Verse mapping…doesn’t it sound awesome?
You’re not just studying your Bible, you’re charting unexplored territory, pushing through the jungle of archaic language and confusing words that you maybe know the meaning of and maybe not and emerging triumphant, holding aloft a nugget of truth that you will carry with you the rest of your days.
Do you think that Bible study is boring? Try Verse Mapping.
Verse Mapping is a Bible Study method of breaking down a Bible verse to find its primary meaning and focus, pulling out contextual information based on the original audience of the Scripture and considering how this verse could apply to your world and your life.
We live in a culture of skimming and scrolling, and it often impacts how we spend our time with God. Verse Mapping forces you to slow down and really mine an individual Scripture for all of the information and inspiration you can uncover.
This video tutorial I made helps explain the process:
What are the Basic Steps in Verse Mapping?
Here’s how you do it:
- Gather your supplies. A few tools will be helpful
- A Notebook or Binder (you may like a dot grid journal like this one (Amazon affiliate link). You could also use graph paper or regular lined paper.
- A Pen or Pencil
- A Bible
- A Computer or Phone to Access Online Commentaries (or a print Commentary and a Dictionary)
- Colored Pens, Pencils, Markers or Crayons (not necessary but nice – you’ll see why further on.
- Pray for God’s blessing on your study of His Word; write out a verse of your choosing.
- Circle words that you would like to look up for clarification or definition; box important phrases or words.
- Write down key cross-reference verses that help you better understand the meaning of the verse at hand.
- Re-write the verse, paraphrasing it in your own words. Write out application thoughts and words of praise as they come to you during your study.
Supplies for Verse Mapping
Here’s what you need:
- Notebook, pen, colored pens/pencils/markers/crayons: Please don’t get too hung up on supplies. You do not have to run out and buy a brand new notebook (though if you want one, I recommend this Dot Grid Journal from Amazon (affiliate link); it’s well-made and a great buy for the price)) and 24 colored pens for verse mapping to be a success.
Start with what you can find at home; then, if you enjoy verse mapping and decide to make it a permanent part of your daily or weekly routine, you can always upgrade to your favorite supplies.
- Bible: You can look at the Bible on your phone or use a physical Bible. I use this Bible app from YouVersion and I also like the ESV app, since that is the written version I use primarily. If using your phone causes too much of a distraction, it would be worth leaving it in another room and just using a written copy of God’s Word. You may take a little longer looking up verses, but your focus will stay on Scripture and not on whatever distracts you most on your phone.
- This is where online resources really are your friend, as they are free and plentiful on the internet. My favorite is BibleHub.Com; their mobile app is also excellent.
- If you’d prefer a written resource, you could use Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary (Amazon Affiliate Link). Or if you’re using a study Bible (my favorite is the ESV Study Bible (Amazon Affiliate link)), you can consult the notes for each verse.
- Dictionary: In our verse mapping, we will be looking up important words to get a full sense of their meaning, so an online or physical dictionary will be helpful.
Choosing a Verse to Map
Sometimes this seems like the hardest part, but it doesn’t have to be.
- If you attend church somewhere and your pastor is going through a book of the Bible, just pick up where they are. You may not always land on the exact verse your pastor is talking about each week, but digging deep in the same book (close to the same verses) will definitely enhance your understanding and connection with the sermon each week
- FighterVerses.com is an excellent resource with several different plans; look at the Extended Collection if you’d like to follow a plan that incorporates bigger sections of Scripture (still mapping verses individually, at your own pace). These plans were made for the purpose of Scripture memorization, but they work well for our purposes here.
- Maybe you are struggling with a particular problem, like Fear, Worry, Anger, Insecurity. Or maybe you’d like to study the Names of God or the Attributes of God. Just plug in [that topic +] Verses, and Google will give you lots of suggestions. Shannon Long has a ton of Scripture Writing Plans and her own take on verse mapping on her blog: here’s the link to her plans. It’s a great resource.
Write Your Verse in the Center of Your Paper
OK, so you’ve picked your verse, hooray!
Before you dive in, take a moment to ask God’s blessing and direction on your time in His Word. Ask His Holy Spirit to guide and encourage you as you seek to unpack these rich truths!
Now get your piece of paper or notebook and write your verse out in whatever Bible version you like, right in the center of the page. Read it through in several different versions to get a feel for the different translations (BibleHub is great for letting you see several translations quickly).
Circle and Box Words and Phrases Within the Verse
- Circle the words that you would like to define or find synonyms for; these should be words that you are familiar with but want further clarification. This may seem like a step to skip, but I’m always surprised at how much a full definition and thesaurus search enhances my understanding of a term. Write the definition (as much or as little as you like) on the paper and draw a line from the definition to the word in the verse it defines.
- It’s helpful to use your colored pens if you have them to circle the words and their definitions with the same color, to easily connect them on your verse map).
- Box those words or phrases that represent the key elements of the verse. These are your V.I.P.s (Very Important Points).
- Put a question mark beside any word or phrase that is confusing. (More on this later.)
Look Up Cross References
A cross reference is another verse in the Bible that uses the same word or points to the same idea as the verse you are currently mapping.
If you are using the BibleHub app, you can see the cross references for each verse if you just keep scrolling down. If you are using BibleHub on a computer, the cross references will be in the right-hand column of the page.
If you’re looking at a written Bible, the cross reference is the little column of verses (usually in the center of the full page spread). Not all Bibles come with the cross references, but a good study Bible (Affiliate link) will have them.
As you look up the cross references, note on your verse map any other verse that jumps out at you and really enhances your understanding of the verse you are mapping. Be sure to cite the reference in case you’d like to go back and look at it again later.
Often the cross references will clarify the points in the verse you had questions about. If so, write what you found.
Before You Consult Commentaries, Paraphrase
This may sound like the part of English class that you never really liked. But there’s a reason your teacher asked you to rewrite something famous in your own words: paraphrasing or rewriting in your own words helps clarify your understanding of the verse in a way that no other exercise can.
The temptation is to look at what other people said about the verses before you paraphrase, but if you do that, there’s a good chance that you will simply mimic what the commentaries say. The goal here is for you to think for yourself, before you look to see what other people think. This is an important step; please don’t skip it!
Commentaries and Application
After you’ve re-written the verse in your own words, consult two or three commentaries. You can easily find them on BibleHub.com. There are a bunch to choose from; I usually look at
- Calvin’s Commentary (scroll past all the Latin unless that is helpful for you),
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary
- Wesley’s Notes
It’s worth looking at a few different commentaries. You see how different people interpret Scripture and get new understanding from these Bible Scholars.
As you look at the commentaries, write out any application or extension that is helpful to you around the verse. Cite the source so you can go back and look at it again.
Consider a few questions:
- How did this impact the original audience of this book?
- How does this verse impact me?
Some Final Thoughts
Verse mapping is such a great way to dig deep in Scripture.
After you’re done, take a moment to review what you wrote and pray to God. You will most likely be prompted to praise and thank God for the truths revealed and confess your desire and need to align more closely with His Scriptures. What a blessing!
Don’t get too frustrated if you still have questions after you’ve mapped out your verse. If you look at commentaries for any amount of time, you can see that there are still a number of places where Biblical scholars disagree on the precise interpretation of Scripture. While that’s frustrating, it’s also OK. There are some things that will still remain a mystery to us this side of heaven. Now we know in part; we look forward to the day that we will know fully, even as we are fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)
Also, this experience is richest when you systematically work through larger portions of Scripture verse by verse. While a topical study has merit, going deep into a whole book or several chapters gives us key insights into the meta-narrative or over-arching theme of Scripture.
I hope you try this method of Bible Study for yourself! Please tell me what other tips you would share and what you love about verse mapping!