Studying the Scriptures

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 2–5


This study guide has been prepared to help you read, study, and understand the scriptures. Most of your study time will be spent reading and thinking about the scriptures, so this section has been included to help you get more out of that study.

Elder Howard W. Hunter, as 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 these 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 amount of chapters or pages: sixty minutes is ideal, thirty minutes is a great accomplishment, yet fifteen minutes can be meaningful also.

  • 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 and good study skills will also 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 Matthew 5:14–16 and notice footnote 16a. By looking up and reading the scripture referred to in the footnotes, what additional insights do you gain about what it means to “let your light so shine”? (Matthew 5:16).

Matthew chapter 5, verse 16, footnote a

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 Pearl of Great Price for additional references.

For example, read Genesis 1:26. As you do, you may wonder about the word us in “Let us make man in our image.” Who helped God with the Creation? Notice the footnote that refers you to the Topical Guide. Find a scripture reference that clearly says Jesus Christ is the Creator. Look in the Bible Dictionary under “Christ” (p. 633) to find a list of other names He is known by.

Genesis chapter 1, verse 26, footnote a

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.

Isaiah chapter 2, verse 1, footnote b

What insight do you gain from knowing the Hebrew word for “saw” in Isaiah 2:1?

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 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 (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 Exodus 7:10–13. What important help does the Joseph Smith Translation provide for these verses?

Exodus chapter 7, verse 13, footnote a

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 to Doctrine and Covenants 89?

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!

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

Prayer

The scriptures were written by inspiration. Consequently, they are best understood when we have the companionship of the Spirit. In the Old Testament we learn about the priest Ezra, who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (Ezra 7:10). We prepare our hearts to read the scriptures by praying each time we 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. This manual also gives some background for many chapters in the scriptures. If you have time, you may also refer to other Church-approved 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 Chapter Headings

Chapter headings are simple summaries of the main ideas in a chapter. Reading the chapter heading before you begin a chapter 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+

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 means to become like a child.

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 “man” in Moses 1:39?

Visualize

Picture in your mind what is taking place. For example, when you read Genesis 37, imagine how you might feel if you were one of the younger brothers in a family and all your older brothers hated or were jealous of you.

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.

Look for Connecting Words

Connecting words include and, but, because, therefore, 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 chapter 26, verse 3

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

Read Doctrine and Covenants 45:30–32 and note how the word but shows a contrast between the conditions of the wicked and the righteous in the latter days.

D&C chapter 45, verse 32

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

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 his testimony that he had just explained the doctrine of Christ. Knowing that Nephi taught the doctrine of Christ between verses 2 and 21, we should go back and study Nephi’s words further to find out what the doctrine of Christ is.

Another example of finding patterns is to look for a prophet’s explanation of cause and effect by watching for his use of the words if and then. In Leviticus 26, Moses prophesied of blessings or cursings that would come to the children of Israel. Look at verses 3–4, 18, 23–24, 27–28, and 40–42 and notice that Moses used the if-then pattern when he taught the children of Israel about what would happen if they obeyed or disobeyed the Lord’s commandments.

The repetition of a word or idea is another pattern to look for. For example, notice how many times in Genesis 39 the writer mentioned that the Lord was with Joseph.

Look for Lists in the Scriptures

Lists help you see more clearly what the Lord and His prophets teach. The Ten Commandments are a list (see Exodus 20). The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are easily seen as a list. Finding other lists may require a little more effort. For example, make a list from Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–31 of what the Lord said parents are required to teach their children.

Ask Questions

Continue to ask questions like 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 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 author thinks the answer may be obvious. Sometimes the writers do not give an answer, however, because the question asked may require some thinking and the answer may not be immediate. For example, read Mark 4:35–41 and give answers for the four questions in those verses as if you were there.

Look for Types and Symbolic Meanings

Prophets often use symbols and imagery 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, Lehi had a vision in 1 Nephi 8. Nephi later had a vision in which he saw the things 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 your footnotes.

  2. 2.

    Think about the characteristics of the symbol and what the symbol might teach you. Alma used this skill in explaining the Liahona to his son (see Alma 37:38–47).

  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, how do the different elements in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac testify of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

Write

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

Ponder

To ponder is to think deeply about something, to weigh it out in your mind, 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. 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 the scriptures to yourself is listening to promptings of the Spirit, who the Lord promised “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

For example, Nephi likened the scriptures to himself and his family by relating 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 could increase (see 1 Nephi 19:23).

Reread

We do not learn 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.

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 they think what they read 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 to 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.

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).