Correlation is the process of connecting Bible passages into a systematic theology or worldview. Correlation could also be described as topical (some might say “deductive”) Bible study.
Correlation is not the same thing as cross-referencing. Cross-referencing is what we do when we surf the Bible as though it were YouTube. We read one passage, which makes us think of another one, which makes us think of another one, which makes us think of another one, which makes us think of another one, world without end, amen.
Unfortunately, cross-referencing rarely produces much insight into any of the texts. It certainly takes a lot of time, which produces some satisfaction. But it doesn’t help us to know God. It’s like speed-dating, giving the impression of activity without much intimacy.
How do we correlate effectively while avoiding the dangers of unhelpful cross-referencing?
1. Don’t correlate too soon; understand each passage first
When I study the Bible, and I feel stuck (the meaning isn’t coming to me as quickly or intuitively as I’d prefer), it’s easy to stare at that center column in my Bible and start flipping. But I’m in danger of making an unhelpful connection.
When I feel stuck, the answer is usually to go back and observe better. Or to think of a few more questions. By all means, I should have a guess at the main point before I attempt any connections to other passages.
For example, one of my study Bibles has a cross-reference on Luke 2:1 that takes me to Matthew 24:14. So there’s a connection between “the entire Roman world” in Luke 2:1, NIV and “this gospel will be preached in the whole world” in Matt 24:14, NIV. Perhaps that means that Matthew is talking only of Rome? Or is Luke showing us how Jesus paves the way for the kingdom to expand?
None of these questions are necessarily bad or incorrect, but they will take us away from what Matthew and Luke want to communicate. Let’s not get distracted.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the other two tips.