Your copy of the Bible is likely chock full of extra features to help you study more efficiently. Let’s take a few moments and get familiar with them, like learning the buttons and gadgets on a new automobile. Here are a few:
Concordance: This is usually near the back. It’s an index of significant words with the passages where they can be found. It doesn’t contain every place a word is located, so you’ll need to refer to a separate concordance, such as Strong’s, Young’s or Cruden’s, to see a complete listing. If you are looking for passages with the word “pastor,” for example, check the concordance. Keep in mind these are usually case-specific, meaning you won’t find verses with synonymous terms – such as bishop or elder – listed under the heading for pastor, even though from a doctrinal standpoint these terms are interchangeable.
Marginal references or footnotes: These are often indicated by tiny, superscript letters in a passage. Depending on the Bible you’re using, these will provide more literal or alternative translations of a word, or perhaps clarify a phrase by providing its historical usage or explaining an idiom. This information helps us dig deeper into the meaning of the text.
Cross-references: These appear at the end of a verse or chapter, in a column in the middle of the page, or along the outside margin of the page. These point us to passages addressing similar subjects. Rarely will we learn all God says about a topic in a single verse. It’s also helpful to mark these when we learn something new. For example, in my Bible at Romans 10:13 (“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”), I have written in a cross-reference to Acts 22:16 (“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”).
Maps: These provide a geographic perspective on events in Scripture. For example, the phrase “from Dan even to Beersheba” (II Sam. 24:2) takes on new meaning when we locate those two sites on a map of ancient Israel. [Now, use your concordance or cross-references and see how frequently that phrase appeared in the Old Testament.]
Study notes and commentary: These are explanatory comments by a teacher or writer which elaborate on the text, and, while sometimes helpful, are not authoritative. Treat these like you would statements by any modern teacher, weighing them against the actual teaching of Scripture (see I Thess. 5:21 (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”) and I John 4:1 (“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”). Examining these to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11), can help us clarify our understanding of a passage and uncover God’s truth on the matter.