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.

1 comment:

Jared said...

I do something very similar, but instead of red for the JST, I use yellow only because my scriptures are already full of red marks on scriptures I like. In addition to just the footnotes, I also make the word or phrase that has the JST/ definition/alternate.