I am grateful to be here, and, along with you, I love being part of this work.
In preparation for today I gave my talk to my family and asked for their feedback, … and it was almost all helpful. The feedback that I am hesitant to admit out loud—and that I’m certain none of you have ever received in class—is that Annie, our 12-year-old, fell asleep about halfway through. So, both she and I are hoping this version is an improvement!
Each of the last two years, Brother Chad Webb has invited us to help our students have an experience studying the scriptures in a way that deepens their faith in the Savior.1 This past year more students read the scriptures than ever before. They spent over 9 million hours2 in personal scripture study. Thank you for your efforts!
Today we would like to renew that invitation. Will you please help each seminary and institute student have a meaningful experience studying the scriptures each day? And while there will certainly be parts of the Old Testament that are challenging for our students to read and understand, I genuinely believe that we do not need to sneak up behind our students and “whisper [the Old Testament] in [their] ears.”3
Brother Webb also invited us to discuss “how we might be even more centered in the scriptures we teach.”4 He asked a series of questions about the role that the scriptures play in our teaching. Many of you have considered those questions carefully. Thank you! Today, may we talk for a moment about the role the scriptures play in our preparation to teach?
In May of 1829, Joseph and Emma Smith were living in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Hyrum Smith had come to visit and hoped to learn about his role in the unfolding Restoration. The Prophet inquired of the Lord and was reminded that the word “is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.”5 The Savior then taught Hyrum, and us, a principle and a priority as He set in place an important sequence for teachers: “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.”6
Our efforts to teach do not begin with preparing a lesson or considering how it might be delivered or even reviewing the curriculum. Our efforts to teach do begin ad fontes, or “at the fountains.”7 There is no better preparation for teaching than, as President Marion G. Romney said, drinking deeply from the spring right where the water comes out of the ground.8 If we want to teach the scriptures with power, if we want our students to feel the truth and importance of a passage, it surely must begin with a fresh, personal excitement inside ourselves.9
President Romney counseled: “To become effective gospel teachers … we must work and study … until [the Lord’s] teachings become our teachings. Then we will be prepared to speak with power and conviction. If we choose to follow some other path of preparation, … we will end up delivering our own ideas or some other man’s ideas, and we [have no assurance of success].”10
As you and I seek to obtain the word in a way that the scriptures burn within us, may I mention two simple ideas that should be standard in our pursuit?
First, there is a hierarchy among truths, and learning to discern this hierarchy will bless us and our students.
Second, the scriptures contain connections, patterns, and themes,11 including types and shadows, among the most important of which point to the Savior.
To begin, Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote of an “aristocracy among truths” and that some truths are worthy of our fealty, which is a word suggesting fidelity, or obedience and loyalty:
“Something can be both true and unimportant. … We must not only distinguish between fact and fancy, but know which facts are worthy of fealty.
“The gospel of Jesus calls our attention to the reality that there is an aristocracy among truths; some truths are simply and everlastingly more significant than others!”12
We should be excellent students of both the details and the doctrine in the scriptures. It is important to understand that scriptural detail taught in isolation of doctrine and on its own merits merely informs. Such teaching “will not hurt us if the Spirit is there, nor help us if it is not.”15 On the other hand, teaching that only involves personal stories, personal insights, and feelings generated from discussion, but which lacks the scriptural substance necessary to teach truth and inspire, is equally short of the mark. Our students will be best served by teachers who are excellent students of the scriptures and who understand the essential role of the Holy Ghost.16
I have heard some speak of “devotional teaching” that lacks scholarship. And I have heard others speak of scholarly teaching that lacks converting spirit. Alone, neither devotional teaching nor mere scholarship meets the unique demands of religious education. Brother Robert J. Matthews once said, “The word ‘religion’ literally means ‘to tie back to.’ It is related to the word ligament, which ties the muscle to the bone. Religion is supposed to tie the person that has it to God and to holy and sacred things.”17 And that is what religious education should do for our students.
Scriptural detail often points to precious truth. When truth is taught with testimony, it invites revelation, and the Holy Ghost applies the Atonement in our lives,18 increasing our conversion to the Savior19 and our commitment to follow Heavenly Father’s plan.
The Old Testament certainly includes “dramatic stories, fascinating customs, and beautiful literary forms.”20 It is important for us to remember, and for our teaching to reflect, that these details are not the purpose for the passage. As we have been taught, “The scriptures have been written to preserve principles.”21 These gospel principles “are the substance of and the purpose for the revelations.”22
Separating details from principles, as well as learning to recognize the hierarchy that exists even among those principles, will be the work of a lifetime. If we teach every detail of history and the law, and if we teach every element of Israel’s wanderings, and we miss the message of Heavenly Father’s plan and the Savior’s Atonement in the Old Testament,24 we will not have taught the message of the Old Testament.25
Paul was certainly describing me, and perhaps some of our students, when he said that a veil remains “untaken away in the reading of the old testament.” He then gave a key to this dilemma when he said this “veil is done away in Christ” and that “when [our hearts] shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.”26
If our teaching will center on the Savior,27 and if we can help our students’ minds and hearts turn to Him, the veil will be taken away in their reading of the Old Testament. And, perhaps more importantly, as our students learn to look for the Savior in their study of the scriptures, they will learn a parallel lesson and begin to learn to look for Him and for Heavenly Father’s hand in their own lives as well.
Let me share one suggestion that will assist us in discerning truth in the scriptures: Pick a passage, read it, and ask yourself, “What are the details in the passage?” Underline the people, the places, the timing, and the story line. Look at the larger context for the passage, and underline all of the contextual detail that you can find. As our handbook suggests, note the “natural breaks”28 where the tone or content shifts.
Now look at the passage again, and this time ask yourself, “What are the principles or truths that are ‘packaged for application,’29and which, if understood, would ‘[lead] to obedience’?”30 Study the larger doctrinal context in the passage. Mark each principle differently than you marked the details. If the principles are implied,31 take the time to write them down.
To do this with conscious effort will be difficult at first. It will require concentration and time. Part of the blessing available in this discipline is that it invites us to continually ask, “What are the details in this passage, and what are the principles they intend to teach?”
As we have already said, some principles are simply more important than others; they invite more inspiration, life, and salvation because they point to the Savior. So, look at the passage once again, this time through another lens, and ask, “How is this passage calculated32 to draw my attention to the Savior? What is here that leads to a greater understanding of, gratitude for, and reliance upon Him and Heavenly Father’s plan?”
Finally, carefully consider what the modern prophets have had to say that would add insight, understanding, and inspiration to the passage.
After studying in this way, when we do turn to the curriculum, the additional understanding, suggestions, and direction provided there will be coupled with the insight, inspiration, and experience we’ve had in the scriptures and the words of the prophets. The curriculum then confirms, refines, and enhances our preparation to declare the word with power.
For example, when we study the book of Ruth this year, we may see a tender story of loss and loyalty. Or,considering this hierarchy of truth, we may notice that Ruth had lost her husband, that she journeyed to Bethlehem,33 and it was in Bethlehem where she met Boaz. We might then note that Boaz tended to Ruth’s needs, gave her bread and a cup of wine vinegar,34 became her intercessor at the city’s gate,35 and then, as her kinsman, which is literally translated “redeemer,”36purchased Ruth,37 took her to be his wife,38and would not rest until he could say, “It is finished.”39 With that we may begin to feel the intended testimony of love and redemption as well as the edification and inspiration from realizing that the Great Kinsman40 does the same for each of us.
This is just one simple example of searching the scriptures. The careful teacher will then help each student learn to have this same study experience for him- or herself as the student becomes spiritually self-reliant.41
Brothers and sisters, on each page of scripture, we make a choice that impacts the power of the teaching and learning in our classes. The choice is this: To which truths will we turn our students’ minds and hearts and faith? This choice makes a tremendous difference in the portion of the word that they receive into their thinking and living.42 If we are not diligent in this regard, if I choose to let the lesser set of truth “dominate my teaching,” then, as President Henry B. Eyring taught, “I have already nearly taken myself out of the contest to help a student withstand the sea of filth.”43
Along with recognizing this hierarchy of truth, a second simple idea that may help in our obtaining the word is that the scriptures are brimming with connections, themes, and types. May I give a brief example of each from the Old Testament?
A connection that we may notice is that the Old Testament is full of stories of success and failure, which are contrastingly taught side by side: Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau, Abigail and Nabal, and many others.
President Eyring noted this key: “In [the] description of failure there is the shadow of the way to success. … The recurring cycles of spiritual decline and recovery … can be hopeful and instructive to your students.”45
Elder Bednar also explained that “themes are overarching, recurring, and unifying qualities or ideas, like essential threads woven throughout a text.”46 A theme we may notice this year is found in this phrase: “and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God.”47
Throughout the plagues preceding their deliverance, as well as the miracles following it, the children of Israel were told that by these things “thou shalt know that I am the Lord.”48
The slaying of Goliath,49the healing of Naaman,50 Elijah and the priests of Baal,51and Daniel’s sacred and solemn experiences with King Nebuchadnezzar52 are all recorded with the declared intent “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”53
Throughout the books of Psalms,54 Isaiah,55 and Ezekiel,56 in 17 books of the Old Testament, and over 80 different times, Jehovah repeated and underlined and insured that Israel and we are to see Him and His hand in the events and teachings of the Old Testament so that we and our children “may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that … I am the Lord, and there is none else.”57
As we study scriptural themes in the new cornerstone institute classes,58the scriptures will be “woven together in such a way that as [we] pore over one [we will be] drawn to the other.”59If the scriptures themselves are the central study of these classes, the scriptures will “grow together” and bring our students “to the knowledge of [their] covenants.”60 “The process of searching for and identifying scriptural themes,” Elder Bednar said, “leads us … to the eternal truths that invite the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. … This approach to obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir is the most demanding and rigorous; it also yields the greatest edification.”61 It will require more of us as teachers, not less.62
Types and shadows of Christ
Of the many patterns in the Old Testament,63 one particularly invites our attention and effort. That is, of course, looking for testimonies of Heavenly Father and the Savior. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “It is … proper to look for similitudes of Christ everywhere and to use them repeatedly in keeping him and his laws uppermost in our minds.”64
Beginning to list the types and shadows of the Savior is almost like counting drops of water in a river or particles of light on a sunny day. After all, “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.”65
The Creation,66 the brass serpent,67the manna,68 the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage by the blood of a lamb painted on their doorposts,69 and the entire law of Moses, with its system of sacrifices and remembrances, is consciously and conspicuously designed as “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.”70
Abraham’s71 willingness to sacrifice Isaac72; Melchizedek’s titles,73including “Prince of peace”74; Joseph’s saving of the very brothers who sold him75; and Moses’s deliverance of the children of Israel76make them figures “of him that was to come.”77
The king thought to set Daniel over the whole kingdom because of the “excellent spirit [that] was in him.”81The “presidents and princes,”82 those in positions of authority who hated Daniel, “sought to find occasion against [him] … but they could find none.”83 Then these wicked men “assembled … [and] consulted together,”84 and meanwhile, Daniel retired to the place where “he was wont” to go,85 and there he prayed.86 Upon learning all of this, the king “set his heart … to deliver [Daniel].”87 And then, after Daniel was sent to his certain death, “a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den.”88 Only to be followed by the king arising “very early in the morning, and [going with] haste unto the den”89 to there discover that an angel had been present,90 and “Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him.”91
Alfred Edersheim said the entire Old Testament is “intended to point to Christ. … It is not only the law, which is a schoolmaster unto [Him], nor the types, which are shadows of [Him], nor yet the prophecies, which are predictions of [Him]; but the whole Old Testament history is full of Christ. … One thing follows from this: only that… study of the Scriptures can be sufficient or profitable through which we learn to know [the Savior].”92
Throughout your classes, and even in our homes and families, will you please take the time to ask your students and children what they are learning and how it helps them understand and rely upon Heavenly Father and the Savior? And from the very first day of class, will you please teach your students to deliberately look for these magnificent witnesses that are the conscious intent of these inspired authors?
Brothers and sisters, the scriptures have an irreplaceable role in our teaching as well as in our preparation to teach! Remember this caution from President Romney:
“We are commissioned to deliver that which we receive from the Lord (the scriptures) to those whom we teach. Sometimes [we may] attempt to make a delivery without first obtaining. …
“… [We may want] to go forth and preach before [giving] the Lord the opportunity to prepare [us].”93
In that spirit, may I add a few questions to those we received from Brother Webb last year and invite us to consider them in our preparation to teach?
Does my preparation for class begin with searching the scriptures?
Do I understand both the details and the doctrine that the inspired writer wanted me to see and understand?
Have I searched the words of the prophets for their emphasis, insight, and testimony about a passage?
And in every instance, have I searched for and found the ways that the passage testifies of the Savior and His Atonement?96
May the word be sharper than a two-edged sword97 in our classrooms because the scriptures burn inside us! May we have the determination to distinguish the details and the doctrine worthy of fealty! And may we help our students learn to discover the beautiful scriptural witnesses of Heavenly Father’s plan and His Most Beloved Son!98
I add my testimony to yours, especially of the love of Heavenly Father99 made manifest and available through the miraculous Atonement of His Son. And I express my gratitude for the remarkable privilege of being part of the marvelous Restoration, which is making His name “known in [all] the earth forever.”100 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 6/15. “First Seek to Obtain My Word.” English. PD10054335 000