Ester Ried owned a Bible—a “nice, proper-looking Bible” that she read from time to time when she remembered to do so.
If her Bible was at hand when Ester was ready to read, she used it. If not, she took her sister Sadie’s, or picked up “the old one on a shelf in the corner, with one cover and part of Revelation missing.
But when Ester traveled to New York to visit her cousin Abbie, she packed in such haste, she forgot to add her Bible to her suitcase—a circumstance Abbie immediately tried to correct.
“Oh, I am sorry—you will miss it so much! Do you have a thousand little private marks in your Bible that nobody else understands? I have a great habit of reading in that way. Well, I’ll bring you one from the library that you may mark just as much as you please.”
Mark in a Bible? That was an entirely new concept for Ester.
She had never learned that happy little habit of having a much-used, much-worn, much-loved Bible for her own personal and private use, full of pencil marks and sacred meanings, grown dear from association, and teeming with memories of precious communings.
Once Abbie delivered the Bible to her, Ester began to think the idea of marking certain verses was an excellent one. The only problem was, she didn’t know how to go about it and had only a pencil to at her disposal.
When Isabella wrote Ester Ried in 1870, there were no Bible journal kits, stickers or markers like the ones we can buy in stores today.
And she probably never imagined there would one day be Bibles specifically designed for readers to create their own artwork inspired by a verse on the page, like the one below:
So when Isabella wrote Ester Ried, she had her title character take a much more simple approach; she had Ester merely underline certain Bible verses that had meaning to her, which was a perfectly sensible method for a young lady who was new to regular Bible study. As Ester progressed in her Christian journey, so, too, did her ability to memorize and mark verses that held special meaning for her.
Reverend Dwight Lyman Moody was a friend of Isabella’s family, and a keen proponent of Christians marking their Bibles.
He rarely went anywhere without his Bible, which he called his “Old Sword.”
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—a disaster that caused so much loss for so many people—someone asked Rev. Moody what he had lost in the fire. Rev. Moody focused on what was important:
“I have not lost my Bible, or my reputation.”
Anyone who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pages of his Old Sword would have seen proof of Rev. Moody’s constant study.
“My Bible is worth a good deal to me because I have so many passages marked that, if I am called upon to speak at any time, I am ready.”
He often told people not to buy a Bible they were unwilling to mark up or write in; and he suggested using a Bible that was printed in a way that offered plenty of room for jotting notes and suggestions.
“Bible-marking should be made the servant of memory; a few words will recall a whole sermon. It sharpens the memory, instead of blunting it, if properly done, because it gives prominence to certain things that catch the eye, which by constant reading you get to learn by heart.”
So what method did Rev. Moody use to mark in his Bible? Below is a plate (unfortunately it’s a little fuzzy after being duplicated many times) that shows his Bible, open to the first chapter of Ephesians. (You can click on the image to see a larger version.)
In addition to notes and references to other verses, he utilized a series of underlines and diagonal lines, which he called “railways.” It may look like a jumble of lines and notes, but his system was really very simple.
In the first column in the page on the right you can see how he used railways to connect words of promise that had meaning to him:
In the second column he underlined words he identified as “together” words. Then, in the blank area on the page on the left, he cited additional “together” verses he found in Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, Romans, and I Thessalonians.
Although this system worked for him, Rev. Moody encouraged everyone to find their own methods.
“There is a danger, however, of overdoing a system of marking, and of making your marks more prominent than the Scripture itself. If the system is complicated it becomes a burden, and you are liable to get confused. It is easier to remember the texts than the meaning of your marks.”
In 1884 Rev. Moody wrote an introduction to a book titled How to Mark Your Bible, which incorporated many of the methods he used in his own Bible markings.
The book shares many examples of how to mark your Bible with railway connections and word groups in the same way Rev. Moody did.
You can read the book for free. Just click on the cover to get started.
Do you use markings, colors, stickers or tabs in your Bible?
What marking method works best for you?