Do “Reference” Bibles Simply Let Scripture Comment on Scripture With No Human Bias?

Occasionally I get asked for a Bible “with no bias from men.” Apart from the gender language I understand what they mean—they don’t want any human bias. They want just the pure Word of God. Sometimes they ask for a good reference Bible since these provide no human commentary. Reference Bibles, they tell me, just let Scripture comment on Scripture. What escapes them is that the cross references do express someone’s opinion that these two passages should be linked in some manner.

Let’s look at one example, Revelation 6:2 reads “I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Many Bibles give Rev 19:11 as a cross reference. That passage reads, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.”

The question naturally arises why is the cross reference there? Is it trying to establish identify of riders? Is it simply pointing out that two texts mention a rider on a white horse? Is it just pointing to two white horses?

I recently saw someone criticize this cross reference as a danger of when “man starts putting things into the text.” The critic maintained that the cross reference identified the riders as the same and he disagreed with this interpretation.  This was judged as the insertion of man’s opinion into the text. If he had agreed with the interpretation I’m not so sure he would have seen it as an insertion of opinion but rather just “scripture commenting on scripture.” Of course technically speaking nothing has been put “into the text” since the cross reference is in the margin.

My point is a simple one. There is no Bible without bias or better stated doesn’t involve human decision making. Even just a text Bible with no references at all reflects the decisions of scholars on hundreds of textual matters and translation decisions. In all actuality the presence of only a cross reference could be potentially more dangerous than a commentary note since the cross reference by itself does not sufficiently explain the connection between passages. The reader may make hasty interpretations based on the connection without properly understanding all the factors involved between the passages. I would much prefer a commentary note over a simple cross reference. Consider this robust note found in the NET Bible.

“The identity of the first rider on the white horse has been discussed at great length by interpreters. Several answers are given: (1) A number understand the rider on the white horse to be Christ himself, identifying this horse and rider with the one mentioned in 19:11, where the identification is clear (cf. 19:13, 16). It must be noted, though, that there is little in connection between the two riders beyond the white horse. The word for ‘crown’ is different, the armament is different, and the context here is different (conquest vs. retribution), with three other horsemen bring catastrophe following. (2) Others see the rider on the white horse representing a spirit of military conquest that dominates human history and leads to catastrophes that follow. (3) Another possibility is that the white horse rider represents the Antichrist, who appears later in Rev 11:7; 13:17, and whose similarity to Christ explains the similarity with the rider in 19:11. This interpretation has been discussed at length by M. Rissi, ‘The Rider on the White Horse: A Study of Revelation 6:1-8,’ Int 18 (1964): 407-18. This interpretation is the most probable one.” (Study note on Rev 6:2)


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Do “Reference” Bibles Simply Let Scripture Comment on Scripture With No Human Bias?

  1. Shouldn’t the word reference be replaced with reading? I would consider a study Bible a reference Bible, that I use for occasional reference. I used a Bible without all the other stuff for reading. The only problem is that it would get confused with true reader’s Bibles which don’t have the headings and verse numbers. I wish my translation had that.


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