Bible Study – Cross Reference (FACTS of Study)

As you progress in your study of scripture you will want to take passages and drill down further into what else the bible has to say on the subject and relative to the statements made within each verse.  As indicated in the previous article if you are reading through the bible and memorizing scripture as you start to meditate on a particular set of verses, a passage, other statements from the Bible will come to mind setting limits and expanding the concept.  But since most of us don’t have the entire bible memorized we can use some help.  Some helpful tools are a good cross reference and a topical reference which may be used in a cross reference study.

The purpose of a cross reference study is to in a sense put a “face” to what has been written.  To better understand what an author is saying we need to establish the foundation from which the author writes; who they are and how they view the world.  Then as we look at what an author says we want to verify our understanding by looking for other statements made by the author that affirm the understanding we get from a particular statement they make.  Next we look for clarification or further details that might fill in gaps in our understanding of what the author is trying to communicate.  Finally we gather these ideas together, resolve differences in our understanding or expand that understanding to form a better more complete understanding.  Let’s call this the FACTS of Bible Study.

  • Foundation – Gather other biblical references regarding the nature of the author, gather other references and external resource information about the context or setting of the text and the characters or subject being written about. Use Cross Reference tools, Commentaries and Topical Tools such as found on the Bible Hub or Open Bible and insights from your own bible reading.
  • Affirmation – Take the gathered references and resources and categorize restatements in support of statements made in the text being studied as affirmations.
  • Clarification – No scripture contradicts another passage but offers clarification. Clarifications can either be qualifications limiting the scope of meaning or application or an expansion of the meaning or scope.  Take the gathered references and resources and categorize Statements on the same topic or point that add more detail or clarity to a particular situation as either a qualification or expansion.  If the cross references deny anything it will be our flawed understanding of a passage, in which case such a denial is a type of qualification.
  • Thesis – Formulate a basic statement of your understanding of the passage being studied.  Gather the facts; context, cross references, restatements and clarifications.
  • Synthesis – combine these points into a more complete understanding resolving issues and expanding the picture the bible is painting.  Formulate a thesis; dissertation or summary on the text being studied.

A cross reference study endeavors to be fair to the author by avoiding the traps of taking statements out of context or jumping to conclusions about what the author is saying.  One statement does not address all aspects of an issue and it is not fair to an author, in our case God, to assume that it does.  One passage of scripture is generally not enough to form a consistent theology.

Any good study bible will have cross references either in the margin or the center column.  Cross references are also available in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, TSK, available in desk reference form or on such sites as and  Another option is the open bible website which has a topical and a cross reference database which brings together several different sources providing 340,000 cross references.  The cross references are color coded by the degree to which they are similar to the original reference.

Foundation References

The first thing to show is the nature of the characters the first of which is God and the bible.  The table inserted below gives some key passages establishing the nature of God and the Bible.

Natures Reference
Nature of God 1 John 1:5 ESV – This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
James 1:17 ESV – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Psalm 90:2 ESV – Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
John 4:24 ESV – God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Colossians 1:17 ESV – And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Romans 1:19-20 ESV – 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Nature of Scripture John 17:17 ESV – Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Hebrews 4:12 ESV – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Next gather information on the book of the bible and the passage being addressed.  Then determine who was the author being lead by the Spirit and use a topical reference to search for verses about the author and note them.  Identify the place and who is being written to and what is being written about and look these up in a topical reference and note them in a table similar to the one below.  Gather this information on the date, place of writing,  genre (Gospel, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, or Epistle) and any other historical notes.  Gather information on the audience that would have been reading the book written.  Finally gather information on any of the characters mentioned in the passage; including their genealogy or any contemporaries related to them and also gather any other biblical references to the characters.

Cross Reference Context Table

Next break the passage down into sets of verses if possible or address each verse on its own.  Gather cross references from some of the resources listed such as the Open Bible, Bible Hub, Study Light or your own study bibles cross references located in the center column or margins.  Also look at the introductions to the book and commentaries on the passages and gather these other references.  Identify topics or major ideas presented in the text and use a Topical Bible to find additional passages which correspond to the passage you are studying.

Affirmation and Clarification References

Once you’ve gathered the references and verses which correspond to the passage your are studying now you need to categorize them. Remember that other passages of scripture hold greater authority than commentaries, introductions, historical context and other peripheral information.  Determine if the reference is either supporting the understanding of the verse or if it is adding more detail to what the verse is talking about and note these separately.  A four column table having the reference, topic or key words, Type(A/Q/E/D) and a cross reference column can be used to capture these verses.  An example is inserted below.  The types are (A)ffirm, (Q)ualify, (E)xpand, and (D)eny remembering that the denial is not of the passage itself but of our understanding of the passage summarized in the thesis (usually due to lack of understanding of the context).

Cross Reference Synthesis Table

Remember, No scripture contradicts another passage but offers clarification usually on specific situations.  If a contradiction seems apparent then the issue may be that the concept or topic being studied has been reduced to a single whole when it needs to be expanded into constituent parts.  This probably sounds difficult but our minds tend to group things that are related or similar into simpler singular concepts so we can remember them better.  As an example there are many that struggle with the law as presented in the old testament versus the new testament yet in the new testament it states that the law shall not pass away and Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law.  But these two testaments seem so different to many of us.  In this case we are considering the law as a whole but if we consider that the law is made up of two parts it becomes easier to understand.  The law is made up of the imperative or pronouncement and secondly of the prescription or prescribed penalty in the event that the imperative is not followed.  When Jesus stood by the woman caught in adultery and said “he who is without sin cast the first stone” he wasn’t changing the law, he wasn’t saying that adultery really isn’t that big of a deal.  He told the woman go and sin no more so the imperative still stands its just the sentencing may vary based upon the circumstances.  Deuteronomy has been accused of being quite harsh and it does seem so in many verses however one has to understand that Deuteronomy 6 stated that the prescribed penalties were to be enforced on Israel as they entered the promised land as the chosen people through whom the Messiah would come.  They were to be held to a higher enforced standard.  Additionally the climate around them was comprised of nations that burned babies in furnaces as human sacrifices to Molech and who practiced temple prostitution, pedophilia, witch craft and other evil practices.  So Israel was called to be God’s hand of judgement on these preceding nations who had corrupted the land.  This is just one example where we have to look more closely when we think we see a contradiction.

Theses and Synthesis

Read each verse and its related references you have gathered and formulate specific statements about what the verse itself is saying.  Formulate other statements about what else the bible has to say on the same topic your verse or set of verses is addressing based on the cross references.  Look at extra-biblical references such as historical narratives of the times the verses were written in and commentaries and write down statements about the what was going on at the time the passage was written.  Also write statements referencing commentaries.

Finally, read through the cross references you have gathered and your summary statements (Theses). Then reread the passage and consider if what you believe a verse is saying is supported by the cross references gathered or if it is denied.  Also as you read passages the combination of specific meaning or denotations form the explicit meaning of the verse but words and phrases also have connotations which lead to possible implied or implicit meanings.  The implied meanings sometimes have significant implications and affects as connotations tend to hit us at a spiritual level but there is also the greatest danger for seeing a meaning which the Bible does not intend to convey.  It is the cross references which can help validate implicit thoughts from a bible passage and either establish them or exclude them from our mind as we read and try hard to understand God’s word.  Then synthesize the information gathered into a thesis summarizing what the verses you are studying say and what else the bible has to say on the topics addressed in the passage.  Write down what you have learned from the passage and what the implications for your life which come from your new understanding of the bible passage your are studying.

Cross Reference Tools

Printable Cross Reference Template


Word Document Cross Reference Template