Highlighting your Bible can be an easy way to slow down, be more intentional, and train yourself to notice more specific details in the text of Scripture.
I first began highlighting verses I liked when I was in middle and high school, but over the years (and thanks to formal theological education) what I notice and how I interact with Scripture has become more nuanced and informed.
I first began with a yellow highlighter, then picked up a trio of pink, orange, and yellow (and felt SO fancy), and now I use six colors–each signaling a different category or type of information. This system might work for you as is or give you a little inspiration to develop your own!
At first, close reading of the text of Scripture can be slow, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I’ve been writing in my Bible and highlighting in some way for the last 15 years, so it might take some time. And colors work for me. I like the physical motion of changing highlighters as I read (sometimes as I read a text or after a first reading with no highlighting), and I like scanning the page to see repetitions of colors/categories. It helps me organize what I’m reading visually. If you’re not into bright colors or such interactive reading, no stress. See if you can find a way to incorporate some of what you read here.
PINK: LOVE — Pink is for verses I find especially beautiful, verses I usually draw hearts beside. I never want to pick verses to hold up more than others, so this isn’t so much like picking favorites as it is noting especially tender, sweet, write-on-a-post-it-for-your-mirror verses. Like when John begins describing how Jesus washed his disciples feet before his crucifixion, beginning in John 13, and notes, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” I highlighted the last clause because it was so strikingly beautiful and simple.
ORANGE: BAD/UNGODLY — I use orange when Scripture notes sinful, ungodly events or reactions or comments. Every time a king “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” in the OT or the Israelites were “grumbling” in their tents in Exodus or the Pharisees murmuring/plotting in the Gospels, I highlight in orange.
YELLOW: NOTABLE — This is probably my vaguest category. I use yellow to highlight words/phrases that stand out. Maybe it’s a detail I want to remember or something I think is important and want to do more research on. Or maybe it’s simply something that I want to remember to focus on as I read and reread the passage.
GREEN: PLACES + LOCATIONS— I never paid too much attention to biblical places and locations before, mostly because they were foreign and I didn’t know how to picture them in my head, but I’m trying to be more attentive to biblical geography. So I highlight names of cities/regions (like Jerusalem, etc.) and sometimes specific places (like “synagogue” or “on the road to...“ or “heaven“). The more you read your Bible, the more you’ll realize that places in Scripture are often repeated from Old Testament to New (deep, deep history and theology there). I found a dictionary on places and names in the bible that helps me see zoomed-out, big-picture everything that’s happened in the Bible at a specific place, which is a helpful tool here. Most Bibles also have maps in the appendix. Maybe practice taking a moment to flip back to the maps as you read and find the places you’re reading about. (It’ll make you go a little slower, but that’s ok. We don’t need to rush holy endeavors.) This practice will help you learn biblical geography so it becomes less foreign and more like your own neighborhood, and it’ll help you make connections to see how close or far or overlapping events are!
BLUE: PROMISES + FULFILLMENT— This category has morphed and expanded over time. When I read through the Old Testament, I use blue to note references to prophecy (God telling His people immediate and sometimes future information) and restoration (biiig throughout the Prophets). When reading the New Testament, blue highlights references to what God has said or commanded in the OT (“that the Scripture might be fulfilled” in the Gospels for example), salvation and the Kingdom of God, and Jesus’ second coming. Anytime God is telling us what He’s doing or going to do (His promises) in the OT and then does what He says He’s going to do (fulfillment) in the NT, I pull out my blue highlighter!
PURPLE: NAMES OF GOD–how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are referred to in Scripture. I began highlighting Jesus’ name every time it was mentioned in the Gospels, but quickly stopped and only highlighted names people called Him (“Lord” and “Good Teacher,” for example) or names He claimed Himself (“Son of Man“). Noting how people refer to God or how God reveals Himself through a name can be so telling!
Using a highlighting guide can help organize what you’re reading in a visual way. I can scan over a passage of Scripture in my Bible and see overall developments in theology and geography just by noting (very bright, very fun) colors! I use gel highlighters, since they don’t bleed through. (They’re cheap on Amazon.) And if you’re nervous highlighting in your Bible, buy a cheap Bible to practice on.
And just know that God will not smite you for wanting to better understand his Word, so don’t feel like you have to be perfect. My Bible is a mess (colors highlighted on top of other colors as I augmented my system, not so straight lines when I was a little too highlight happy, etc.), but a very well worn and well loved mess.
I’m not all that worried about how my Bible looks, but how I look at my Bible and how I set my mind to know, love, and obey the Lord. And highlighting helps me do just that!