Thompson Chain-Reference Bible – A Review

I had heard about the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (TCRB) since I was 5, but I didn’t learn to use it well until I was 25! Dr. Frank Charles Thompson first published the cross-reference notes in the wide margin of his Bible in 1908. The TCRB is a comprehensive cross-reference tool that has been used for Bible study since then. It has more than 4,000 topical listings and 100,000 marginal references. In light of search engines and the growing use of Bible study software, is there still a void that the TCRB can fill? This is the primary question I seek to answer in this review. I received a free copy of Zondervan’s 2021 improved and revised edition of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (New King James Version) as a member and partner of Bible Gateway in exchange for an honest review. #BibleGatewayPartner.

What is new in this 2021 improved and expanded edition?

The changes to older editions are mostly improvements in editorial layout and accessibility. First, the two indexes were renamed. General Index is now Alphabetical Index, and the Index of Chain Topics (or Condensed Cyclopedia of Topics and Texts) is now Numerical Index. Second, more verses are included to complete chains.

Third, all marginal references are listed in the numerical index, which was incomplete in earlier editions. Fourth, due to space limitations, not all topics were in the margins previously, but now all topics are found in the margins. Fifth, topic names are written consistently. Sixth, expanded outlines are provided in the analyses of books.

Analysis on the use of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible

The editors of the TCRB list five ways to use this Bible (pp. xvii–xviii).

  • To study a theme
  • To study a book
  • To study a chapter
  • To study a passage and verse
  • To study Bible personalities

For convenience’s sake, I combined some of these categories in my assessment below.

To study a theme and Bible personalities

The most common use of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is for thematic studies. The first step in any topical study is to discover pertinent passages, and the TCRB has over 4,000 topics with Bible references listed canonically (“arranged into chains”). For instance, a student might encounter the topic of Christ as Shepherd when reading through 1 Peter 5:4. In the margin, the topic number 3264 is given and the next reference which is Revelation 7:17. Once the student looks up the numerical index, the first chain of the verse will be listed, which is Psalm 23:1–2. Other references in canonical order are Ps 80:1; SoS 1:7; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 34:11, 23, 24; Zech 13:7; John 10:2, 11, 14; 17:12; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; Rev 7:17. This is an impressive amount of biblical data for the topic of Christ as Shepherd.

Recently, I have been working on the Vine and Branches metaphor in John 15. I wanted to know, using the TCRB chain-reference system, how the metaphor of “vine and branches” is used throughout Scripture. The connected topics listed on the margins are “I Am,” “The True Vine,” “Christ the Life,” “Christ’s names,” “divine care,” “spiritual fruit,” “degrees of fruitfulness,” “church similitudes,” “unfruitfulness, “chastisement,” and “pruning.” Those are a lot of topics that can be helpful in understanding this passage. I was disappointed, however, that as I tracked down the references in these topics, none of them included the Old Testament concept of the vine (cf. Ps 80; Isa 5:1–7; Jer 2:21; Ezek 15; 17:1–21; 19:10–15; Hosea 10:1–2). Despite this shortcoming, the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible still provides a good tool in tracking down connected passages canonically.

The study of Bible personalities is listed as another category, but its hermeneutical method is similar to any thematic studies.

To study a book and to study a chapter

The Analyses of Books in p. 2055 provides introductory material on each book of the Bible. Each chapter also has a brief synopsis of its contents. However, these details (both the introductory material and the chapter synopsis) are not unique to TCRB. While this section is still valuable, students of Scripture will find better help in commentary literature or in more recent study Bibles.

To study a passage and to study a verse

In addition to the thematic studies, the most helpful feature of TCRB is having marginal cross-references for almost every single verse. This helps the student of the Bible to expand on the doctrinal contents of each verse.

To test this feature, I looked up a verse I was working on for a teen’s devotional—2 Corinthians 5:21. From this verse, I got four topics: “substitution,” “sin-bearer,” “Christ Sinless,” and “justification.” I looked up the references for each of these topics and found doctrinal gems from the Old Testament to the New Testament. I think the marginal cross references are the most valuable asset of the TCRB.


The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is a helpful tool for those who have limited access to Bible software programs. Most Bible software run search engines that give them a great advantage in looking up words, but the TCRB lists references based on concept, not merely on identical words. This is the void that a reference Bible like the TCRB fills to serve students of Scripture. Although users of Logos Bible Software may find the Bible reference guide feature a superior substitute, not everyone has access to Logos or is technologically capable of using advanced Bible software. See here to purchase from BibleGateway store. See here for Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.