Colored Pencil Exegesis

Here’s a technique I’ve used for years when trying to find the overall theme, outline, and emphasis of a book in the Bible (or a major passage like the Sermon on the Mount). I photocopy the book–say the book of Hebrews–or print off a copy from the computer. Or I’ve sometimes simply used a Bible I didn’t mind marking up.

With a handful of color pencils, I read the book over and over. As I notice certain words, phrases, or ideas, I’ll highlight them in a particular color. If I notice obvious shifts or breaks in the flow of the content, I’ll draw a line there. If the author mentioned anything specific about himself or his immediate listeners, I’ll circle that. If a word or idea comes up repeatedly, I’ll color it in.

Right now I’m doing this with Hebrews. Every time I read through the book, I look for something different. I’ll devote one reading to the theme of Jesus as our High Priest. I’ll devote another reading to every name and title attributed to Christ. I’ll read the book again looking for every Old Testament quotation. I’ll read through it again to see if there are any major and obvious divisions in the book. I’ll read through it again looking for any specific references to the recipients of the letter—the original audience.

If I read through the book of Hebrews once each day for a month looking for such specifics to mark, that’s 31 times. Gradually I become acquainted with the book in a way that allows me to understand its purpose, outline its contents, and began to develop a series of sermons based on its paragraphs.

There are endless variations on this. You can read through the book looking for verses to memorize or passages to convert to prayers for yourself or a loved one. You can list everything the writer says about joy or some other such theme. I’m sure you could do this on your electronic Scriptures, but I’m still a pencil-paper guy in this regard.

Call it colored-pencil exegesis. It’s one of the simplest but most helpful tools for getting  a strategic grasp on a book or passage of the God’s Word.