There are as many ways to study and mark scriptures as there are people. As long as it helps you understand and remember better, it's probably working. Here are some things I like to do. I'm starting out looking at Revelations 12, as part of an ongoing study of Psalms 2. (Revelations 12:5 quotes Psalm 2:9.) When I started today, my page was nearly blank.
I recently decided that I like to mark the names of Deity. I read a little about inductive study a while back on Pinterest, and it sounds interesting, but my favorite thing was how they marked all the names of Deity, so I've started doing that. I draw little triangles, then go back with a blue crayon and fill them all in. I don't have any really fancy tools, just a .5 fine line pen in both blue and black (I like Zebra pens because they don't bleed), and a big set of the regular Eagle Scripture Markers. The little cardboard packaging inserts make great straight edges.
This also gives me a chance to orient myself to the context of the section I'm studying. If I'm following footnotes or other non-linear study methods, reading the area around my focus verse can be really useful. This being the Book of Revelation, I'm really needing to take my time. In my first look, I notice that the woman is fed "a thousand two hundred and threescore days." I convert this to years -it's not quite 3.5 years- because that's a lot more meaningful to me, and make a small note in the little space before the end of the line.
The next step, since this is the Bible, is to check through the footnotes for both Greek translation notes and JST passages. I mark them in yellow in the text and also the footnotes, to make the connection easier to find quickly next time I'm in this section. I've been doing this for years, and it really works for me. This is a photo of Hebrews 5, which I studied last week because it also references Psalm 2, and it's got a pretty typical look, with the yellow anchoring the text to the footnotes.
This chapter in Revelations is kind of a special case. First, there are no Greek translational clarifications at all. And, while there is something from the JST, rather than being just a few words in the footnotes, it's the whole chapter, at the back of the book. So instead of highlighting a word or two, I draw a line down the side that outlines the clarified section. I do still anchor it to the footnote.
Next, I flip to the back, to see what clarifications Joseph Smith was given as he was studying. I love the JST. According to my college Institute teacher, the JST is not a return to the original text (that was news to me, at the time), rather it is clarifications and further understanding he received during his period of instruction. The Bible Dictionary also has an interesting blurb on what the JST is -- and isn't.
In this case, it's really interesting: in addition to the usual clarifications, he switched the order of the verses. In JST Revelation 12:7, the woman is identified as the church, which is really useful: I had been guessing that this was possibly a vision of the birth of the Lord. Knowing that she is the church makes the passage make a great deal more sense. I underline it in pen in the JST,
And I head back to Revelation 12 and make a note near the beginning of the chapter.
That's my basic orientation to the area, and already, I'm feeling much better about this chapter. But, if the woman is the church, I'm really unsure about who the child is. I had thought it might be the Newborn Lord, vulnerable and under attack as he entered the world, but that now makes much less sense. I look to see which verses deal with the child, and head to the Scripture Citation Index to see if I can get more insight from the ways the Brethren have used these verses. Clicking through, I see that Revelation 12 has been cited 177 times, which is good. With that many uses, it is likely that I will be able to learn some more from the talks that have used it. Verse 4 has a lot of citations, and it talks about the child, but that's a pretty vivid account of the War in Heaven, so I look at verse 5 first. There's only 3 talks that use it, so I go look at those. Quickly, my visit pays off. Orson F. Whitney used this verse, and he identifies the child as the priesthood:
"The result of this widespread departure, this apostasy from the primitive faith, was the withdrawal of the power of the Priesthood, typified by the “manchild”of the Apocalypse, which was taken into the heavens to preserve it from the mouth of the Dragon which sought its life; there to remain until a more auspicious time should arrive for the establishment of the work of God, and the winding up of the great plan of human redemption."
Brother Whitney was eventually called as an Apostle, but was a Bishop at the time he said this, and it's not a Conference talk, so I evaluate using the same standards that I use for things that any ordinary member says. However this interpretation, combined with the woman as the church from the JST, makes the whole passage come into focus. This makes sense with the rest of the passage and what I know of the scriptures, and the Spirit approves. Following what is happening here is now much simpler, and it fits with what I know already about scripture. I make a note of this quote, including who said it and its Journal of Discourses volume and page, in the margins of my Bible, so that I'll remember it the next time I come through. The citation hardly takes any room, and including it means that I can find the talk again if I ever want to do so. In this case, because I've included Bro. Whitney's title as a Bishop, it also clues me in that this quote is less binding than most of what I put in my margins: the majority of from Apostles and Prophets, and much of that from Conference. But not all. Some is other church leaders, or even occasionally local members, and there are some notes of impressions I have received through the Spirit.
I said before like the Zebra pens because they don't bleed. But they also work really well for tiny writing. If I'm careful, I can get 4 lines into the margin. They are the only pens I've found that can handle work that small; gel pens are just hopeless for this kind of work. So, even though they aren't the smoothest writers or the nicest to hold, I love the little Zebra pens for marking my scriptures. I put the quote from Brother Whitney on the side of the page.
At this point, it's late, and I need to go sleep so I can be an effective mom in the morning, so I pack it up. I make a distinction between my ordinary reading, which I work hard to do daily, and what I think of as my "study projects," which I try to work on a couple times a week. This way, I'm in the scriptures daily, if only a little bit, but my serious study, where I dig in deeply takes time, and in this busy season of my life with young children, I don't always have a chunk of time. By combining the methods, though, I'm gradually feeling like I am gaining a clear understanding of the scriptures and the Gospel.
Ok. So, the second time I sat down to study this verse (more than a week later - we all got sick, but study projects are patient), I start by reviewing a bit, then going back to the verse that brought me to this chapter in the first place: Revelation 12:5
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
Going back to this verse, after working on the chapter's symbols, is very interesting. With those interpretations, you might read it like this: "And the [church] brought forth the [power of the Priesthood], which was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and the [Priesthood] was caught up to God, and to his throne. And the [church] fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God...(vs. 5-6)"
At this point, I realize that the JST says that she hid in the wilderness for 1260 years. I erase the old note (happily, it erases, kind of, and without damaging my page), and note that it's years, not days.
Then I'm back to pondering verse 5, trying to figure out exactly what it means. I go have a look at those other two talks in the Scripture Citation Index. Turns out that Brigham Young also says that the man child is the Priesthood:
Soon after the ascension of Jesus, through mobocracy, martyrdom, and apostasy, the Church of Christ became extinct from the earth, the Man Child—the Holy Priesthood, was received up into heaven from whence it came, and we hear no more of it on the earth, until the Angels restored it to Joseph Smith, by whose ministry the Church of Jesus Christ was restored, reorganized on earth, twenty-three years ago this day, with the title of “Latter-day Saints,” to distinguish them from the Former-day Saints. (JD2:31)
I'm really glad that it's there, because while the church in hiding and the Priesthood returned to Heaven is familiar, the idea of the Priesthood ruling the nations is a new one for me, outside of Christ's millennial reign, and we don't usually talk about it in those terms. I'm not sure if this is talking about that, so I flip back to the JST version again, to try to determine the timeframe. Even with the JST, this is not easy. After looking again, I'm not sure that the timeframe is as important as the fact that the manchild is "to rule the nations with a rod of iron." This is slightly different from the Psalm, but close enough that I can see the reference. I check the footnotes, to make sure that it's not there, and then add the cross reference.
I also realize that I haven't marked the text to point the child to the quote on the side, so I do that. I like straight lines, because I find that they let me read the text more clearly even when it's been marked, so I use a straight edge to help me draw a box around the word child, with a little arrow pointing to the margin.
For my birthday, my sweetheart got me a huge version of Strong's Concordance. I'm still figuring out how to use it. (You can find a tutorial with a link to an internet version here. Strong's rocks.) I decide that the phrase "rod of iron" is a good one to try. Turns out, the word "rod" appears in the Bible 86 times. It is, once again, late, so I can't look through them now, but I'm looking forward to digging into that the next time I can work on this study project.
Another day, a little more study, and this time it's late at the start, and I've really only got a couple minutes before I have to get some sleep, but my project is calling me, so I'm sneaking in a couple of minutes. I grab my Strong's, and look up "rod." Glancing through them, I realize that, although the "iron rod" is among the most common of Book of Mormon themes referenced at church, it's not at all common imagery in the Bible. Only Psalm 2:9 and a couple verses in Revelation that reference this Psalm use this image. That's useful information: when talking with non-member Christians, this idea of the iron rod as scriptures may need some explanation. It comes from the Greek rhabdos, and this word is used for a variety of different meanings: stick, staff, scepter, and rhabdos is, itself, a derivation of the Greek rhapizo, to strike. It looks like we might get our word "rap," as in to hit, from this Greek root. This is interesting, but I don't know that it adds enough that I'll add it to my margins. At least, not now. I am, however, feeling much better about how well I understand this passage. The end of the chapter could still use a little help, but the beginning part that I'm most interested in today, I'm feeling much better about. I think it's time to say this section is finished for this run-through, and continue on to the next of my verses that references the 2nd Psalm. The great thing about studying the scriptures is that there's always, always, more to learn.