Reading Carefully and Asking Questions in the Scriptures

Dec 18
Careful reading


The power of slow reading and asking questions is immediately apparent when one does it. This is the benefit of a tool like Scripture Notes.

Printed journal editions of the scriptures is also good for this, but has some significant weaknesses compared to digital.

  1. Once you’ve completed the journal experience, you will likely never open it again.
  2. You will not carry your unique thoughts with you into future years of study (or on a mobile device).
  3. You can’t copy/paste relevant quotes or other scriptures into a physical journal.
  4. You can’t do a search to find something you know you wrote or to find related scriptures.
  5. etc…

However, you can slow down in your reading and write your questions in many ways, and regardless of how you choose to do it, it is powerful and unlocks revelatory experiences.

Reading the Scriptures Carefully

For example, we read of Nephi’s visionary experience with an angel in 1 Nephi 11. He is shown the condescension of God in coming down to earth and being born of a virgin woman. The Spirit says to him:

14. …Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15. And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16. And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17. And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18. And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

We skim over this verse 18 and know that Nephi is being shown Mary. But he’s also having something else confirmed to him. The angel tells him this is the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh, implying there is also a mother of the Son of God after the manner of the spirit. The angel is distinguishing the two mothers. One earthly, one Heavenly.

There are other verses that also identify a mother in heaven as well. Genesis says let “us” make man in “our” image, clearly plural terms, and then both man and woman are created in the image of God, which implies a Heavenly Mother is the pattern for women. However, this verse in Nephi is a more direct witness of the existence of a Mother in Heaven.

The key here is slow down your reading and think about the words. Ask questions and write them down.

Asking Questions in the Scriptures

Last year I introduced a framework for studying the scriptures. You may recall the infographic (click it to see the full size version):

How to study the scriptures more effectively infographic

This chart is useful for digging into the scriptures, showing how to ask a variety of questions, sorting out what you find, and most importantly, writing it down. Journaling can be done in a variety of ways, but Scripture Notes makes this incredibly easy so you always have your notes next to your scriptures and can search them just like the scriptures can be searched.

The Great Brain Project

A friend of mine by the name of Lynn Stoddard, was an educator for many years. He had a program he called the Great Brain, which was essentially a way of giving students their agency in studying a topic at a depth they chose on a scale of 1-4. Level 1 is surface level. Level 4 is a deep project. One might say, “I’m interested in learning about dinosaurs at a level 2” and that would entail a certain amount of research they would do.

When we study the scriptures, we also have to choose what level we want to study at. The deeper we go, the more revelation the Lord is going to give us.

I know some of you are using Scripture Notes to write books or do projects. These are great examples of searching the scriptures for topics and themes that cause you to go deep. I think everyone should have a project from time to time, something you study deeply like priesthood, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the scattering and gathering of Israel, and so on.

If you don’t have a topic to research, a simple way to get started is to turn to the Topical Guide and find one.

President Nelson challenged us to study the 50 some topics related to Jesus Christ. Turning them into Collection Notes is a powerful way to study.

A Level 4 Example

Another way to get started is to just pay attention while reading the scriptures and listen for opportunities to dig deeper. For example, lets take this verse:

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

There is a lot to unpack here. If I wanted to do a level 4 project, I would do the following.

First, I want to understand the verse itself. I know this is a big project so I create a collection note with this verse in it. Then:

  1. Use the Blue Letter Bible link by the verse to examine the Greek meanings of the key words and make notes about them in my collection note.
    Hebrews 12 Blue Letter Bible
  2. Use the Webster’s 1828 dictionary link to look up the key words and make note of any significant meanings that give color to the words. For example, I looked up the word “despising” and it showed only a little, but had the word contempt as a synonym. Looking up that word yielded some insight in expressing the idea that he considered the shame of the world worthless and of no value.
  3. If it was appropriate I would also open the Bible Hub link to see how other translators wrote this verse.
  4. I can also see if there is a Joseph Smith Translation change to this verse. (There isn’t in this case)

Next I’m going to write the following questions in my collection note:

  • How is Jesus the author of our faith?
  • How is Jesus the finisher of our faith?
  • How does he finish our faith?
  • When is faith finished?
  • What joy did Jesus see in going to the cross?
  • Why did he have to go to the cross? Why that death instead of another?
  • What shame did Jesus endure?
  • How did he despise the shame of the cross?
  • What does it mean to be set down at the right hand of the throne of God?

Having laid a foundation of definitions, I would then proceed to do some searches. I would want to see how words are used together in scripture and find related relevant verses. Here are some I would do:

  • author* +finish*
  • shame* +cross*
  • cross* +world
  • cross*
  • despis* or contempt*

In the Study Helps section of the library, I do a search for Cross and see study sets in the Topical Guide, and Index to the Triple Combination (TC).

From the TC set, it also links to:

(TC) Jesus Christ, Death of
(TG) Jesus Christ, Crucifixion of

Each of those link to other topics. This is why I wrote a previous blog post called the 3+ levels of the Topical Guide because studying one topic in depth and then surrounding topics makes your understanding of the initial topic deeper and wider.

3+ Levels of Scripture Study

Now we get to ask more questions as we do our research:

  • What are the personal applications of this verse to me?
    • How do I let Jesus author my life?
    • How do I let Jesus finish my faith?
    • How do I despise the shame of the world?
    • How do I carry a cross? How do I make myself willing to crucify the natural man in me?
  • What covenants have I made that directly tie into this verse?
  • Why did Paul write about this to the Hebrew saints? Is there an historical context?
  • What have others said about this verse? (find commentary at Bible Hub, and the LDS Citation Index links)
  • Is there a way to view this in a macro sense and apply it to the nation of Israel? How does the nation of Israel fit into this verse?
  • What is the symbolism present in this verse? (object, type/shadow)
  • What prophesies are there about Jesus going to the cross?

These questions will lead to further searches and making notes as you go.

If you will do this prayerfully and listen for inspiration, you will receive revelation and insight that you didn’t have previously. God will open your mind, particularly as you write while you have the Spirit with you.

Doing this type of exercise will change the way you study the scriptures.

You will move from reading, to studying, to searching the scriptures, which is what the Lord commanded us to do.

You don’t have to write a book to do this. You just need to desire to be closer to God, desire to receive more revelation, and want to taste the fruit of the tree of life. When we step toward God, he steps toward us. Study deeper, and be closer. Write your questions, search for answers.

Scripture Notes is the best tool available to do this.


About the Author

Oak Norton - Just trying to share a love of the scriptures with others.