“how can we tell which scriptures can be likened to all of us and which ones cannot?” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 52
Since some passages of scripture apply only to those to whom they were originally given, how can we tell which ones can be likened to all of us and which ones cannot?
George A. Horton, Jr., Gospel Doctrine teacher, Oak Hills Second Ward, Provo Utah Oak Hills Stake. The sacred scriptures are a powerful resource provided by the Lord to help us achieve eternal life. Among other things, they help us know that Jesus is the Christ, gain knowledge and attributes necessary for salvation, purify our hearts, and find answers to our important questions.
However, as we search the scriptures, we encounter some passages of dubious relevance to us personally. For example, instructions given to the ancient Apostles may have little or no relevance for individual Church members. Yet their underlying principles may be broadly applicable—binding on all disciples of Christ. How, then, can we discern a given scripture’s intended application? The following guidelines can help us appropriately heed scriptural counsel.
First, we should focus on principles, truths, and virtues that the Lord’s prophets have always emphasized. Righteous principles and saving ordinances have been the same in all dispensations. Faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end have been taught from the beginning. (See Moses 5:58; Moses 6:51–60; Moses 8:24; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:1–2.) Peter identified some attributes we should seek once we’ve gained a knowledge of and faith in Christ and desire to partake of his divine nature: virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, charity, and others. (See 2 Pet. 1:1–7.) John emphasized Jesus’ charge to keep the commandments. (See John 14:21.) Matthew highlighted the importance Jesus placed on the great commandments that comprehend all others—to love the Lord and our neighbor. (See Matt. 22:37–39; Rom. 13:9.) Moroni exhorts us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness.” (Moro. 10:32.)
Second, we must recognize that revelation and certain scriptural injunctions are adapted to the circumstances of a given time. (See Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, pp. 420–21.) For example, the revelations to build an ark, leave Ur of the Chaldees, lead Israel from bondage, destroy the Canaanites, or live the Mosaic law are not binding on us. However, we must diligently keep the everlasting covenants and commandments by which perfection is gained in all ages.
It is not likely we will be asked to slay a Goliath, but we may be asked to exercise the kind of faith David had that made that possible; nor to prepare to sacrifice an only son as was Abraham, but rather to be willing to give up things important to us; nor to slay a Laban, but to have the resolve to “go and do the things which the Lord [commands],” as did Nephi. (1 Ne. 3:7.)
Third, we must be aware that the Lord, in his wisdom, sometimes sees fit to change his instructions. For example, the first Apostles were instructed to go without purse or scrip (see Matt. 10:9–10), but were later told, “he that hath a purse, let him take it” (Luke 22:36). In addition, they were first asked to “go not into the way of the Gentiles” (Matt. 10:5), but later received the imperative to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). There are similar examples in our dispensation. (Compare D&C 52:22; D&C 56:4–8.) To avoid misinterpreting the scriptures, we must study them all.
Fourth, we receive a clear signal of how to liken the scriptures to ourselves as we hearken to the teachings of the living prophets.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “The proper course for all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church. This is the Lord’s Church, and it is led by the spirit of inspiration, and the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture.” (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 67.)
If we seek the Lord’s inspiration, we can benefit by studying all scripture, for, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, [thoroughly] furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17.)
In deciding what scriptures pertain to us, we might ask, Will living this principle help me become more Christlike? Or we might apply this threefold test: Is my interpretation in harmony with (1) the teachings of the standard works, (2) the modern prophets, and (3) the witness of the Holy Ghost? If our answers are yes, we can proceed with confidence.