New Helps for Searching the Scriptures

by Edward J. Brandt

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    How is your scripture study? Do the scriptures sometimes seem difficult to understand? In 1972 the First Presidency commissioned a project to help the Church in improving its scripture understanding. Under the careful watchcare of the Scriptures Publication Committee (Elder Thomas S. Monson, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), there have been published new editions of all of the standard works of the Church. In August 1979 there appeared the new LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible. In August 1981 the new edition of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (commonly referred to as the “triple combination” or the “three-in-one”) was published.

    If you have been enrolled in seminary during the past two or three years, you probably have copies of these new editions of the scriptures, but the many aids and helps in these new editions may still be hidden to your understanding. To appreciate the full value of all that has been prepared, we must discover it for ourselves.

    You might already have a brief friendship with the new tools provided to help us better understand and utilize the scriptures, but let me introduce them again in the form of questions that you may have asked yourself sometime in the course of your scripture study. Since the new edition of the triple is the most recent to appear, our review will center in its pages.

    Occasionally I get confused. It is sometimes difficult to follow the story or content of a chapter. What can I do to get help?

    As you begin reading a chapter, look carefully at the chapter heading. For example, the chapter heading for Jacob 1 (p. 117) provides a concise overview of the contents of the chapter.


    Jacob and Joseph seek to persuade men to believe in Christ and keep his commandments—Nephi dies—Wickedness prevails among the Nephites

    How can I find out why a particular revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants was given? Where can I read more about the background to each revelation?

    Look at the section introduction for section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants (p. 15). [D&C 3]


    Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Harmony, Pennsylvania, July 1828, relating to the loss of 116 pages of manuscript translated from the first part of the Book of Mormon, which was called the “Book of Lehi.” The Prophet had reluctantly allowed these pages to pass from his custody to that of Martin Harris, who had served for a brief period as scribe in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The revelation was given through the Urim and Thummim. HC 1:21–23. See also Section 10.

    Note that it informs us of the name of the lost pages of manuscript and directs us to HC 1:21–23 (History of the Church, volume 1, pages 21 through 23) for more information. These kinds of helps and background information are given throughout the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Sometimes I write down what I think is the reference to what I have just read, but when I go to look it up again, it is wrong. Will the new editions of the scriptures help me to avoid such mistakes?

    Most likely you noted the chapter numbers given on the top of the page in the old edition. Sometimes one chapter ended and a new chapter began on the same page. In the old edition, only one of the chapters was noted at the top of the page. Note page 150 in the old edition of the Book of Mormon. If you wanted to record the reference for verse 30, you might write 8:30 because of the page heading which reads “Mosiah 8.” The actual contents of the page are Mosiah 7:29–33 and Mosiah 8:1–9.

    The new edition always gives the exact contents of each page as a running page heading. Look at page 162 of the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon. The running head lists the contents of that page precisely—“Mosiah 7:26–8:3.”

    I don’t understand some of the words in the scriptures. Do the new editions provide any helps for understanding difficult passages?

    Some of the footnotes provide helpful explanations of difficult passages. In 2 Nephi 8:13 (p. 71), footnote 13c gives the meaning of a scriptural phrase in different words to provide a clearer understanding:

    a page from the scriptures

    I don’t understand what some of the abbreviations stand for. For instance, what do JST and BD mean?

    JST is the abbreviation for the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, also formerly referred to as the Inspired Version. BD stands for the Bible Dictionary and is a reference to the new Bible Dictionary in the 1979 LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible. By the way, look up the entry for JST or Joseph Smith Translation (p. 717) in the Bible Dictionary of the LDS edition of the Bible. An excellent explanation of the work prepared by the Prophet Joseph Smith is given there.

    For a complete listing of the abbreviations used in the new edition of the Book of Mormon, look on the page facing the copyright information page.

    What are the locations of the towns and places mentioned in some of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants? Are any maps provided in the new edition?

    Maps are provided on pages 295 through 298 in the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. They will help you locate many important places in Church history. For instance, in section 24, verse 3, [D&C 24:3] “Colesville, Fayette, and Manchester,” New York, are mentioned as being branches of the Church to whom the message of the revelation was to be given. The map entitled “The New York-Ohio Area” (p. 296) shows the location of each of the places mentioned in the revelation.

    How do you pronounce some of the unusual names in the Book of Mormon?

    The new edition of the Book of Mormon provides a Pronouncing Guide (pp. 532–535) to assist you. For example, in Ether 2:13 a place with the name Moriancumer is mentioned. The suggested pronounciation “mor-e-an ká-mer” is listed on page 534.

    Aside from the additional helps, were any further changes made in the new edition of the triple combination?

    Other additions or changes in the new edition are generally corrections of errors made in the earliest printings of the book. Have you ever copied something wrong or maybe even misread a word or two as you copied them? In checking the original manuscript copies of the Book of Mormon, it has been found that the first printer and some who followed made such errors. While the corrections made in the new edition do not change the message significantly, it is helpful to have such corrections. Most of them you will probably never even be aware of. The following examples will let you see the kind of corrections that historical and textual studies have provided for this new edition of the Book of Mormon.

    2 Nephi 2:27 [2 Ne. 2:27]—Here the typesetter misread the word.

    Former Edition

    1981 Edition

    27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

    27 Wherefore, men are afree according to the bflesh; and call things are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself.

    Mosiah 29:15—The phrase which was left out started with the same words as a following phrase and was just skipped by the printer.

    Former Edition

    1981 Edition

    15 And whosoever has committed iniquity, him have I punished according to the law which has been given to us by our fathers.

    15 And whosoever has committed iniquity, him have I apunished according to the crime which he has committed, according to the law which has been given to us by our fathers.

    A few changes have also been made in the wording of the Articles of Faith for the sake of simplicity (see pp. 60–61 in the Pearl of Great Price).

    Of further interest are the additions to the text made in the new edition of the triple. Two sections, 137 and 138 (Joseph Smith’s vision of the celestial kingdom, p. 285; and Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead, p. 286) have been added to the Doctrine and Covenants. Also, excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff dealing with the Manifesto, and the First Presidency’s statement on the revelation giving the priesthood to all worthy male members (“OD—2,” p. 293) are included in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Well now, just ask yourself, How well acquainted am I with these scriptural helps? And more importantly, How often do I use them? People only become proficient at something they work with often. Resolve to be a master at using the tools that the new editions of the scriptures are equipped with. Using these aids is a key to their helping and serving you, and they will increase your understanding of the meaning of the scriptures and the gospel. President Marion G. Romney provides additional advice concerning such a growth process:

    “Learning the gospel from the written word, however, is not enough. It must also be lived. As a matter of fact, getting a knowledge of the gospel and living it are interdependent. They go hand in hand. One cannot fully learn the gospel without living it. A knowledge of the gospel comes by degrees: one learns a little, obeys what he learns, learns a little more, and obeys that. This cycle continues in an endless round. Such is the pattern by which one can move on to a full knowledge of the gospel.” (“Records of Great Worth,” Ensign, Sept. 1980, p. 4.)

    Happy, prosperous, and fruitful searching of the scriptures!

    Photos by Michael McConkie