Concordances are great but they do have their drawbacks.
I was just leaving my English class, heading for the lunchroom, when I saw Stan. He was coming down the other side of the hall. Positioning my books more securely under my arm and braving the current of bodies, I forged my way over to meet him.
“Well, we gonna talk about religion some more today?” he asked, glancing at the standard works under my arm. (I’d been to seminary that morning.)
We’d had several discussions about the Church. After entering the cafeteria and taking our places in line, he turned and said, “All right. You show me where the Lord says he has always and will always work through prophets, and I’ll read the Book of Mormon.”
Taking a paperbound copy of the Book of Mormon triumphantly from under my arm and thrusting it toward him, I quoted, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (We had talked about that last week in seminary.)
“Wait a minute,” he cautioned. “I want to see that in print. Chapter and verse.”
My smile drooped a little bit, and I swallowed hard. “Hmm,” I said clearing my throat, “let’s see.” I fumbled my other books to the floor and leafed to the Bible concordance. “Key words,” I thought. “Just remember the key words. You’ll find it in a second.” Kicking my books along the floor as the lunch line moved ominously toward the serving counter, I turned to prophet in the concordance.
“… Aaron thy brother shall be thy p. … that all the Lord’s people were p. … God will raise up unto thee. … is Saul also among the p. … I am a p. …”
It wasn’t there.
We were almost up to the silverware tray. My friend waited patiently. Thinking of other key words, I stumbled nervously to secret. The scripture wasn’t listed under secret. Almost tearing a page out of the concordance, I flipped to servants. It wasn’t listed there either. Stan was getting his silverware and moving into the line.
Kicking my books along the base of the serving counter, balancing my tray with one hand, Bible propped under my elbow, and turning the pages with my thumb, I glanced under the subdivision God. No luck.
“What key word is it listed under?” I thought as I sat down and watched Stan finish his mashed potatoes.
Out of desperation I tried another key word from the scripture: nothing. Nothing. Stan gulped down the last of his milk and asked me, “Found it yet?” Realizing my meatloaf was getting cold and the butter on my peas was congealing, I turned desperately to the last key word I could think of—reveal.
There it was! “Am. 3:7 he r. his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
I turned to Amos 3:7 and stuck it under Stan’s nose just as he decided the chocolate pudding was too watery and was preparing to leave. He read it, thought about it for a minute, stuffed his napkin into his milk carton and crushed it, and reached out to take the copy of the Book of Mormon.
“Thanks,” he said. “If I have any questions, can I ask you about them?”
“Yes,” I almost shouted as he turned to leave.
“See you tomorrow,” Stan said as he left.
Deciding cold meatloaf, congealed peas, and watery pudding didn’t look all that hot, I decided to leave too.
“Besides,” I thought, “because of that dumb concordance I don’t have enough time to eat anyway.”
It was easy to blame my scriptural clumsiness on the concordance, but at home later that night I realized the cold, hard truth. Although I had read my beautiful leather-bound scriptures many times, I could turn to comparatively few passages. My scripture study had not been systematic, and I had taken such “care” of my books that every page was clean, blank, unmarked.
“Perhaps,” I thought, “if I had marked my scriptures as I read them, taking time to classify and cross reference, I could have skipped the concordance fiasco.”
Duly penitent, I got out my colored pens, pencils, and notebook and became a confirmed scripture marker.
Maybe you haven’t confronted your scriptural “lunchroom” yet. But someday you might feel like Napoleon at Waterloo when your own Wellington says, “Show me. Chapter and verse.” When that happens, marked and cross-referenced books are invaluable.
Also, a set of marked scriptures is a great help when you are asked to give a spur-of-the moment talk. Turning to a favorite scripture you’ll find a complete list of scriptures on that topic if you’ve marked your standard works properly. And finally, there are moments of personal need when a favorite inspiring passage of scripture can mean a lot. Especially at those times it’s nice to be able to turn quickly and without struggle to that special passage.
So if you haven’t been doing it, perhaps you should take out a red pencil and begin marking your own copies of the scriptures. But before you begin, a few hints I’ve run across while experimenting and talking with friends during the past few years can save you a poorly marked up, or more correctly, botched up copy of the scriptures.
First, keep whatever marking system you use as simple as possible. And when you begin using a system, do your best to be consistent. The only thing less helpful in finding scriptures than an unmarked book is a book with so many complicated, varying marks that it takes a cryptographer to read it.
Next get the proper tools. A simple, clear-plastic ruler is helpful for underlining neatly. Hard-lead colored pencils and fine-tip, ball-point pens might be used to do the marking.
A few words of caution when using pens and colored pencils, however. They tend to soak through the thin paper many scriptures are printed on. When using a ball-point pen, be sure the tip is as fine as possible. If the pen leaves globs of ink at the beginning or end of a word, change pens. Never write too darkly with colored pencils. When shading with them, use as light a stroke as possible. After shading an area with colored pencil, wipe the excess pigment off the page with a tissue. The tissue will rub off color that otherwise could soak through the page.
In marking your scriptures, several methods can be used: underlining, circling key words, bracketing, boxing, circling verses, or shading in the scripture with colored pencils.
Circling Key Words
You might try a combination of these systems. For example, underline or shade those verses that are especially good on a topic while circling the verse number of supporting references. Use whatever system or combination of systems you like, but be consistent.
If this is your first experience at marking scriptures, try out your marking system on a set of inexpensively bound books before you begin marking expensive editions. Even well-thought-out marking systems undergo some changes as they are used. Halfway through the Book of Mormon you may have a brilliant flash and decide to use a completely different system. It’s much better to practice marking copies you won’t feel too badly about messing up.
As you read through the standard works, marking favorite scriptures, be sure to use some sort of a classification process. When you open the Book of Mormon and see three scriptures marked on a single page, you’ll need some way to determine the content of the different verses. This is where annotating scriptures comes in.
An annotation is a short, explanatory comment about the passage, usually written in the margin by the scripture. The annotation may classify a scripture under a gospel topic, or give other information about the scripture.
For example, Isaiah 29:18 [Isa. 29:18] may be annotated simply:
Or more explicitly:
Before annotating marked scriptures, make a list of gospel subjects to use as classifications. Lists of gospel topics (faith, repentance, apostasy, restoration, Book of Mormon, etc.) can be copied from the Ready References of the LDS Missionary Bible, from other commercial references, or you can make up your own list.
Get a notebook and write each subject at the top of a page. As you mark and annotate verses, enter them in this notebook under their gospel subject. This notebook will be helpful as a reference itself, and you can use it later to cross reference the verses you have marked during your studies.
Instead of annotating, some people use color codes to classify scriptures. With this system, instead of noting in the margin that Isaiah 29:18 is about the Book of Mormon, you underline it in yellow. [Isa. 29:18] Everything underlined in yellow is about the Book of Mormon; everything in red is about repentance; green is baptism, etc. The drawback to this system is that it gets complicated. Soon you will run out of different colors and will have to start using color mixtures. (Green and purple bars for the apostasy scriptures.) If you like colorful books, color codes could be just the thing for you. (Since I happen to be colorblind, I find annotating much more helpful.)
As your scriptural study progresses, you will find many scriptures on each subject. When you look in your notebook under “Book of Mormon” and find a lengthy string of verses, begin to cross reference.
Cross references guide you from one scripture to other scriptures on the same subject. They are helpful when discussing the gospel or preparing talks. There are many methods for cross referencing, but the simplest and most useful method I’ve found is called scripture chaining.
When scripture chaining, you choose one scripture for each topic as a reference scripture. Other scriptures on the same topic are “chained” (or cross referenced) to this reference scripture.
Let’s put together a chain of scriptures about the Book of Mormon. Suppose during your studies you’ve read 2 Nephi 29 and found it particularly moving on the subject of the coming forth and importance of the Book of Mormon. [2 Ne. 29] So, you decide to use this as the reference scripture for the topic Book of Mormon.
Turn to 2 Nephi 29 [2 Ne. 29], and on the bottom margin write the references to scriptures on the Book of Mormon you have marked, annotated, and listed in your notebook.
Now add the reference scripture to the margin of each “chained” scripture. This reminds you where the reference scripture is located and aids you in going back to this scripture to find others on the subject.
This method of scripture chaining works very well. By simply memorizing the location of one scripture on the Book of Mormon, you can almost immediately locate a fairly comprehensive list of references on the topic. If someone asks a question about the Book of Mormon, turn to your reference scripture and you will find the references to use in your answers. By memorizing the reference scriptures for your other topics, you will start gaining a real command of the standard works.
If you want to go one step further than cross referencing, you can index your reference scriptures. Although indexing is not necessary, it can help you find reference scriptures more rapidly.
Turn to a blank page at the front of your Bible or triple combination. Rule this off into vertical or horizontal columns about a quarter of an inch wide. Write your scriptural topics in these columns around the edges of the book.
Buy a roll of unexposed black and white print film, and using a small paper punch, punch out a number of small round tabs. To index the 2 Nephi reference scripture, turn to page 100 of the Book of Mormon where chapter 29 begins. Find the column where you have written Book of Mormon as a topic, moisten the emulsion side of the film, and stick this round tab to the edge of the page in the exact position of the column.
By finding the column Book of Mormon on the index page and following that column down the edge of the book to the tab, you can quickly open the book to 2 Nephi 29. [2 Ne. 29] (Note: The emulsion of black and white film reacts and bonds itself strongly to the thin, India paper most leather-bound scriptures are printed on. It will not work with heavier papers.)
If your scriptures are not already commercially indexed into books, you can make columns and add film tabs around the side, top, and bottom edges of the book. If your scriptures are already indexed, you can tab only the top and bottom edges.
It is probably best not to add too many tabs for each subject. If you have 20 tabs for the topic heading resurrection, they could be more confusing than helpful. It is wiser to begin by indexing only your reference scripture, using the footnotes at the bottom of that scripture to locate others on the subject. If you find yourself using certain scriptures on a topic many times, you could add a few more tabs on that subject.
Finally, the most important and maybe the hardest part of scripture marking is to begin. Your system of marking and cross referencing may change, but if you never start, you’ll never perfect a system that works for you. If the thought of marking up your expensive books frightens you out of beginning, get a less expensive set and perfect your system there. Scripture marking isn’t that difficult. It just takes thought, a little planning, and some persistence.
My books don’t look like new anymore. Occasionally there’s a blotch and a mistake. But I can usually find the passage I want when I want it. And I have never since struggled with a concordance while my lunch got cold.