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The Color-Coding Bible Journaling System that Saved my Sanity

Remember that special gift my husband gave me the spring before we got engaged that I told you in my last post? No sooner than Josh had given me that brand new Bible than I was breaking in the pages – scratching ink on blank margins and making notes of my own thoughts as well as any other insightful information I came across. By the end of that year, there were verses underlined and promises bolded and journal pages dog-eared in “return to this” reminders. I closed the book of Revelation one morning and opened my Bible right back up to Genesis the next morning, determined to maintain the rhythm of morning reading and new morning mercies.

When I really began getting serious about digging deeply into Scripture, I was gathering information from so many different sources that I needed a way to organize my notes—especially the ones that were written in the margin of my Bible. I had to recognize what were my own thoughts, what were translations from the Amplified Bible, and what were notes from other pastors, speakers, and commentators. I wanted to be able to open to a passage and quickly make sense of the chicken scratch in its margins. So I came up with a color-coding system using a set of rainbow-colored pens, and I assigned a color to each genre of notes.

Here’s the breakdown (I wrote it all down on the inside front cover of my Bible, just below that sweet love letter, so I could refer back to it until I got it down):

My Personal Notes
Repeated Phrases
The Amplified Bible
Definitions, Search the Scriptures
Cross-References
Pastors, Speakers, Commentaries

My Personal Notes: The purple ink represents my own thoughts as I read or study. I underline when things strike me in purple, and sometimes I write a short thought or even a date in the margin that points me to a particular journal entry that is especially jaw-dropping. I know that when I see something written in purple, it’s an off-the-cuff remark about something that was stirring in my heart, and it was important enough that I wanted to remember it.

Repeated Phrases: The more I began digging deeply into my Bible, the more I noticed patterns, especially words or phrases that were repeated within a chapter (or within a couple of chapters). And they were close enough together to stop and take note. I know that all Scripture is God-breathed, so every single sentence has divine weight. When God says something once, it’s important. When He says it twice, pay attention—He’s emphasizing a point. But when He says it three times (or more)? You’d better stop and take notice. When I recognize a pattern of repeated words or phrases within a page of each other, I box them out in orange and draw a line to connect the two (or more) together. If the repeated phrase is on the next page, I draw a line to the edge of the page, turn it, and continue the line to the connecting word or phrase. Having them boxed out tells me: “Hey, this is important!” (Bonus: Repeated phrases also serve as cross-references.)

The Amplified Bible: The Amplified Bible does exactly what you might think it does. It “amplifies” the text by adding parenthetical statements to explain the original language more descriptively. I reference the Amplified Bible quite a bit in my studying and often come across more vibrant and detailed versions of verses that I especially love compared to my traditional translation. When that happens, I write the Amplified Bible’s translation in my Bible’s margin in green ink.

DefinitionsAs you know by now, I put a huge emphasis on word definitions while I study. It’s why I love the Amplified Bible so much, and it fuels the curiosity that gets me digging daily into the Greek and Hebrew lexicons. I write these notes in black ink, as well as standard English dictionary definitions.

Cross-References: Red ink is the key for a lot of how I study. It’s the very first thing I look for in any section of Scripture before digging into word studies or other Scripture-mining tools. As previously mentioned, I always let Scripture explain Scripture before anything else through the use of cross-references. If my Bible includes a marginal reference that especially catches my attention, I circle it in red. If I discover a reference throughout my study time that isn’t already cited, I write it in the margin next to the verse in red.

Pastors, Speakers, Commentaries: When I see a marginal note in blue ink, I know that I’m reading a thought, insight, or quotation from another person (making sure to also note the author for my own reference). Whether it’s a pastor, a speaker at a conference, notes from a Bible study, or a commentary I’m reading, blue ink is an indicator to me that the point struck a chord, but I need to follow up on the information to confirm its accuracy.

For those wondering, I use Pilot Rollerball Precise v5 pens and have for years (but they don’t make an orange color so I substitute with a different pen). I’ve also heard really great things about these no smear, no bleed through, fade proof ink pens made specifically for use in your Bible.

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