Using Your Wide-Margin Bible – Part 3: Preparing Your Bible

This is my Bible in Galatians. I would not spend this much ink on someone I thought was an apostate.

Okay, so you’ve gotten through the last post and haven’t fallen into despair yet. Good! Now let’s pick up your shiny new wide-margin Bible and . . . still not write in it just yet.

Give some thought to a system for how you want to mark the text first. Start with a good set of highlighters that won’t bleed through the pages. (The flyleaf at the front and back of your Bible is excellent for testing these.) There are dry gel highlighters that won’t bleed through, but they may not be perfect for what I am going to suggest in a moment. You’ll probably want to get a full array of six different colors rather than the usual four.

You’ll also need to acquire some pens for writing, and again, get several different colors. Many Christian book stores carry the Pigma Micron line of felt-tip pens, which many long-time note takers swear by. I personally like the Zebra F-301 line of ballpoint pens, which you can get in black, blue, red, and green, but my Zondervan has slightly thicker paper than many Bibles. Again, test out your pens on the flyleaf before settling on one.

Once you have your highlighters and pens, start thinking about your color scheme. For the pens, mine is pretty easy: Black for general notes, blue for linguistic notes, green for cross-references, and red for a combination of marking outright translation errors, variants in the text, and for counting words and phrases (useful for finding the “seven code” mentioned in the previous post).

My highlighter scheme is a bit more ad-hoc: Yellow for eschatological prophecy, purple for prophecies of the Messiah’s first coming and for passages which really get to the heart of who and what Yeshua is, blue for passages pertaining to the Spirit (including miracles and the second birth), pink for passages pertaining to spiritual warefare, orange for historical passages such as those which fix dates or which explain a particular custom, and green for miscellaneous passages.

Now why the heck didn’t I use yellow for my miscellaneous and green for prophecy? Very simple: When I first started marking up a Bible (an NIV Student Bible, as I recall), I was more interested in prophecy than anything else and I had exactly one color of highlighter. As I graduated from Bible to Bible, I kept adding new colors to my repertoire but kept the already-established color-schemes intact so that I wouldn’t trip myself up.

Short version of the above: I didn’t think it out in advance. Hopefully you’ll learn from my mistake.

A final note on the color scheme: Resist the urge to highlight absolutely everything.  I’ve seen Bibles in which every single verse was highlighted–often in the same yellow color–which completely defeats the whole purpose. The point of highlighting is to make it easier to find things when you’re scanning the page for a particular phrase. If everything is highlighted, it’s like nothing is.

Instead of covering the word with the highlighter, underline instead. This makes it much easier on the eyes when you’re reading later. (The last thing you want to do is to try to read black text through purple highlighting.) Make it a habit to highlight just a few words rather than the whole verse. If you do need to mark a whole verse, or several verses together, draw a bracket to the side rather than running the highlighter all the way through, then underline the keywords that pull the passage together. (And this is where gel highlighters may not work as well, as it’s harder to draw a narrow line with them.)

Finally, go through the NT and go ahead and mark all of the quotes from the Tanakh (OT) with book, chapter, and verse. This step may not be needed with some wide-margin Bibles (the Cambridge, for example, comes with a full set of cross-references in the center column), but it certainly is with the Zondervan. It doesn’t take long to do, and it will save you some annoyance later on.

Next up: Actually Using Your Bible

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