Some of you have asked about my process for studying the Book of Mormon. I don’t follow the same process every day, but here are some strategies and resources that I find useful:
The first step in my study is to decide what I want (or need) to learn about that day. The following types of activities are useful in that regard:
- Prayer – I begin my study sessions with prayer and often pray while I study as well. Often, my thoughts are guided to specific topics which I might not have thought of on my own.
- Reading – Since we’re studying the Book of Mormon for Come, Follow Me this year, it’s not hard to decide what part of the Book of Mormon to study. I’ll often start with part of this week’s assigned text, looking for concepts, phrases, or even words that seem significant. I may also review the manual, “Come, Follow Me—Individuals and Families,” for ideas.
- Listening – Sometimes, instead of reading the text, I find it useful to listen to a chapter or two, using the Gospel Library App. I often do this while I’m running in the morning. I find that different phrases catch my attention when I hear someone else read than when I read myself.
- Personal challenges – Depending on what is happening in my life, I may start my study with a desire to know more about a topic. This could be a Christlike attribute I need to develop, a relationship challenge, or a decision I need to make.
Once I know what I want to learn more about, the next step is to work on the idea. Depending on the topic, I may use one or more of the following approaches:
- Pondering – I sometimes find it most helpful to simply grapple with a passage on my own and think about what it means to me. This can take the form of paraphrasing the passages and adding additional insights. Here is an example of a post that I developed primarily through pondering: Alma’s Advice to Shiblon.
- Reviewing related passages – When I see the same word, phrase, or concept used in multiple contexts, it helps me better understand the meaning. For example, when Alma tells his son Helaman that he saw the same thing Lehi saw, I look for Lehi’s experience and then ask whether other people had similar experiences (“Numberless Concourses of Angels” – Alma 36:22).
- Searching for words or phrases – When I’m studying a word or phrase, I often run a search to find out where else that phrase appears in the Book of Mormon or in the Bible. I don’t like the search function on churchofjesuschrist.org, so I tend to use the searchable Book of Mormon and the searchable King James Version at the University of Michigan library website.
- Identifying themes – When a word or phrase appears numerous times in the scriptures, I sometimes find it useful to write down every reference, and then group or categorize the references to better understand the meaning. This is similar to the process Elder David A. Bednar followed to study the concept of “gathering,” as described in the talk “Scriptures: A Reservoir of Living Water” (BYU Devotional Address, 4 February 2007). The only difference is that I tend to use a Google spreadsheet for my analysis instead of paper, scissors, and colored pencils.
- Biblical passages – When a phrase or concept also appears in the Bible, I often find it useful to look at the biblical passage in more detail. My favorite website for that is Bible Hub. You can read numerous translations of a given verse by finding it in the dropdown boxes at the top of the page. And you can review the original text by clicking “Hebrew” (or “Greek” for the New Testament) in the gray menu bar just below.
- Definitions and etymology – Sometimes, I want to learn more about the meaning and history of a single word. I find the following resources to be useful in that regard:
- References in talks by church leaders – When I’m studying a passage of scripture, I often find it useful to see what church leaders have said about the topic. I often turn to the LDS Scripture Citation Index to find out how the passage has been used in general conference talks. Or I may type a word or phrase into the search box on the LDS General Conference Corpus website. If I’m not finding many references in general conference, I may run a search on the BYU Speeches website as well.
- Writing – The process of writing what I learn is an essential element of my study. Sometimes, simply expressing an idea in words helps me understand it better. Often, I receive spiritual impressions while I write, clarifying what I have learned.
This is the most important part, but also the hardest. For me, a scripture study session isn’t done until I’ve decided what I’m going to do about what I’ve learned. This is why nearly all of my blog posts end with a paragraph that says, “Today I will…” Grappling with the question of what I have learned and what I’m going to do about it, and then writing down what I have decided to do is a critical part of the process for me.
My approach to studying the Book of Mormon has also been influenced by the following books and articles:
- “Developing Scripture Literacy: What Good Scripture Readers Know and Do,” Eric D. Rackley, Religious Educator Vol. 17 No. 3 (2016). Dr. Rackley, a professor at BYU-Hawaii, explains how scriptural texts are different from other documents we read and require different skills and approaches. He recommends ten practices that can improve our ability to extract meaning and construct knowledge from our scripture study.
- “How Young Latter-day Saints Read the Scriptures: Five Profiles,” Eric D. Rackley, Religious Educator Vol. 16 No. 2 (2015). Dr. Rackley shares the result of a study which included observation of five Latter-day Saint youth studying the scriptures out loud in a lab environment. He itemizes the strategies that he saw these young people use. He concludes that treating scripture study as a problem-solving exercise is more productive but also more rare than the other strategies.
- 1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, Joseph Spencer, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University 2020. I appreciated the insights about Nephi in this book, but more importantly, I appreciated the example of courageous engagement with difficult questions through scripture study.
I hope these ideas are helpful for you in your study of the Book of Mormon. If you have comments or additional suggestions, I would love to hear from you.