Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Studying Scripture: Tips, Tools, & Ideas

"In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."  ~Catechism of the Catholic Church 104

How do you spend time with your Bible?  I am a tangible, visual, hands on kind of learner, so the main Bible that I have been using for almost fifteen years is covered in notes, filled with items stuck between the pages, and literally held together with duct tape.  I decided a couple of years ago to upgrade to a new Bible where I was a bit more systematic in my study and organized in the conversations and notes that it held.  I've been carrying this Bible around with me for a while now, and after lots of questions, thought it might be time to share some of the study techniques that have helped me spend more time in Scripture and gain a greater understanding of God's Word.

What: Last January, I finally got a new Bible, new supplies, and printed out a 365 day reading plan.  I spent the last days of my Christmas break and into January transferring alllllll of the notes in each book into the new Bible; notes in margins, on post its, underlining, etc.  I also started to transfer verses that I had underlined or highlighted, but realized I was underlining so much they tended to run together. I also wanted to keep myself from speed-reading, as well increase my comprehension.  I decided to color code my highlighting looking for themes.  What started as a few colors quickly evolved into twelve colors that symbolized Christian topics.  Using all those colors made me slow down and soak in Scripture as I read, and also acted as an accountability tool to keep moving forward.  Since then, I love going back and rereading and studying using the color coding that is already there.

Why: As people have seen my Bible in person or in pictures, some have commented that they have never felt comfortable (or even have been told not to) writing in their Bibles.  I totally understand; this is the inspired Word of God, after all.  So if this seems disrespectful to you or detracting, then don't use this technique.  I know that it has helped me learn and grow and spend more time in God's Word, so it is something I will continue to use, but this also isn't the only Bible I own.  I think a great compromise is to have one Bible for study- you can underline, highlight, cover it in post its, stick in notes and cards, etc.  Then have another Bible that is more for prayer and reverence in your home.

How: I would have loved to have been able to do all of this with a journaling Bible complete with wide margins or interleaved pages.  However, there is not currently a Catholic journaling Bible available in an approved translation.  (C'mon, publishers!) So until then, I've figured our some ways to get all of my notes (as well as some art- I'll have a followup post about that on Friday!) using a regular, non-journaling Bible.

Here are some of the ideas, tips, and techniques that have worked best for me:

Favorite Supplies:
First of all, here are the supplies that I have been using over the past year and half and am very, very happy with.  Having good materials to use that have been consistent as I work my way through the Bible has made a big difference in my continuity and how my Bible looks as a whole.
(Contains affiliate links)
1. This version of the New American Standard Bible (mine is navy, also available in burgundywhitehunter green, brown, and black)
2. These Bible Tabs (or if you know the Great Adventure Bible Study Program, you could also get this color coded version)
3. Bible Verse Cheat Sheet (not pictured above, but I have had this laminated sheet folded and taped in the back of my Bible for reference since college. It proves to be very useful!)
4. These colored pencils (supplemented with a few Crayola colors)
5. This pencil sharpener (sharpens both large and small colored pencils)
6. These pencils (the only kind worth having!) and this eraser
7. These pens (I used various sizes, but mostly the 01 when copying notes)
8. Washi Tape like this
9. Various sizes of blue post it notes (I do not recommend Post-It brand Super Sticky notes- they can damage the delicate Bible pages if you try to move them)
10. And a pouch to hold it all in.  My zipper pouch happened to be a free gift from Fossil that I totally reworked (it used to have large neon gems...I took it apart and added small metal brads.)  It happens to be the same color AND size as my Bible, so it is perfect to travel with.  If I needed to buy one myself, I might consider this one or this one or this one.
(You can also see the whole supply list on Amazon here.)

*Follow a reading plan.  I really like the reading plans Meg from Held By His Pierced Hands has created.  I printed off the One Year Chronological and taped it in the back of my Bible.  However, being honest, I kinda fell off the wagon and got behind.  I was able to keep up with the Psalms/Proverbs and the Gospels...but the Old Testament that I love so dearly was a little harder to maintain pace with.  That is what I am working on finishing up. :)  So even if you aren't able to finish in 365 days, it is still really nice to have a plan to keep you moving forward, as well as have some guidance in not reading Genesis straight through to Revelation.

*Create a way to "check off" books as you finish them.  Here you can see that I have been coloring in the name of the books as I complete them on the table of contents (above).  You also can see my original color coding list and symbol list.  This summer as I am trying to finish the last few books, I made a chapter checklist on graph paper (below) to keep me accountable.

*Color coding and notes: On this page, you can see that I've color coded sections of text using colored pencil and written short notes, symbols, and references in the margins using fine tipped pens.  The notes could be from Bible Studies, books I've read, talks I've listened to, sermons, personal reflection, etc.  I chose colored pencils for highlighting within the text because pen and highlighter can often bleed through either right way or over time.  Colored pencils are easy to work with, are semi-erasable if you make a mistake, and don't dry up, allowing you to use them for a long period of time for consistency throughout the entire Bible.

I used Staedtler Jumbo Colored Pencils for my main highlighting, and I cannot recommend them enough.  The lead is appropriately soft- I don't end up denting the page as I highlight, which happens with other colored pencils.  I'm able to shade in lightly so the text is easy legible through the color.  And, I seriously have never broken one of these colored pencils- after 18 months of use, including hauling them with me every where, letting my toddler niece and nephews play with them, etc. the lead has never broken.  How often do you pull other colored pencils out of the sharpener and the lead is already cracked and falls out?  That has never happened, and that alone makes them worth the price.  I also supplemented with a few colors from a box of Crayola colored pencils- lime green, pink, and dark red. (There's a free printable key at the end of the post that you can print and use if you want to start color coding your Bible by highlighting or underlining. One option follows the colors I used, but there is also a blank one where you can create your own color choices.)

*Post Its: I also consolidate notes from Bible Studies and talks onto post its and stick them on the corresponding passages.  Post it notes are great because you can lift them up and still read the text or remove them completely to see the whole page.

*Washi Tape: I've also added washi tape tabs to the top of pages I want to reference frequently by taking a 2" long piece of tape, taping it on the edge of the page, folding it over with about 1/2" hanging off, and then smoothing it down on the other side of the page.  I also ran tape along the side of a few pages for some of my very favorite stories.  I usually use wider washi tape for this purpose (the example on the above left page was 1" wide), run it along the edge of the page with half of the length of the tape hanging off, turn the page, and fold over flush with the edge.

A few places I add washi tape:
-favorite verses for encouragement and prayer
-favorite stories to reread
-verses that I have claimed and pray for specific people
-verses that I pray for my class and CCD program each year

*Post it tiers: Layered post it notes in staggered tiers can create a lot of space for information. Here I've layered 4"x4" post its on two facing pages creating a spot for references on each of the Sacraments.  I can lift up each layer and write without covering up any of the notes.

*Blank space: I also used the very few blank pages (ahem, publishers, more blank pages for notes please!) to organize collective notes about a topic- this page shows references about our Blessed Mother on one side and post its about covenants on the other.  I also add in notes from study, favorite quotes, and references wherever I can find room.  These pens were my favorite, and using the 01 size makes it easy to squeeze in lots of info and also doesn't bleed through the paper.

*A few ideas I have seen but did not use in my Bible:
-taping in full blank pages to copy notes.  I made do with large post its.
-using gesso/paint to cover up the foot notes to create an area for notes, journaling, or art.  I don't like this option because I frequently use the footnotes and cross references. 
-creating art over top of the Scripture text.  My whole purpose was to add to my experience of study and prayer with the text of the Bible, so I am not a fan of covering it up.  I could see maybe having an extra Bible dedicated just to art if you were going to try this method.

Click here to print your free Studying Scripture Bible Study Color Coding Guide:
It is only a half page in size, perfect to tape to the inside cover of your Bible.
The option on the left has the colors filled in based on the way I studied, and the option on the right lets you fill in the colors (or symbols) of your choice.

On Friday I'll be back with a second post about adding art into a non journaling Bible.  Check here for more ideas and tips!

You might also like:
Lectio Divina Bookmarks
Women of the Resurrection Bible Study
Way of Light Bible Study
Virtues and Saints Bible Study, Part One
Virtues and Saints Bible Study, Part Two 

So, how do you use your Bible for study and prayer?  What has worked for you?  What stumbling blocks or challenges have you faced? What new techniques would you like to try?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments!


  1. I totally agree! We need a Catholic Journaling art Bible.

  2. I think we need a Catholic Journaling Bible too. I've been searching for a new Bible, but really want a journaling one. So if you could please maybe advise as to where I could find one I would really appreciate it.

    1. Hi Ana! There isn't currently a Catholic Bible with wide margins or interleaved pages in the approved NABRE or RSV editions. I have heard some mixed reviews about these Bibles linked below, but I think they are the Douay Rheims translation and Amazon reviews list errors in the text, so I'm not sure I can recommend them.
      Catholic Journaling Bible New Testament
      Catholic Journaling Bible Old Testament
      Hopefully Catholic publishers will jump on the opportunity soon to print wide margin Bibles in the approved translations!

  3. Simply: YOU ROCK!!!

  4. I know of a publisher with a Catholic approved wide margin Bible in the works and can't wait to see it available for all you who have been waiting! Love your ideas here and all the helpful resources.

    1. That is such good news! I am so excited to have that resource available and to keep people in Catholic translations. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love, love, love this! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Hi. I have the NRSV Notetaker's Journaling Bible with Apocrypha by Oxford University Press. They are very hard to find. And if you find them are as much as a $100 or more. I've seen Catholics on IG using them. Are these acceptable?

    1. Hi Joanne! I left a response on your last comment, so you'll find a few other details there. I am by no means an expert, so I'll refer you to the USCCB and EWTN for some info on approved translations.
      USCCB Approved Translations
      EXTN Answers about Bible Versions
      It sounds like this might be a good fit for your personal journaling and art, and hopefully Catholic publishers will come out with an affordable new edition for everyone soon!

  7. Hi there. I am looking to incorporate this into a high school CCD class. Most of our students have never really opened a bible and I thought it would be a good place to start with them. Do you have any hints that might be helpful?

    1. Hi! That would certainly be a challenge, but a worthy one! A few hints that come to mind:
      -If at all possible, buy them their own Bibles. It will mean so much more, and will allow them to keep reading and studying outside of class. This paperback Bible is super affordable. If it's not in the CCD budget, maybe you can recruit a parishioner or two to donate the funds?
      New American Bible
      -Teach the kids about reverence for the Bible, but also that it is ok for them to underline, highlight, and add in post it notes, encouraging them to interact with scripture, ask questions, return to favorite verses, etc.
      -Then I would teach them that Scripture is not meant to be read in entirety from cover to cover like a novel or text book. A little bit of time helping them understand the different types of Biblical literature- wisdom, prophets, letters, etc. Encourage them to start by reading the Gospels.
      -Show them how to look up references by Book, chapter, and verse.
      -Give them a cheat sheet with ten or so favorite verses to look up for encouragement and prayer.
      I think that those basics could get them rolling on a lifetime relationship with the Bible, but could be managed during the time constraints of a few CCD classes. I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any questions!

  8. Blessed Is She is making a journaling Bible.

  9. Hi!
    I just wanted to tell you your blog is incredible!
    Also, would you mind sharing pictures of your postits with the references on each of the Sacraments? It would help me a lot on the study I want to do!

    1. Hey Carolina! Yes, I'll have to update the post with pictures of those soon!

  10. Hello! My name is Patrizia and I live in Italy. I just happened to "run into" your website after googling for ideas and/or coloring pages for All Saints Day. I am Catholic, I am an English teacher but on Sunday I am a Sunday School teacher to the youngest of our parish: two-six year olds! We have Sunday School with them while their parents are participating at mass.
    I have always read my Bible (both in English and Italian) and have learned so much from our Protestant brothers and sisters. I've always wondered why we, as Catholics, don't have bible journaling and are not encouraged to do so. For this reason, I am so so happy to have found your website! I will definitely be reading your posts, articles and suggestions. God bless you.

  11. Correction: "two-six year olds" . . I meant 2 to six year old children, not only two. We actually have from 20-30 children every Sunday in that age group. Thank God!

  12. I bought a 'study the bible' book years ago with color coding but it was protestant.….you need to do a 'catholic' one! I know the catholic publishers aren't very 'fast' or progressive in this type of stuff...heck even in the bible journaling bibles until a couple of years ago!

    People like me "need", so much.

  13. This is a great webpage with a lot of great tips on studying scripture, thank you!