January 5, 2016

Using the Cross-References

I had a friend once tell me that he was reading through the Bible, and pausing to look up every cross reference as he went along. I’m not sure how his Bible was formatted. But if it was anything like mine (with maybe a hundred verses cited in the center column of every page!), it would have taken him an hour just to get through a single chapter, say, of Mark’s gospel! Not to mention how difficult it would be to keep one’s head wrapped around the immediate context of Mark (or Genesis, or Isaiah, or whatever) when taking forays into other books 2-3 times per verse!

And yet it there are some important reasons why these references, though not a part of the biblical text itself, are nevertheless often included by modern editors! Probably not so that you can look up every last one during your quiet time. But if you’re doing a careful study of a passage (or a particular doctrine) for the purpose of teaching, the cross-references will be a real bonus. Also, even in your personal Bible reading … there may sometimes be a place name, or a personal name, or an important theological word that makes you think: ‘I need to know more.’ And the cross-references will tell you where, in the Bible, you can go and do so!

Allow me to give a case in point.

Because it is, for me, one of the least familiar of all the New Testament books, I hope to spend the month of January working through 1 Corinthians in my daily reading. And so I began my reading this morning, and before I even got to the end of chapter 1:1, I found myself confronted with the name of “Sosthenes” as Paul’s co-author (did you know it’s actually Sosthenes’s epistle to the Corinthians, as well?). And so I wanted to remind myself of who this fellow was, and how he got connected with Paul. And, praise God, linked to his name (and right in the center column of my Bible), there was a note telling me that Sosthenes is also mentioned in Acts 18:17. And so I turned that passage up, and found myself reading the description of the very origins of the church in Corinth … which not only reminded me of who Sosthenes was, but also added an added little layer of depth to my reading of Paul’s letter to that church.

Of course, in a study of 1 Corinthians, I should have thought to go back to Acts and read about the founding of the Corinthians church without having to be reminded by Sosthenes and his cross-reference. But since I didn’t think to do so … the cross-references were a great blessing! And they will be for you, too, if you will make use of them now and again when bumping up against an unfamiliar or important word, name, or concept.

So maybe it’s a mundane subject for a blog article. But, this week, I thank God for cross-references!

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