How to get the most out of your Bible, Part 1

I read just lately that 88% of the homes in America (that is the United States of America) have a Bible. Many homes have 3 or more.

I think that is very good news.

The Bible is the best resource there is for spiritual growth and getting better and truly acquainted with God.

If everyone who has access to a Bible in their home would actually start reading it on a regular basis, they would be much blessed and encouraged as a result.

The Bible can be read aloud all the way through in about 90 hours. That means a person could read it all the way through in one month if the person read it three hours a day.

But that is not what I am recommending (though if you could and would do just that, you would learn very much about the Bible).

I do recommend you spend time daily reading the Bible. Even twenty minutes a day will bring surprising and rewarding results. And anyone can find a total of 20 minutes a day for something as important as this. Many people today have “smart phones,” I guess they are called. There are some free Bible “Aps” that can be loaded on to these phones. My oldest son when he last visited here downloaded one of these Bible Aps, and it was marvelous. It had several Bible translations that came with it. Even I was able to use it and get around in the Bible. I read the book of 2 Timothy out loud right from the screen on the smart phone to everyone in the living room.

Many people today always have their “smart phone” with them wherever they go. If I had one, I’d use it to take advantage of spare moments to read from the Bible when I was not occupied doing something else.

As a teenager I carried a pocket New Testament to read from. In size that New Testament was about the size of a smart phone today. It totally changed my life after about two and a half months of reading it regularly.

But I personally prefer reading from a hard-copy Bible rather than an electronic or digital device.

The important thing is to just start reading!

The Bible is spiritual food. Just like you carefully make time every day to eat physical food for nourishment and health, so you need to take regular time daily for spiritual food in the Bible.

For many people, if they fed their physical body with the same degree of regularity that they feed themselves spiritually from the Bible, they would be in very sorry physical shape or perhaps even expired!

You can begin reading anywhere in the Bible that interests you. I suggest reading the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of John for a start. Probably the Gospel of Mark would be the best choice if you are relatively or altogether new to reading the Bible. The Gospel of Mark is the second book in the New Testament, so it is not hard to find.

When reading a Bible chapter, say Mark chapter 1, you may come across a verse that strikes you as very interesting or helpful.

I remember reading Mark chapter 1 and noticing verse 34 and verse 35. I wanted to study more about what those verses said.

Here are the verses:

Mark 1:34 And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
Mark 1:35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

I was most fortunate to learn very early in my Christian life that one of the best ways to get a clearer understanding of the Bible is to let the Bible explain itself. I learned to study the Bible more deeply by looking up the cross references for a verse I wanted to understand better.

Very often, if not always, the Bible tells more about a subject in other places in its pages. Cross references guide you to where those other places are.

Many Bibles, often called reference Bibles, contain cross references. The more cross references you can gain access to, the better for your Bible study. I have now spent a virtual lifetime studying the Bible using cross references, and the Bible gets ever more interesting as I continue these studies.

Probably the best currently available, in-print study resource that contains cross references to almost every verse in the Bible is a volume called Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible. Any bookstore can order it for you. You can buy it directly from Amazon.

Here are the cross references for Mark 1:34 as they are given in Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible:

healed. Mt +4:23.

suffered not. ver. 25. Mk 3:12. Ps +50:16. Lk 4:41. Ac 16:16-18.

To use this resource, there are some initial “hurdles” to get over. One would be to learn to understand the abbreviations for Bible book names. At the front of the Cross Reference Guide there is a page which explains the abbreviations. In the example I just gave, Mt 4:23 means Matthew, chapter 4, verse 23. ver. 25 means verse 25 in the same chapter, in other words, Mark 1:25. Mk 3:12 means Mark, chapter 3, verse 12. Ps +50:16 means Psalm 50, verse 16. The “+” sign means “find more here!” Lk 4:41 means Luke chapter 4, verse 41. Ac 16:16-18 means Acts chapter 16, verses 16-18, in other words, verses 16, 17, and 18.

These cross references will work equally well with any version or translation of the Bible you have. The Cross Reference Guide is keyed to the King James Version because it is in the public domain and I don’t need to get someone’s permission to use it. Also it is the recognized standard of literary excellence, and as a former English teacher I am sensitive to that advantage too. Unlike many of the modern English versions, it is not constantly being revised, changed, and updated, so the keywords remain constant. Furthermore, many of the classic Bible study tools available were and are keyed to that version. The King James or Authorized Version is generally better for close study of the Bible because it is a more literal translation with less paraphrasing. A Roman Catholic or even other type of Catholic or Orthodox person may choose to use the Douay version. It is so close to the Authorized Version that most of the time the keywords are exactly the same. I found that my book, Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible, is on a list of books recommended and approved for Catholic parish and school and seminary libraries. I happened across that when I “Googled” the title of my book!

Now let me show you just how the cross references work by reproducing below the verses so you can read them:

Starting at Mark 1:34,

Mar 1:34 And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.


Matthew +4:23

Mat 4:23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

Notice the “+” sign before the reference to Mt +4:23.

Anyone who has need of healing, or who has been healed, will likely have a strong interest in finding out more of what the Bible teaches about healing. You will find many more cross references for the subject of healing in Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible if you turn to Matthew 4:23 in that volume (on page 1019), where I have given 24 more cross references to that theme. I also give a reference there to Psalm +103:3 where many more references to healing are given, especially as I know that is the main reference point I used to collect the major references to healing in the Bible. There are about 23 more references to healing given on page 614 at Psalm +103:3, with two more passages given there marked with a “+” where still more references may be found.

suffered not.

In modern English, we would say that Jesus did not allow or permit the demons to continue talking about Him and who He is.

I always wondered why Jesus did that. In the cross references for this verse I found given a cross reference for Psalm +50:16 which I believe gives a clear answer to my question:

Psalm 50:16 But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? (Authorized or King James Version)

Psa 50:16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? (ESV, English Standard Version)

Psa 50:16 But to the sinner, God says, What are you doing, talking of my laws, or taking the words of my agreement in your mouth? (Bible in Basic English)

Psa 50:16 But to the wicked I say: “You don’t have the right to mention my laws or claim to keep our agreement! (Contemporary English Version)

Psa 50:16 But to the sinner God hath said: Why dost thou declare my justices, and take my covenant in thy mouth? (Douay Rheims Version)

It would seem that Jesus in His wisdom did not want publicity from discreditable sources!

As you can see from this brief example using just a few cross references from Mark 1:34 there is much of great interest and spiritual benefit to be gained from reading the Bible regularly for spiritual growth and encouragement, and studying the verses that spark your interest by means of reading the cross references available for that verse.

Ezra Pound once said, “Literature is news that stays news.”

I believe that to secure more time out of a busy life, turn off the TV for a while (or even for good!), and read and enjoy your Bible. It will encourage your spiritual life, and strengthen you in times of difficulty, help you get to know God better and the promises He has for you.

Try it. You’ll love it!

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4 Responses to How to get the most out of your Bible, Part 1

  1. ken sagely says:

    jerry always appreciate your insights on bible study. it is really an encouragement
    to keep plugging in daily bible study. like you said it is a “joy” to study the word
    of god. it will not return void isa 55.11. appreciate it! ken

  2. ken sagely says:

    jerry i would like to add that the cross reference guide is very helpful for small group

    bible studies, sunday school class and you as a teacher will prove invaluable to you
    because you will have key verses that you can share with group and help get them
    grounded in the word. i have been using this tool for several years really blessed me
    i keep one close by my bible at all times!

  3. Jerry says:

    Dear Ken,

    I always appreciate your encouraging words.

    Now we need to have about 10 or 20 thousand more like you who will let others know what an encouragement it is to read the Bible and study it further by using cross references!

    I wish I knew how to effectively spread this news. It would prove to be the answer we most need to solve the problems and lift the spirits of everyone in this country and even the world.

  4. Jerome Smith says:

    I made an interesting discovery myself while re-studying this passage (Mark 1:34). I found that at this Bible reference, Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible has much more available than The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Then, turning to Matthew 4:23, I again found more cross references given in Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide than are to be found in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. I have always maintained that Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible has all the cross references, though in consolidated form, that The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge does, and then some. This is an example of that.

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