Using the New Scriptures

“Using the New Scriptures,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, 49

Using the New Scriptures

The above text is from the talk given by Elder Packer in the “Using the Scriptures” Churchwide satellite fireside.

For many years the work of preparing new editions of the scriptures moved forward quietly, virtually unnoticed. This work fulfills a prophecy of Ezekiel and carries with it the assurance that, whatever happens, the gospel will be delivered to future generations in its fulness. Concurrent with this project, another great work was continuing. The entire curriculum of the Church was restructured. All courses of study for children, youth, and adults were revised to center on the scriptures.

I have the conviction that in the generations ahead the publication of the new editions of the standard works, with all of the resource helps they now contain, will emerge as one of the most important events in the Church that we shall witness in our lifetime on the earth.

With the passing of years, the scriptures will produce successive generations of faithful Latter-day Saints who know the Lord Jesus Christ and are willing to obey his will.

Nothing compares with the scriptures—no book written by scholars, no course of study. Even books written by the leaders of the Church do not carry the same authority as do the scriptures.

The Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible now contains a Topical Guide listing 3,495 references from the four standard works, and a Bible Dictionary which gives historical background and information. They total 828 pages, and there are 24 pages of maps, 21 in full color.

The new edition of the Book of Mormon carries the very descriptive subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” The Doctrine and Covenants now includes two additional revelations and the official statement announcing the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. And there is a new edition of the Pearl of Great Price. All four contain the new system of footnotes and cross-references. All have new chapter headings. In the Triple Combination there is an index of 416 pages and 4 pages of Church history maps.

Every aid that could be thought of was considered. Every one that was possible was included. The objective was this: to organize the helps in the scriptures in such a way that anyone who can read may have the scriptures opened to them.

There isn’t time for the General Authorities to answer all the gospel questions for every individual member of the Church. It is not advisable for us even to try to do so, The Lord said in the preface of the Doctrine and Covenants that it was his purpose to have “every man … speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.” (D&C 1:20.)

We are counseled and urged to read the four standard works from beginning to end. You should do that—read each of the four books of scripture from beginning to end more than once. You could hardly use your time to more advantage.

One soon learns that this is a very big assignment. The Bible contains 66 books, the Book of Mormon 15. The Pearl of Great Price contains 5 books, and the Doctrine and Covenants 138 sections and 2 official declarations. That makes 86 books, 138 sections, and the declarations—over 42,000 verses, totaling 2,540 pages. The Topical Guide, the Index, the Dictionary, and the other helps add another 1,268 pages, making more than 3,800 pages in all.

Even after you have read through the scriptures, it is quite impossible to remember everything. Particularly is it difficult to remember where every verse is, even if you underline them as you read. You may wonder if you will ever have any command of the scriptures. But there are some very easy-to-learn things that will help you very much.

You can learn, for example, how to use the content of the scriptures even though you may not yet have finished reading them. It helps to realize that the scriptures are really like a library. And there are ways of locating references in a library without reading through all of the books. It is not too difficult to learn how to use this library.

A Young Seminary Teacher

As a young seminary teacher, I soon learned that I was expected to be an expert on the scriptures. Even the bishops and stake presidents would call asking for help in locating some references.

Frequently, I would receive a call such as this: “Brother Packer, I am to speak in stake conference on the subject of freedom. It seems to me there is a scripture that says that the truth can make you free. Do you remember where that is located?”

More often than not, I would not know, but I had a way of finding out. “Just a moment,” I would reply. “I think I can find that for you.” Quickly I would turn to the concordance in the Bible. (It was a very small one compared to the Topical Guide and indexes that we now have available.) I would look up the word free. If I could not find the verse under the word free in the concordance, I would look under the word truth. I could soon return to the phone with the answer. “You will find that in the gospel of John, Chapter 8, beginning verse 31.”

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31–32.)

I could also suggest another reference or two which they might want to use.

Often they would compliment me by saying: “You amaze me! I wish I knew the scriptures as well as you do. How do you do that?” I would modestly reply, “It was really nothing; anyone can do it.”

And anyone can! You can! It will take only a few minutes to become familiar with the Topical Guide and the system of footnotes and cross-references.

When I first began to read the scriptures, I had to discover how to use footnotes and cross-references and concordances by myself, for no one taught me how to use them. For this reason, I was very careful to teach all my seminary students what a concordance is and how to use it. It would take only one class period to teach them how. The scriptures were then opened to them, as they can be opened to you, The scriptures are written in language which is beautiful and clear once you become used to it.

A simple exercise will show how you can use these very valuable helps. Then, with a little practice, you can receive the telephone calls, quickly supply the answers, and modestly admit that it really is “nothing.”


Open your Bible to the beginning verse, Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. Notice how the references there lead into the other standard works. Using them, you will see how the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah can literally become one in your hands.

new scripture references

Footnotes, which begin with a in each verse, give the reader such additional information as definitions of Hebrew words and references to related scriptural verses and Topical Guide subjects.

Notice that there are five footnotes in that first verse—a, b, c, d, and e. Notice also that in verse 2 the footnotes start over with a. That is true with each verse, rather than running from a to z in each chapter. That makes it so much easier to follow than the old system.

This new system of footnotes and cross-references was developed specifically for our scriptures. It will one day become standard in Bible publication in the world.

Follow one footnote to the bottom of the page to see how the footnotes work. (Opposite the first page of Genesis is an explanation of what the abbreviations in the footnotes stand for.) For example, look at footnote c; next to the word created.

At the bottom of the page, beside the letter c, you first see the Hebrew definition of the word created: “shaped, fashioned, created; always divine activity.”

The word create does not mean to make out of nothing, but to organize.

Footnotes also refer you to other verses on the same subject in other places in the Scriptures. In this example, footnote c takes us to the Pearl of Great Price, to Abraham, chapter 4, verse 1, which speaks of Creation as being organized or formed.

Already you can see that these references include all of the standard works. It took many years and many hundreds of workers to organize this information for us.

Notice the letters TG, referring to the Topical Guide, and the words Creation, God, Creator. The Topical Guide is in the back of the Bible. It is a concordance or an index which lists key words in the scriptures in alphabetical order and provides the chapter and verse where the full text is found.

This specific reference means that in the Topical Guide you will find much more information on the subject of “creation” listed under the words Creation, God, and Creator.

The Topical Guide

The references in the Topical Guide, like the references in the footnotes, span the whole library of scriptures.

The first references listed are from the Old Testament, followed by those in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and finally the Pearl of Great Price.

Here, in one place, you have virtually all of the references in all of the standard works on this subject. They are tied into the footnotes and cross-references.

Already the whole library is open to you on the subject of “creation,” and you have only read the first verse of the first book in the Old Testament. The same procedure can be followed for all 3,495 subjects in the Topical Guide.

You may, of course, go directly to the Topical Guide to find information on a scriptural subject.

For instance, suppose you are assigned to speak at a baptismal service. You can very easily find scriptural references listed under “Baptism” in the Topical Guide. Here are listed the most significant scriptures on baptism that can be found in all the standard works.

Topical Guide

Significant scriptures on a particular subject can be easily found by consulting the Topical Guide.

Notice the headings: Baptism, Essential; Baptism, Immersion; Baptism, Qualifications for; Baptism for the Dead; Covenants; Jesus Christ, Baptism of; Jesus Christ, Taking the Name of; Jesus Christ, Types of, in Memory; Salvation for the Dead; and Dictionary: Baptism.

Notice that it refers you to the word baptism in the Bible Dictionary. Here you will find some very interesting information on the subject. The Dictionary is full of very interesting information.

Suppose you want a passage about teaching your children the doctrine of baptism but you cannot find that specific passage in the Bible.

Go to the Index in the Triple Combination, which is different from the Topical Guide and has a stronger doctrinal approach. Some passages are included in the Index which are not listed in the Bible Topical Guide.

And here it is—Doctrine and Covenants 68:25—with the descriptive reference, “Parents must teach children the doctrine of baptism.”

“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” [D&C 68:25]

With a little practice you can learn how to use these very valuable aids.

I have a friend who is a convert. He did not have seminary or Bible training as a youth. We once talked of the new scriptures, and I demonstrated to him how the Topical Guide works. We spent less than an hour talking about it.

Shortly thereafter, his stake president assigned him to speak in a priesthood meeting on a doctrinal subject. Afterwards, a number of the brethren complimented him: “We did not know you were such a scriptorian.”

They wondered how he found time to read so widely considering his heavy work and church and family obligations. They appreciated the sound doctrine he taught from all of the standard works.

He called me long distance to tell me about it. The books of the revelations had been opened to him in just minutes.

Let us take another subject: prayer. There are over three columns of references to prayer in the Topical Guide. At first this seems overwhelming, but there is a simple way to use the resources. As I read through the references, I just check each scripture that is of interest to me and write the reference on a sheet of paper.

For example, reading under prayer, we find Numbers 21:7, Jeremiah 29:13, and Matthew 5:14. [Num. 21:7; Jer. 29:13; Matt. 5:14.]

As I look up these verses and read them, I see an association between them that gives me a fuller understanding of the subject. I am learning the gospel!

Now, what do you do if the word you want is not listed in the Topical Guide? For instance, suppose you wanted to know what the scriptures have to say about abortion? Turning to the Topical Guide, you will find the word is not listed.

If it is not in the Topical Guide, is it in the Bible Dictionary? In this case, it is not listed there either. Nor is it listed in the Index in the Triple Combination.

Many words have evolved since the Bible was translated. The word may be new. But the subject is not new. What do you do now? Think: Can the subject be listed in another way? Can you find the information under a different word? Can you think of a synonym for the word?

What is abortion? Is it not the killing of an unborn infant? Perhaps you can find information listed under the word kill.

Looking under the word kill, you will eventually come to Doctrine and Covenants 59:6.

And there is the answer! “Thou shalt not … commit adultery” [Interesting that adultery or fornication is often the forerunner of abortion], “nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.” [D&C 59:6] (Italics added.)

Have I convinced you that you can learn to use these marvelous helps? A little quiet individual study, following a familiar subject back and forth through these helps, will soon familiarize you with how they work.

Then the scriptures are opened to you. As you read from the beginning to the end of a book, or as you follow through a subject, you will gain something of a testimony of the value of this work.

The preparation of these helps was a tedious task that took many years to complete. Several years into the project we asked for a report. How was the committee progressing with the tedious, laborious listing of topics in alphabetical order? The committee responded, “We have been through heaven and hell, past love and lust, and now we’re working toward repentance.” However long it took, it was a sacred work.

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied:

“The word of the Lord came … unto me, saying, “Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all of the house of Israel his companions:

“And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.” (Ezek. 37:15–17.)

The stick or record of Judah—the Bible—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you read one, you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one, you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy stands fulfilled.

One of the ten footnotes in the quotation from Ezekiel leads us to the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, where half a world away the prophet Lehi of the lineage of Joseph quoted this prophecy:

“Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrine and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.” (2 Ne. 3:12.)

One footnote may seem a flimsy thread to tie the two together, but five footnotes in the verse from Ezekiel lead to headings in the Topical Guide, where 611 other references speak as a voice from the dust. Threads are wound into cords that bind together in our hands the sticks of Judah and of Ephraim—testaments of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Prophecy of Paul

In his second epistle to Timothy, the Apostle Paul prophesied of our day. It is not pleasant to read.

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

“Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

“Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

“Having a form of godliness; but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

“For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:1–7.)

Those phrases—“disobedient to parents” and “without natural affection”—describe our day only too accurately.

It would be discouraging, even frightening, if the Apostle Paul had left it there, but he included the antidote for all of these evils. He added this:

“Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and has been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them;

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:13–16; italics added.)

A knowledge of the scriptures, your knowledge of them, is the answer. The aids we have discussed are very useful to research scholars, but they were not designed for them. They were designed for all of us. They were designed in order that the ordinary members of the Church can find the answers to gospel questions directly from the revelations.

We spoke of the scriptures as a library. I hope you have been convinced that this library is open to you now. You can enter therein. Alone in that library, in quiet individual study and prayer, you may receive the kind of revelation that is available to you, so that you too can be an instrument in the hands of God in bringing about his mighty work.

Deep spiritual impressions come to us as we read the scriptures. Those impressions come long before we have read them all. The reading of the scriptures, whether from beginning to end, or following a subject from book to book, brings a tempering, soothing feeling to us, even in the midst of the turmoils of life.

There comes the realization that all of the scriptures teach the same message. They all testify of Christ, from the early pages of the Old Testament to the recent revelation added to the Doctrine and Covenants.

You will find in the Topical Guide fifty-eight categories of information about Jesus Christ—eighteen pages of small print, single spaced, listing literally thousands of scriptural references on the Christ.

These references from the four volumes of scripture constitute the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world.

The new editions of the scriptures affirm an acceptance of, a reverence for, and a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow those references and you will open the door to whose church this is, what it teaches, and by whose authority—all anchored to the sacred name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer, our Lord.

I bear testimony of the scriptures and pray that the Lord will grant us entrance into them and grant that, when we enter therein, we will know that we stand on holy ground.

Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio

The stick or record of Judah—the Bible—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you read one, you are drawn to the other. (Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio.)