Cross Reference Bible Study is not the same as Proof-texting

The Texts:

Joh 5:39  Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

Act 17:11  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

1Th 5:21  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Isa 8:20  To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

Isa 34:16  Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.

Pro 18:17  He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him. (KJV)

Pro 18:17 You may think you have won your case in court, until your opponent speaks. (CEV, Contemporary English Version)

My Comment:

I have noticed in my recent reading of scholarly works about Biblical Hermeneutics that some authors are against studying the Bible by means of consulting cross references. Many study Bibles provide what are called center-column or side-column collections of cross references, for example.

These authors confuse or conflate cross reference Bible study with “proof-texting.”

That shows me that for all their valued scholarship, they have not carefully studied the Bible for themselves by carefully studying cross references. If they had made a careful study of the Bible using collections of cross references they would not write so negatively about the subject.

The Bible is not arranged topically. To study a subject found in the Bible, it is best to read all that the Bible says about that subject. You might at first think that this can be done using a concordance (like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). A concordance will get you part way, but you will miss many relevant Bible passages that relate to the subject stated in different words than the word you chose to look up using a concordance.

You might think a subject can be looked up in a topical Bible (like Nave’s Topical Bible). This too will get you part way, but you will still miss many passages relevant to the topic that are not included under the topic as given in a topical Bible.

To find all that the Bible teaches about any subject that it mentions you must consult a complete source of cross references. Such sources are available in printed books as well as digitally in Bible study software programs. I recommend The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury as the most complete collections of cross references available.

Proof-texting is correctly criticized as a very mistaken practice. Proof-texts are single verses or sets of references used (often repeatedly) to prove a doctrinal position or system of theology. Using such verses or sets of references is problematical because the sets of references are devised to “prove” a particular doctrine or support a particular opinion by a list of the Scripture verses or passages that seem to support the doctrine without including verses which, if included, would call the doctrine or opinion into question.

The most apt description of this interpretive error I have found is that of Lewis Sperry Chafer, who wrote “A certain type of mind, however, seems able to construct all its confidence on an erroneous interpretation of one passage and to be uninfluenced by the overwhelming body of Scripture which contradicts that interpretation” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 380).

I have also recently encountered a similar error regarding the interpretation of the Bible. These scholars assert that no individual reader or student of the Bible can come to a correct understanding of the Bible without learning to read the Bible in the light of what the Church has taught us that the Bible says. We must interpret the Bible in the light of the great Christian writers throughout Church history who have written their expositions and explanations of what the Bible means. To read and study the Bible for yourself and come to convictions about what it teaches based on that reading and study results in “private interpretations” which are most likely not correct. An otherwise very excellent resource which expresses this view is titled Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey and Phillip E. Johnson in a section titled “Sola Scriptura?” on page 302, for example. While these are both excellent writers and scholars, on this specific issue I believe they are mistaken, perhaps because they have never studied the Bible this way extensively themselves and have not thought to distinguish cross reference Bible study from proof-texting.


From Reasoning from the Scriptures, First Edition (1985), Wathtower Bible and Tract Society, pages 382-385, cites these verses:

Is there a spirit part of man that survives the death of the body?

Eze 18:4  Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

Psa 146:4  His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Ecc 3:19  For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
Ecc 3:20  All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Ecc 3:21  Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Luk 23:46  And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (KJV)

Luk 23:46 And Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I will commit My spirit.’ ” And after He said these things, He expired. (EMTV, English Majority Text Version)

Luk 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (ESV)

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF PROOF-TEXTING FROM THE COMPANION BIBLE whose editor (E. W. Bullinger) held a similar view to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of today that there is no conscious existence after the death of the body:

Joh 19:30  When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

ghost. or, his spirit. Gr. pneuma, FS121A3, +Mat 27:50, +Joh 11:33. The Companion Bible, whose editor believed and defended the mistaken materialist view that there is no conscious existence after death, that the spirit is merely breath, furnishes the following references here: Gen 2:7, Psa 104:29, 30; Psa 146:4, Ecc 12:7. Of course, this is in part the position of the Sadducees (Act 23:8), which our Lord effectively refuted for all time (Mar 12:24, 25, 26, 27). +Joh 11:33.

Gen 2:7  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Psa 104:29  Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Psa 104:30  Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.

Psa 146:4  His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Ecc 12:7  Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.


1. Insert the verse reference in question in the search box (click on “Search Real Bible Study”) on this site to see if I have addressed the verse or the subject in a previous article.

2. Consult the notes and cross references I have provided in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury at the verse or verses in question.

3. Post a question about a specific verse in the comment section (labeled “Leave a Reply”) below this article. I am always eager to answer any Bible questions you may have.

This entry was posted in Apologetics--Christian, Bible Study Tools, Doctrinal Discussions, False Religions, How to Interpret the Bible Correctly, How to Study the Bible and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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