Reading the scriptures is like walking through someone’s home. You get a general impression, take in a few details, but don’t leave with much else. Searching the scriptures is like ransacking someone’s home to find their valuables. When you search you leave nothing untouched. You consider everything. Below I have listed, and will discuss seven scripture study tips to help you get the most out of your scripture searching.
Tip 1 – Use the footnotes
When I was young I hated the footnotes in my scriptures. All those little letters in my text that pointed me to more information below just interrupted my reading. It wasn’t until I read Talmage’s Jesus, the Christ that my mom was able to convince me to focus on the footnotes. There were pages and pages of them for each chapter. It was in the footnotes that Elder Talmage was able to go into the detail he couldn’t touch in the main text. Most of what I learned from that book was what I found in his footnotes. That experience changed how I look at reading.
The purpose of the footnotes in our scriptures is to direct us to additional information about that same topic. As you read in the Old and New Testaments you also are given Greek and Hebrew translations of some words that make things more clear and understandable. Our scriptures also contain excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible. These references will change your life! Here is an example of just one verse that is forever changed because of Joseph Smith’s work with the translation of the New Testament. I have put on the left John 1:18 as it shows in the King James Version (KJV) of our Bible. The footnote in question is in red. On the right is that same verse with the JST change added into the verse. Stunning difference!
If you look for the JST on every page of your reading of the Bible, you will be amazed at the difference it makes in your perception of Christ and the man he is. When a reference is too long to quote in the footnotes the reference will show something like this: JST John 1: 1–34 (Appendix). The appendix being referred to is in the back of your Bible, right before the maps.
Another important abbreviation to look for in your footnotes is the IE, which means “in other words.” Here is an example out of Isaiah 8:13:
Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your afear, and let him be your dread.
Just reading this verse one would think that we are supposed to live in fear and trembling before the Lord. We should be scared to death of Him. But if you look at the footnote I marked in red above, you will find this in the footnotes:
13a IE Be reverent and humble before God.
Being reverent and humble before God is a far cry from being terrified and scared to death. I can’t emphasize enough what a difference a careful study of the footnotes can do for your understanding of the scriptures. And all of this is in addition to the many, many scriptures the footnotes will direct you to so you can find other verses that talk about the same thing as what is marked in the footnote. You almost have to curb your searches and confine yourself to just what you want to find. If you don’t you may never get out of the first chapter of Matthew.
Tip 2 – Look for periods
This is something I don’t fully understand, but the scriptures have not been divided up into full sentences. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn’t to me. The scriptures have been separated into verses according to phrases or thoughts, not full sentences. The Book of Mormon is the worst for this. Sometimes a single sentence can take up multiple verses.
It is important to know however, that in modern times we have come to value short thoughts. Back when the scriptures were being translated and put into the form we currently have them in, a single sentence could hold a number of complex thoughts mixed together in a cocktail of words. With these prophets a single sentence could hold portions of entire sermons. Because of the complexity of the sentences, sometimes we need to go hunting for the beginning and the end of the sentence. After we know how much information we are dealing with we can try to dissect it into smaller chunks we can understand.
Here is an example of such a monster sentence from Alma 9:19 – 23. There are actually two sentences here, but the first one is less than 20 words. The second sentence covers the rest of the material. I have bolded the important parts and greyed out the example parts. Alma is telling the wicked people of Ammonihah that after receiving so many blessings from the Lord, the Lord would rather destroy them than let them destroy His people through wickedness. Read the bold parts first then go back and include all the examples of the blessings the Lord gave the people that justifies His judgment of them.
19 For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God;
20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come;
21 Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation;
22 Yea, and after having been delivered of God out of the land of Jerusalem, by the hand of the Lord; having been saved from famine, and from sickness, and all manner of diseases of every kind; and they having waxed strong in battle, that they might not be destroyed; having been brought out of bondage time after time, and having been kept and preserved until now; and they have been prospered until they are rich in all manner of things—
23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.
When I read the Book of Mormon I sometimes need to stop my reading and go hunting for who is talking, the current topic, and the conclusion of the thought. Once I have figured out these parts I can work my way backwards through the text to get the meaning of it. Unlike 21st century English speakers who state the concluding idea first then defend it with reasons, the people of the Book of Mormon often start at the beginning of their thought and build their case until they get to their point at the very end. Sometimes it helps to start on the last verse of a thought and work backwards so it makes sense to the 21st-century mind. I’m just saying …