George Albert Smith repeatedly referred to the scriptures as “the greatest library in the world” (TPC:GAS, chapter 10). During his October 1917 conference address he stood before the congregation and read the entire first section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Read: D&C 1:37-39.
“Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen” (TPC:GAS, 106).
This was actually not an easy task for President Smith. His reading an entire section is particularly significant considering what “The Life and Ministry of George Albert Smith” chapter describes regarding his health:
“When he was 18, he found work with a railway surveying party. While working this job, the glare from the sun on the desert sands damaged his eyes. This left George Albert’s vision permanently impaired, making it difficult for him to read and causing him discomfort throughout his life” (TPC:GAS, xv, right above the “Missionary Service” section).
“Seek Ye Out of the Best Books…”
“The Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, do not contain the wisdom of men alone, but of God. While they do not find their way into the homes of many people, they contain the word of the Lord. What mattereth it, though we understand Homer and Shakespeare and Milton, and I might enumerate all the great writers of the world; if we have failed to read the scriptures we have missed the better part of this world’s literature” (TPC:GAS, 104, first paragraph).
The scriptures have inspired and influenced some of the greatest western literature of the past, and they continue to inspire writers in the present. I recently discovered some excellent poetry which was inspired by reading the creation story from the Old Testament:
The sun’s ten fingers came unfurled.
He gathered struts and made a world.
With careful breath the sphere was blown:
a hollow ball of molten stone.
And with the glass-sharp stars in thrall,
he spun the geodesic ball.
The moon stretched out her oyster hand
and on the struts she lifted land.
In mercury streams the valleys bled:
the mountain shook its hoary head.
She set the rain in silver sheets
upon the ocean’s stormy streets.
The sun shook out his golden beard
and with its heat the land was seared.
The gold-gray ash, ’neath greening rain,
bristled up in heads of grain.
The trees grew up at his approach,
and closed their gowns with emerald brooch.
The moon unbound her swelling womb
and scattered the world with ruby bloom.
She shrouded its eyes with birds in flight
and veiled its face with silky night.
Then balanced the sphere on a silver scale
and lined the seas with fishes’ mail.
Then the sun and the moon
set the world in a swoon
and clothed it in meadow and wood.
And with bashful glance
began to dance
. . . and called it good.
Ask: What literature have you read that has enhanced your appreciation for the scriptures? [Make a few recommendations if necessary.]
Read: Alma 29:8
“For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.”
This verse struck Elder B.H. Roberts as an admonition to consider how God has blessed many nations with truth:
“[This scripture] unites in one splendid brotherhood all the Seekers after God, all those who received inspiration from the Most High and were sent forth from the Divine Presence to instruct their fellow men. Joseph Smith, I say, unites their hands in a splendid brotherhood of the God-inspired men of this world….How noble is this view of God’s dealings with the children of men in respect of revelation, as compared with that narrow, bigoted view prevailing at the beginning of the 19th century, which held that the Hebrew Scriptures contained all the word of God delivered to the inhabitants of the earth.” B. H. Roberts, Joseph Smith-Prophet Teacher (Princeton, New Jersey: 1971; first printed ca 1912), 20-22. See also Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1921), 32–33.
Ask: How can reading other works help expand our understanding of our own scripture?
Under Spencer W. Kimball, the First Presidency issued an official statement indicating the worth of diverse world literature:
“Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father. The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all people sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come” (Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney, N. Eldon Tanner, First Presidency statement, Feb. 15, 1978. See James E. Faust, “The Restoration of All Things,” Ensign April 2006).
Read: D&C 109:7
“And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.”
Ask: In addition to our scriptures, what might qualify as being listed among the “best books”?
President Uchtdorf recently asked us to “encourage your families, your quorum members, everyone to learn and become better educated”:
“Education is not so much the filling of a bucket as the lighting of a fire. For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment. We are to learn ‘of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad’ (D&C 88:79–80).
Joseph Smith loved learning even though he had few opportunities for formal education. In his journals, he spoke happily of days spent in study and often expressed his love of learning (See Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman , 84, 135, 164). Joseph taught the Saints that knowledge was a necessary part of our mortal journey, for ‘a man is saved no faster than he [gains] knowledge,’ and that ‘whatever principle of intelligence we attain … in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection’ (D&C 130:18–19) [...]
Strive to increase your knowledge of all that is ‘virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy’ (Articles of Faith 1:13). Seek knowledge ‘by study and also by faith’ (D&C 109:7). Seek with a humble spirit and contrite heart (See D&C 136:33). As you apply the spiritual dimension of faith to your study—even of temporal things—you can amplify your intellectual capacity, for ‘if your eye be single to [God’s] glory, your whole [body] shall be filled with light, … and [comprehend] all things’ (D&C 88:67).
In our learning, let us not neglect the fountain of revelation. The scriptures and the words of modern-day apostles and prophets are the sources of wisdom, divine knowledge, and personal revelation to help us find answers to all the challenges in life. Let us learn of Christ; let us seek out that knowledge which leads to peace, truth, and the sublime mysteries of eternity (see D&C 42:61).” From Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Two Principles For Any Economy,” October 2009 General Conference.
“Find ways and means to interest them…”
George Albert Smith stressed the importance of personal and family study of the scriptures. Not reading, but study.
“Keep this library where you can find it, and where your children will find it, and then have enough interest in the eternal salvation of those boys and girls that are in your home that you will find ways and means to interest them in what these books contain, that they may know how precious they are in the sight of their Heavenly Father.
What a lovely thing it was to me when I was a child to have father and mother sit down by the fireplace and read the Bible while we children sat on the floor. … Now, I want to say, my brothers and sisters, that the advice of Jesus Christ, is still in force with us wherein he said, “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” [John 5:39.] Do not neglect the old family Bible; do not put it away upon the shelf and forget it. Find out, if you do not already know, what it says, and if you have read it before, read it again often to your children and to your children’s children. Read them not only the Bible, but other books of scripture that the Lord has given us for our exaltation, for our comfort and for our blessing” (TPC:GAS, 107-108, starting at the last paragraph).
Ask: What are some specific ways you’ve tried to make scripture study more meaningful for yourself, and family?
Six Tips For More Fruitful Scripture Study
So much could be said about improving our scripture study. I’ll focus on just six tips you might try out. Some of are adapted from a great book by BYU professor James E. Faulconer, Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions (Provo: FARMS, 1999) It’s also available online for free:
(1) Keep a notebook.
A notebook can be used to record spiritual prompts, or to write paraphrases of various scriptures, write outlines of chapters/verses, etc. Encourage your kids to do the same. (See also Paul Vandenberghe, “More Than a Scripture Journal,” New Era, May 2012).
(2) Find out how different prophets have employed scripture verses over time.
Prophets and apostles have used different scriptures for different purposes depending on their own contexts and needs. BYU has a great website which allows you to easily search for General Conference scripture references going back to 1942. See scripturesbeta.byu.edu/
(3) Create your own cross-references, but be careful of relying too heavily on cross-referencing.
This tends to flatten the scriptures into a single voice which overlooks the nuance of different writers and contexts. As Faulconer notes: “[R]elying to heavily on cross-references can tempt us to see the scriptures as disjointed pieces of information rather than as whole sermons, stories, and hymns…We must be careful not to fragment them into isolated bits of information or mere aphorisms to put on the bathroom mirror” (Faulconer, 48).
(4) Seek the context of the words and passages, paying attention to historical or cultural background where possible.
Brigham Young: “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households” (from “Chapter 17: The Scriptures,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 119).
(5) Check commentaries and alternative translations judiciously as guides (see Faulconer, 13-14).
The Bible Dictionary was patterned after a Cambridge University Bible dictionary, and suggests making use of other sources to improve our knowledge of the scriptures:
“[The Bible Dictionary] is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth. Many of the items have been drawn from the best available scholarship of the world and are subject to reevaluation based on new research and discoveries or on new revelation. The topics have been carefully selected and are treated briefly. If an elaborate discussion is desired, the student should consult a more exhaustive dictionary” (LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, “Introduction,” 599).
Modern apostles have also used modern translations of the Bible to supplement their scripture study. See, for example, Neal A. Maxwell, (Ensign, May 1991, p. 90); RSV; Ensign, Dec. 1986, p. 23; NKJV; Jeffrey R. Holland, (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 34); NEB; Robert D. Hales, (Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 26). NIV. I challenge you to make use of another translation in your study of the scriptures. I prefer the NRSV. (See Nitsav, “Elder McConkie and Targumim, or How to Help LDS Read Non-KJV Versions,” faithpromotingrumor.com, 26 February 2007).
If you happen to speak a foreign language, try comparing the Book of Mormon’s English translation to the other language and think about how the translation decisions draw more meaning out of the verses. My wife and I began reading the Russian and English versions together, her translating, me comparing, and it has been a fun exercise so far.
(6) Questions are an important key.
“Assume that we do not already know what [the scriptures] say. If we assume that we already know what the scriptures say, then they cannot continue to teach us….As a rule, focus scripture study on questions rather than particular doctrines…[W]hen we start our study with doctrinal questions, we often have difficulty getting beyond what we think we already know” (Faulconer, 11).
“Asking questions about scripture is a way to give it attention. It is also a way to open our minds to the influence of the Holy Ghost and prepare ourselves to hear new and sometimes surprising things” (Faulconer, 34).
Example questions: “To whom was the prophet speaking or writing? Why did he say what he did? What does this word mean? How is this passage of scripture organized?…What do I not understand about these verses? How does this differ from what I have assumed to be correct and how do I account for that difference? We should be willing to try out various understandings to see which one is most helpful [or] revealing” (Faulconer, 9).
Ask: Have any of you had an experience which led you to read a scripture in a new way?
George Albert Smith consistently affirmed his love of the scriptures and his desire that we spend more time with them:
“[The scriptures are] the greatest library to be found in all the world. What does it contain? It contains what your Father and mine has thought of enough importance to preserve and give to the children of men and make accessible in many languages of the World. These scriptures are all important and should be understood by the Latter-day Saints. I am not going to ask you to hold up your hands to ascertain how many here assembled have ever read these books, but I desire to call your attention to the fact that these are precious truths, and they contain the revealed word of the Lord printed and published to the world for the purpose of preparing his children for a place in the celestial kingdom. That is why I say they are so valuable. … How thankful we ought to be that we live in a day and age when we can read his advice and counsel…” (TPC:GAS, 106-7).