Tech Talk: Studying the Bible with Colored Pencils and iPads

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"Studying the Bible with colored pencils and iPads" by Carrie Soukup (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: Pexels.com (2016), CC0/PD

Playing with Color is Fun

I love to mark up my Bible when I read. It reminds me of the cozy feeling I had as a kid, sitting with friends, ogling over each others coloring sheets. Or squishing my hands into finger paint and sliding them all around the paper. When I color, I am engaged. Something tickles my brain enough to wake me up to the content of Scripture and actively discover it.

Anxiety about a Beautiful Book

But sadly, most of my Bible reading is passive. I gingerly turn the pages of my beautiful Bible, occasionally underlining a favorite verse here and there. Now, you could make an argument for the benefit of passive reading where the Holy Spirit is the active one and I am the recipient. Good. I want that. However, my lack of activity is not due to my humility before God; it is because I don’t want to mess up my Bible! If I color or underline — it will always be there. What if I make a mistake or squiggle wrong or am inconsistent with my colors?

Digital Bible Reading

What about digital reading, you say? I can underline something and then delete it if I want. Yes, that is good. I have a bunch of favorite digital Bible reading sources. These are super handy because I can read a Bible passage while riding an elevator or waiting in line at the DMV. It is with me where ever I go (almost). But I miss the tactile nature. I feel removed from the text. Digitally underlining passages helps alleviate my lack of engagement but it does not bring me in — close. Another draw back is that the “underlining” is fixed — you can only highlight a whole verse. It is missing the ability to focus on a particular portion of the verse and give emphasis or emotion by the way the line is drawn.

The Passage as a Canvas

When I print out a passage, that’s when the magic can happen for me. You can go to USCCB.org to find any passage of the Bible or look to BibleGateway.com for many many different translations. At Mass, we read from the New American Bible. The Catechism uses the New Revised Standard Version. Many Catholic publishers use the Revised Standard Version. The Psalms of the New International Version are also approved and recommended by the US Catholic Bishops.

If you copy and paste a passage into Word or a Google doc, you can print it and have some fun. Or, a very fun alternative is to import your passage into Notability (or a similar app) and then you can mark it up using your iPad.

How to Mark a Passage

Who, what, where, when and how: Assign a color to each of those questions and whenever you see a word or phrase answering it- underline with that color. Alternatively, you could write those simple words in the margins and draw arrows to the answers. This video does a good job of showing that method.

Repetitive words: Perhaps as you read, you may notice that a word keeps popping up. Circle all the instances of that word. Do the same for another word in a different color.

Subject/verb: Who is the actor and what are the actions? Box the subject and draw an arrow to the verb.

Commandments: What phrases are calling out as imperatives? Double underline these.

Cause and effect: Draw arrows between cause and effects.

Topics: Focus on topics that personally interest you and develop a color coding system. For example, whenever a passage involves friendship, you could mark that with blue; if it is about self control, you could mark it green.

Learned in College

I’d like to give a shout out to InterVarsity, whose campus staff and members helped me fall head over heals in love with the Word of God. That’s where I learned this messy marker, artsy and intellectual approach to Scripture.

Not Quite “Manuscript Study”

If you would like to learn more about this, you can do a search on “manuscript study” since that is what it is commonly called by Protestants (who are the ones most likely to teach about it). Here is a simple video on “manuscript study.”

I don’t particularly like the phrase “manuscript study” since what we are doing with colored pens and pencils doesn’t even come close to the detailed study that scholars do with various aged and translated manuscripts. But, nevertheless, the Protestants have made popular an active way for non-scholars to bring their attention to engagement with the actual text.

Drop Me a Line

Try it and let me know how you like it. I’d love to help if you need it. Have fun!!!

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Copyright 2020 Carrie Soukup

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About Author

Carrie Soukup writes at GraceFinders.com, compelled by St. Therese, Brother Lawrence, and St. Ignatius to help others connect intimately with God in and through the craziness of life. She has served as a curriculum writer, campus minister, high school theology teacher and retreat director. On a great day, you can find her hiking or cycling with her husband and four children.

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