Studying the Scriptures

Book of Mormon Student Study Guide, (2000), 2–6


This study guide has been prepared to help you read, study, and understand the scriptures. Since most of your study time will be spent reading and thinking about the scriptures, this section has been included to help you make it more effective.

Elder Howard W. Hunter, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave Church members valuable counsel on scripture study, which is summarized below. You may want to write his ideas on a card and put the card in a place where you can see it while you study.

  • Read carefully to understand the scriptures.

  • Study every day.

  • Set a regular time every day when you will study.

  • Study in a place where you can concentrate without distractions or interruptions.

  • Study for a period of time rather than reading a certain number of chapters or pages.

  • Have a study plan.

    (See Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 91–93; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64–65.)

Using the study helps found in the Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures, along with good study skills, will benefit your scripture study.

Study Helps in the Latter-day Saint Editions of the Scriptures

Cross-References

A cross-reference is a scripture reference that will lead you to additional information and insight on the topic you are studying.

For example, read Ether 13:10 and notice footnote 10a. By finding and reading the scripture referred to in the footnote, what additional insights do you gain about those who will be made clean through the Savior’s Atonement?

Ether 13:10a

Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary References

The Topical Guide (TG) contains an alphabetical list of hundreds of topics with scripture references in all four standard works of the Church. The Bible Dictionary (BD) gives definitions and explanations for many biblical names and subjects. Although not referenced in the footnotes, you may want to check the index for the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price for additional references.

For example, read 2 Nephi 15:10. As you do, you may wonder about the words bath, homer, and ephah. Notice footnote 10a, which refers you to “weights and measures” in the Bible Dictionary (pp. 788–89).

Nephi 15:10a

In the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, Zenos spoke of fruit that became corrupt. Read Jacob 5:42 and notice footnote 42a. Use the Topical Guide and find several scripture references that help explain what the corrupt fruit represents.

Help with Words and Phrases

Some words and phrases are labeled with the following notations:

  • HEB: An alternate (substitute) translation from the Hebrew (the original language of the Old Testament).

  • GR: An alternate translation from the Greek (the original language of the New Testament).

  • IE: An explanation of idioms (words or phrases used in a specific way when the scriptures were written but not commonly used today) and difficult constructions.

  • OR: A clarification of the meaning of archaic (old) expressions.

Romans 9 footnotes

What insight do you gain from knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word for “snatched” in Mosiah 27:29?

The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

The Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith to study the Bible and seek revelation to obtain a more complete and true biblical translation (see D&C 37:1; 45:60; 73:3–4). Consequently, the Prophet Joseph Smith restored many important truths and made many significant changes in Bible passages that were possibly mistranslated, unclear, or incomplete (see Articles of Faith 1:8). This version with the inspired changes is called the “Joseph Smith Translation.” The translation is abbreviated in the footnotes as “JST.” Some Joseph Smith Translation changes are in the footnotes, while others are found in an appendix entitled “Joseph Smith Translation,” which begins on page 797 of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible.

Read Alma 13:14 and notice footnote 14a. What additional understanding do we gain about Melchizedek from the Joseph Smith Translation?

Alma 13:14a

Bible Maps and Photographs

The Bible maps and photographs found in the appendix of the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible are helpful in finding places referred to in the scriptures.

Church History Chronology, Maps, and Photographs

In 1999 the Church added new maps and photographs to the triple combination. These features are similar to the corresponding ones in the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible. This section also includes a chronology of Church history events.

Chapter Headings, Section Headings, and Verse Summaries

Chapter and section headings and verse summaries explain or give important background information to help you understand what you read. For example, what helpful information do you get about the role of Jesus Christ by reading the chapter heading for Mosiah 15?

Having the study helps found in Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures is like having a small collection of reference books available to you—all in one place!

Scripture Study Tools

Nephi said we ought to “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3), and Jesus commanded the Nephites to “search [the scriptures] diligently” (3 Nephi 23:1). This kind of study involves more than just quickly reading through the scriptures. The following ideas and tools will help you learn more when you study. They are divided into three different categories: before reading, during reading, and after reading.

Before Reading

Prayer

The scriptures were written by inspiration. Consequently, they are best understood when we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. In the Old Testament we learn about the priest Ezra, who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Prepare your heart to read the scriptures by obeying the commandments and humbly praying each time you read.

girl praying

Understand the Setting

Understanding the historical background of the scriptures will help you gain greater insights as you read. The book and chapter headings in the Book of Mormon provide brief explanations of the historical events written about in them. This manual also gives some background for many chapters in the scriptures. If you have time, you may also refer to other Church-produced books and manuals that have background on the scripture you are reading.

Read the Chapter Headings

Chapter headings are simple summaries of the main ideas in a chapter. Reading the chapter heading before you begin to study a chapter is a good study habit that will help you prepare to ask questions and look for answers as you read.

girl studying scriptures

Ask Questions

Before you read, it is helpful to ask yourself questions like “Who wrote these verses?” “To whom?” “Why is this teaching included in the scriptures?” “What do I want to know or learn as I read today?” and “What would the Lord want me to learn from these scriptures?” As you read the scriptures, look for answers to your questions. Remember that you can also use the study helps in the Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures or look for answers in Church manuals and publications.

scriptures

During Reading

Don’t Be Afraid to Stop

Most nuggets of gold are not found on the surface of the ground—you must dig for them. Your scripture study will be much more valuable if you will slow down or stop and do some of the activities that follow.

Ask Questions

Continue to ask questions as you were instructed to do in the “Before Reading” section. As you read, rephrase questions you asked before reading or come up with completely different questions. Seeking answers to questions is one of the most important ways we gain greater understanding from our scripture study. One of the most important questions to ask is “Why might the Lord have inspired the writer to include this in the scriptures?” Look for the obvious clues writers sometimes leave when they say something like “and thus we see.”

Answer Questions Given in the Scriptures

Many times the Lord asks and then answers a question. He asked the Nephite disciples, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” He then answered, “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).

On other occasions questions are asked but no answers are given—generally because the answer may be obvious. Sometimes the scriptures do not give an answer because the question asked may require some thinking and the answer may not be immediate. For example, read Alma 5:14–33 and answer the questions in those verses as if you were there.

Use the Study Helps in the Latter-day Saint Editions of the Scriptures

See the section “Study Helps in the Latter-day Saint Editions of the Scriptures” on pages 2–3.

Understand the Words

Use a dictionary. Sometimes looking up a word you think you already know can give you additional insight. The “Understanding the Scriptures” sections of this manual will help you understand many difficult words and phrases.

Be aware that sometimes the Lord has inspired His prophets to include explanations in their writings that help us know the meaning of words and phrases. For example, read Mosiah 3:19 and find out what King Benjamin said it meant to become like a child.

boy studying scriptures

Insert Your Name

Using your own name in a verse helps make scriptural teachings more personal. For example, what difference does it make to use your own name in place of "ye" in 2 Nephi 31:20?

Visualize

Picture in your mind what is taking place. For example, when you read 1 Nephi 18:10-16, imagine how you might feel if your older brothers hated or were jealous of you and bound you and left you to suffer during a storm.

At times, the scriptures tell us to visualize. Read Alma 5:15-18 and stop to do as Alma suggests. Take some time to write about how you felt as you visualized those verses.

girl with scriptures

Look for Connecting Words

Connecting words include and, but, because, therefore, wherefore and nevertheless. As you read these words, notice what they help you understand about two or more ideas. Sometimes they show how two or more things are similar or different.

For example, if you think about what the word because indicates in Mosiah 26:2–3, you can learn an important truth about scripture study.

Mosiah 26:2–3

Because indicates a cause-and-effect relationship between the people’s disbelief and their inability to understand the scriptures and words of the prophets.

Mosiah 29:12

Read Mosiah 29:12 and note how the word but shows a contrast between the judgments of God and the judgments of man.

Look for Patterns

In 2 Nephi 31:2, Nephi said that he wanted to write a few words about the doctrine of Christ. Then in verse 21 he bore testimony that he had just explained the doctrine of Christ. Knowing that Nephi taught the doctrine of Christ between verses 2 and 21, review Nephi’s words and discover what the doctrine of Christ is.

two girls looking at scriptures

Another example of finding patterns is to look for a prophet’s explanation of cause and effect by watching for the use of the words if and then. For example, in 3 Nephi 26:9–10, the promise is made that if the words Mormon wrote are believed by the readers, then greater things will be made known to them. Look for the consequences for those who do not believe the words.

The repetition of a word or idea is another pattern to look for. For example, notice how many times the word baptize is found in 3 Nephi 11.

Look for Lists

Lists help you understand more clearly what the Lord and His prophets teach. The Ten Commandments are a list (see Exodus 20). The Beatitudes in 3 Nephi 12:3–11 are easily seen as a list. Finding other lists may require a little more effort. For example, read Mosiah 18:8–10 and list the promises we make at baptism. What blessings has the Lord promised?

Look for Types and Symbols

Prophets often use symbols and imagery (types) to more powerfully communicate their messages. For example, parables are a way of telling a message simply and in a way that has a much deeper meaning. The story in a parable makes the lesson taught more memorable and meaningful.

The following suggestions may help you understand symbols in the scriptures:

  1. 1.

    Look for comparisons between persons, places, and things. Sometimes words such as like, as, or likened unto help identify symbols.

  2. 2.

    Look for an interpretation in the scriptures or the study helps. For example, Lehi had a vision (see 1 Nephi 8). Nephi later had a vision in which he saw what his father saw, along with the interpretations of the symbols in his father’s vision (see 1 Nephi 11–14). Sometimes an interpretation can be found by using a cross-reference in the footnotes.

  3. 3.

    Think about the nature or characteristics of the symbol and what the symbol teaches you. You might ask, "Why was this symbol used?" Alma used this skill in explaining the Liahona to his son Helaman (see Alma 37:38–47).

  4. 4.

    See if the symbol teaches you something about the Savior. The Lord told Adam that “all things bear record of [Him]” (Moses 6:63). For example, how do the different elements in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac testify of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? (see Genesis 22:1–19; Jacob 4:5).

Look for Contrasts

Stories and examples of good and evil are often placed next to each other in the scriptures to show the differences between the two. As you identify scriptural contrasts, ask, "What am I supposed to learn from contrasting these two stories?" For example, consider what can be learned by contrasting the reign of King Benjamin (see Mosiah 2) with that of King Noah (see Mosiah 11).

Cluster Scriptures

President Boyd K. Packer taught: "Individual doctrines of the gospel are not fully explained in one place in the scriptures, nor presented in order or sequence. They must be assembled from pieces here or there" (The Great Plan of Happiness [address to religious educators at a symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, Brigham Young University, Aug. 10, 1993], 1). Therefore, as you study the scriptures, look for familiar words, phrases, principles, topics, and events that seem familiar to you from other scrioptures you have read. Cross-reference scriptures by writing the reference to another similar scripture in the margin. Doing this in several verses gives you a chain of scriptures on a specific topic that you can find by going to any of the scriptures in the chain. Look for differences as you compare and contrast these passages. Ask, "What insights do I gain from clustering these scriptures?" For example, cluster the following passages and notice how your understanding of the doctrine is expanded: Mosiah 1:11; 5:7-9; Alma 5:38-41.

Write

Keep a journal, some paper, or a notebook close by to write down ideas you want to remember, such as lists, special insights you get, or your feelings about something you read. To help you remember thoughts or insights the next time you read, you may want to write these ideas in the margins of your scriptures as well.

Many people like to mark important words and phrases in their scriptures. There is no right or wrong way to do this. (You may not want to do it at all.) Some people circle the verse number or shade or underline important words and phrases that give special meaning to a verse. Marking scriptures can often help you find important verses more quickly.

boy studying scriptures

After Reading

Ponder

To ponder is to think deeply about something, asking questions and evaluating what you know and what you have learned. Sometimes the scriptures call this “meditating” (see Joshua 1:8). There are several good examples in the scriptures where important revelations came as a result of pondering, especially pondering the scriptures (see D&C 76:15–20; 138:1–11).

Liken the Scriptures to Yourself

To liken the scriptures to yourself is to compare them to your own life. To do this effectively, ask questions like “What principles of the gospel are taught in the scriptures I just read?” and “How do those principles relate to my life?” An important part of likening the scriptures to yourself is listening to promptings of the Spirit, who the Lord promised “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

boy studying scriptures

For example, Nephi likened the scriptures to himself and his family by applying some of the principles Isaiah taught to their situation. He taught his brothers that they, like the children of Israel, had strayed from God—God had not strayed from them. He also taught them that if they would repent, the Lord would be merciful and forgive them (see 1 Nephi 19:24; 21:14–16). Nephi said that by likening the words of Isaiah to himself and his brothers, their belief in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer would increase (see 1 Nephi 19:23).

Reread

We do not understand everything in a passage of scripture the first time we read it. In fact, it takes a lifetime of study to truly understand the scriptures. Often, we begin to see patterns, visualize better, and more deeply understand the scriptures after two or three readings. You may want to look for new teachings or ask different questions as you reread. Trying to rewrite a story or just a verse or two in your own words may help you discover whether or not you understood what you read and help you better understand the scriptures.

students in classroom

Write

Some people keep a journal in which they write the main idea of what they read, how they feel about what they read, or how it applies to their life. If you are using this manual for home-study seminary, you are required to keep a notebook to receive credit. This notebook will be like a scripture journal.

It is also good to talk with others about what you read. Writing down some notes so that you remember what you want to talk about and discussing what you learned will help you understand and remember more of what you read.

reading the scriptures

Apply

The real value of knowledge you gain from the scriptures comes when you live what you learn. Greater closeness to the Lord and feeling the peace He gives are just some of the blessings that come to those who live the gospel. In addition, the Lord said that those who live what they learn will be given more, while those who will not live what they learn will lose the knowledge they have (see Alma 12:9–11).

“Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).