Lesson 5: Studying the Scriptures

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


Introduction

This lesson will help students learn how to better understand the context and content of the scriptures, identify gospel doctrines and principles the scriptures contain, and apply those truths in their lives. As students discover and act on the eternal truths found in the scriptures, the gospel can enter deep into their hearts. Consider ways to review the material in this lesson throughout the year.

Suggestions for Teaching

The aim of scripture study

Before class, place a common object such as a pencil, notebook, or hymnbook somewhere in the classroom in plain sight. Choose a location where the object will not seem out of place or be easily noticed by students. Begin the lesson by telling students that you have lost something and you need their help to find it. Ask them to search the room, but do not tell them what they are searching for. After students have searched unsuccessfully for a brief time, describe what they should be searching for, and ask them to try again.

  • Why was it easier to find what you were looking for the second time?

Hold up your scriptures. Point out that just as it is easier to search for something when we know what we are looking for, our scripture study can be more meaningful when we know what to look for as we study.

To help students identify what we should be searching for when we study the scriptures, invite a student to read the following statement by President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency. Before the student reads, ask the class to listen for something they should always be able to find in the scriptures if they are looking for it. (You may want to provide students a copy of this and other prophetic statements in this lesson.)

President Marion G. Romney

“One cannot honestly study the scriptures without learning gospel principles because the scriptures have been written to preserve principles” (“The Message of the Old Testament” [address to CES religious educators, Aug. 17, 1979], 3, LDS.org).

  • Based on President Romney’s explanation, what should we be looking for as we study the scriptures?

  • What is a principle?

Confirm or supplement students’ responses by inviting a student to read aloud the following explanation by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Before the student reads, ask half of the class to listen for what a principle is. Ask the other half to listen for why searching for principles in the scriptures is so important.

“Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).

  • According to Elder Scott, what is a principle? Why is finding principles in the scriptures so important?

Explain that principles and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are fundamental, unchanging truths that provide guidance for our lives. Doctrines and principles are what the Lord and His prophets intended us to learn from the revelations, sermons, and events recorded in the scriptures.

To help students discover an example of a doctrine or principle taught in the scriptures, invite them to reflect on Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Ask them if they can identify a simple truth we can learn from Joseph Smith’s experience. Students may identify a variety of doctrines and principles. The following truth is one example: If we pray in faith, God will answer our prayers.

Understanding the context and content of the scriptures

Display a piece of fruit that must be peeled before it can be eaten (for example, a banana or an orange).

  • What must you do before you can use this object for its intended purpose? (Remove the outer covering.)

  • If the important and useful part of this object is on the inside, what is the purpose of the outer covering? (To preserve and transport the contents.)

Explain that the fruit within the peel can be compared to the doctrines and principles found in the scriptures. The outer covering can be likened to the events, people, and sermons of the scriptures. Much like the peel preserves and helps transport the fruit inside, these scriptural accounts convey gospel doctrines and principles to us in a way that helps us understand, remember, and apply them in our lives.

Ask students to share what they have done to help them gain a better understanding of the setting, story line, events, and other details of the scriptures. (You may want to list some of their ideas on the board.) After students have shared a few ideas, explain the following scripture study skills to the class and take a few minutes to practice them.

Historical setting: Explain that each section of the Doctrine and Covenants includes a section introduction that describes concerns, questions, or historical events associated with the revelation in that section. Knowing these details can help us understand the revelation.

To demonstrate how knowing these details can increase our understanding of a revelation, invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–8. Then ask students to read the section introduction silently, looking for information that helps them understand these verses.

  • How does knowing that Joseph Smith had been imprisoned in Liberty Jail for months help us better understand these verses?

Word definitions: Point out that some words used in the scriptures may not be familiar. The Bible Dictionary, the Guide to the Scriptures, scripture footnotes, and a regular dictionary can help us learn the definitions of words and understand their meaning.

To show an example, invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:2 silently. Explain that the word stay can mean to delay or hold back.

  • How does knowing this definition help you better understand this verse?

Identifying doctrines and principles

Explain that once we have increased our understanding of the context and content of a scripture passage, we are prepared to identify the gospel truths it contains. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott. Ask the class to listen for phrases that describe what we should do to identify truths as we study the scriptures.

“As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. … It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” 86).

  • What phrases did Elder Scott use to describe the process of identifying truths in the scriptures? (“Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them”; “organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle.”)

  • Why do you think it is important to “organize the truth” we learn from a scripture passage into a simple statement of doctrine or principle?

Point out that some gospel doctrines and principles are easy to identify because they are stated directly in the scriptures. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify truths that are stated directly in these verses. Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: If we endure our trials well, God will exalt us and help us triumph over our foes.

Explain that many doctrines and principles are not stated directly in the scripture text but instead are illustrated or described across several verses. Identifying this type of doctrine or principle requires recognizing the truths being illustrated in the scripture passage and stating those truths in a clear, simple way. To help students learn to identify doctrines and principles that are not directly stated, suggest that they ask questions such as “What can I learn from this?” “What is the message or point of these verses?” or “What might the Lord have intended for me to learn from this?”

Invite students to practice identifying doctrines and principles by reviewing Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–8. Ask students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a gospel truth we can learn from Joseph’s prayer and the Lord’s answer to that prayer. After sufficient time, invite several students to read the doctrine or principle they identified from these verses. Truths students identify may include the following:

God hears our prayers.

If we call upon God in times of hardship, He can give us peace.

Applying doctrines and principles in our lives

Refer again to the piece of fruit the class discussed earlier in the lesson.

  • What value does the fruit have if it is never used once it is peeled?

  • If the doctrines and principles we identify in the scriptures can be likened to a piece of fruit we have peeled, what should we do once we identify those truths? (Apply them in our lives.)

Explain that as we come to feel the truth and importance of the doctrines and principles we have identified in the scriptures, we will feel a desire to apply them in our lives. Invite students to share with a partner how they can apply one of the truths they have identified in Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–8.

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask students to follow along and identify phrases that are meaningful to them.

President Boyd K. Packer

“If [you] are acquainted with the revelations, there is no question—personal or social or political or occupational—that need go unanswered. Therein is contained the fulness of the everlasting gospel. Therein we find principles of truth that will resolve every confusion and every problem and every dilemma that will face the human family or any individual in it” (“Teach the Scriptures” [address to CES religious educators, Oct. 14, 1977], 3–4, LDS.org).

  • What phrases stood out to you? Why?

Conclude the lesson by sharing how the doctrines and principles in the scriptures have blessed your life as you have discovered and applied them. Consider inviting students to share a doctrine or principle they have discovered in the scriptures and how it has blessed their lives. Encourage students to search diligently for these eternal truths as they study the scriptures and to apply them in their lives.

Commentary and Background Information

Discovering and applying gospel doctrines and principles

President Ezra Taft Benson offered this instruction concerning scripture study:

“One of the most important things you can do … is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein” (“The Power of the Word,” Ensign, May 1986, 81).

Supplemental Teaching Ideas

Scripture study skills and methods

In addition to the two scripture study skills and methods that were given in lesson 5, the following can be helpful in understanding the context and content of the scriptures:

Name substitution: To help apply doctrines and principles from the scriptures in your life, substitute your name for a name in the scriptures. Try using this scripture study skill with Doctrine and Covenants 6:20.

Cause and effect: To help you identify gospel principles in the scriptures, look for “if–then” and “because–therefore” relationships. Try using this skill with Doctrine and Covenants 5:24.

Scripture lists: The scriptures often contain lists of things such as instructions or warnings. When you find lists, consider numbering each element. Try using this skill with Doctrine and Covenants 4:5–6.

Contrasts: The scriptures 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. Try this skill with Doctrine and Covenants 50:23–25.

Visualization: Look for descriptive details that can help you create a mental picture as you read. Imagine being present at certain events. This can strengthen your testimony of the reality of what you read in the scriptures. Try this skill with D&C 45:44–46.

Symbolism: Words such as like, as, or likened unto can help you identify symbols. Look beyond a symbol by exploring its nature and pondering its attributes. Footnotes, the Bible Dictionary, and the Topical Guide or Guide to the Scriptures can help with the interpretation of some symbols. Try using this study skill with Doctrine and Covenants 11:2–3.

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. You can see an example of someone using this skill in Doctrine and Covenants 138.

Cross-references: Often, one scripture passage can explain or clarify a phrase or concept found in a different passage. Link scripture passages to each other using the scripture footnotes, index, or the Topical Guide or Guide to the Scriptures to help unlock the meaning of a scripture passage. Practice this skill by reading Doctrine and Covenants 121:1 and then following footnote b to Psalm 13:1. How does reading Psalm 13:1 help you better understand the feeling expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 121:1?