I wanted to share some of my favorite scripture study tips, a list of questions I personally use and a compilation of ideas from some of my favorite books. There are many, many other ideas, but these are my go-to's. Please share what works for you!
Answers usually come because of questions
One of the most important truths is that we receive answers best when we have specific questions. I love the scripture study experiment Wendy Watson Nelson has suggested to get answers to your questions.. you should definitely try that! Elder Bednar made these suggestions:
In addition to the personal questions I bring to my scripture study, I also have this list of questions typed up on a paper that I keep with my study material. To be clear, I do not use all these questions for every verse! But I keep these questions on hand for when I come across a verse or section of verses where I feel impressed to go a little deeper or I just don't understand what might be going on or how it might relate to me. I don't use this list to over-complicate my study, but to help me simplify my search for what I am needing or could glean from the scriptures right now in my life.
Questions to consider while studying the scriptures
How does this reflect the atonement of Jesus Christ in this story?
How does this deepen my love/gratitude for Jesus Christ?
How does this show the attributes of Jesus Christ or the character of Heavenly Father?
How does that make me feel?
What does this story compel me to DO?
How does this story apply to me? My current circumstances? The longings of my heart?
Are there hidden treasures to help me understand my identity? calling? Heavenly Mother?
Does this inspire me to reach out or serve someone specific?
Does a specific word stand out to me? Where is it repeated?
How does the definition of a word or words add possible meaning or provide clarity?
What do latter-day prophets or apostles have to say about this verse? (Citation Index app)
How do I see myself in each of the people in this verse?
How does this event shape the person/people involved or impact others in the future?
Why did they choose this based on the past 4 generations?
How did their choice(s) affect the next 4 generations?
What gospel principle is being taught?
What application of gospel living is being taught?
Is there a pattern in the verse/chapter? Does the pattern repeat in other texts?
How does this deepen my love for God or inspire me to serve or worship Him in a deeper way?
What am I grateful for regarding this verse/story?
Is this situation handled correctly? (Is this how Jesus would have handled it?)
Is this a good/better/best situation and what might each have looked?
How does this fit into a larger picture/eternal perspective?
Does this fit into the tree of life allegory?
How does this fit in to the plan of salvation?
Does this point me to the temple?
Does this teach anything about building Zion or the gathering of Israel?
How could this apply to my internal conflicts (mental/emotional/spiritual)?
How does this reflect the natural man and/or overcoming the natural man?
What does this compel me to start, stop, or continue doing?
Is there any additional symbolic meaning?
Are there any other perspectives to consider?
Are there scriptures or topics to cross reference that could help me understand this better?
Do I feel I have learned what I need to learn from this today or is there more?
When I journal about this, do new insights or questions arise?
How does this help me stay on the covenant path and/or come unto Jesus?
Do I feel inspired to share anything I’ve learned or felt with someone specific?
Do I feel inspired to write about this in my journal or elsewhere?
So... that's my list! I started with about 10 questions and kept adding so I'm sure I'll continue to do so. If you have any questions you think should be added to the list or questions you find helpful, leave a comment to let me know.
I don't really think I can complete this post without including some highlights of a few books I've read and their thoughts on approaching scripture study. Here are some insights that have impacted me and help me in my engagement with the word of God.
Approach the Scriptures from several ways at the same time.
(Ideas compiled from Beholding the Tree of Life, book by Bradley J. Kramer)
I love this book. I'm still reading it, actually, but had to share the points I've learned so far. The book is recommending Jewish Rabbinic traditions of scripture study and gives examples from the Book of Mormon. It has been fascinating and helpful!
Levels of study: Peshat: the literal level of meaning, the simple level, what the scriptural text actually says. All other levels must stand on this foundation, it can't be skipped. Remez: the allegorical level, what the text represents—ideas, scientific principles, philosophic truths, historical trends, and so forth. Derash: the sermonic level, what the text means to people in terms of bettering their daily lives and spiritual situation. Sod: the mystical level, what the text signifies to mystics and how it reveals God to them. He suggests microscopic attention to detail as well as a macroscopic view of the text as a whole. Keys for in depth interpretation: -Opening sentences. Sentences that introduce sections often convey more information than is apparent at first glance. These sentences can set the tone for the ensuing section. -The contiguity principle—“ Meaning is always derived from its context... deriving interpretive clues from the neighboring text. -Similarities between different texts (all standard works including most recent general conference)- Rare words or phrases which appear in different sections not apparently related...verbal association is an opportunity for us to become aware of a deeper message. -Differences between similar texts- Unexpected inconsistencies requiring divine explanation and/or further inquiry. -Repetitions and redundancies. Understanding the purpose. -Word order. Literary allusions - pointing the reader to something else without stating it directly. “By training our ear to notice these subtleties, we become conscious of the omnipresence of the phenomenon and become attuned to deeper meanings in the text.”
Paying the Price
(Ideas from Look Up, My Soul by Gerald N. Lund)
The Lord rarely speaks of “reading the scriptures. He chooses much more powerful verbs:
Meditate on them day and night (Joshua 1:8)
Search the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11)
Study the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; D&C 11:22)
Hold fast (1 Nephi 15:24)
Delight in the scriptures (2 Nephi 4:15)
Feast upon the words of Christ (2 Nephi 32:3)
Ponder in our hearts (2 Nephi 32:8; Moroni 10:3)
Plant the word in our hearts (Alma 33:23)
Lay hold upon the word of God (Helaman 3:29)
Search diligently (3 Nephi 23:1)
Treasure up continually (D&C 84:85)
Ponder and reflect on the word (D&C 138:1-2; JSH 1:12)
His 5 tips:
Take meaningful side trips (Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, other sources)
Making the Scriptures Personal Can (possibly should) Include a Personal Translation
I’m a fan of Adam S. Miller. I bought his book ‘Letters to a Young Mormon to give to my nephew. My nephew still doesn’t have it because I started browsing through it, then sat down and read it in one day. I marked it up and refer to it often. One of my favorite concepts was from his letter on approaching the scriptures. I’ll let him explain:
“Joseph [Smith] produced, as God required, the first public translations of the scriptures we now share. But that work, open-ended all along, is unfinished. Now, the task is ours… Roll up your sleeves and translate them again… Word by word, line by line, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, God wants the whole thing translated once more, and this time he wants it translated into your native tongue, inflected by your native concerns, and written in your native flesh. To be a [Latter Day Saint] is to do once more, on your own small scale, the same kind of work that Joseph did… The Book of Mormon is give to you as a Urim and Thummim, as your own personal seer stone. Look into it and learn how to see the world by its light. And as you do, you’ll be shown not only how to say but to do what the Lord requires.”
Do what works for you!
There are lots of great resources... books, study guides, apps, podcasts, websites... It is truly the fullness of times and, using discernment, we should take advantage of whatever works best for us at different points. The greatest resource, though, is a personal relationship with Heavenly Father made possible through the Holy Ghost and the atonement of Jesus Christ. This relationship is the way and deepening that relationship is the reward. Don't ever lose sight of that truth.