By Stefanie Boyles
Staff Writer for The Daily Grace Co.
Note: Every Friday, we will be featuring a new “how to” blog post here on The Daily Grace Co. blog. Our heart is to provide helpful content that is very practical. The aim of these “how to” posts are not to be prescriptive. Even the very best methodology is powerless to change our hearts! However, we believe that the Christian life involves active participation. We need to intentionally pursue holiness! However, our primary motivation is from a heart transformed by the gospel, sustained by grace, and desperate to glorify God. Our prayer is that these posts will help you in your pursuit of holiness and always point you to the gospel.
Using highlighters in our Bibles is not a new concept. Since I was a little girl, I remember highlighting verses that stuck out to me in my Bible. But if I’m honest, there was no rhyme or reason to my highlighting. Over the years, I realized how unproductive this was to my actual reading and studying of Scripture. I had to ask myself: what is the purpose of using highlighters? And if there is a compelling reason to use them, is there a way to use them that would be fruitful?
The Purpose of Highlighters
Highlighters are not necessary for Bible study. However, using highlighters can be a helpful means to engage passages of Scripture in a deeper way, especially in the first step of the inductive process (for more information on this approach to Bible study, check out the free Word of Life study found in The Daily Grace Co. app). This first step is the process of observing what the text actually says. Our aim is to achieve accurate comprehension. So we ask ourselves, “What is the text saying?” Using highlighters allows us to slow down in our reading in order to better answer this question. If we have a system in place, it can also be effective in helping us see the different themes woven throughout the Story of Scripture!
The goal of using highlighters is not a beautifully marked up Bible. Instead, the goal is to engage with the living words of God in such a way as to be captivated by the beauty of the gospel. This happens through the faithful study of His Word! The hope is not behavior modification; our prayer is for a transformed mind and heart in response to the truth of God’s holy Word. We want to know God and make Him known, and Bible highlighting can be a helpful tool in facilitating intentional Bible study that helps us achieve those goals.
How to Use Highlighters Effectively
There are many systems available in engaging with the Bible in a deeper way. Some use specific symbols while others use colored pencils. You can also just use a pen to underline and circle words or simply make notes in the margins. The best system to use is the one that most effectively helps you know and love God more through the study of His Word! Sometimes, this means you can have one highlighting system for one genre in the Bible and another system for a different genre. The point is, we want to use highlighters to facilitate faithful reading of the text.
To keep it simple, here is a great way to start using highlighters systematically during your Bible reading and studying. This is a system that I personally use. I try to use this system throughout the whole Bible, if possible.
Yellow = God (His name, Character)
Blue = Redemption
Green = Commands to Obey
Orange = Nature of Man (Sins to Avoid)
Purple = Repeating Words and/or Book Specific Key Themes
Pink = Verses to Memorize
If you are new to reading or studying the Bible, I find it helpful to just start with one highlighter. The first that I recommend is the yellow highlighter. If you simply highlight every time God (i.e. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) is mentioned, you will quickly see how the Bible really is a book about God because you’ll easily be able to see how many times He is mentioned. I also tend to write out what the passage says about His character in the margin. For example, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (CSB). I will highlight “God” in yellow, and I will note in the margin that God is faithful to keep His promises.
This does not have to be complicated. Again, the best system to use is the one that most effectively helps you know and love God more through the study of His Word! This means that it has to be a system that you actually use! And please hear this: there may be times when you are only able to read Scripture on your phone in the middle of the night. Or maybe you’re listening to it on audio while doing your make-up or waiting in car line. Don’t think those times of exposing yourself to His Word are fruitless because you don’t have a highlighter in hand. God promises that His Word will always accomplish what He purposes (see Isaiah 55:11). This is true in your life! Keep going to His Word. Don’t let highlighters hold you back. They’re only meant to help you in your Bible reading and studying, not hinder you. Be free, friends, and remember that more of Christ is the goal! It is His Word that changes us, not our highlighters or systems!
For additional help with Bible highlighting, listen to Episode 33 “Highlighting as a Tool for Intentional Bible Study” from Daily Grace. My favorite highlighters are from The Daily Grace Co. because they don’t bleed through, and the colors are vibrant. You can find them here. They also have pastel colors in case you want to expand your color-coding system! If you need more direction or want to know other coding systems that you can use, check out the Bible Highlighting Guide from The Daily Grace Co. as well!