What should be the main emphasis in teaching the scriptures?
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“What should be the main emphasis in teaching the scriptures?” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 38–39

What should be the main approach and emphasis in teaching the scriptures—historical, doctrinal, or practical?

Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., manager of adult curriculum, Church Curriculum Planning and Development Section. Our objective in studying the gospel is to perfect our lives. For this reason the scriptures are given to us “to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15.) In gospel instruction, each approach—historical, doctrinal, and practical—has an appropriate place. Teachers need to identify the intended purpose for their particular class.

According to the Church’s master curriculum plan, adult members are to receive a different scriptural emphasis in each organization. Gospel Doctrine lessons in Sunday School present the unfolding drama of the scriptures; here the standard works are studied in their historical context. A knowledge of the historical setting in which the scriptures were revealed and recorded can improve one’s comprehension of their meaning. Brigham Young noted that the scriptures should be read “as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them.” (In Journal of Discourses, 7:333.) Joseph Smith said, “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer or caused Jesus to utter the parable?” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, pp, 276–77.)

Yet Sunday School’s emphasis upon the historical setting of the scriptures shouldn’t discourage discussions of doctrines or principles in the Gospel Doctrine class. However, the correlated curriculum plan calls for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society classes to stress doctrine as it is revealed in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. In studying the doctrines of the Church, it becomes clear how these approaches build on each other.

And, fundamentally, in all gospel instruction there should be a concern about the practical application of the knowledge obtained. In teaching his people, Nephi said, “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Ne. 19:23.) Gospel students might also consider the admonition of James to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22.)

Beyond reviewing the need for each type of emphasis in a lesson, every gospel teacher should carefully consider another dimension of teaching: teaching by the Spirit and being one with the mind of God. A teacher’s prayerful preparation should include the earnest desire to present the subject matter in the manner that would most please the Lord.

One of the master teachers in the Church, Elder Boyd K. Packer, has observed: “The gift to teach with the Spirit is a gift worth praying for. A teacher can be inept, inadequate, perhaps even clumsy, but if the Spirit is powerful, messages of eternal importance can be taught.

“We can become teachers, very good ones, but we cannot teach moral and spiritual values with only an academic approach. There must be Spirit in it.” (Teach Ye Diligently, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975, p. 276.)

Thus, the most important thing a teacher can do in teaching the scriptures is to obtain the Spirit. Any approach that is devoid of the Spirit is form without substance. Class members suffer spiritual hunger if they are filled with facts only.

The Lord counseled early missionaries of the Church to “preach my gospel by the Spirit. … And if it be by some other way it is not of God.” (D&C 50:14, 18.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie has noted that “even though what we teach is true, it is not of God unless it is taught by the power of the Spirit.” (Ensign, Apr. 1979, p. 24.) Similarly, at the conclusion of a general conference, President Harold B. Lee said: “I am not concerned about how much you remember in words of what has been said here. I am concerned about how it has made you feel. What are you going to take back with you when you go?” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 134.)

Perhaps at the conclusion of each lesson, a teacher could ask himself: “How have I made my class feel? Did I present the material in the way the Lord would want? Has it brought the members of my class closer to him?”