Another valuable active-reading tool is marking your Bible with symbols. Marking with symbols allows you to interact with the text. Like highlighting, symbols require you to look closely at a text in order to identify the main points. Symbols can work much like a color-code in that they can allow you to mark according to topic, or bring out the main points according to key-words.
Symbols have many benefits:
- can be easy to draw
- can be an efficient use of time and space
- can be easier to read than writing out the whole word
- can look better in your Bible
- you can design your own custom symbol system
- can grow with you
There are several methods to drawing symbols in your Bible. My favorite method is to draw a symbol in the margin. I like to draw one symbol per verse if possible. Another method is to draw the symbol over the entire verse. A very popular inductive study method is to draw a symbol on, over, or around each word. I suggest printing out a sample page of text and trying several methods to see what works best for your needs.
As far as the symbols themselves, I recommend developing your own symbols. There are several good resources that can be used as examples that will help you develop symbols that mean something to you. I recommend taking a look at the symbols in study Bibles such as the Life in the Spirit Study Bible. The Thompson Chain Reference Bible has a section on Bible marking that includes how to develop your own symbols. Kay Arthur and Precept Ministries has lots of symbols for use in their inductive study method.
There are several ways to develop your own system. One way is to use numbers and letters. Another way is to draw pictures. I recommend using the Scriptures to get your ideas and using a combination of outline drawings and letters. The drawings could represent the main subject and the letters could represent an aspect of the subject. I don’t recommend using just letters because this can get too confusing. For example, if you used ‘f’ for faith, ‘sb’ for Spirit baptism, ‘wb’ for water baptism, ‘1G’ for one God, ‘h’ for healing, ‘p’ for prayer, and on and on, it can get extremely confusing just seeing letters on the page. I tend to forget what they stand for. If you have some sort of drawing, even if you add letters to the drawing, this can help in remembering what the symbol is for. For example, a dove could represent the Spirit. Add the letter ‘B’ over the dove and it’s easy for me to remember that this represents Spirit Baptism. Other letters could be placed over the symbol to represent an aspect of the Spirit. For example, you could use ‘I’ for indwelling, ‘D’ for descending, etc. The combination of drawings and letters can greatly expand your symbols’ usage. This can be expanded indefinitely. Symbols can also be color-coded.
For marking, I recommend Pigma Micron markers (size 005) or PrismaColor pencils. These give the best results that I’ve used, with the least amount of bleed-through and leave no indentions in the paper. Pigma Micron markers are archival quality- meaning that they do not fade over time. This will keep your symbols readable for years to come.
Some examples of possible symbols include:
- One God – the number 1
- Water Baptism – lines representing water with the letters WB
- Spirit Baptism – a dove or a flame
- Faith – a mountain
- Sacrifice of Jesus – a cross
- Rapture – an arrow pointing up
- Second Coming – clouds with ‘2nd’
- Power of God – lightning bolt
- Healing – a hand from heaven
- Prayer – hands
- Armor of God – sword and shield
- Fruit of the Spirit – grapes
For drawing, you can draw free-hand or look for templates. I’ve seen templates at hobby stores and at least one Bible marking kit contains a simple marking template. Another option is to buy template material and make your own (but I suspect that can be more trouble than it’s worth). If you’re drawing free-hand, keep them easy to draw.
You can have as many symbols as you want. To get ideas for symbols you could look at Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other study Bibles. The Thompson Chain Reference index is a good resource for this, as is the Life in the Spirit Study Bible’s symbol system.
Symbols have many uses, but they can get too complex. I’ve noticed that if a system is too difficult I won’t stick with it. I need a symbol system that is easy to remember and use, and not take up too much of my reading time. I don’t want to spend more time drawing than reading the Word of God. If I try to mark every point in a verse my text can become so cluttered that I can’t read it anymore, and if everything is marked nothing really stands out. The symbols also need to be easy to draw. The key is to keep them simple and use them sparingly.
Symbols are a good marking system because they show you at a glance what a verse is about. They look great on the page and they give your pages a personal touch. They take up very little space for the information they express. They can be easy for others to quickly understand. They can be tailored to your specific needs and can change or expand as you grow in your own Bible study.
Marking your Bible with symbols adds personal value to your Bible and helps you grow in God’s Word as you work inductively with the text. Developing your own system makes it yours and is a valuable aid when reading back through the Scriptures. Symbols are possibly the most simple, comprehensible, and expandable method of Bible marking available.