Comparing Cross-references


Today and tomorrow we’ll be looking at how to use cross-references to improve our understanding of Scripture. This is one of the easiest and most important methods for interpreting the Bible.

Why Consider Cross-references?

We should compare Scripture with Scripture because God inspired the entire Bible.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2Ti 3:16)

Since God gave us the whole Bible, our interpretation of each passage must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture. Comparing cross-references is one way to do that. The Bereans compared Paul’s preaching to what the Scriptures said:

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Act 17:11)

By searching the Scriptures, the Berean’s were comparing Paul’s understanding of God’s Word to what the rest of Scripture taught. You need to check your understanding of the Word in the same way. That’s one key way the Holy Spirit teaches us:

“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1Co 2:13)

So how do you find other Bible passages that talk about the same idea as the passage you’re studying?

Cross-reference Sources

There are several good sources for cross-references.

Personal reading

If you read the Bible a lot, you will begin to make cross-references from your own reading. This is one of the more exciting ways of finding cross-references, because the Holy Spirit helps out by reminding you of things you have learned (Joh. 14:26).

Reference books

The concordances we’ve talked about earlier offer many cross-references. Of the three major concordances, Strong’s, Young’s and Cruden’s, Strong’s is probably the least helpful for cross-referencing. That’s because it just dumps a list of verses at you. It’s harder to quickly identify the various shades of meaning in Strong’s than in Young’s. Cruden’s doesn’t offer any original language helps, but it is a phrase concordance, so that makes it easier to find significant cross-references. (A phrase concordance lets you look up phrases like the Spirit of the Lord, not just individual words like Spirit and Lord.

The undisputed king of cross-reference books is The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. With over 570,000 cross-references presented verse by verse, it is a goldmine for the serious Bible student.

Study Bibles and commentaries

Any good study Bible will have a host of useful cross-references, but the best one I’ve ever seen is the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible. Thompson’s has an extensive topical Bible in the back, and you can trace the topical cross-references through the Bible using its marginal reference numbers. The benefit of that is that you can read each cross-reference in context to be sure you’re using it correctly. Most commentaries also do a decent job of cross-referencing.

An Example: King David Betrayed

When you read Psalm 55, you’ll come across the following passage:

“For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Psa 55:12-14)

You might ask yourself, “Who was David talking about?” “What friend and counselor of David’s turned against him and caused him this unbearable experience?” Then you break out the cross-reference tools and begin hunting for answers.

If you turn to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, you find:

“The Chaldee-paraphrase names Ahithophel as the person here meant, and nothing in that plot seems to have discouraged David so much as to hear that Ahithophel was among the conspirators with Absalom (2Sa 15:31), for he was the king’s counsellor, 1Ch 27:33.”

David’s prayer when he heard that Ahithophel had sided against him is telling:

“And one told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom. And David said, O LORD, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” (2Sa 15:31)

When you turn to The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, you find these additional cross-references:

“And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.” (2Sa 15:12)

“And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” (2Sa 16:23)

The second cross-reference helps you understand why David specifically prayed against Ahithophel’s counsel. You may still be wondering, though, what caused David’s friend and counselor to turn against him. You have to dig a little deeper to answer that question. One way to research that is to search for Ahithophel in eSword. He turns up in a few Old Testament verses. Here is a key verse:

“Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,” (2Sa 23:34)

When you tie that back to 2 Samuel 11:3, you get some insight into Ahithophel’s motives.

“And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2Sa 11:3)

Suddenly, the dots connect! Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. You remember Bathsheba – David committed adultery with her and then had her husband killed.

Points to Ponder

  • Do you have the tools you need to research cross-references?
  • Do you take time to find and read cross-references, or do you just blow by them as you’re studying?

Read More About It

Reread Ephesians 2 and use one or more of the tools we’ve mentioned today to find and read cross-references for the chapter. Jot down the insights you gain by comparing Scripture with Scripture. (You may be getting tired of reading the same chapter over and over, but I’m hoping you grow to understand it better each day. One of my Bible college teachers used to make us do our Bible reading assignment 10 times each week. At first it frustrated me, but I learned to appreciate how deep and rich God’s Word is.)

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