Guidebooks and Callings
12: Teaching from the Scriptures
previous next

“12: Teaching from the Scriptures,” Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching (1999), 54–59

“12,” Teaching, No Greater Call, 54–59


Teaching from the Scriptures

Latter-day prophets have instructed us to use the scriptures to teach the doctrines of the gospel. President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Always remember, there is no satisfactory substitute for the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. These should be your original sources. Read and ponder more what the Lord has said, and less about what others have written concerning what the Lord has said” (The Gospel Teacher and His Message [address to religious educators, 17 Sept. 1976], 6).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “The truest source of divine wisdom is the word of the Lord in these sacred volumes, the standard works of the Church. Here is found the doctrine to which we must hold fast if this work is to roll forth to its divinely charted destiny” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 67–68; or Ensign, May 1982, 45).

The following suggestions can help you teach from the scriptures.

“Seek to Obtain [the] Word”

Before we can teach from the scriptures, we must study the scriptures on our own (see “Seeking to Obtain the Word,” pages 14–15; “Developing a Personal Plan for Studying the Gospel,” pages 16–17).

Conduct Discussions and Use Questions

As you teach from the scriptures, it is particularly important to conduct discussions and use questions, because these methods encourage those you teach to think about the scriptures and share insights. When learners discuss principles from the scriptures, they develop skills they need for their personal scripture study. (For help with conducting discussions and using questions, see pages 63–65 and 68–70.)

Provide Context

The setting or background of a scripture passage is called the context. Learners will better understand what is happening or being said in a scripture passage when they know its context.

To begin looking for context, ask the following questions:

  • Who is speaking?

  • Whom is that person speaking to?

  • What is he or she speaking about?

  • What is he or she responding to?

  • Why is he or she saying this?

For example, Luke 15:11–32 contains the Savior’s parable of the prodigal son. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that he gained an understanding of this parable by looking to its context:

“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? … While Jesus was teaching the people, all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him; ‘and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.’ This is the keyword which unlocks the parable of the prodigal son. It was given to answer the murmurings and questions of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were querying, finding fault, and saying, ‘How is it that this man as great as He pretends to be, eats with publicans and sinners?’” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 276–77).

As the Prophet Joseph pointed out, the context of the parable of the prodigal son starts in Luke 15:1–2, several verses before the parable begins. One way to find the context is to read the verses before and after the passage you are studying.

This approach is helpful even when the speaker in a scripture passage is responding not just to people but to the important events of the day. An example of this is summarized at the beginning of “The Power of the Word” (page 50). When we understand who the Zoramites were, the awful spiritual state they were in, and the threat they presented to the Nephites, we can better understand the importance of Alma’s statement that he and his brethren should “try the virtue of the word of God” in their effort to turn the Zoramites from their ways (Alma 31:5).

Sometimes it is also helpful to study the political, social, or economic history of the times in which a scripture was given. For example, to gain an understanding of the Lord’s comfort and promises in Doctrine and Covenants 121 and D&C 122, it is helpful to know about the afflictions the Saints were suffering in Missouri at that time and the conditions the Prophet Joseph and his companions endured in Liberty Jail. To increase our understanding of the epistles of Paul, we can benefit from a basic knowledge of the area in which he traveled and the condition of the branches of the Church to which he wrote. The Bible Dictionary can be an excellent source for this and other background information on passages in the Bible.

In providing context, it is essential to not lose sight of its purpose, which is to contribute to a better understanding of a particular scripture passage. Be careful not to turn context—such as the history, politics, economics, or language of the people in the scriptures—into the main focus of a lesson.

Share Scriptural Stories

It is often easier to understand a gospel principle when it is expressed as part of a scriptural story. Stories engage people’s interest and show how gospel principles apply in everyday life. In addition, stories are often easier to remember than abstract statements of principles. (For suggestions on sharing stories, see “Stories,” pages 179–82.)

A scriptural story may contain many principles and applications (one example is the book of Enos, which contains only 27 verses but illustrates many gospel principles). You will need to decide which of these you will highlight in the stories you use.

It is often helpful for learners to read a story aloud together, taking turns reading (see “Read Aloud,” page 56). If the story is long, it is usually best to summarize it, having learners read a few key verses at important points in the story. Chapter or section headings can be helpful when you prepare and present summaries.

Share Biographical Information

When we study the lives of individuals in the scriptures, we often see gospel principles at work over a period of time. For example, the complete story of Zeezrom in the Book of Mormon shows that a person can repent and go on to serve the Lord in righteousness. If you read the verses cited in the index of your scriptures under “Zeezrom,” you can follow the story of Zeezrom’s attack against the Church, his conversion, and finally, his valiant service as a missionary and gospel teacher. Other instructive biographies include those of Ruth, King David, Samuel, Esther, the Apostle Paul, Alma the Elder, King Benjamin, Alma the Younger, Corianton, Mormon, and Moroni.

Use “Look for” and “Listen for” Approaches

When you teach from the scriptures, it is often helpful to have learners look or listen for something specific. Following are some examples of things you might ask them to “look for” or “listen for.”

Gospel principles illustrated in people’s lives. Example: “As we read Moses 5:4–9, look for statements that illustrate Adam’s obedience, even before he fully understood the principles involved.”

Questions. Example: “As we read Alma 5:14–32, listen for questions Alma asked.”

Lists. Example: “As we study Doctrine and Covenants 25, look for the qualities of an ‘elect lady.’”

Definitions of words or concepts. Example: “Look for definitions of Zion in Doctrine and Covenants 97:21 and Moses 7:18.”

Imagery and symbols. Example: “In John 15:1–6, look for the Savior’s comparison of Himself to a vine and His disciples to the branches.”

Prophetic commentary on a principle or event. Example: “As I read Alma 30:60, listen for Mormon’s commentary on the fate of Korihor.”

“If, then” relationships. Example: “Listen for Isaiah’s promises to us if we keep the Sabbath day holy.” (See Isaiah 58:13–14.)

Conduct that pleases or displeases God. Example: “As we read Alma 39:1–9, look for the specific counsel that Alma gave to his son Corianton.”

Patterns of events, characteristics, or actions. Example: “As we study these passages, look for patterns that show the need for righteous desires as we seek for truth.” (See 1 Nephi 10:17–22; 1 Nephi 11:1–23; D&C 11.)

As you look and listen for these things in your personal study and preparation, you will be better able to conduct “look for” and “listen for” activities with those you teach.

“Liken All Scriptures unto Us”

See “Likening,” pages 170–71.

Read Aloud

Reading the scriptures aloud engages learners’ interest, sharpens their focus on particular passages, and helps them be receptive to the influence of the Spirit. When one person reads aloud, you should encourage others to follow along in their scriptures. Invite them to listen and look for specific principles or ideas. Allow time for them to turn to each scripture passage before it is read. If a passage contains unusual or difficult words or phrases, explain these before the passage is read. If anyone in the group might have difficulty reading, ask for volunteers instead of having them take turns. Work individually with those who have trouble reading so they can eventually come prepared to read a passage successfully.

Use the Study Helps in the Scriptures

President Howard W. Hunter said: “We ought to have a Church full of women and men who know the scriptures thoroughly, who cross-reference and mark them, who develop lessons and talks from the Topical Guide, and who have mastered the maps, the Bible Dictionary, and the other helps that are contained in this wonderful set of standard works. There is obviously more there than we can master quickly. Certainly the scriptural field is ‘white already to harvest’” (Eternal Investments [address to religious educators, 10 Feb. 1989], 2–3).

Bible Dictionary

The Bible Dictionary is located in the appendix of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Bible, immediately following the Topical Guide. It is a teaching and study resource that provides explanations of names and places mentioned in the Bible. It also provides short articles on cultural items and a few key doctrines such as the Atonement, baptism, the Holy Ghost, and resurrection. It includes a chronology of important dates.

You can use the material in the Bible Dictionary to enrich lessons. You might ask learners to prepare reports, give definitions, or even teach a segment of a lesson from the Bible Dictionary.

To appreciate the enrichment that the Bible Dictionary provides, look up the word grace (page 697). Study the definition carefully. Then read the scripture references provided. Note how these verses of scripture have greater significance when you ponder the definition of grace.

Footnotes and Cross-References

Pages of scriptural text usually contain footnotes. In Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures, the footnotes contain several kinds of information. For example, they contain alternate Greek (GR) or Hebrew (HEB) translations for selected words. They contain references to the Topical Guide (TG). They also contain explanations of idioms and difficult constructions (IE). Footnotes with the notation “JST” are excerpts from Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible. Short Joseph Smith Translation entries appear in the footnotes. Longer entries appear in a special section in the appendix, immediately after the Bible Dictionary.

The most common type of footnote is a cross-reference to other scripture passages in the standard works. These additional passages often clarify or add insight to the passage you are reading. For example, look up Doctrine and Covenants 11:21. Read the verse, and then read the passages listed in footnote b. How do these passages increase your understanding of the verse?

When teaching a passage of scripture, you can use the footnotes and cross-references to help learners better understand the passage.

Headings of Chapters and Sections

A heading provides an overview of the chapter or section that follows. It may include information about doctrine, historical context, or people. The heading to 2 Nephi 27, for example, explains that the chapter is similar to Isaiah 29 and that it contains a prophecy about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

You may want to invite learners to mark scripture passages according to the highlights contained in the chapter or section heading. For example, the major principles in the Word of Wisdom are described in the heading for Doctrine and Covenants 89. You could have learners read these principles in the heading and then highlight them in the scripture text.

You may want to ask learners to silently read chapter or section headings before they comment on selected scriptures. This can help them properly understand the context of the scriptures.

Introductory Pages

Each one of the standard works has introductory pages, which contain useful background information about the purpose and origin of the book. For example, the introductory pages to the Book of Mormon contain testimonies from Joseph Smith and others and information about the origin of the book. The introductory pages to the Doctrine and Covenants explain how the revelations in the book were received and compiled.

This material can be used to teach the background, history, chronology, and organization of the scriptures. Entire lessons may be organized using material from these pages. For example, the explanatory introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants contains a brief review of the Restoration of the gospel and lists scripture references pertaining to the subject.


Latter-day Saint editions of the scriptures contain maps of scriptural sites and areas that are important in Church history. By knowing the geography of the lands discussed, learners can better understand events described in the scriptures.

Topical Guide

The introduction to the Topical Guide states that it is “intended to help the reader find scriptures most often used in gospel classes and study. Because of space limitations, the guide is not intended to be comprehensive. It is also recommended that the reader look up each scripture and examine it in its context, in order to gain a better understanding of it.”

Turn to the Topical Guide in your scriptures and look up the word abide. Note that the names of books of scripture appear in bold. Scripture passages from each book follow. Each scripture passage in the list contains the word abide, shown by the abbreviation a. The entry also contains cross-references to other words in the Topical Guide that provide information on the subject.

You may want to study the Topical Guide to learn more about a lesson topic and to find scripture passages to use in a lesson. As part of a lesson, you could ask learners a question and invite them to use the Topical Guide to find answers.

Scripture Marking and Margin Notes

It is helpful to mark scriptures, highlighting story lines, themes, and principles so they will be easy to find. This can be likened to a personal filing system. As you teach, you can encourage learners to mark their scriptures by saying something like, “This verse contains an important principle. You may want to mark it.”

There is no single way to mark scriptures. A person’s marking system should reflect his or her personal approach to scripture study. If you teach adults or youth, you might consider asking some learners to share the methods they use.

Methods for marking scriptures include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Shading, underlining, bracketing, or outlining an entire verse or block of verses with a pencil or colored marker.

  • Underlining only a few key words in each verse of scripture. This creates a highlighted version of the chapter or section that you can scan quickly to pick out the main concepts.

  • Circling or underlining key words and, with straight lines, linking together those that relate closely to one another.

  • Marking an entire verse or block of verses and linking the key words within that passage.

  • Noticing when a series of related points is mentioned and numbering the points within the text or in the margin.

Scripture Linking

Most gospel principles are expressed in many different passages of scripture, with each passage providing its own insight. You can gain a more complete understanding of a principle when you study various passages about it. One way to do this is to compile a list of passages on a subject and then write that list in your scriptures. Depending on the topic, a list may be long or as short as two or three key verses. This method, sometimes called scripture linking, can be a valuable tool in studying the scriptures and teaching from them. You can link a list of scripture passages in the following way:

In the margin beside each scripture passage, write the reference of the next passage in the list. Continue doing this until you reach the last passage. Beside the last passage, write the reference to the first one. Then you can start at any point on the list and continue through the chain until you have read all the passages.

You may develop some lists that need to be put in a certain sequence to provide a more complete understanding of their subjects. To always know where to start such a sequence, you can write the reference to the first passage in parentheses under each of the other references. Or you can write only the reference to the first passage by each of the other passages, and on the page where the first passage appears, you can write the entire list.

Margin Notes

Making notes in the margins of your scriptures can be a valuable way to personalize the scriptures. Such notes provide a way to record insights, identify cross-references that are important to you, and record ways that you can apply scripture passages in your daily life.

You may want to encourage learners to make margin notes. You might say something like, “I want to share a thought about this chapter. I have written it in the margin” or “Here is an excellent passage on repentance. You may want to write the word repentance in the margin next to it.”

Suggestions for Using the Scriptures to Teach Children

You can bless the lives of children by helping them become comfortable with the language of the scriptures. When you teach children, you should use the scriptures frequently and find ways to have the children become comfortable using the scriptures. Following are examples of what you might do:

  • Help children become familiar with the names and order of the books in the scriptures. Use the songs “The Books in the Old Testament,” “The Books in the New Testament,” and “The Books in the Book of Mormon” from the Children’s Songbook, pages 114–17 and 119.

  • Help children understand the language of the scriptures. When you read scriptures together, explain the meaning of important words. Help children pronounce difficult words and names. Have them listen for certain words, phrases, or ideas.

  • When you want children to find a certain scripture passage, give them the page number of the passage as well as the reference.

  • Share a scripture account in your own words. Help learners visualize the events and the people as you describe what happened (see “Stories,” pages 179–82). Then read key scripture passages aloud.

  • Have children read aloud from the scriptures. Be aware of each child’s abilities, and help each participate successfully.

  • If children are too young to read, invite them to watch as you read a scripture and point to the words. You could also have older children assist younger children in finding and reading scriptures.

  • Have children read scripture accounts from the illustrated books of scripture stories published by the Church, such as Book of Mormon Stories.

  • Help the children discuss scripture accounts. Teach them to ask questions when they read, such as, “What is happening? Why is this happening? Who is speaking? How does this apply to me?”

  • Use the methods described in part F of this book (pages 157–84). For example, in presenting a story from the scriptures, you could use a flannel board, simple chalkboard illustrations, or pictures drawn by the children. You could have children retell a scripture story or sing songs that relate to specific scriptures.

  • At the end of some Primary lessons, there is a section called “Suggested Home Reading.” Invite the children to read with their families the scriptures mentioned there.

U.S. map
  1. Colesville, New York

  2. Fayette, New York

  3. Kirtland, Ohio

  4. Independence, Missouri

  5. Nauvoo, Illinois

  6. Winter Quarters

  7. Salt Lake City

Map of US in 1847




Pacific Ocean

Atlantic Ocean

Indian Territory







New York
















Western Route of the Saints











The United States of America in 1847