and I wasn’t convinced that marking my scriptures for the previous several years had been particularly helpful. From that point forward, I stopped marking my scriptures. I found that I could locate a reference just as fast as anyone else in a Sunday School class, and I didn’t have any trouble remembering all the same passages that I had been able to remember when using more customized texts.

    Then again, I’m now an apostate, so just in case correlation does equal causality, you may want to hang onto those red pencils.

  29. Sarah on March 10, 2005 at 1:03 am

    I don’t mark scriptures. I also don’t highlight my textbooks. I copy out scriptures that are meaningful to me — by hand — in a notebook. I found out one day during a low-level class I’d put off for six years that this method helps me retain even material from subjects I despise (like biology,) and it’s also great fun for subjects I actually enjoy. This habit made me insanely overprepared for Gospel Doctrine last year, but doesn’t appear to impress the kids in my CTR-7 class. I have about twenty scriptures marked, due to moments in Seminary when my teacher handed out pencils and had us mark things (e.g. the Beatitudes,) as well as a half dozen random stickers and the entire Seminary set of Old/New Testament stickers, in my current set. But mostly, I use bookmarks with the Russian translations of my favorite scriptures (about 35 right now — the rest are in an envelope, because my Bible is falling apart and they all fell out one day) and hymns, sprinkled throughout the books. The amount of effort I have to put into translating them keeps my mind focused on things that aren’t worldly (work, what I’m having for lunch, how annoying my sister is being) during the Sacrament. I also have all the bookmarks I got during my years in YW — one of the sisters absolutely LOVED making quotation bookmarks, by hand, for each of her lessons. She has very pretty handwriting, and a huge collection of cute stickers, so I have extra incentives to keep them.

    In any case, I don’t mark up books. Just the idea drives me nuts. I wince when I break the spine of a cheap paperback, for crying out loud… my next set of scriptures (I got the current set as a gift for starting Seminary, 10 years ago) will probably never be marked at all. Part of why I’m reluctant to get rid of my current set is all the history involved in them — I have, for instance, a set of Star Wars stickers in the front covers — since I know I’ll never do anything like that with any future sets.

    (and all three of my local Christian bookstores – sorry, no LDS bookstores in Columbus Ohio – sell a wide variety of scripture marking systems, geared for children, teens, and adults; we’re not alone in this practice by a long shot)

  30. Sheri Lynn on March 10, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    The children in my Sunday School class do not bring scriptures to class and I suspect none of them can afford to own them anyway. Their families may have Spanish language scriptures, but few of them read any Spanish at all. They need English language scriptures for my class, and I can’t afford to buy one for everybody. As part of preparation for each class I am therefore printing out the scriptures we’re to read during the lesson for each child. I use the manual as a starting point for what to include and work from there. It seems to work fairly well as this way everyone is on the same playing field and there is no distraction from trying to pass around and share one Bible or whatever.

    Yet they are missing out on part of the process, the “Turn to Alma chapter 26 verse 16″ part, and they are missing out on learning their best scripture-studying style, whether that’s marking or not marking. I do not want to ask the branch president to shell out branch funds for English language scriptures for my class. (The boys don’t have white shirts, either–I asked them. I know that this also is because they can’t afford them.)

  31. Jennifer Alkire on August 13, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    I love my PDA, even more so I enjoy the benefits it offers! My daughter has many doctor apointments, and I love to pull it out and read her stories, and share things from the scriptures as well as a primary manual. I have all of the Manuals for Primary, Relief Society, Sunday School Teacher’s Manual and of course The Scriptures on my Palm. I love the “Mark My Scriptures” program. It allows me to mark passages in all of the Manuals and Scriptues that touch my heart or I want to emphasize in a class that I have to teach. It also allows me to write little post-it notes and attach them to specific passages. Best of all if later on I decide that I don’t want it highlighted or the text a certain color I can always return it back to white with black text with no underlining or highlighting. The benefits of being able to tap the footnote icon, and go directly back and forth between text saves tons of time. I feel spiritally renewed when I study my scriptures, and lessons while waiting to see my child’s doctors. Has it replaced my traditional book style scriptures. Only on the go, and in church – I leave my PDA in my purse.
    I still use my book style scriptures at home with my family, and in personal study, they remain clean except for highlighting specific passages that have special meaning to me. These passages are easy comfort on trying days.
    Hope this helps, and Take Care!