You are on page 1of 9

Revealing Dr.

Harris Highlighting
Method for Bible Study

Maybe you just received a brand new Bible for Christmas, or perhaps youve been
holding off marking your Bible for years because you just dont know where to start. Or
maybe you are like I was and have a Bible where youve tried multiple different
highlighting systems and now youve got a big mess on your hands and need a fresh

If you fall under any of those categories, this post today is for you. Ive been given
special permission to share with you Dr. Harris (Head of the Bible Exposition
Department at The Masters Seminary and Founder of Glory Books) personal
highlighting system that hes been using for decades.

This highlighting system changed the way I study and read books. Not only do I
apply it to my Bible, but also to every academic book that sits on my shelf. It crosses
over well into any genre except maybe for ction.
The Importance of Highlighting and Marking Your Bible
Some prefer not to mark in their Bibles, and thats perfectly ne. But for those who do,
or are perhaps on the fence, here are a few benets to marking your Bible:

1. Visual Recollection.Find passages of Scripture quickly and easily by enabling the

visual part of your mind to pair with your memory. Your brain will associate colors
withposition on the page automatically over time allowing you to easily locate a verse.
2. Guaranteed to Read the Passage More than Once.If you mark your Bible youll
have to read over it at least twice (once initially, and once as you highlight it). And there
is a good chance youll go over it many more timesas you gure out how to mark it,
especially in the method Im going to share with you today.
3. Gives You aPermanentBreakdown of Passages.I dont care how good your
memory isthere are 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,102 verses in the Bible. Theres
a pretty good chance you wont be able to maintain context and meaning for all of this
on your own. Mark your Bible so you dont have to remembereverything.
4. Provides a Study History.This is my favorite reason. Marking my Bibleshows me
where Ive studied and the intensity of that study. Its like a heat map letting me know
where the uncharted areas are and where I can go next.

Why Most Highlighting Systems Eventually Breakdown

There are two primary methods people use to highlight their Bibles: 1) color delineates
subject, and 2) color indicates importance.
Color Delineates Subject

Color delineates subject is a very popular, if not the most popular, method of
highlighting Scripture. Almost everyone I talk to about Bible marking has used this
method at one time or another. My daughter is currently using this method in her rst
big girl Bible.

This method of highlighting assigns a different color to

different subjects so that when youre flipping through your
Bible you can quickly identify particular subjects. This
method, however, has several drawbacks for the thorough
student of the Word.

First, you are undoubtedly going to run out of colors at

some point. I mean how many different highlighter colors
are there? Seven? Eightsomething like that? How many
different subjects are there in the Bible? Hahagood luck
with that.

Second, what do you do when two verses fall in the same

category? If the number of subjects wasnt an immediate
turn-off, consider what you would do when a verse
addresses multiple subjects. You cant mark it in two colors
otherwise youre just creating another different color that
means something completely different, right? I think thats
what I learned in middle school art class anyway. It just wont

Third, this isnt a method that can be consistently carried

over into your academic books because there is such a vast
number of subjects that there is no way you could have a
separate color to account for every single one of themI
dont carewhat the swatches at Lowes say.

This is a fantastic method for people who are new to

studying the Bible to use, but as you grow in your study methods and depth, I think
youll nd this system will eventually fail you.

Color Indicates Importance

This technique is slightly more advanced and less common than the color delineates
subject method. People who use this method like to assign a certain priority level to
different color highlighters and then mark each verse or passage with the
corresponding color of its importance.

First, often times (but not always), the importance of a verse is subjective to the reader
and can even change within the same reader as he or she grows in Christ over time.

Second, it makes me nervous saying one verse of Scripture is more important than
another. Doesnt it just sound weird when you say it out loud? Is not all Scripture useful (
2 Timothy 3.16)?
I will say this about it (or write it rather). For those of you who really like this method, I
think youre really going to appreciatethe Dr. Harris method because it applies a
color-based priority system grounded in logicnot the subjectiveness of the readers

The Dr. Harris Method

We must throw in a disclaimer here: just because we are calling it The Dr. Harris
Method does not mean we are indicating that he was its origin, but rather that this is
the method he has chosen to use for years upon years in his own study of the Scripture
(and other books).

Highlighting is Outlining

There it is. Think of an outline with Roman numerals and letters. Lets take my preferred
structure: I, A, 1, a, i. Anytime I make an outline I use that structure. So what Dr. Harris
does is apply a highlighter color to each step in the outlining process. He then takes
these colors and breaks down the logic inpassages of Scripture. So for instance,
yellow would be the primary point (I), blue would be anything supporting the primary
(A), green supports blue (1), pink supports green (a), and purple supports pink (i).

Once this is applied to a book or passage of Scripture you can literally break down
the entire logic and flow with a single glance. You can quickly flip through pages and
see all of the primary points and their supporting verses.

I wish I had more to explain but its really that simple. Just use color to outline your
Bible. Youll never again get lost trying to nd where a line of thought begins. Your Bible
will instantly make logical sense to both your eyes and your brain.

A Few Examples
This method is probably best described visually so lets look at a few examples.
Revelation 3-5

On this page you can see a couple ofthings:

1. Note how I used yellow (my primary point) to indicate the beginning of each church
in chapter 3 and then used blue to support those primary points with things unique to
that church. Its not complete by any means but thats the beauty of this system: you
can work your way through passages at your own leisure. You may start on one
passage, leave it to visit another one for a week, and then come back. Whatever works.
2. At the beginning of chapter 4 I chose to make behold, a throne stood in heaven (v.
2) my primary point because everything following is about the throne room of God. I
then used blue to indicate the various beings in the throne room, and then used green
to color anything about those beings I wanted to bring to attention.
I added thisnext page because I wanted you to see that just because a new chapter
begins, doesnt mean its a new primary point (chapter markings were not in the original
manuscriptstheyre man-made). Notice how in 5.1 we arestill in the throne room of
God and, therefore, we do not need a new primary point yet.

Lets look at another example.

1 Timothy 2-3

There are a few things I want to point out in this

passage. First, note how the primary point (highlighted
in yellow with pink arrow annotation) doesnt always
have to be a versesometimes its implied by the
context. Beginning in verse 8 of 1 Timothy Paul
writeson how we are to conduct and behave in church.
He doesnt say that specically in verse 8, but that is the
implied beginning of the section.

Second, following the main point, I outline each sub

point under How to Behave in the Household of God
in blue: conduct of men, conduct of women, overseer
qualications, and deacon qualications. Then I follow each of those up with green for
anything pointing back to them. Now, I can just glance at this page and see the
breakdown of the two chapters without having to skim through and read the entire

One other small tip I picked up from Dr. Harris that Id like to point out. Notice how for
the green sections under overseer and deacons I just outline the section with the
highlighter rather than color each line. If you have a huge passage of Scripture to
highlight, be kind to your Bible and dont paint the entire pageyour Bible will
thank you later. A simple border outlineof large passages will do the trick.

Romans 6-7

Finally, I wanted to share this part of my Bible to make the point that you dont have to
do everything at one time. Romans 6 and 7 (and 8) have some of the richest theology in
all of Scripture and I want to make sure I really take time going through it as I apply this
system. Notice how Ive hit just a few of the main points, and I didnt break down the
entire passage in one sitting.
Take your time doing this. Make sure your markings are correct and in doing so, it
will force you to understand the context and big picture of every passage in
Scripture rather than picking out individual verses without an understanding of their

Concluding Thoughts
I hope this has been helpful for you. This is justa way of marking your Bible and is by
no means the only way. If you have a system that works for you, I would encourage
you to continue using it.

1. Where do I start? Pauls letters make this methodincredibly easy to apply. Start with
2. Look for key words that start or continue logical thought such as therefore, but,
and for.
3. Make sure youre right before you mark. That is one thing I love about this method is
that it forces me to really go back and check the logical progression of any passage. I
want to make sure I understand it before I start applying the highlighter.
4. Get a study Bible with detailed outlines at the beginning of each book. MacArthurs
study Bible does this. It will help you, at the very least, to nd the main points in each
book and then you can follow the logic from there.
5. Use different colored pens and shapes to mark subject matter, not a highlighter color.
This gives youway more freedom and options to cover the vast number of subjects
youll nd in Scripture.
6. This does not mean you should highlight every single verse in your Bible. Just hit the
main points. Not everything will t perfectly into an outline.
7. Apply this method to every academic book you read. I cant tell you how many times
this has come in handy for me. I love being able to go to my bookshelf, open a book,
and instantly have a visual outline of the writers arguments. Its fantastic!
8. Oh, and if youre looking for highlighters that dont bleed through, Ive found the
Zebrite Bible Highlighters to be the best. Just dont mash down too hard!