Every scientist worth his safety goggles has a laboratory. Professional athletes have personal gyms. In the same way, if you’re serious about studying God’s word, you should consider using a markup Bible.
Define Your Terms, Sir!
By a markup Bible I mean a Bible set aside for study. This is not a Bible for church or an heirloom to leave to your children. Like the gym or the lab, a markup Bible is an intense work environment. If you plan to be a lifelong student of God’s word, this Bible will contain your Spirit-guided efforts for years to come. But be warned: this book may end up unreadable.
When an expert chef pours himself into a special meal, he isn’t worried about the mayhem he creates along the way. At the end of the evening, there may be flour on the counter and batter on the cabinets. But the messes don’t matter if the dishes are delicious. A markup Bible is your chef’s kitchen, and the fare you prepare (by God’s grace) is a loving heart and obedient life which point to your Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).
What is the Advantage?
If you study the Bible using the Observation-Interpretation-Application (OIA) method, you must get your hands dirty. You need to grapple with the text again and again. What does it say? What does it mean? How should I change?
To answer these questions, you should interact with Scripture carefully and vigorously. You might do this in a notebook, in a word processing document, or even on a smart phone. I prefer to write, draw, underline, and circle directly on the Bible text. This helps me boomerang back to God’s word instead of getting caught in my own speculations.
To make applications personal and memorable, I often end my study times by writing in a notebook. But I move through the OIA stages more easily if I begin by marking up the relevant Bible passage.
Do I Need to Spend Money?
To be honest, you probably don’t need another Bible. Most first-world homes contain more Bibles than Bible students. Instead of a new purchase, consider converting one of your old or current Bibles into a markup Bible.
You may not need a separate Bible at all. I’ve often used print-outs from Bible Gateway for my initial studying and marking. Since printer ink and paper cost money, this approach is not free, but buying another book is not necessary.
However, as I have written before, when people enjoy their tools they are more likely to use them. Having a Bible devoted to markup and study may set this activity apart as special for you. For this same reason, some people designate a chair, notebook, or bench for the purpose of prayer. (If you are considering making a purchase, stay tuned for my next post.)
How Should I Use a Markup Bible?
Getting started with a markup Bible is easy. Make observation and interpretation notes in your Bible. Highlight and underline. Draw circles, boxes, and arrows. Locate repeated words and connectors. Use a color code, so that all repetitions of the same word share a color. Diagram the structure of the passage and tease out the main point. There is no single correct approach to follow, and each person will develop their own system of symbols and marks. (Note: a markup Bible doesn’t negate the usefulness of these OIA worksheets. I suggest using them to summarize and organize your thoughts after first marking up the passage.)
A markup Bible eliminates the need to preserve the book you are studying. You don’t have to treat it gingerly. Focus on the words of God instead.