How to use cross-references to bring the Bible alive

Illustration by Chris Harrison and Christoph Römhild showing how interlinked the ‘bible is. For more information and other visualizations go to: Chris Harrison | BibleViz

If you have been following these posts, you will see that there are many tools, tips and techniques one can use to make reading the Bible more understandable and enjoyable. Today, we will briefly discuss the use of cross-references.

In a previous post, Did you know that the Bible uses echoes? we made connections between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding: the virgin birth of the Messiah; the place of the Messiah’s birth; and leaving Egypt.

You may be asking, how could I find these Bible connections? There is no better commentary on the Bible than the Bible itself. No source is more appropriate for interpreting God’s Word than God Himself. It is in this area that the use of cross-references can be so valuable. They are verse ‘references’ supplied by the publishers, which direct the reader to other locations in the Bible where the same phrase or event may be found, or one very similar. You will need a Bible that contains either a centre margin with reference, side margins with references, or footnote insertions with references.

A Bible that contains cross-references will have small indicators at certain points in the sentences of the main text. This indicator will be located in the margin or footnote section with a corresponding Bible passage. This is one method that allows for a fairly quick reference to where the identical or related passage is found. It is useful to read the words surrounding each cross-reference to get some background and context.

The following is a description of how to use cross-referencing. The Bible is a New King Jame Version (NKJV) with a centre margin reference.

Read the first verse of Matthew 1. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”

The importance of this verse cannot be over-stated because it is the introduction to Jesus Christ. He is not initially introduced to the reader as the son of God, he is introduced through an Old Testament genealogy in which two characters are prominent: David and Abraham. Who are these people and why are they important in the life of Jesus? Cross-referencing can help to answer these questions.

To use the cross-references:

  • Look at verse 1 and notice a “b” In front of the phrase, “the Son of David”.
  • Look at the centre margin under CHAPTER 1 and you will see 1b John 7:42.
  • Turn in your Bible to John 7:42. This passage says, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”
  • Read the passages surrounding this verse and you will discover that this was part of a discussion and argument about who Jesus was. Some referred to the Old Testament regarding the Messiah and applied it to Jesus.
  • Look at the centre margin under CHAPTER 7 and you will see 42b 1 Sam. 16:1,4.
  • Turn in your Bible to 1 Samuel 16:1. This passage says, “Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and, and go: I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.’”
  • Read the passages surrounding this verse and you will discover that the LORD chose David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons to be king over His people Israel.
  • Back in Matthew 1:1, look at verse 1 and notice a “c” in front of the phrase, “the Son of Abraham”.
  • Look at the centre margin under CHAPTER 1 and you will see 1c Gen. 12:3; 22:18 1Lit. generation.
  • Turn in your Bible to Genesis 12:3. This passage says, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse those who curse you: And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Read the passages surrounding this verse and you will discover that this was a promise that the LORD made to Abraham inolving the entire world. Since this is referenced in the introduction to Jesus, it indicates Jesus must have a connection to this promise.
  • Turn in your Bible to Genesis 22:18. This passage says, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
  • Read the passages surrounding this verse and you will discover that this is the Angel of the LORD speaking with Abraham regarding Abraham’s obedience of sacrificing is son, Isaac, whom the LORD promised to him and his wife, Sarah, when they were to old to have children. Isaac was the promised son or seed, through whom all families of the earth would be blessed.

There is much more cross-referencing that could be done and a great deal more information on David and Abraham and their connection to the Lord Jesus Christ. From this brief use of cross-references and reading through all of Matthew chapter 1, we may conclude that Jesus is the promised seed of both king David and Abraham. Both Old Testament characters were decendents of Jesus and were made very significant promises by the LORD that their promised seed would fulfill. Jesus was that promised seed. David was the king, so this established Jesus as being in the royal line. Abraham was promised that his seed would bring about blessings that affect the entire world.

I hope that this brief consideration of using cross-references has shed some light on the importance of referring to other placed in the Bible that provide valuable information to assist in your understanding and enjoyment of reading God’s world.

You can also find a great source of Cross References in a book called the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge. It is available online here: TSK – Online.

Article by Dale. Illustration by Chris Harrison (

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