Just for fun, I googled “marking scriptures.” The first three results are Mormon sites. Result #4 does not have anything to do with scripture marking, but is a Bible site that encourages bookmarking. Then it’s back to the Mormon sites. Only one other site in the Top 10 results is from another denomination.
Maybe I have the jargon wrong. How about “highlighting scriptures”? Well, that brings a whole new raft of results, none of which has anything to do with using ink or pencil … until Result #6: “Book of Mormon Study Guide.” I also tried “underlining scriptures,” and received mixed results, with a few links to non-Mormon resources, but not many.
Then I hit paydirt: “Bible marking”! Whew! We are not alone.
If most people mark scriptures as an aid in locating meaningful passages in the future, they do a very poor job of it. Last week in Priesthood meeting, for example, one of the members of our ward sitting near me opened his scriptures to Alma 32. Everything was marked in read. Everything! Including the footnotes! With my usual tact, I asked, “Do you like that chapter?” Then he leafed through other parts of his book and revealed large splotches of red throughout. I don’t see how this sort of marking could possibly aid in finding particular passages.
In fairness to this fellow, I had done similar things before I stopped marking my scriptures. When I came upon a passage that had some meaning to me, I marked it. It doesn’t take very many times through the scriptures before large passages are marked. The funny thing about this exercise is that I never went back to the marked passages because they were marked. I went back because I wanted to re-read Alma 32. Once I realized that my marking was pointless as a finding tool, I gave up marking altogether. Now my scriptures of almost 20 years are as clean of highlights as the day I purchased them. They contain an occasional margin notation in lead pencil, but no colored marks.
In the age of electronic scriptures, marking seems even less relevant for finding scriptures. When I really need to find a scripture now, I search for it, either on my desktop or my PDA. Will electronic scriptures spell the end of the market for scripture marking pencils?
Probably not. Most of us will continue to use paper scriptures long into the future, and I suspect that most people do not use marking as a finding tool. If I were an anthropologist doing a Mormon ethnography, I would probably conclude that scripture marking is not functional, but merely a means of expressing of love for a particular passage. When people have been moved by the words of a prophet, they want to show it! Under this theory of scripture marking, the implicit goal is to have page after page of solid color. And there’s nothing wrong with that.