Several years ago, we had a guest minister come to our church. I don’t recall the specifics of his overall message, but I do remember one particular piece of advice he gave that has stuck with me.
He told us that we start writing the verses that our Pastor preached on in the margins of our Bible, so we could see how they linked together when studying them ourselves. If you’re familiar with those chain reference Bibles that have the the center column to look up related verses, this is basically building a personal version of that.
In this post, I want to show you how I use Obsidian to create my own cross-reference library from sermon notes. And if you’d rather watch me do it, here’s a video:
Why I’m Using Obsidian and Not Roam
This may be news to some, so let’s address the elephant in the room: I’m no longer using Roam Research.
I’ve been a strong advocate for Roam Research in the past. And I still think it’s a great app which does some things better than Obsidian ever will (like true block references).
But there are a couple of reasons in my mind to use Obsidian instead of Roam:
- Roam doesn’t use standard markdown, which drives me absolutely crazy.
- Obsidian sits on top of plain text files, so if it disappears tomorrow I still have everything.
- The pace of development for Obsidian is really impressive.
- Obsidian’s plugin API allows some really cool stuff to be added easily.
- I really hate the #roamcult marketing.
The details of the decision to move from Roam to Obsidian are for another article, but that’s it in a nutshell.
Now let’s get into the good stuff.
Organizing the Bible in Obsidian
In order for the cross reference library to work, I needed to get the Bible set up the right way in Obsidian. This was a little bit tricky, but here’s where I landed on this:
- I have a folder in the sidebar called Bible that contains all the individual text files.
- In that folder is a separate folder for each book of the Bible.
- Inside the book folders are individual folder for each chapter.
- Inside of each chapter folder are individual text files for each verse.
The reason for setting it up this way is that I can use the graph view to see how things are connected:
This is also where I hit my first roadblock coming from Roam.
In Roam Research, I actually didn’t have individual pages for each verse – they were all just separate bullet points on the chapter pages. That’s because Roam does a great job showing you inline what other notes link to a specific block:
Unfortuantely, Obsidian’s “block references” are a little lacking. When I tried this, the links to a specific verse easily got lost in the Backlinks section because they were combined will all other links for all other verses on the page. This ended up giving me a huge list of backlinks, but no way to easily tell which ones were for which verse.
In short, it was useless.
The solution was to create each individual verse as it’s own file. This is tedious to do by hand, but with a little bit of help from the Obsidian forum and a lot of assistance from scriptmaster Joe Buhlig, I ended up with a zip file for the entire KJV of the Bible that I could just drop into my Obsidian vault folder. (Since the KJV is public domain, you can download it here.)
It’s a ton of text files, but it gives me the flexibility I needed.
How I Create the Notes Pages
I use a folder hierarchy to store my notes files for each sermon I attend. The folders are broken down first by year, and then by month. Each individual note file is formatted a specific way:
- The metadata at the top applies the
- The first line links to a page for the person who preached the sermon
- The image is my sketchnote file exported from GoodNotes as a JPG
- The scriptures are listed as level 6 headers, nested under a level 2 header
- The individual scriptures are embedded underneath the level 6 headers
If you want to see how I create the whole file from scratch, check out the video at the top as I do the whole thing in real-time. It really only takes a couple of minutes, but here’s the specifics:
The meta data is added by using
--- on a line, then listing using
tags: sermonnotes, sketchnotes followed by another line of
---. This allows me to filter my files using the Tags pane in the sidebar if I want.
The page link is created simply by using
[[Text]]. Since I already have the page most of the time, I can use the auto-fill to add this easily. This allows me to go back and see all the messages preached by a specific person. I used this information recently when I went back and exported every message my Pastor preached last year, then printed a physical book of my sketchnotes for those messages and gave it to him on his birthday.
I use an app called Dropzone on my Mac which is basically a shelf app to get the image file of my sketchnotes into Obsidian. Once I export the image from GoodNotes as a JPG without the background, I drag the JPG into the Dropzone bar at the top and then trigger it in Obsidian with a keyboard shortcut so I can drag it into the file. Obsidian automatically places the file in my library based on the location in the settings and links to the image in the appropriate place in the text file, using the embed syntax of
This is the same syntax I use when embedding individual scriptures below the level 6 headers. For example, if I want to embed a verse like Romans 8:11 I can do it using
![[Romans 8.11]] (the name of the text file for Romans 8:11 in my Obsidian library). I make heavy use of auto complete here, which makes getting the right verse easy. Here’s what it looks like:
I usually have two panes open in Obsidian while I’m creating these. The pane on the left shows the actual text I’m entering, and the pane on the right show the Preview:
The whole process of creating one of these only takes about 5 minutes. But what it lets me do next is the really cool part.
Using the Cross-Reference Library
I mentioned at the beginning my goal with all of this was to build my own cross-reference library. But let me explain why I want this in the first place.
For context, I actually have a Bible College degree that I got just for funsies (took night classes just because I wanted to learn as much as I could). I have paid for both Logos and Accordance, and love being able to browse huge libraries of Biblical resources from my digital devices.
But ultimately, all those programs can give me is someone else’s revelation. And while that’s sometimes useful, what I’m really after is my own understanding of the scriptures.
Having everything linked in Obsidian allows me to study things out based on my own notes. I’m able to examine ideas and scriptures from multiple perspectives, which is extremely important to me. With Obsidian, I can just follow the chain and see where it leads me by opening up my sermon notes and following the links from there.
For example, I can open my most recent sermon notes and click on the link for a verse I want to study to open it in Obsidian. For example, let’s say I click on the link for 2 Corinthians 2:14. The graph view will then show me all of the other notes in Obsidian that have linked to that verse:
Now I can hold the Command key and click on each one of these dots to open each note in a separate pane. This allows me to look at all of these notes together, along with the accompanying sketchnotes, and study them side-by-side.
In my experience, this often provides unexpected insights as it allows me to see bigger themes between how these verses are used. It helps me recall those previous sermons by reviewing the sketchnote files I created, but it also allows me to see new connections between ideas I didn’t realize were there, using scripture references as the anchor points.
Which is really the whole objective in building my own cross-reference library in the first place.