Lesson 2: Studying the Scriptures

Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, (2012), 4–6


This lesson will help students deepen their understanding of the purposes of the scriptures. It will also help them study the scriptures in a more meaningful way. It includes learning activities about understanding the background and setting of the scriptures, identifying and understanding doctrines and principles, and applying doctrines and principles in our lives. As students improve in their ability to study the scriptures, their love for the scriptures will increase, as will their understanding of the gospel. Consider ways to review the material in this lesson throughout the year.

Suggestions for Teaching

How should we approach scripture study in seminary?

Before class begins, write the following statement by President Thomas S. Monson on the board. (The statement is found on page 107 of the October 1970 Conference Report.)

“The goal of gospel teaching … is not to ‘pour information’ into the minds of class members. … The aim is to inspire the individual to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles” (President Thomas S. Monson).

Ask a student to read the statement aloud.

  • Based on this statement, what should be my goal as your seminary teacher? What should be your goal as seminary students?

Tell students that in this lesson, they will explore ways to “think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles” taught in the scriptures.

Understanding the background and setting of the scriptures

Explain that one thing students can do to improve their scripture study is to learn about the background and setting of the accounts and revelations in the scriptures. Background and setting are often called context.

Invite a student to the read the following counsel from President Thomas S. Monson:

President Thomas S. Monson“Become acquainted with the lessons the scriptures teach. Learn the background and setting of the Master’s parables and the prophets’ admonitions. Study them as though they were speaking to you, for such is the truth” (“Be Your Best Self,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 68).

Point out that an understanding of background and setting can help us understand the teachings in the scriptures. It provides information that clarifies and brings a depth of understanding to the accounts, doctrines, and principles in the scriptural text.

Write the following questions on the board:

  • Who is speaking in these verses?

  • To whom is he or she speaking?

  • What is happening in this account?

Explain that these questions can help us understand the context of a teaching or account in the scriptures.

Ask students to share what they have done to gain a better understanding of the background and setting of scripture passages. You may want to list some of these ideas on the board.

Students may mention practices such as looking up the meaning of difficult or unfamiliar words, examining the surrounding text, reading chapter summaries at the beginnings of chapters, or searching the footnotes for explanations and cross references. Be sure to mention these skills if students do not mention them.

To model one method for understanding the context of scriptures, invite a student to read 3 Nephi 17:1–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for answers to the questions you have written on the board. You may also want to encourage them to look at the chapter summary for a quick overview of the chapter.

  • Who is narrating this account in verses 1, 5–6, and 9–10? (Mormon.)

  • In the account, who is speaking? Who is receiving the message?

  • What happened before the events in this account? (See the chapter summaries for 3 Nephi 8–16.) How does your knowledge of this background influence your understanding of why the people wanted the Savior to stay a little longer? (See 3 Nephi 17:5–6.) What miracles occurred after He said that He would stay? (See 3 Nephi 17:7–10.)

Identifying and understanding doctrines and principles

Emphasize that when students understand the background and setting of a scripture account, they are better prepared to identify and understand the doctrines and principles it contains. Invite a student to read the following description of gospel principles, shared by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).

Explain that doctrines and principles are eternal, unchanging truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ that provide direction for our lives. They are the lessons that ancient prophets intended us to learn from the events, stories, and sermons they recorded in the scriptures. Point out that some writers in the scriptures used phrases such as “thus we see” (see Helaman 3:27–29) or words such as therefore (see Alma 32:16) to point directly to doctrines and principles. Many doctrines and principles, however, are not stated so directly in the scriptures. Instead, these truths are implied and are illustrated through the lives of those in the scriptures.

To help students learn to identify doctrines and principles that are not directly stated, suggest that as they read, they ask themselves questions such as the following: What is the message of this story? What did the writer intend for us to learn from this story? What truths are taught in this passage of scripture? You may want to list these questions on the board.

To help students practice identifying doctrines and principles, have them return to 3 Nephi 17:1–10. Ask:

  • From the Savior’s teachings in 3 Nephi 17:2–3, what can we learn about understanding His word?

  • What truths can we learn about the Savior from 3 Nephi 17:5–7?

  • In response to the people’s great faith, the Savior offered to heal them. In 3 Nephi 17:8–9, what principles do you see about seeking blessings from the Lord? (One principle that students might identify is that the Lord responds to our genuine desire to draw closer to Him.)

If there is time to give students more practice in identifying doctrines and principles, invite them to find their favorite scripture stories. Ask them to identify principles they have learned from these stories. Then invite them to share their stories and the principles they have learned.

Applying doctrines and principles

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. … That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel” (“Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17).

Explain that when we understand a doctrine or principle, we know more than the definitions of words. We know what the doctrine or principle means in our lives. When we identify a doctrine or principle and come to understand it, we can apply it in our lives. Explain that application takes place when we do something about the principles we have learned. Students who act on the principles they learn will have a greater opportunity to feel the Holy Spirit confirm the truth of those principles (see 2 Nephi 32:5; Moroni 10:5). This is the real value of the knowledge gained from scripture study. Help students see that whenever they study the scriptures—whether they are at home, at church, in seminary, working with Personal Progress or Duty to God, or in any other setting—one of their main goals should be to improve in their efforts to live the gospel and draw nearer to God.

To help students understand and apply the principles they discover in the scriptures, encourage them to pray for the help of the Holy Ghost in their personal study. Also encourage them to ask questions like the following as they study: What does the Lord want me to do with this knowledge? What difference can this make in my life? What can I start or stop doing now to live my life a little better? How will my life be better if I do this? (You may want to write some or all of these questions on the board. You may also want to suggest that students write these questions in their scripture study journals so they can refer to them often.)

To conclude, divide students into pairs. Ask them to share with each other the principles they have learned today from 3 Nephi 17:1–10. Encourage them to talk about what they have done to develop their understanding of these principles and what they will do to apply what they have learned and felt. Ask them to talk about how the application of these principles could make a difference in their lives.

Supplemental Teaching Ideas

Identifying doctrines and principles

To help students practice identifying doctrines and principles, write the following chart on the board and encourage students to copy it in their scripture study journals. Have students read the scripture passages and write the main message of each passage.

Scripture passage

Main message of this passage (in your own words)

1 Nephi 2:16


1 Nephi 19:23


2 Nephi 32:3


After sufficient time, ask students to share the messages they have discovered. Ask students to write one of these principles, following this pattern: If I __________, then __________. For example: If I ask God in faith, then He can soften my heart and help me believe (see 1 Nephi 2:16). When they have finished, have them share with a partner what they have written. Also ask them to explain why it is significant to them. Invite one or two students to share with the class how their scripture study will improve as they identify and understand gospel doctrines and principles.

Scripture study skills and methods

The following skills will help students in their scripture study. They are included as reminders throughout this manual.

Word definitions: Some of the words that prophets used are not familiar to us. The Bible Dictionary, footnotes in the scriptures, and a regular dictionary can help us learn the definitions of words and recognize synonyms to those words. Example: the word Messiah in 1 Nephi 10:4–17.

Name substitution: To help yourself apply the scriptures in your life, substitute your name for a name in the scriptures. Example: 1 Nephi 1:1.

Cross-referencing: Link scripture passages to each other to clarify meaning and unlock understanding. Example: In the margin next to 3 Nephi 12:28, you might write a note to see Doctrine and Covenants 42:23.

Cause and effect: Look for if-then and because-therefore relationships. Example: 2 Nephi 1:9.

Key words: Words and phrases like behold, wherefore, because, nevertheless, or thus we see are invitations to stop and look for specific messages. Example: Helaman 6:35–36.

Scripture lists: Prophets often gave lists of warnings and challenges. When you find lists, consider numbering each element. Example: Alma 26:22.

Setting: In scripture accounts, determine who is speaking, the person or persons he or she is speaking to, what he or she is speaking about, and when and where the event is occurring. Example: The setting for Alma 32:21–43 is found in Alma 31:1, 6–11 and 32:1–6.

Contrasts: The writings of prophets often show contrasts in ideas, events, and people. These contrasts emphasize gospel principles. Look for contrasts in single verses, in chapters, and across chapters and books. Example: 2 Nephi 2:27; Alma 48:1–17.

Visualization: Look for descriptive details that can help you create a mental picture as you read. Imagine being present at certain events. Example: Enos 1:1–8.

Symbolism: Words such as like, as, or likened unto help identify symbols. Look beyond a symbol by exploring its nature and pondering its attributes. Footnotes, the Bible Dictionary, and the Topical Guide can help with the interpretation of some symbols. Example: Helaman 8:14–15, including the footnotes to those verses.

Pondering: Pondering includes thinking, meditating, asking questions, and evaluating what you know and what you have learned. Pondering often helps us understand what we need to do to apply gospel principles.

Scripture study

Select a place on a map that is unfamiliar to students. Invite students to imagine they are going to take an extended trip to a faraway place. Tell them the name of the destination, but do not show them the map or describe the location.

  • What mode of transportation will you take? What will you pack? What activities will you participate in once you arrive?

Students will struggle to provide meaningful answers to these questions. Show them the location on the map or explain where it is located. Tell them a little bit about the location. Then ask the same questions you asked earlier.

  • How does knowing the destination affect how you prepare for a trip?

  • What is the likelihood that you could get to this place without knowing where it is located?

Explain that just as knowing the destination for a trip greatly affects our choices of what to bring and how to travel there, knowing the intended goal of studying the gospel can greatly affect the way we go about studying the scriptures in class each day—and what we gain from it.

Remind students that in seminary, we learn the gospel through studying the scriptures each day. Invite a student to read the following insight from President Marion G. Romney. Ask the class to listen for a key purpose for studying the scriptures:

“One cannot honestly study the scriptures without learning gospel principles because the scriptures have been written to preserve principles for our benefit” (“The Message of the Old Testament” [CES Symposium on the Old Testament, Aug. 17, 1979], 3, si.lds.org).

  • According to President Romney, why have the scriptures been written?

  • How is studying the scriptures different from studying for a test at school?

Point out that the goal of scripture study is not just to learn about the events in the scriptures but to discover and live the gospel truths the scripture writers were trying to teach us. These truths are called doctrines and principles.

To help students understand what doctrines and principles are and to illustrate the central role doctrines and principles play in studying the scriptures, draw the following picture on the board before class begins:

separated persons

Prophets’ lives and teachings from the scriptures

Us today

Explain that the person on the left represents the prophets and other people in the scriptures. The person on the right represents each of us. To be more specific, you may want to ask students to name someone in the Book of Mormon (such as Nephi or Ammon) and write that person’s name under the figure on the left. Then you might write the name of a student under the figure on the right. Point out the gap or divide between the figures.

  • What are some differences between our lives and the lives of people in the scriptures that can make the scriptures difficult to understand or relate to? (Students might mention such things as differences in lifestyle, culture, language, and geography.)

Invite a student to add a bridge to the drawing on the board and label it doctrines and principles.

persons connected by bridge

Doctrines and principles

Tell students that doctrines and principles are eternal and unchanging gospel truths. They were true when the scriptures were written, and when we apply them in our lives, they help us draw closer to the Lord and make wise decisions. As shown in the picture, doctrines and principles connect both time periods and help bridge the gap.

Explain that this process of studying the scriptures has three important parts: (1) understanding the context or the background, storyline, and events of the scriptures; (2) identifying and understanding doctrines and principles; and (3) applying those truths in our lives. Add these three elements of scripture study to the drawing on the board, as shown below.

persons connected by bridge

Understand the background, storyline, and events

Identify and understand doctrines and principles

Apply truths in our lives