Some pages of my scriptures are in a somewhat dismal state. I have marks everywhere, but they don’t help me.  I’m saving up for a new set, and I want to mark them effectively.  I’ve spent some time looking at my scriptures and browsing the internet to learn about scripture marking.  I’ve developed some opinions.  Want to hear them?

The marks you make should be useful and should contribute to a goal. In my opinion, that goal should not be to find scriptures later. The goal should be to make the scriptures easier for you to understand.

Why shouldn’t I mark for the purpose of finding?  I’m not a full-time missionary; I can’t predict what lessons I will be teaching in the future, and which scriptures I will need to use.  Once I know the scripture I want to find, there will probably be a device close enough on hand that will search for me.  Will I lose credibility in front of a Bible-scholar friend with questions about the church?  I don’t know.  But I’ll lose that same credibility if I don’t have MY set of scriptures that are marked just the way I have memorized, or if I do happen to have my scriptures but the two pages are stuck together so I can’t see my markings.

Besides, if I am going to memorize how I’ve marked a scripture, maybe I can just memorize a reference.

I don’t even think that my markings should help me find good scriptures later.  I won’t need the same scriptures tomorrow that I needed yesterday.  Scriptures stand out to me during a particular reading because the Spirit is telling me something. And that something is what I need now.  I shouldn’t mark it, thinking, “come back to this later.”

“Making the scriptures easier for you to understand” was an intentionally ambiguous statement.  Some people need to chew up the text in order to understand it, or understand it quickly.  They think with their pens.  (Unfortunately, then they have chewed up scriptures.) Or, once they find a good scripture, they want to mark it so they don’t lose it.  Gordon Smith, on the Times and Seasons, an LDS forum,  “If I were an anthropologist doing a Mormon ethnography, I would probably conclude that scripture marking is not functional, but merely a means of expressing of love for a particular passage.”

I know how it feels… I’ve been writing this post for several days, and I’ve decided I don’t want to mark that way.  But during one of those days’ scripture studies, I found a really good scripture.  I just wanted to mark it.  I wanted to mark it so bad. But the problem with those marking patterns is that they affect my future study.  Sometimes the way I’ve marked a scripture cements my interpretation of it, leaving no room for others.  At least, it leaves no room for writing down others.  And if a scripture is marked, I assume I’ve already learned it and I pay it less attention.  If some scriptures are not marked, other times I assume they aren’t very interesting, so I pay them less attention.  This is not what I intended when I marked them in the first place.

So what are useful ways to mark scriptures?  I found several distinct color-coding systems on the internet.  I’m not going to link to them.  I started too, but then was feeling too judgmental.  As if every other Mormon was marking their scriptures all wrong.  I haven’t found color-coding by topic or by part of speech to be useful, but I wouldn’t doubt that one of the Brethren have all their scriptures on faith marked in yellow.

Here are the ways I have found useful.

Marking the translation-related footnotes.   Sometimes the Greek or Hebrew versions of the Bible shed a lot of light on a verse.  Joseph Smith shed a lot of “light,” too.  When I read the Bible, I usually want to read those, even when I don’t look up every other footnote.  It’s helpful to have the superscript and the footnote colored alike.  It smooths the transition.

Words in the margins should be important, minimal, neatly written, small, and upright.  Otherwise, you’ll get this: 

It’s impossible to tell which note goes with which verse.  It’s frustrating after a while to keep turning the book on its side to read the note, which is incredibly difficult anyway, because I scribbled it on my lap in class one day.  Once I do decipher it, my notes never turn out to be that interesting.  I have very few diamonds in a whole lot of rough.

I wrote those notes because I wanted to record the inspiration the Lord gave me.  But  maybe I don’t have to engrave on gold plates every thought that passes through my mind while the scriptures are open.  The Nephite prophets didn’t include a hundredth part of what they could have in the scriptures, so I don’t have to either.  I trust that the scriptures are “quick and powerful,” or, alive and powerful.  Insights will continue to come to me.

Additionally, there is a difference between a peek and an insight.  Insights are interesting to reread, peeks are not.  An insight is something like, “Nephi has seen firsthand the effects of his brothers’ wickedness.  That’s probably why he’s acting this way in this verse.”  A peek is, “That’s cool.”

I used to write both in the margins. But I think from now on I’ll write my insights (but not peeks) in a study journal.  Hopefully I’ll learn how to tell the difference between insights and peeks before I write them down.

There is also a difference between an insight and a prompting.  We know we should write down promptings.  But we probably have different responsibilities concerning insights, and certainly concerning just “peeks.”

Mark contrasts. There are places in the scriptures where pronouns get a little crazy.  When you find these places, take a study session, decipher the theys and thems, and color them accordingly. In 1 Nephi, 2:23-24, both the Nephites and the Lamanites are referred to as “they.” A few more to do are the large and small plates of Nephi in 1 Nephi 9, the Israelites and the Gentiles in 1 Nephi 17, the Josephs in 2 Nephi 3, the Israelites and the Gentiles again in 2 Nephi 6:6-7, and the kingdoms in Doctrine and Covenants 76. (Feel free to comment about other places this would be useful.) Michaela Stephens says to also mark each of two speakers in a conversation, good and evil, scary signs of the times and what to do in Joseph Smith-Matthew.

GOOD cross references. Only write in your scriptures cross references that you really like, and you think you will want to see each time you read that scripture.

Here are some more ideas that I am less sure of.  “It’s like another favorite, but not as much. Not as much favorite.”

Mark Favorite, Universal, Timeless, MOST comforting scriptures.  One of my favorite places in the scriptures is 2 Nephi 8:12-13.  I go there all the time, but it takes me forever to find it.  So I’ve boxed those two scriptures.  It still takes me a long time to find them.  Spending like three minutes right now, memorizing the reference would probably save me more than three minutes looking for my boxes next time.

(short) Explanatory notes about chapters.  Historical context, audience, explanation of contents might be useful.

Mark the spoken words of Jesus. This one takes a lot of commitment.  I think I have a few chapters of Mark done. I’ve drawn a thick line next to the things Jesus has said, instead of just his contemporaries.  It’s fun to read just Jesus’ exact quotes in the four Gospels.

Title the pages. Summarize what is happening on each page.  It may help you understand the scriptures more quickly next time. Suzanne has actually done this for you…

Create inserts.  Inserts are annoying to me when they fall out. (So glue them in.) Do prophet studies, a weaknesses log in Ether 12, Action maps, draw up Nephite and Lamanite battle plans, and do a Topic Blitz.

Here’s the bottom line: Whatever you write in your scriptures, make sure it will help you understand them in the future.