Studying for Nationals: Cross-references

10:02 PM

Before I get into how to study cross-references, I want to talk about why we study cross-references.  The 2016 NBB Competition Rulebook says that each memory passage question is worth thirteen points, and each question on the content of 1 John is worth seven points.  All the other categories are worth less than that.  Cross-reference questions are each worth only one point, so you could say that cross-references are really not very important in the competition, since there have only been a few questions on them in recent Bible Bee tests.  You would be right, but cross-references are still very important, because they help us to understand what a verse is really saying.  Commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and sermons are all wonderful and very helpful, but the problem is that they come from flawed people.  But when we look to Scripture, it is always true, and we can trust it to accurately interpret itself.

This is a good foundation for determining how you go about studying cross-references.  Many people, including myself, have a tendency to study with the mindset of "will this be asked on the test?"  I don't have a problem with trying to do well in Bible Bee.  In fact, I believe that as Christians, we need to strive to work hard in everything that we do (Colossians 3:23-24).  However, when we study with this test mindset, we set ourselves up for disappointment.  There are over 30,000 verses in the Bible.  How likely is it that you will study the right cross-references?  Not very.  If you study enough of them, you may know a couple of the questions, but you probably won't know everything.  If you tried to know everything, then you probably would be spending dozens of hours on something that may be worth less than half a dozen points on the test, when you could be working on perfecting your memory passages which are worth 100 points apiece in the oral round alone.

If you don't want to have any regrets on the test, you need to study the cross-references that best help you to understand what you are studying.  These are cross-references that open your eyes to new truths and clarify things in 1 John.  They will illuminate other Scriptures and give you a greater insight into what John is actually saying.  I'll be honest with you, these may not be the cross-references that are on the test.  Last year, I studied cross-references much more than I had in the past, and I don't think that any of the cross-references that I studied were on the test.  But if you study with the right mindset, you won't regret the time that you spent studying cross-references, because those cross-references drew you closer to the Lord and gave you a deeper understanding of His Word.

So, now that I've talked about the why of cross-references, it's time for the how.  I first want to say that cross-references are sometimes abbreviated "cf" and sometimes "CR".  Cf is the official abbreviation that you will see in commentaries and study Bibles, but most Bible Bee contestants use CR.  You need to know this if you're going to study for Nationals, and even if you want to understand some of the jokes that people will make at Nationals (see this hilarious video ).  Don't feel bad if you're just now learning this.  I remember looking at a study Bible not too long ago, and thinking, "Why do they keep on putting 'cf' before the references?"  It took me awhile to figure out that that really just meant cross-reference.

When I was preparing for this post, I realized that most of my cross-reference studies fall into one of three categories: quotations, people, and topics.  In 1 John, there are no direct quotations, and very few people.  The majority of these cross-references will fall into the topics category.  However, for the purpose of upcoming years, I do want to give quotations a brief overview.

Look in the margin of your Bible to see if it has cross-references.  If it does, then it will definitely include any direct quotations, and probably anything that is very close.  If your Bible does not have cross-references, go to, and type the verse that you would like to look at in the search box.  Make sure that you are in the ESV or NASB; NKJV and KJV do not include cross-references.  Click on the settings button, and check the cross-references box.  At the end of the passage, there will  be a list of cross-references.  Quotations should be in this list, and if you are using ESV, it will even say "cited from ____".  Copy these cross-references word-for-word, because you want to know exactly what a very similar verse says. 

The first page of my Cain and Abel study
Studying people is probably my favorite thing to cross-reference.  There are so many "aha!" moments, and you really get to understand the people in the Bible a lot better.  Sadly, 1 John doesn't have many people in it, but it does give us some great insights into Cain and Abel.  1 John 3:12 tells us that Cain murdered Abel "because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous."  Cross-referencing people is very easy.  All you have to do is type a name into the search box at, and results will come up for every time that person is mentioned in the Bible.  (Cain and Abel are included in some names of cities, so you'll need to sort through those.)  Read through these cross-references and choose which ones you want to remember.  Write them down, or if you are using a computer to study, type them onto a document. Since it's not necessary to remember these cross-references word-for-word, you can summarize them if you like.  If I am already very familiar with the cross-reference, then I will just summarize it.  But if I'm not, I'll write it out word-for-word so that I can better remember it.  By the time you have looked at every verse about a person, you will probably feel like you  know them pretty well.  This just may become your favorite thing to cross-reference, too!

Last but not least is topics.  Contrary to what you might expect, I usually do not do much cross-referencing on the most prominent themes in a book.  This is because the book already tells me a lot about this, so it's not as imperative that I look at what other verses in the Bible say about it.  The topics that I cross-reference are mostly the things that are referred to in a verse or a section.  They are the sort of things that you read and go, "What does that mean?"  As I read from 1 John every day and interviewed it, I would jot down things that I didn't understand or wanted to study in greater detail when I have more time.  When I do have time, I will pick something from the list and really dig deep into what it says.  The anointing towards the end of 1 John 2 was something that didn't make sense to me, so I used some tools to help me better understand it.  As with quotations and people, you can use BibleGateway to look for cross-references.  However, this can at times be either insufficient or overwhelming, so I also look at the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge on  I type the reference into the search box, click the tools button, and then I click on the button that says "CROSS-REFS".  This takes me to the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.  I then select the cross-references that are the best for helping me to understand the topic.  Sometimes I just look at all the times that word is used in the Greek and pick cross-references from that.  I copy or summarize each of these verses and put them in my binder.  Later, I'll read through them again.  If I still don't understand what the verse is saying after looking at cross-references, I will use commentaries to help me.  

So now after all this you may be thinking, "Okay, I've done this.  But what about reviewing the cross-references?"  Well, let me say this, if you are learning things from the cross-references that you have chosen -- if those verses have been an encouragement and conviction to you -- you probably won't have much trouble remembering them.  They will stay in your head because they are in your heart.  This is the best thing that you can do to remember the cross-references.  Of course, you probably still won't remember all of them.  I will read through my binder of study notes a couple times leading up to Nationals, and hopefully that will be enough.  A lot of people like to rate their cross-references from most important to least important and study them accordingly.  Judging from where these people rank at Nationals, this is a pretty good way to do it.  However, it doesn't really fit my style of learning, so I can't say from personal experience if it's a good option.  If you think you might like it, it's certainly worth a try!

One more thing: I suggest that you look at other people's cross-references on the study doc to familiarize yourself with other cross-references.  You don't have to really learn these yourself, but it's helpful to sort of know a lot of cross-references.  

The preliminary rounds are only seven weeks from today!  May we glorify God in the way we study and why we study!

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  1. Thanks for the tips! Your reasons for studying CRs are great. I was looking for somewhere someone had written exactly why we study them. Last time I asked my siblings why they said "Because you said to!"


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