What Does It Mean to Search the Scriptures?

After leaving the city of Jerusalem with his family, Lehi sent his sons back to obtain the words of the prophets and a genealogy of their ancestors which were recorded on a set of brass plates. When his sons returned with this sacred record, Lehi “gave thanks unto the God of Israel.” Then, he “took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning” (1 Nephi 5:9-10).

His son Jacob later tells us that the people received revelation, strengthened their faith, and experienced peace and the love of God because they searched the scriptures (Jacob 4:6, Jacob 7:23).

King Benjamin counseled his sons to search the scriptures diligently and promised that they would “profit thereby” (Mosiah 1:7).

The sons of Mosiah became powerful spiritual teachers in part because “they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God” (Mosiah 17:2-3).

After quoting the words of Isaiah, the Savior twice commanded the people to search them (3 Nephi 20:11, 3 Nephi 23:1). Moroni later reiterated this admonition: “Search the prophecies of Isaiah” (Mormon 8:23).

What does it all mean? Searching implies to me looking for something in particular, either something I’ve lost or something specific which I hope to find. It also implies a level of concentration that goes beyond browsing, perusing, or exploring.

What exactly are we looking for when we search the scriptures? I think we are looking for messages from God to us. I think we are trying to understand His will and His plan for us. I think we are looking for guidance about how we can align our lives more fully with His will.

How is “searching” different from merely “reading” or “studying”? According to Elder David A. Bednar, searching involves identifying “connections, patterns, and themes” which recur in various parts of the scriptures. Here is an example of how he searched to better understand the concept of the gathering of Israel:

In preparation for a recent speaking assignment, I was impressed to talk about the spirit and purposes of gathering. I had been studying and pondering Elder Russell M. Nelson’s recent conference message on the principle of gathering, and the topic was perfectly suited to the nature of and setting for my assignment.
I recognized that I had much to learn from the scriptures about gathering. So I identified and made copies of every scripture in the standard works that included any form of the word gather. I next read each scripture, looking for connections, patterns, and themes. It is important to note that I did not start my reading with a preconceived set of things for which I was looking. I prayed for the assistance of the Holy Ghost and simply started reading.
As I reviewed the scriptures about gathering, I marked verses with similar phrases or points of emphasis, using a colored pencil. By the time I had read all of the scriptures, some of the verses were marked in red, some were marked in green, and some were marked in other colors….
I next used my scissors to cut out the scriptures I had copied and sorted them into piles by color. The process produced a large pile of scriptures marked with red, a large pile of scriptures marked with green, and so forth. I then sorted the scriptures within each large pile into smaller piles. As a first grader I must have really liked cutting with scissors and putting things into piles!
The results of this process taught me a great deal about the principle of gathering. For example, I learned from examining my large piles that the scriptures describe at least three key aspects of gathering: the purposes of gathering, the types and places of gathering, and the blessings of gathering (“A Reservoir of Living Water,” BYU Devotional Address, 4 February 2007).

Today, I will recommit to truly search the words of the prophets as recorded in the scriptures. I will follow Elder Bednar’s example, looking for connections, patterns, and themes as I read the word of God. I will strive through this process to understand what God is trying to teach me.

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