Sometimes I like to read a Bible that I haven’t marked in, just so I can see a clean text. Sometimes I find the markings to be distracting. In fact, I find the headings and notes in study Bibles distracting. Sometimes I want to just read. There is a way to mark your Bible and still be able to read it without being distracted by the markings.
Instead of marking the text, I’ve been experimenting with marking the margins. Some Bibles have more room in the margins than others, but this method will work in most Bibles. The two best Bibles for this method are a wide-margin and a Thompson Chain reference.
If you mark according to topics like I do, you would greatly benefit from a wide-margin or a Thompson with this method. I will cover both Bibles separately since I am working with them differently. I will cover the Thompson first.
One thing I like about the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is that most of the time when I want to write a topic in the margin it is already there. Not every topic is there, but many of them are and there is enough room left that you can write in the few that are not there. Another thing I like about the Thompson is that the text is clear of distractions. I used to complain that it didn’t have headings within the text itself- instead, they are in the margins, and you have to look for them. Now I see that as a strength rather than a weakness. So now instead of marking my text, I mark the margins. If I want to color every verse on faith or prayer, I simply color the words in the margin and leave my text alone. This has the advantage of using the 7000-8000 topics in the Thompson and you get to highlight the topics that mean the most to you. The topics can be combined, like in my other color-coding methods, or kept separate, making the markings even more valuable. For example, if you wanted to mark Scriptures that pertain to salvation, such as faith, repentance, etc., you could mark each topic with your salvation color (mine is red), or you could mark each topic with its own color. This greatly enhances your marking. You are only limited by the amount of colors you can use. This is the method I am going to use in my next Thompson Chain Reference (this one is from Word Aflame Press). For years I’ve marked the references in the margin and the verse. Now I’m just going to mark the topic and most likely the reference. Of course there are some disadvantages with the Thompson. Thompson has a LOT of stuff written in the margins and to be honest, I don’t use most of it. Coloring the Thompson’s margins helps me to differentiate what I’m looking from what I don’t need. Don’t get me wrong, I like having all of that stuff in the margins, but some of those topics and chains I will never use. I do recommend using a Thompson though, because it is a good topical Bible. You can use a hard-cover or even paperback Thompson if you just want to try this but don’t really need it to be your primary Bible.
You don’t have to have a Thompson Chain Reference to use this method, but you will have to do a little more work if the topics are not already printed in your margins. My favorite type of Bible is a wide-margin, but almost any Bible will work as long as you have some writing room. With a wide-margin Bible, I write the topic myself and color it according to my color-code. This works in much the same way as using a Thompson, but it has its own advantages. For one, I can have just the topics I want. For another, I can be even more thorough with my topics by breaking the verses down ever further, or I can be as simple as I want and just write ‘salvation’ instead of writing all of the individual elements of salvation. There are still at least two more things you can do by writing in your wide-margin- you can use different color markers (a color could mean anything you want it to), and you can color-code your topics any way you want. For example, you can write ‘salvation’ and still use a color to mean something specific (tan for faith, red for repentance, etc.). This works because there’s nothing written in the margin that you didn’t write, so you don’t have to decide what in the margin matters to you. It all matters to you because you put it there.
If you have a Bible with references you can color the references according to their topics. This has the added advantage of showing you quickly what topic the reference is before you go to the verse. This can help you to decide if the reference is what you’re looking for at a glance, since many references do not really give you any information. If the references is not keyed to the text in any way (like my Cambridge Concord), they just become a blind link.
If you don’t have enough room to write words in your margin, you can use symbols. Symbols can be pictures or letters used to represent your topics. For example, you could use a shield for faith (guess where I got that idea…), or you could write an F. Symbols can even be color-coded if you wish. Symbols have the advantage of being virtually unlimited. Of course, symbols can be combined with any other marking system to enhance your Bible study.
I you still want to mark your text but you want it to be easy to read, I would consider just underlining. This is a little bit of both styles: you can color-code you text, but the text would be easy to read because the color is under the text rather than on the text.
I recommend using more than one marking system. For my next Bible with wide-margins, I will mark in my margin and leave my text alone. For my next Bible that doesn’t have writing space, I will underline. Try different things and see what you like; and keep it simple. A system that gets too complex won’t get used for long and it might even deter you from studying the Bible. The key is to use the method that helps you get the most out of God’s Word.