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What is Bible Verse Mapping?
Have you ever wanted to do a more in-depth study of the Bible but in a creative way? Then you might want to give Bible verse mapping a try.
Bible verse mapping is a visual method of Biblical exegesis. It involves creating diagrams or charts that function as a map of the verses (hence the name “verse mapping”).
The exercise allows you to brainstorm different aspects of the verse including related words and concepts, explore the historical context and draw out the deeper meaning.
It also focuses on how the verse applies personally to you and the lessons you can draw from it.
Supplies you can use
A notebook/ journal/ sheet of paper
Pens/ pencils/ markers/ highlighters
Several Bibles in different translations – eg the New International Version (NIV), New King James Version (NKJV), Good News Bible (GNB), The Living Bible (TLB), The Message.
A Bible app with different translations
The Bible Gateway website
A concordance and a Greek or Hebrew dictionary
Steps to follow to get you started
These are general steps you can follow to begin your verse mapping.
Make sure to download your free template for Bible Verse Mapping here:
Pray that God will speak to you during this time and bring his word alive in your mind and thoughts. Ask him to bring a verse to mind or how he wants to speak to you today. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and bring enlightenment so that you can understand the scriptures.
2. Choose a verse
This could be your favourite verse, or one that you want to learn more about. Or as you are reading the Bible, a particular passage of scripture may jump out at you and immediately feel relevant or applicable to your situation.
While there are various prompts to help you get started, there’s no set method of doing this or a right or wrong way. You may find that you start off studying one verse related to a topic you want to research, but then something else speaks to you.
In this example, I’ve chosen Hebrews 4:15 which says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
3. Write out the verse and speak it out
You can do this on a blank sheet of paper or in your journal. I’ve put it in a template I’ve created so that everything is in neat categories. It’s probably better to write it out by hand, but I don’t have any coloured pens at the moment, so I’ve typed it straight onto the sheet.
Another good idea is to read or speak the verse out loud. Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” When you verbalise the words, you are speaking words that reinforce your faith. I’ve discussed speech acts here.
4. Look up other translations of the same verse
You can use Bible Gateway to see the different wordings other Bible translations use. Alternatively, if you have several physical Bibles, you can look these up in book format.
Sometimes other translations will bring out the meaning of a word more clearly. However, different translations usually try to focus on bringing out a different aspect of the original Greek or Hebrew text. Here are three different translations below:
Notice there are different emphases in each of these translations. For example, the NIV uses the word “empathise” in verse 15. By comparison, the Good News and New King James versions revolve around the idea of sympathy. The Message, on the other hand, words it in terms of being out of touch with our reality.
You can write out the alternate translations in different colours. This will help it stand out from the version you originally wrote.
5. Check the context of the verse or passage
It is a good idea to read the whole passage and not simply the verse in isolation. What does the whole chapter say? Or what about the verses which come immediately before or after the verse in question?
Other things you can explore is the historical context. Who are the writer’s original audience and why is he writing this book or letter?
What exactly is he trying to accomplish in writing? Is his intention to encourage his readers or to challenge them in some way?
How does the verse fit in with the rest of the Bible – either the New Testament or Old Testament?
6. Are there any textual difficulties or points of interest?
Here you can check for anything which stands out about the text or which may be unclear.
These could be words which you might want to research the meaning of or which may be difficult to understand. There might be some which might initially seem contradictory to another passage of scripture. You can circle or underline any problematic words.
On another note, you may want to see if there are any words, concepts or themes which the writer repeats within the text. If you see recurring words, this suggests that it might be important and that you should take note.
So in Hebrews 4:14-16, recurring words would be “high priest”. However, a recurring concept would be one of weakness, temptation, sin or time of need, which are all related.
This will not apply in every case, depending on how the length of the verse you’ve chosen. It works better for a longer passage.
You can also cross reference related verses on the same subject using a concordance, Bible Gateway, Bible Hub or the Blue Letter Bible. Is the passage you’re researched quoted or alluded to anywhere else in scripture?
Does it shed light on another passage of scripture or help you understand something else within the context of this verse?
If possible, use a Greek or Hebrew lexicon and a Bible commentary.
In both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, certain words have more than one meaning or very subtle nuances which cannot be fully expressed in English. If you restrict your research to the meaning of the word in an English dictionary, you might only be basing it on one particular translation and only looking up part of the meaning, giving you an incomplete picture.
This is when it becomes a good idea to have a concordance or a Greek or Hebrew lexicon. If you don’t own a physical copy, don’t worry. There are plenty of online versions.
Try to explore the meaning of the word in the original context, rather than through the lens of modern English where the meaning of a word might be completely different.
Also, ask yourself what is happening in these verses. Where is it taking place and who is either the main character or intended audience? Why is this happening and why is the writer giving this message?
For example, Hebrews 4:15 in modern NIV translations says
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (NIV).
If you look at the other translations such as the New King James or the Good News Bible, it uses the word “sympathise” or “sympathy” rather than empathise. This is likely because the way modern audiences understand the word “sympathise” is more along the lines of a “there, there” or a pat on the back, while “empathise” gives the sense of being able to connect and truly relate to another person’s feelings.
The Good News Bible translation highlights this in particular:
“Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin.”
Upon first reading, the Good News Bible gives the impression that it is simply a matter of Jesus feeling sorry for our weaknesses.
However, the original Greek uses the word “sumpathesai”, from where we get the word sympathise. The direct transliteration of “sumpathesai” means “to suffer with”. This is a much richer meaning.
When we say that Jesus is able to sympathise with us, this actually means He is able to share in our suffering rather than simply giving us a pat on the back. This is more meaningful than simply being able to emphathise.
If you were simply to go by the English dictionary definition of both sympathise or empathise, you would not get the full sense of the word actually used.
Therefore, I would encourage you to go beyond the standard English definition and not stop there.
7. Try to figure out the main idea of the passage or verse
How could you summarise the main idea in a few words? Can you come up with one or two sentences that explain the overall theme of the verse?
Think of the blurbs on the back of book covers or film or TV listings that have to tell you in a short summary what a book, film or TV show is about without being excessively long. You don’t want all the information in too much detail but the main thrust of the idea.
Also, you don’t want to read the verse or passage in isolation, otherwise this can give you an incorrect interpretation. Instead, you should check to see the verses that immediately precede the passage and those that come after.
Check also for why the writer wrote the book in the first place. Was it addressed to a particular audience and was his plan to encourage or challenge the readers to take action or to think in a different way?
8. Make notes of how God is speaking to you personally through the passage
This is important, as you don’t simply want to be studying for the sake of studying as an academic exercise. You want to discover how God is speaking personally to you through the passage and how he is using these verses in your own life.
What should you do in response to the verse? Does it require a call to action in any way? Are your thoughts or feelings about God, yourself or a particular teaching challenged?
You can also personalise the verse so it applies directly to you. This might not be applicable in all cases depending on what the verse is, but where possible, try to replace pronouns (such as he, she or they) with either the word “me” or your own name.
So in the example of Hebrews 4:14-16, this would read as follows:
Therefore, since I have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let me hold firmly to the faith I profess. For I do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with my weaknesses, but I have one who has been tempted in every way, just as I have —yet he did not sin. Let me then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in my time of need.
You may have to adjust it to read more eloquently and naturally, as some verses won’t necessarily lend themselves to the exercise as well without changing either the tense (eg believe to believing) or inserting additional words such as the subjunctive mood “if” to suggest the idea of possibility (ie, if I do this, then this will happen).
Hillsong worship leader Darlene Zschech has this to say about personalising scripture in her book Worship Changes Everything:
“I have found such hope and strength when I personalize God’s Word by putting my name in the Scripture I am reading. The most important thing you might do in response to my encouragement about who you are in Christ is to do the same… Put yourself in Scripture. Personalize it. Fill in your name. Let God’s words and thoughts wash over you and inside of you.”
These are introductory steps to help you begin your Bible verse mapping journey. There is, however, more than one way to do this depending on how creative and visual you want to get. Sometimes I use a mind mapping program to lay it all out more visually, which really draws out the mapping aspect of the exercise.
The steps I’ve laid out here, however, are if you don’t feel particularly creative but still want to try it out. If you want to get started quickly, I’ve created a template to make things easy for you. You can simply fill in the form and follow the steps and various prompts and you’ll be on your way.
Make sure to download your free Bible Verse Mapping Template by entering your email address below:
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Finally, what other ways can you think of to make studying the Bible more interesting? Let me know in the comments section below, and if you enjoyed this article don’t forget to like and share.
Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.