Bible Reading Tips: Cross References
Reading the Bible is nourishment for our souls. Like watering plants in a garden, spending time in God’s Word keeps us spiritually healthy and alive. It is through his word that he instructs and guides us, and we run the risk of spiritually endangering our lives if we go too long without consulting scripture. However, due to its complexity in history, culture, language, and literary merit, the Bible can seem daunting to even those who have been educated in reading and understanding its words. There are wrong ways to read the Bible that can lead to some serious exegetical issues, and these issues can lead some further away from Christ. A few months ago, I wrote an article with some suggestions in regards to reading the Bible, and I hope to continue providing tips and helpful insights into studying the Word of God.
Today, I want to address the unification of Scripture. It is important to remember that, though the Bible was written by many different authors over the course of literal thousands of years, it is still a book written through the Spirit’s divine inspiration, and it tells the same story. Characters referenced in the New Testament can sometimes be found in the Old Testament. Jesus references stories in the Old Testament, and the apostles reference Jesus’ teachings in their epistles. One incredibly helpful and simple tool in understanding the larger story behind the message in the Bible is to recognize and read through cross references listed in your Bible.
Often times when reading the Bible, a reader may recognize a small letter before a word or phrase. If that reader were to look at the bottom of the page next to the relevant verse, they will find next to the that same letter or number a verse or group of verses that are relevant to that word or phrase. We see this often with names and events that take place. If the reader were to then look up the listed passage or passages, they will find a larger context for the word or words that were cross referenced. Though this task seems menial, it will greatly help identify important and relevant events that precede or follow the current passage.
For example, Paul writes about a confrontation with a man named Cephas in Galatians 2:11. Next to the name Cephas, my Bible has several cross references listed including Galatians 1:18. When I turn to verse eighteen in the first chapter of Galatians, I find that Paul became aquatinted with this man three years after his conversion. I also learn that Cephas was considered an apostle, but I also find another reference next to the name Cephas that leads me to John 1:42. At last, I flip over to John 1:42 and find that the verse explains, “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon their son of John; you shall be. Called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” Now, without much external research into the biblical context, I have discovered that Paul had a confrontation with Peter over issues of circumcision. I also learned that Paul became acquainted with Peter three years after his conversion. Of course, one could just remember John 1:42 and Peter’s name change; however, it is difficult to remember every detail in Scripture. This greater understanding and context can help point readers to new pieces of information and insights.
Regardless of what level of experience you have with reading Scripture, these cross references can transform your daily devotions by narrowing the context in which you read the passage set aside for you. Next time you are reading through the Bible, I urge you to check these different cross references and discover more of scripture’s unity. Remember, no book of the Bible was written in a vacuum. Every word was written with God’s larger plan in mind, and its important to read his word in the correct context. The Bible is one of God’s greatest gifts to man, and we need to cherish this wonderful treasure by diligently reading and understanding the message behind its words.