During his earthly ministry, in response to Satan’s temptations, the Savior said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4.) In order for us to partake of the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures, we need to find a system of scripture study that works for us. I have found two that work particularly well for me.
1. Use the scriptures to interpret other scriptures. It helps me when I interpret the scriptures using the scriptures. In other words, if the author of a particular book of scripture uses a certain phrase or expression to describe something, I look up all other uses of that expression by the same scriptural author in order to better understand what he means by it.
Nephi tells us to liken all the scriptures to ourselves. (See 1 Ne. 19:23.) But in doing so, we need to be careful to keep in mind that what the scripture meant to the original prophet who wrote it (or to the audience to whom it was addressed) is of the greatest importance to our interpretation of its message.
Another way we can use the scriptures to help interpret other scriptures is found in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:48, we find Jesus’ statement “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In an effort to understand that sentence, I sought out the meaning of the original words. In Greek, the word perfect includes being complete, “finished, fully developed.” (Matt. 5:48, note b.)
Then, if we seek what else the Gospels say about being perfect, we can gain a greater understanding about the topic. For example, Luke 13:32 records an incident in which the Savior spoke with two disciples of Herod. Jesus told them, “Go ye, and tell [Herod], Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” In Hebrews 2:10 [Heb. 2:10], Paul gives us more insight about the process of perfection; he says that Christ became perfect “through sufferings.”
If we turn to 3 Nephi 12:48 [3 Ne. 12:48] and read from the sermon the Lord delivered to the Nephites, we find that Jesus says, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” [3 Ne. 12:48] The difference between the two sermons is that when the Lord delivered the second one to the Nephites, he had completed the Atonement, had been resurrected, and was in the same condition as his Father was. He embodied the perfect example of one who had matured fully and whose earthly mission was now complete.
Among other things, we learn from this scripture that our Heavenly Father is a resurrected being with a perfect body, and is like his Son, Jesus Christ. This is one example of how I used the scriptures to help me interpret other scriptures, without getting sidetracked by outside interpretations.
2. Try source reading. Another practice that has helped me to study the scriptures effectively is what I call source reading. I take a particular chapter or book of scripture and make notes on paper as I read it. First I try to discover a theme or emphasis, and then I reread the chapter with the idea of extracting ideas pertaining to that doctrine.
This is sometimes hard to do because so many suggestions and ideas come to mind as I read. But when I read with the goal of discovering what doctrines are there, then isolate a particular doctrine and read the book of scripture with that doctrine in mind, I am often amazed at what I learn.
A number of years ago, I read the New Testament several times, each time with a different subject or doctrine in mind. I made extensive lists of what I found pertaining to different points of doctrine and learned for myself that the New Testament is indeed one of the finest sources in the world of doctrinal knowledge. In addition, the scriptures also testify of the restoration of the gospel. I found many verses, pages, and chapters of the New Testament that parallel the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings.
Psalm 19:7 [Ps. 19:7] states that “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” I have found this to be true; there is no better way to become converted to the gospel than through studying the “law of the Lord”—the scriptures. The Savior himself was a keen student of the scriptures. He frequently said “It is written,” referring to the scriptures and the laws and commandments contained therein. When Moroni appeared to the young Joseph Smith, he quoted the scriptures—again affirming their importance.
In our quest for truth and for eternal life, the scriptures are all-important. Only through acquiring a knowledge of them through prayerful study can we partake of the words of life to which the Savior referred.