Studying the Scriptures

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 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.

  1. Read carefully to understand the scriptures.

  2. Study every day.

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

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

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

  6. Have a study plan. (See Conference Report, Oct. 1979, pp. 91–93; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 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


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

Cross Reference

For example, readDoctrine and Covenants 18:34–35and notice footnote 35a.By finding and reading the scripture referred to in the footnotes, what additional insights do you gain about how the Lord’s voice can be heard?

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.

topical guide and bible dictionary

For example, readDoctrine and Covenants 45:39. As you do, you may wonder about the wordfearethin the phrase “he that feareth me.” Does this mean that the Lord wants us to be afraid of Him? Notice the footnote that refers you to the Topical Guide and the subject “reverence.” Find a scripture reference that clearly teaches the need to show reverence to the Lord. Look in the Bible Dictionary under “fear” (p. 672) to find a further explanation of two different scriptural uses of the wordfear.

Help with Words and Phrases

Some words and phrases are labeled with the following notations:

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

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

  3. 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.

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

    Help words

What insight do you gain from knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word for “Sabaoth” inRomans 9:29?


How does the footnote help you understand the meaning of the wordoblationsinDoctrine and Covenants 59:12? What kind of oblations could you offer on the Sabbath? In addition to going without food, what else doesfastingmean?

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 (seeD&C 45:60). Consequently, the Prophet Joseph Smith restored many important truths and made many significant changes in Bible passages that were possibly mistranslated, unclear, or incomplete (seeArticles 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.


ReadMatthew 4:2–6. What important help does the Joseph Smith Translation provide for these verses?

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. Turn to this section and find what year and month the Prophet Joseph Smith completed his translation of the Book of Mormon. Turn to map 2 and locate the Joseph Smith Sr. log home. What important event occurred there? (see note 1).

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 by reading the section heading toDoctrine and Covenants 89?

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

Study Skills

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 skills will help you learn more when you study. They are divided into three different categories: before reading, during reading, and after reading.

Before Reading


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” (Ezra 7:10). Prepare your heart to read the scriptures by praying each time you read.

Get Background Information

Understanding the historical background of the scriptures will help you gain greater insights as you read. The Bible Dictionary provides historical background and a brief overview of each book’s content and main themes. The section headings in the Doctrine and Covenants provide a brief explanation of the historical background of the revelations. The index at the back of the triple combination also contains useful information. If youhave time, you may also refer to other Church-produced books and manuals that have background on the scripture you are reading.

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.

Read the Section Headings and Verse Summaries

Section headings provide a brief and helpful historical background to the contents of each section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verse summaries are simple overviews of the main ideas in the section. Reading the section heading and verse summary before you begin to study a section is not only a good study habit but will also help you prepare yourself to ask questions and look for answers as you read.

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.

Look up the Meanings of Words You Do Not Understand

Teen boy reads

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, readDoctrine and Covenants 41:5and find out what the Lord said it meant to be His disciple.

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.

Liken the Scripture

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 “David” as you readDoctrine and Covenants 30:1–2?



Picture in your mind what is taking place. For example, when you readJoseph Smith—History 1:27–47, try to imagine how you might feel if an angel appeared to you in your bedroom three times and gave you an important message.

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

Look for Connecting Words

Connecting words includeand, but, because, therefore,andnevertheless.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 wordbecauseindicates inDoctrine and Covenants 84:54–55, you can learn an important truth about the importance of the Book of Mormon.

Becauseindicates a cause-and-effect relationship between the Saints’ belief and gratitude for the Book of Mormon and their ability to receive revelation and the Lord’s blessings.

ReadDoctrine and Covenants 45:30–32and note how the wordbutshows a contrast between the conditions of the wicked and the righteous in the latter days.

Emphasizing the wordbutcan give us assurance that the righteous will be spared some of the destructions before the Second Coming.

Look for Patterns

InDoctrine and Covenants 52:14, the Lord declared He would give a pattern whereby we may avoid deception from Satan. Then, in verse 19, He referred to this pattern. Knowing that between verses 14 and 19 there is help from the Lord on how to recognize good or evil spirits, we should read and study these verses to understand the pattern.

Another example of finding patterns is to look for the Lord’s explanation of cause and effect by watching for His use of the wordsifandthen.InDoctrine and Covenants 5, Martin Harris was told what he must do to receive a specific gift from the Lord. Read verse 24 and find the if-then pattern. Look for what he was told he must do to receive the blessing he was seeking.

The repetition of a word, phrase, or idea is another pattern to look for. For example, compare the content of the first five verses ofDoctrine and Covenants 11; 12; and 14. Each of these revelations were given to Church members who were beginning to labor in the Lord’s kingdom. Notice the similar message the Lord had for each of His servants.

Look for Lists in the Scriptures

Lists help you understand more clearly what the Lord and His prophets teach. The Ten Commandments are a list (seeExodus 20). The Beatitudes in3 Nephi 12:3–11are easily seen as a list. Finding other lists may require a little more effort. For example, make a list fromDoctrine and Covenants 68:25–31of what the Lord said parents are required to teach their children.

Ask Questions

Continue to ask questions as you were instructed to do in the “Before Reading” section. As you read, you may rephrase questions you asked before reading or you may 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 such as “and thus we see.”

Answer Questions Given in the Scriptures

Many times the Lord asks and then answers a question. He asked some of the elders of the Church, “Unto what were ye ordained?” (D&C 50:13). Then He answered, “To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (v. 14).

On other occasions questions are asked but no answers are given—generally because the answer may be obvious (for example, seeD&C 122:8). Sometimes the scriptures do not give an answer, however, because the question asked may require some thinking and the answer may not be immediate. For example, readAlma 5:14–33and answer the questions in those verses as if you were there.

Look for Types and Symbolic Meanings

Type and Symbol

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 an interpretation in the scriptures. For example, many elements of the parable of the wheat and the tares fromMatthew 13are explained inDoctrine and Covenants 86:1–7and 101:64–66. Sometimes an interpretation can be found by using a cross-reference in the footnotes.

  2. 2.

    Think about the characteristics of the symbol and what the symbol might teach you. For example, inDoctrine and Covenants 38:24–27, the Lord spoke of the love a father has for his obedient sons to illustrate how He is and to emphasize our need to treat each other with the love and unity that should be found among family members.

  3. 3.

    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, inDoctrine and Covenants 101:81–91, how is the judge who answers the pleas of the woman like the Lord answering the Saints’ cries for help?


Keep 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. Another way to mark scriptures is to write a cross-reference to another scripture in the margin. Doing this to several verses that treat the same topic gives you a chain of scriptures on a specific topic that you can find by going to any one of the scriptures in the chain. Marking scriptures can often help you find important verses more quickly.

After Reading



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” (seeJoshua 1:8). There are several good examples in the scriptures where important revelations came as a result of pondering, especially pondering the scriptures (seeD&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. In order to liken the scriptures to yourself, you need to 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 thescriptures to yourself is listening to promptings of the Holy Ghost, who the Lord promised “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

The Doctrine and Covenants uses many situations and principles taught in the Bible to illustrate and teach doctrines in the latter days. For example, Moses used the spirit of revelation to bring “the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground” (D&C 8:3); Church members are cautioned to not “steady the ark of God,” as did Uzzah (D&C 85:8; see also2 Samuel 6:6–7); and the Saints are commanded to “do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32).


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 understand the scriptures better.


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 they think what they read applies to their lives. 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.


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 (seeD&C 1:33).

“Let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures … ; and then it shall be made known what you shall do” (D&C 26:1).