In the early 2000s I wrote the book, Please Pass the Scriptures, with the intent of helping people learn techniques to improve their scripture study. More recently, I’ve been working with some colleagues to find ways to help others use a variety of approaches in their scripture study to make their studies more meaningful. I feel like we all know that “We should read our scriptures,” and that “The scriptures have the answers,” but many of us struggle to understand the scriptures or have a meaningful scripture study. This page is meant to give you some ideas for making your scripture study a spiritual feast.
Scripture Study Basics
1. Have a set amount of time to read the scriptures each day.
2. Begin and end your study with prayer.
3. Take time to record and ponder on the things you’re learning (this “counts” as studying!).
4. Act on what you learn.
See these prophetic quotes for more details on these fundamentals of scripture study.
A Purpose in Your Study
As I talk with people about their scripture study, I think the #1 principle that comes up is the importance of having a purpose when you study. I’ve found that when I’m just reading for the sake of reading, scripture study is less meaningful. But when I have a specific purpose, it’s exciting! When we are looking for specific things in the scriptures, it can help us better connect with the Holy Ghost and find value in our studies.
Below I include 14 specific study techniques—each of them can give you a purpose as you study. You might pick a couple that stand out to you and spend a few days practicing these techniques. After you’ve tested a couple of them, let me know what you think. Which are most helpful for you? What are you doing that helps your scripture study be a meaningful experience?
Specific Scripture Study Techniques
1. Jesus at the Center:
Sometimes we can get so involved with interesting scriptural details that we forget that the main purpose of scripture is to point us to Jesus Christ. Choose a passage and carefully study it looking for what it teaches you about the mission, character, teachings, and nature of Jesus Christ. President Russell M. Nelson’s Topical Guide Invitation is another powerful way to keep Jesus Christ at the center of your scripture study.
2. Go and Do
A key purpose of scripture is to drive change in our lives. Select a verse of scripture from your reading that speaks to your heart. Identify a specific action you could make in your life based on this verse and do it. Share your experiences with others.
3. Power Phrases
The scriptures are full of powerful one-liners—power phrases that are seven words or less. Like, “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47), “Get thee hence” (Matthew 4:10), or “Ye ought to search the scriptures” (Alma 33:2). As you search the scriptures, find as many powerful one-liners as you can. Write down some of the ones that are most meaningful to you.
4. Finding Principles
Elder Richard G. Scott taught, “As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances.” As your study, read between the lines and ask questions, like, “What piece of truth could I generalize from this passage?” or “How could this phrase be relevant in my life.” Write down some of the principles you learn and how you could apply them.
5. Scriptures in General Conference
Select a passage of scripture that interests, impresses, or confuses you. Now visit scriptures.byu.edu and read the selected segments that reference your chosen verses to see how church leaders have used those scriptures. Another approach is to search a specific chapter and look for which verse of scripture has been most frequently quoted in General Conference. For example, 1 Nephi 8 has been quoted more than 200 times in General Conference. Which verse has been quoted most frequently? What principle does it teach? Here’s a tutorial on on how to use this website and its associated app.
6. Powerful Patterns
Select a word or phrase that showed up more than once in this week’s material. Use the Church’s scripture search tool or another tool (e.g., WordCruncher (my personal favorite), the University of Michigan Book of Mormon search site, etc.) to see where else that same word/phrase appears in other scriptures. Look for patterns in how that word/phrase is used across the scriptures. What other words tend to connect with this word? How frequently did different writers use it? How similar are all the other settings where that word or phrase was used? This is a pattern that has been extensively used by Elder Bednar. You might be interested in this talk where he walks through the process of searching for patterns.
7. The scriptures have the answer
There is something powerful about answering questions directly from the scriptures. Select a scriptural passage to read. Imagine that a friend asks you a question, and these verses have the answer to the question that your friend asks. What are some questions you might be asked in the future that are answered by the verses you are studying?
8. Super Scholar
Many scholars have made a careful study of scripture their life’s work and we can learn from their research. Find a scholarly article that relates to a passage you’re reading and see how it expands your understanding of the passages you read. You can find scholarly articles indexed by scripture reference at https://rsc.byu.edu/my-gospel-study/recommended-readings or https://bookofmormoncentral.org/come-follow-me.
9. The 3 Rs of Scripture Study
Select one chapter to read. Read this chapter a first time to get an overview of what it’s about. Then, read the chapter a second time, more carefully. Record what you learned from this second reading. Now, read the passage a third time, paying closer attention to each word and detail. How does your understanding of these verses change across the reads?
10. Trying Translation
Select a passage of scripture and create your own translation of these verses by putting them in your own words. How does having to create your version help you process the words you read? Alternatively, read the passage in a language other than your primary language. How does reading scripture in another language help you understand the passage differently? If you’re reading from the Bible, you could use Bible Hub’s Parallel Versions tool to see several different translations of a single verse.
11. Study to Teach
We learn differently if we are studying to teach others. Think about a person in your life who you would like to share scriptural insights with. Then, study with this person in mind. What do you find in this chapter to share? Have a conversation with this individual where you share what you found with him or her.
12. Putting Pieces Together
We can gain valuable insights in our scripture study by putting several scriptures together to make a more valuable whole. Create a statement that is meaningful to you (for example, “In order to gain more from my scripture study I must…” or “To have Christ’s Atonement work in my life I must…” or “To more fully feel the Spirit I must…” or “To be a better father [or brother/sister], I must…” or “In order to have more effective prayer, I must…” etc. With your statement in place, identify several passages of scripture that answer this question to develop a semi-comprehensive list of how you could accomplish this statement. This is a challenging yet rewarding study approach. If you need help with doing this study, you can see a model of Elder Richard G. Scott using it here. Elder Scott’s model begins about one-third of the way down the page, starting with, “Let us begin the statement of principle by writing In order to qualify…”
13. Peeking at the Playbook
President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. Choose a Book of Mormon passage that features those who oppose Christ or his followers. Identify 5-10 passages that show us the adversary’s tactics. How do you see these strategies of the devil in our day?
14. What Does that Word Mean?
As you’re reading, be on the lookout for words where you’re unsure about their meaning. If you’re reading the Book of Mormon, look them up in the 1828 Dictionary, which can help you see what these words meant at the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon. If you’re reading the Bible, try using the Blue Letter Bible, where you can see what the original Hebrew or Greek words meant (here’s a tutorial on using the Blue Letter Bible). How do these definitions change your understanding of the passages you’re reading?