Thursday, January 24, 2008

How Five Colors Can open a New Level of Scriptural Understanding

Right up there with "I'm going to lose weight" (which nearly everyone on the planet resolves each year) is another New Year's resolution, one that's almost as common among Latter-day Saints as shedding those pounds:

I'm going to study—no really, study—my scriptures this year.

Feeling like you're failing already? Try approaching your scriptures from a new angle. It's one that has brought me an almost startling amount of understanding to literally hundreds of Biblical passages.

Like the time when I learned that the Lord didn't harden Pharaoh's heart, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

Or the time when I read the parable of the Ten Virgins and gained more insight when I realized that instead of the bridegroom telling the foolish ones, "I know you not," he actually said, "Ye know me not." (Emphasis added.)

These are just a couple of examples of literally hundreds of times I've had an “aha” moment from a passage in the Bible—after reading a clarifying footnote.

Had I not marked my Bible footnotes ahead of time, I would never have noticed these gems that added to my understanding.

In the summer of 1979, a new edition of the Standard Works rolled off the printer. This new set included literally thousands of additions that could, in Elder Packer’s words, open up the scriptures to "anyone who can read."

Among the resources we now have in Standard Works:

  • Thorough footnotes in all the standard works but especially the Bible
  • Topical Guide
  • Bible Dictionary
  • Joseph Smith Translation appendix
  • Gazetteer
  • Maps
  • Enhanced chapter headings
  • and the Triple Combination Index.

The “new” version of the scriptures has been out for nearly thirty years, but how many of us take advantage of all that these amazing resources can bring us in our personal and family scripture study? Do we use them in such a way that the scriptures can be “opened” to us as Elder Packer promised?

In future posts, I’ll discuss some of the other elements included in the “new” version and how we can use them to increase our gospel and scriptural understanding, but today we’ll focus on the one that has had the most profound effect for me personally in enhancing my understanding of the sacred words of the Bible.

If you take the time to really use your footnotes, your scripture study in 2008—and beyond—will never be the same.

The footnotes, which provide an amazing amount of clarity to the scriptures, were painstakingly created over many years by scholars under the direction of Church leaders. Some of the added understanding they provide is from alternate Hebrew and Greek translations. Other elements include insight to culture, geography, or other conditions from scriptural times. And of course we have some of the most important Joseph Smith Translation (JST) passages as well.

There’s just one problem: Actually recognizing that the footnotes are there as you read along.

How likely is it that you’ll glance down after every verse to make sure you didn’t miss a Greek translation, a clarification, or a JST citation—especially when the majority of footnotes are simply cross references and Topical Guide notations, which you aren't likely to need right now?

The chances are pretty slim, which means a wealth of understanding is quite possibly being passed over by millions of Latter-day Saints every day.

The solution is simple: Take time to mark the relevant footnotes in your Bible. If you do that, then as you read along, you’ll know immediately whether any given verse has something below that can open up your understanding.

Color Coding
I chose five colors to identify the different types of footnotes. This makes it easier to know at a glance which ones are connected to which verses and what kind of information each footnote contains.

You can use whatever colors you like, but here were my choices, along with explanations for each type of footnote.

RED = Joseph Smith Translation (I used this color because to me the JSTs are the most important footnotes.)

Shorter JST footnotes are included right on the page where the relevant passage is. Longer ones direct the reader to JST appendix. Note that text in italics are words added by the Prophet Joseph Smith to the King James text.

You may notice that the verse numbering in the JST citations don’t always line up with the chapter they belong to. This is because the full JST has many additions, which changes the verse numbering. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not own the JST transcript (which still belongs to the former RLDS church), so our printing of the Bible cannot include them all. Those deemed most important to include were selected by a Church scholar.

Readers interested in reading the entire JST can purchase it at LDS bookstores in a separate volume that compares the King James Version (KJV) with the JST side by side.

PURPLE = Hebrew translations. Since the KJV Old Testament was translated into English primarily from Hebrew manuscripts, you’ll find the majority of “HEB” footnotes there.

GREEN = Greek translations (easy to remember, as both green and Greek start with the same letters). These footnotes will be mostly found in the New Testament, as it was translated primarily from the Septuagint text, which was in Greek.

ORANGE = OR (Alternate wordings: A word could mean this OR this. Again, the spelling is a cue: ORange)

BLUE = Other miscellaneous clarifying footnotes, including cultural notes and those noted as “ie”

After underlining the actual footnote, don’t forget to color the superscript letter in the corresponding verse. Those letters will be your signals as you read to look down for the relevant footnote in the same color.

Going through all of the footnotes can take a long time (the Bible is big!), so do a little bit here and there over the course of several weeks.

It’s easy if you take a little time, going through a book or two each Sabbath, until it’s done.

Marking your footnotes is well worth the effort. Just wait; the first time you read the Bible after marking the footnotes, you’ll be amazed at all of the things you missed before.

And when December 31, 2008 rolls around, you'll be able to say—Yes! This year you really did study your scriptures.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mission Possible: Family Scripture Study

We’ve all been there—we’ve heard the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the War in Heaven. It’s daily family scripture study.

Trying to get the family together to study scriptures—and have it become something other than a verbal wrestling match—sometimes feels like an Olympic event, surpassed in difficulty perhaps only by weekly Family Home Evening.

While there are no perfect solutions, below are ten tips you can use to make family scripture time a more uniting, positive experience.

1-Adapt the time and place according to the changing needs of your family.
It’s easy to get into a rut, thinking that 6:30 am is the only time to get in the scripture reading. (Granted, it might be.) But try to find other opportunities as well. It’s not uncommon for a family’s schedule to change from year to year, so be flexible and adapt.

If early mornings used to work but don't anymore, try dinner time (even if you’re not all gathered together 7 nights a week—even 3 or 4 nights counts). What about right after nighttime family prayer? For years I read scriptures to the kids immediately before cracking open the nightly storybook.

2-Listen to audio scriptures together.
In today’s high-tech society, we have more options for immersing ourselves in the scriptures than ever before. You can now download the scriptures from the Church website onto you MP3 player and listen to them in the car as you drive the kids around to their activities. You can also purchase audio scriptures on CD, but that can is much more expensive.

3-Pause for questions and discussions.
Beware of the “we’ve got to finish the chapter” trap, or you might miss out on poignant questions and the opportunity for sacred discussions. It’s helpful even with older children to take a break mid-chapter and recap what is happening, who is speaking, or what doctrinal concept is being taught and what it means.

Reading this way does use more time. But it’s all right if reading the entire Book of Mormon takes you three years, verse by verse. The point isn’t how quickly you get through it, but that your family learns, grows, and feels the Spirit along the way.

4-Use the Gospel Art Picture Kit
Young children especially are visual learners, and they thrive of seeing images of scripture stories they’ve heard. Help them to learn better by pulling out selections from the picture kit and reading the condensed story written on the back. For slightly older children, have everyone look up the scripture references listed and read them aloud.

This is particularly helpful in learning scripture stories from parts of the Standard Works that aren’t read quite as often and therefore aren’t as familiar to children, such as those from the Old Testament.

5-Take advantage of Seminary and Institute materials.
These lesson manuals created by the Church are excellent, with lots of background and clarifying information, commentary, and glimpses into cultural and other contextual details that help students of all ages understand the scriptures.

Going through one of these manuals as a family can be a great support for current or future seminary students, and provide wonderful Family Home Evening material as well.

6-Take turns reading.
It’s easy for one parent to do all the reading aloud. It’s quicker that way, right? But it’s important for all family members to be connected to the scriptures, to feel as if they are also part of the experience. Even small children can sensed the Spirit as they “read” with help.

Some families rotate around a circle reading one verse at a time, while others do a set number of verses before trading readers. In this case, a preschooler may still do only verse or so while someone else prompts them with the words.

7-Make connections.
To help family members have a big-picture view of the scriptures, it’s helpful to map out time lines, major historical figures, and events as you read and connect them to other scriptures you’ve already covered. For example, finding the places where the Book of Mormon intersects with the Bible, or track the battles in Alma, the relationships between prophets, or major groups of people within the Book of Mormon, like Zeniff’s people and the Ammonites and how they connect with the Nephites and Lamanites.

8-Use in-scripture resources.
Remember all the resources located in the back of the scriptures, such as pictures, maps, the Bible Dictionary, Joseph Smith Translation, and Topical Guide.

For example, the maps can help you keep track of Christ’s travels through the Holy Land during his lifetime, putting the Gospels into context. Using the Bible Dictionary and triple combination Index can refresh your memory and clarify people, events, and principles, including obscure cultural references that you might be unsure of, like various Jewish feats listed in the Bible, that make more sense when they’re explained.

9-Get everyone their own set of scriptures.
Even if your family has a tradition of buying a nice set of scriptures on a special day such as a baptism, it’s worth getting an inexpensive set that younger children can hold and consider their own, even if they can’t read yet. Personal ownership creates a feeling of responsibility and specialness associated with scripture study.

10-Don’t force it.
When contention breaks out (and it will at times), don’t panic. Let everyone cool off. Forcing the family to finish a chapter tonight—or else—will only breed further unrest. Instead, pause for the day. But most importantly, always be sure to come back tomorrow. Make regular scripture reading a family habit, and you’ll all reap the rewards.

When counseling the Saints the read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year in August of 2005, President Hinckley made a promise that applies as much to family scripture study as it did to his challenge:

“regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.” (“A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, Aug 2005, 2–6.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Top Reads for Families from 2007

Finding good reading material appropriate for the family gets harder every year. Fortunately, the LDS literary market is now producing more books and higher-quality literature than ever before, and the national market has more LDS authors writing for it than ever.

Below are my top picks, in no particular order, for books published in 2007 that are great for the whole family to read together.

Sheep's Clothing, by Josi S. Kilpack
This book has not only an exciting, gripping story, but vital information for parents and children alike. Kilpack does an extraordinary job of showing the dangers of Internet predators as well as how parents can protect their children in a world that is increasingly cyber-savvy. Read this one with your youth. It'll open up a great conversation between you.

Land of Inheritance, by H. B. Moore
This is the fourth and final volume of the Out of Jerusalem series, a fictional account of Lehi and Nephi's families as they journey from Jerusalem to the Promised Land. Expertly researched and beautifully written, the books bring to life not only spiritual giants of scripture, but what the culture was like, what the women might have experienced, and much more. Now that the entire series is out, you can read the whole thing as a family from start to finish. Begin with Of Goodly Parents, the first volume.

Presidents and Prophets, by Michael K. Winder
How has the top position in the U. S. government been impacted by latter-day prophets? You might be surprised at the connections the author finds between the men who have held both positions since 1830. You'll also uncover fun sometimes surprising trivia, such as which United States President checked the Book of Mormon out of the Library of Congress. (Abraham Lincoln.)

Book of Mormon Who's Who
Perfect for the Sunday School curriculum in 2008, this book has entries on all the people found in the Book of Mormon, complete with explanations and connections. Can't remember who Pahoran was? Look him up and refresh your memory. A great tool for family scripture study and Family Home Evenings.

Bullies in the Headlights, by Matthew Buckley
A fun (and funny!) trip down memory lane, this is a terrific book that all ages will enjoy and laugh along with as they followed the adventures (and misadventures) of the Buckleys and Hagbarts.

How to Take the Ex out of Ex-boyfriend, by Janette Rallison
Rallison is one of the top Young Adult writers in the country, and she's LDS as well. Her writing style will have you rolling on the floor. Best of all, parents won't have to worry about their teen reading anything inappropriate. All of Rallison's books provide a great romp through high school without venturing into the "dark" side that so much of teen fiction tends to gravitate toward.

Santa's First Flight, by Sam Beeson
This is a delightful picture book the family will enjoy together as they read what Santa's first flight might have been like. Using penguins instead of reindeer is just one of the silly problems Santa runs into. Buy it now and hang onto it for next Christmas.

The Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright
From New York Times best-selling author of Christmas Jars, this book helps families remember the importance of telling your loves ones you care. It can ignite a love of writing down those important things on paper and not waiting to share them.

The Fablehaven series, by Brandon Mull
The third installment, The Candyshop Wars, was released this last fall. Families of all ages have had fun reading about Kendra and Seth's magical adventures together.