The following is the text of a Sacrament Meeting talk Dave presented on October 24, 2010. The title, subtitles, links, and images have been added.
The theme for this month is the scriptures, and the Bishop asked me to address to address this topic for a few minutes. I'm going to talk about reading the scriptures, learning the scriptures, and practicing the scriptures.
How We Got the Bible
The eighth Article of Faith tells us that we believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. Do we really believe that? If we do, it naturally follows that we should read our canonized scriptures regularly, as a family and as individuals. We often forget what a wonder it is to have personal copies of the entire library of scripture, often several sets, in our homes. This was not always the case. Too often we take the scriptures for granted, so let's start by remembering where they came from.
In Old Testament times, holy writings were in the form of scrolls. So, for example, the book of Isaiah would be on one scroll. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a collection of late Jewish writings, hidden away and not discovered until the 20th century. Scrolls were handwritten, and were large and somewhat unwieldy; it would be rare for the average family to have many or even any scrolls in their home for personal study. Instead, readings from the scriptural scrolls were a public activity that occurred at a synagogue or other gathering place. And you didn't hop around from scroll to scroll comparing similar passages; the public reader just read a passage from one scroll, then possibly offered commentary.
Christians pioneered the use of books for scripture: cut sheets of papyrus or animal skin, bound along one edge. Why use books? One advantage is the reader can quickly access any page and any passage in the book. It's like the difference between a CD, which can access any part of the disk very quickly, and a cassette tape, which has to wind or unwind to get to earlier or later parts of the tape (and if you don't know what a cassette tape is, ask you parents after the meeting -- they probably have dozens of them in boxes out in the garage).
As early Christians told each other about the life and teachings of Jesus, and taught those stories to visitors or proselytes, they wanted to reference and look at scriptural passages from the Jewish Bible (what we call the Old Testament). They could do that with a book. Another way to think of this is that you can't do scripture chase with a scroll. An early Christian book in the first or second century might have selected passages from the Jewish Bible as the first half of the book, bound along with one of the gospels or some of the letters of Paul. Each small congregation or fortunate individual would certainly have treasured these small, bound, handwritten collections of just a few of the books we have in our present Bible. Maybe we are spoiled with too many books of scripture, but we should still treasure our scriptures, and read them.
The Gutenberg Bible, the first printed Bible made using movable type, was published in 1455, the middle of the 15th century. There were only 180 copies made and it was still in Latin, but printing opened the floodgates and soon there were tens of thousands of copies of the Bible in circulation. A hundred years later, Bible translations in English were being printed. In the April 2010 Conference, Elder Christofferson spoke at length about William Tyndale, an English scholar, cleric, and finally martyr who translated and published a Bible in English in the 16th century. In his talk "The Blessing of Scripture," Elder Christofferson noted:
In Tyndale's day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.
Reading the Scriptures
So now that we have the scriptures, more easily available to each of us individually than in any other era, what do we do with them? Now let's talk about reading, learning, and practicing the scriptures.
Just reading the scriptures is a remedy to the scriptural illiteracy Elder Christofferson warns against. He cited the prophet Alma, who taught that the scriptures "enlarge the memory of the people." Elder Christofferson expanded on that idea:
The scriptures enlarge our memory by helping us always to remember the Lord and our relationship to Him and the Father. They remind us of what we knew in our premortal life. And they expand our memory in another sense by teaching us about epochs, people, and events that we did not experience personally.
Learning the Scriptures
Another way to enlarge your scriptural memory is to memorize helpful or enlightening verses. A verse we repeated — out loud — every week in my first year of Mutual was, "Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (D&C 18:10, 15).
I was always impressed in Sunday School class when the teacher would quote scriptural passages from memory every week. Maybe you want to remember key doctrinal scriptures. Maybe you want to have uplifting or encouraging passages memorized. Or maybe you just want to memorize the really short verses. However you do it, when you commit a verse to memory, you make it your own. You enlarge your scriptural memory.
Another way of learning the scriptures is noting what each person did right or did wrong. We can learn from both good and bad events or examples. One from the Old Testament is the story of Samuel, the precious son of Hannah who had prayed for a son, then gave him up to serve the Lord. Young Samuel served Eli the priest in Shiloh. One evening after Samuel had retired to his bed for the night, he was called: "Samuel." He up and ran to Eli, who denied calling him. It happened a second and a third time, after which Eli perceived that it was God who was calling Samuel. Eli told Samuel that if called again, he should respond, "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth." God called a fourth time, and Samuel responded as directed by Eli. He was then given this as his first revelation: "Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle" (1 Sam. 3:11). God told Samuel that Eli and his household would be severely punished.
So we can learn the scriptures just by reading them. Elder Christofferson called the scriptures a standard for distinguishing truth from error. He said, "God uses scripture to unmask erroneous thinking, false traditions, and sin with its devastating effects." In simply reading the first three chapters of 1 Samuel we can learn what each of these people did right or did wrong: faithful Hannah; Eli, the priest; and Samuel, the faithful young man who said simply, "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth," and went on to lead Israel and to anoint Israel's first two kings, Saul and David.
Practicing the Scriptures
Finally, what do I mean by practicing the scriptures? We can practice a scene in a play or, in baseball, play a practice game, but how do we practice scripture? One way is to put what we read into practice in our lives. This is not as easy as it sounds. Reading and even memorizing the passage I quoted earlier — "And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people ..." — is easy compared to putting that into practice and serving a mission as a young man or woman, or serving a mission as a senior couple.
Here's another way to think of practicing the scriptures. A young man or woman who is really into a sport or a musical instrument or literature spends a lot of time ... practicing. They'll carry that ball or that instrument or a book with them all the time. Maybe you should have your scriptures with you more often. Maybe you already do.
Let's pick up that storyline that ended with Gutenberg's printed Bible. Those printed scriptures next to you on the bench are 16th-century technology, and not much changed in terms of books and scriptures for 500 years ... until now. You may have a digital copy of the scriptures stored on your cell phone. Or you can access them from your cell phone or iPad or laptop or desktop computer. If you're clever you can probably find a way to have your cell phone read them out loud for you. So — and I'm speaking particularly to the youth here — maybe another aspect of practicing is practicing how to access the scriptures online. And share them with friends, family, or others you know from time to time. That may be how the gospel goes forth in the 21st century, and you need to know how it is done.
That's a serious suggestion, by the way. Fifty years ago, Mormons talking about how the gospel would be preached one day in China, for example, talked in terms of printing five million Books of Mormon in Chinese and sending ten thousand Chinese-speaking missionaries. But when anyone with a cell phone can read a Book of Mormon in their own language ... well, we don't need to print them, the books are already there. And right now, anyone anywhere with open Internet access can talk to a chatting LDS missionary who will chat the gospel to them. Those missionaries work at the MTC right now. They probably talk to more people about the gospel in three days than I did in an entire year as a missionary in France a few years ago.
So suddenly technology has, in a decade, changed how scriptures are available to this generation. If you are in seminary, you should sometimes practice reading or hearing your scriptures on your computer and your cell phone and your iPod or mp3 player. Because you're not just seminary students, you are pixel pioneers! Learn and practice your digital or online scriptures — that might be how you preach the gospel as a missionary, teach your students as a Sunday School teacher, or carry the gospel with you when you travel or serve in distant lands.
Reading, learning, and practicing our scriptures is easier than ever before — they are so accessible. At the same time, reading, learning, and practicing our scriptures is harder than ever before — we're so busy. We're tired. We're distracted. Perhaps we need to slow down and focus a bit, find a way to bring the scriptures, in whatever form, into our daily and weekly routine, for ourselves and with our families.
I'll close by quoting from Elder Christofferson's talk one more time. He said:
I suppose that never in history has a people been blessed with such a quantity of holy writ. And not only that, but every man, woman, and child may possess and study his or her own personal copy of these sacred texts, most in his or her own language. How incredible such a thing would have seemed to the people of William Tyndale's day and to the Saints of earlier dispensations! Surely with this blessing the Lord is telling us that our need for constant recourse to the scriptures is greater than in any previous time. May we feast continuously on the words of Christ ....
In the name of Jesus Chrsit, amen.