Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar
Toward Becoming a Gospel Scholar
By John W. Welch
from This People Magazine, Summer 1998, 42-56.
LONG AGO, a friend came up to me after church and asked, “What should I read to become a scripture scholar? What books should I buy? What would you recommend?” He was sincere in his question, willing to actually put in some work and spend not only time but money. Ideas immediately began jumping into my head. But after an initial surge of exuberance, I calmed down to the sober task and asked myself, “What do I really recommend?”
Here is an attempt at a rough, but hopefully gentle and useful answer. This is not a dissertation, and these suggestions are not based on any empirical research or scientific theory of education. Here are just a few of the things that have worked for me.
Of course, if anyone is looking for a quick fax in becoming a gospel scholar, think again. How does one become a great musician? How does one become a scratch golfer? Doing anything well in life requires lots of love, work, dedication, and consistent attention to the task. It helps to have some native talents, but more important is a love for the subject matter. It is always this way in life. No one will ever do really well at something that they do not love doing.
Becoming a gospel scholar is more than just knowing things in your head. It’s becoming a part of the subject, and letting the subject become part of you. It’s a different process than straight academic scholarship, with its detachment and impersonal nature. Gospel scholarship requires both a good mind and a good heart.
I know many people who are good scholars, and I know many people who are great at understanding the gospel. Several are actually great at both. But obviously the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, it can be quite difficult to get head and heart together. To me, it is like trying to play the violin. It takes two hands, one to finger the strings and the other to draw the bow. Either hand alone can do a little, but only when each contributes and works harmoniously together is it possible to produce violin music. This is not, however, to say that all good music is violin music.
As the editor of BYU Studies over the past seven years, I have thought long and hard and almost daily about the characteristics of good LDS scholarship. In my view, all of the following characteristics are equally essential in the sphere of gospel scholarship: competence,
thoroughness, honesty, accuracy, harmony, unity, charity, fairness, humility, and dedication. The 1
objective of gospel scholarship is to embrace as a whole the fullness of all that we may know, through the use of all of our faculties, both spiritual and intellectual.
To a gospel scholar, truth is like any other tool: it can either be used to build up or to tear down. Thus, truth alone is not the objective of a gospel scholar, because knowledge and truth— until put to some purposeful use—remain morally inert. At the same time, a gospel—scholar knows that, no matter how well intended or motivated, building on a sandy foundation will ultimately lead to collapse.
Basic Study Habits
So much for the general theory. What about the day-to-day reality? Becoming a good gospel scholar requires good gospel study habits. There is no getting around at. Maybe someday someone will learn how to download another’s brains into someone else’s brain computer, but for the time being we all must learn the hard way, one idea at a time. Here are a few suggestions that anyone can try.
Do a little bit every day. The scriptures distill millennia of experiences. Rome was not built in a day. This is a long-haul journey. Feeding the spirit every day is simply essential: some days it’s snack food, and other days a gourmet banquet. But as Deuteronomy 6 says, you have to think of the scriptures every day: “Talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). It can’t be optional or dispensable. Not if you want to get beyond junk food.
Have a pen and piece of paper with you everywhere you go. When I was in junior high schools someone gave a talk in sacrament meeting about Thomas Edison, the great American inventor. The speaker told how he took a notebook with him everywhere he went, because he never knew when an interesting idea would occur to him. I wish more people came to church with a pen. We spend so much time and effort teaching one another that it is a tragedy when so many ideas go in one ear and out the other. I have a pretty good memory, but nothing beats writing it down. Jot down questions. Take down notes. Keep track of things you desperately want to remember.
Have a good place to study. The couch in front of the television set is probably not an ideal setting for gospel study. Your place of study needs to become a sacred place. This sanctuary is set apart. Guiding symbols should be visible. In my study, the face of Jesus from the
painting of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler hangs next to a statue of Socrates. And neither is very far from the refrigerator. Set things up to avoid distractions and interruptions, especially from the telephone. Other things can wait. Give your studies full attention.
Begin with prayer. It can be short, but you need to unwrap the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will do for a gospel scholar what no rational process can: namely, help you choose correctly the questions you should be asking, the topics that you should be focusing on, and the paths you should be pursuing.
Read, read, and read. Set reading goals and record your progress. Turn lots of pages. Stop and read carefully materials that catch your attention. Pick up threads that run through many discussions. Figure out what’s going on.
Slow down, read slowly, and read it again. Speed reading is helpful, but overrated. I may work on a few verses for several weeks. Stephen Ricks and I took thirty years to get through King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 25, and our recently published book about it is still only a beginning..
Always leave the scriptures open. If you do this, when you sit down again, there they will be, open and ready to go. Never let the scriptures be a closed book in your life. The inertia of a closed book can often be overwhelming.
Create and keep files. It is important to have a good file system. Buy a box of file folders and open a file for each subject in which you have a strong interest. Make copies of relevant things you find. Write down notes as you read; gather data; compose your own thoughts. I find that I haven’t really thought about something until I have tried to write it out.
Gospel Study Through Purposeful Questions
While it is always important for gospel readers to contemplate and ponder the scriptures for pure enjoyment and general inspiration, gospel scholars read and study with specific points in mind.
Scholarship exists to answer questions, or at least to attempt to find answers. To become a gospel scholar, you must adopt a purpose for your pursuits. There must be a point to your endeavors. General grazing can, of course, be beneficial for daily edification, but a scholarly undertaking must have a specific objective and a focused plan. As with many other things in life,
if you do not know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Or when you are not getting there?
Perhaps the most difficult challenge facing every scholarly effort is to come up with a good question. One of my favorite German proverbs says, “A good question is half an answer.” This truth stands behind the many scriptures that tell us that we must first ask, seek, and knock before we can expect to find.
What makes a good question? Few people spend enough time asking themselves whether the questions they are asking are actually good questions. In an academic sense, good questions are those for which possible evidence exists. For example, where was Bountiful where Nephi built his ship? Or how far was it from the city of Nephi to the city of Zarahemla? Data extracted from the text can be used to shed light on these questions. There is little point, however, in asking a question for which no evidence possibly exists. For example, it is useless to ask what Nephi would think of the stock market. It is important to realize, however, that until a question has been asked, we often do not begin to recognize certain things as possible evidence in the first place.
A good question also has several possible answers and, with a little thought, a person can develop some criteria by which to evaluate those possible answers. Scholars need to analyze and consider all of the possibilities. This does not mean that they must allow that every possibility is equally plausible. In fact, scholars accept and reject various ideas all the time. Good scholars ask themselves, “Why do I accept certain ideas and reject others?” Good scholars also articulate those reasons openly and honestly to themselves and to their audiences.
There are many kinds of good questions that compare, contrast, distinguish, or combine. Some questions ask for comparisons. How is the book of Alma different from the book of Mosiah? How is the purpose of the gospel of Luke different from that of the gospel of John? How do the three accounts of Alma’s conversion in Mosiah 27, Alma 36, and Alma 38 differ from each other? Others ask for similarities. In what ways were Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul parallel prophets? How are Lehi’s dream in I Nephi 8 and Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 1114 the same?
Good questions usually ask and call for detailed descriptions and specific responses. What can we say, definitely and precisely, about the church in the days of Alma the Elder? What kind of church community as assumed by the New Testament epistle of James?
Good questions are interested not only in a static description of the way things “are,” but also how things have “changed.” Can we describe the continuum and transitions involved in moving from one stage to another? What challenges did Peter face in taking the early Christian Church from being a group of Jewish converts to becoming a Church for every nation, kindred, tongue and people?
Good questions help people to see insights that they had not seen before. They offer explanations. They help people unpack the complexity of textual material. They make obscure materials clear.
They do these things by helping us to paint a more complete picture of the events described in the scriptures. Good questions help us focus on the significance of individual details previously overlooked; they help us see causal connections, how one thing led to another, or how events could have been otherwise. Good questions lead to explanations of strange oddities. For example, why would the Jews in Jerusalem think that Jesus was “a Samaritan”? (John 8:48). Is it significant that in Hebrew, the word for Samaritan and a word that means “to be a shepherd” are quite similar (see Hosea 12:12)? When Jesus then says, “I am the good shepherd,” is this somehow related to the idea that Jesus was casting himself as the good Samaritan?
Of course, questions can be asked endlessly. Sometimes they become pointless and merely bothersome. Sometimes they are responding only to trendy concerns that happen to be of current interest because people are somehow “into” that particular issue. Other times, they will strike pay dirt in an eternal vein of lasting value.
In any event, a good question will be relevant to something important. It will be a live question, one that people would care about, would like to know an answer to, would be willing to spend time and resources to actually know about, and for which one would be willing to accept the outcome. When relevant needs arise, it is interesting to see how quickly certain questions move to the top of our interest list. Most people would be bored by a lecture explaining how to change a tire, until they are standing on the side of the freeway with a flat tire trying to solve an urgent problem. Newly called Church leaders suddenly take a much greater interest than they had before in under
Standing Jesus’ New Testament teachings regarding leadership, finding in the Savior’s instructions to his apostles in Matthew 1720 an unparalleled collection of leadership principles, perhaps the earliest Christian handbook of instructions.
A gospel scholar asks sincerely, “Why am I truly interested in this question?” A gospel— scholar is different from other scholars primarily because a gospel— scholar has gospel scholar goals in mind, wanting to use research knowledge in teaching, guiding, counseling, protecting, persuading, gently entreating, and helping others in making correct choices. Knowing how to use the right scripture, at the right time, in the right way, is no simple task. It comes from thoughtful study and experience with application goals in mind.
Gospel scholars also have enough perspective and have read widely enough to recognize faddish, passing, and momentary influences in our thinking. Misguided directions can thus be detected and avoided in such things as the excesses of pop psychology, modern positivism, selfish egoism, and other fads. A gospel scholar adopts gospel scholar goals. In asking a research question, a gospel— scholar can at least imagine some way in which knowing the answer to the question would be beneficial for some gospel purpose. Sometimes such answers would help people to understand and live the gospel better. Other times, the answers might help to respond to challenges or difficult problems.
Gospel scholars, like all scholars, realize that convenient answers may not always be immediately forthcoming. We would like to know many things about Moses’ Hebrew or about life in other galaxies, but answers are not always presently available. Scholars humbly recognize that some problems must be put on a shelf, not forgetting them, but waiting for further information to be found.
Twenty-five years ago, in a graduate seminar, I asked an esteemed New Testament scholar if anyone knew anything about the Jewish background of Caiaphas’s argument that “one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50). I wanted to know the background of that rubric, because we encounter the same principle six hundred years earlier in 1 Nephi 4 with Nephi’s slaying of Laban. The New Testament scholar said that he was not aware of anywhere else that this policy or rationale could be found. Concurring with Raymond Brown, he considered it merely a common—sense maxim. I put the question on a shelf for twenty years, but did not forget it. Five years ago, I ran across a recently published study by Roger D. Aus, tracing in great detail the legal history of this principle back into Jewish and biblical sources to an amazing degree (Scholars Press, 1992).
How little people had known about the subject only a few years earlier! Now it is clear that during Nephi’s own lifetime, this legal concept was invoked in justifying high political decisions.
Finally, let me say that good scholars have many goals on their radar screen at one time. By keeping many good questions in mind, and by reading and listening widely, answers can show up in the most unexpected places. In scholarship, serendipity is far less accidental than most people think. In a gospel scholarly setting, one may readily agree, with Elder Neal A. Maxwell, that “there are no coincidences.” There is purpose and order in the way God works with our minds as well as our spirits. If people go to a sacrament meeting, conference, or Sunday School class looking for nothing, that is usually all they will find.
Good questions are hard to come by. But without them, our study is largely aimless.
Reading the Scriptures
Nothing is more important in becoming a gospel—scholar than reading the scriptures. Gospel-scholarship is thoroughly grounded in the four standard works. While the words of the living prophets are our source of modern-day direction, the scriptures are essential for gospel scholarship. Knowing what the scriptures say, why they say what they say, and knowing what the original meaning of any passage of scripture was is the point of departure for understanding how modern revelation has utilized, adapted, and sometimes superseded specific scriptural provisions that were applicable in earlier days. Most of the messages of the living prophets, including General Conference addresses, begin with a knowledge of the scriptures.
Gospel-scholarship reads the scriptures very closely. Little details are important in scholarly discussions, even though they may not be of eternal gospel earthshaking significance. It has been said that God is in the details. This applies to gospel scholarship.
Words. I go back, most often, to individual word studies as my point of departure. Words are the building blocks of sentences, chapters, and eventually books. What do the scriptural words mean?
A gospel scholar needs to know as much English, Greek, and Hebrew as possible. This does not mean that every gospel scholar must be expert or even proficient in working with these
languages, but even the amateur must be willing to invest time studying words and languages in order to work with the dictionaries, concordances, commentaries, computer programs, and many other tools that are readily available to most readers. All students should be acutely aware of the need to listen for such information in scholarly discourse and to withhold final judgment until questions about the original intent of the words in the scriptures have at least been asked and checked out.
Sometimes these little points help us in understanding the narrative. For example, when Mary places Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the “inn” (Luke 2:7), the Greek word behind this translation probably does not refer to a public house, a pandochion, like a hotel or motel, but rather to a guest room in a private home, a kataluma. Interestingly, the Greek word kataluma appears only in two episodes in the Gospels, the first time in the infancy narrative of Luke and the second time in the passion narrative (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). When Jesus and his disciples needed a room in which to eat together at the Last Supper, they borrowed a man’s kataluma, his guest room, for the occasion. Apparently, Mary and Joseph preferred to move into the stable portion of their ancestral Bethlehem home rather than share its crowded guest room with other relatives. But it does not appear that some unmentioned innkeeper rudely turned them away.
Other times, word studies are of extreme importance for theology. How should we understand the word teleios in Matthew 5:48, when Jesus instructs his disciples to be “perfect”? The word probably has much to do with being finished or completed, particularly in the sense of being frilly initiated into sacred ordinances.
Even if a person cannot learn much Greek or Hebrew, he or she can easily study etymologies in standard dictionaries and can use interlinear Bibles that offer word-by-word translations. Beginning students may be relieved to know that Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible uses a numbering system so that any reader can locate the Hebrew or Greek word that stands behind every English word in the King James Version of the Bible.
Textual Units. Gospel scholars read texts in blocks or literary units. At this level of reading, it is important to understand the context, the overall construction, and the underlying purpose of the unit of text itself.
Sometimes it is easy to tell where a block of text begins and ends, such as is the case with the speech of Benjamin or the speeches of Alma. It is more difficult to tell in the book of Isaiah where one prophecy begins and ends.
Once these units have been identified, a gospel scholar can get a firm handle on these scriptures. For example, knowing the main purpose of Alma 32-33 (a speech that is better if not divided into two sections, but read as a single discourse), a gospel scholar can understand the logic of that block of text, which deals with not only planting the familiar seed of faith, but the themes of humility, prayer, faith, and specifically faith in Jesus Christ as well.
Key Passages. Placed in their proper context, key scriptures can then be properly understood within the purpose of the passage as a whole. These key scriptures should be memorized and remembered, especially as they may stand at the crux of a certain issue. In this way, gospel scholars become aware of crucial passages that become principle building blocks in our knowledge about certain issues.
Gospel scholars think in terms of specific issues and the classic passages in scriptures where answers to those issues are found. We only know certain things because of certain scriptures. For example, the only place in the New Testament that mentions baptism for the dead is I Corinthians 15:29; the only place in the Bible to describe the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane is Luke 22:43-44; and so on. Such passages become critically important for gospel scholarship, for the only things we know scripturally about certain subjects must be extractable from their classic locations or else it cannot be found in the scriptures at all. Thus it is important that the Greek word hyper, meaning “for” or “on behalf of,” appears in the key passage oft Corinthians 15:29; and it is significant that the Greek word agon, translated as “agony” in the key passage of Luke 22:44, does not mean so much “an agony” but “a contest, struggle, or fight, facing an opponent.”
Many tools of critical analysis and literary insight help readers to identify and extract meaning properly from these key scriptures. Here again, scholarship requires that these tools be properly used, carefully explained, and cautiously employed. Otherwise the tools can cause havoc, perhaps doing more harm than good. For example, just because some passages in the scriptures are chiastic, this does not mean that all are; and although many letters written in antiquity were intentionally written in someone else’s style and then attributed to that other
person, this alone does not mean that many of the New Testament letters were similarly created and then attributed to Peter or Paul.
Books within the Scriptures.
Gospel scholarship also looks beyond the building blocks of texts to try to understand the big picture they are painting. The ancient prophets have organized their blocks of texts into books, presumably for specific purposes. They have consciously chosen not to leave us a systematic outline of theology or a set of instructions by the number. Instead, they have left us to put the pieces of an elaborate puzzle together, seeing how things fit together and how they relate to the overall purposes of the plan of salvation.
In my mind, the plan of salvation, especially as presented in the temple, offers as much as anything else, the picture on the box of the jigsaw puzzle of the scriptures. By looking at the picture on the box, we begin to understand how the individual pieces fit into place. It is the plan of happiness that makes the best sense of everything from the book of Leviticus, or the Sermon on the Mount, to the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the letters of Paul.
Of course the puzzle is not only a three-dimensional puzzle, but also one that is moving in the dimensions of time and spirituality. The picture on the box still is only an abstraction, but like a road map it is essential in arriving at the destination of gospel scholarship.
The Worlds of the Scriptures.
Ultimately, the purpose of reading the scriptures for a gospel scholar is to be able to visualize the worlds of the prophets who produced the scriptures, to recognize their personalities, to see their objectives, to relate to the audience that they were addressing, to recognize the techniques they used in achieving their objectives, to appreciate how they themselves used other scriptures, and to pick up on the subtleties of their allusions and their borrowings of phrases from their own scriptural traditions.
Our long-range objective, with the spirit of revelation, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and our best intellectual efforts, is to see things as the ancient prophets saw them and to know and be known as they knew and were known. This goal will not be achieved quickly; but with goad guides and the tools described below, I believe that any person can go farther in this direction
than even they might have ever thought possible. I know many readers who have surprised themselves by the amounts they have learned and the pleasure it has given them. My freshmen students at BYU are overwhelmed at first, but look back with great astonishment and pleasure at how many tools they can master in even a single semester of study.
Tools for Gospel Scholarship
Gospel scholars work with tools in accomplishing specific tasks. Although many tools are technical and sophisticated, requiring years of experience to utilize effectively and properly, beginning scholars can take advantage of introductory and general purpose tools that provide solid overviews and important basic reference information. For the gospel scholar novice, here are my top few beginning recommendations.
First is the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Buy a set. Use it regularly. This encyclopedia is unsurpassed in building a broad foundation for gospel scholarship. Its articles are concise, informative, and surprisingly complete, given the short length of each entry. Examine as many sources as possible listed at the end of each article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. The editors at Macmillan required each author to name the best LDS references for that particular topic. As a result, this encyclopedia provides a wonderful guide to the best gospel scholarship of the twentieth century on many topics.
Next, I recommend to the budding scholar the student manuals prepared by the Church Educational System for use in the university and institute classes on the scriptures. These manuals provide good overviews, helpful notes and commentaries, important quotations, and useful points to ponder. These resources are also very inexpensive. Even the best gospel scholar should be aware of everything covered in these student manuals. Because so many people in the Church have read these materials, these manuals have become de facto coin of the realm. When speaking to informed audiences, gospel scholars ought to be able to assume that most people in the audience are familiar with these basic materials. To avoid plowing old ground or reinventing the wheel, gospel scholars need to know what has been written in the past and then to move on from there.
Then, gospel scholars need to begin building a personal library. Do it right from the beginning. Start today. And it is not enough simply to have a color-coordinated shelf of books on
the wall; it is important to actually read the books, mark them up with your own marginal notes, and take notes on what you find (and keep them in your file system).
Be a sophisticated book buyer. Learn about your authors. Ask where they received their training, what else they have published, and what organizations they affiliate with. Try to figure out their driving interests, methods, standards, motives, biases, religious affiliation, style, and approaches. Inquire of knowledgeable people about the strengths and weaknesses of all authors.
Likewise, become a sophisticated connoisseur of book publishers. Try to discern the editorial policies and procedures of the presses that have produced your books. You can usually spot their institutional strings and orientations. For example, Oxford University Press tends to be traditional and conservative; Cambridge University Press more innovative. Some presses are Presbyterian; others are Baptist. The United Bible Society’s publications strive to be neutral; Eerdmans and Zondervan are intentionally evangelical. In LDS circles, Deseret Book and Bookcraft are generally mainstream; Signature Books tends to be revisionist; etc. Widely based commercial publishers such as Macmillan, Doubleday, Harper-Collins, and others try to appeal to as broad a market as possible; Scholars Press and most university presses, including Brigham Young University publications, are much more specialized or professional. Select and read them all with understanding and discernment.
For a basic biblical library, I would recommend to almost anyone the Anchor Bible Dictionary. It is up-to-date and very helpful. Use it and other basic reference books, such as the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, together with the LDS Bible Dictionary. I also find helpful many volumes in the Anchor Bible series (commentaries on the books of the Bible, published by Doubleday). The authors of these materials were instructed by their editors to be as informative and as objective as possible.
To build your library with specific biblical and Book of Mormon materials, watch especially for titles conveniently distributed by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), a nonprofit educational organization that strives to serve the general reader who wants to know more about gospel scholarship. FARMS materials are loaded with great LDS gospel scholarship dealing with ancient scripture.
For the Doctrine and Covenants and modern church history, I would think that everyone would want to have a copy of such reference works as the six-volume History of the Church, Dean
Jessee’s The Papers of Joseph Smith, and most of the books and reprints made available through 12
BYU Studies. In addition, thousands of volumes about LDS history and doctrine are now readily accessible on CD-ROM, so building a library is now easier than it ever has been before. Mentioning individual titles or authors would go beyond our limits in this article, so ask around. Ask people you respect what general books they have found most helpful.
As you become more focused in your scholarly interests, you will want to acquire advanced books on more specialized topics. Although I wish that better publications and reviews were available across the boards, I find that the best guidance on scriptural and gospel scholarly studies can usually be obtained in the book reviews that appear in scholarly journals such as BYU Studies, the FARMS Review of Books, the Journal of Mormon History, and several important journals in the world of biblical and religious studies generally. I enjoy keeping up by reading several biblical journals, such as the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vetus Testamentum, the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, or New Testament Studies. For keeping abreast of the current literature dealing with the history of religion in the last two thousand years, one of the better sources is a journal entitled Church History, published at the University of Chicago; but many other fine publications are available in most good libraries and could be equally mentioned.
When reading articles and books written by Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or secular scholars, a Latter-day Saint gospel scholar needs, of course, to be highly sensitive to some of their assumptions, purposes, methodologies, skepticism, criteria, and biases, for most Mormons probably would not join in all of their thinking. Their problems are not necessarily your problems. Their purposes are not likely the same as your purposes. By reading with discernment and appropriate selectivity, however, any serious Latter-day Saint reader can learn an enormous amount from the research, data, dissection and analysis of these scholars.
I enjoy knowing what issues other people are struggling with; and often I find that modem scripture puts those issues into an entirely new setting. I am humbled by the fact that lots of people know lots of things. I hope to learn from all of them, including critics, people with another point of view, or even some who turn out to provide only an example of what not to do.
I find that reading Jewish and Gentile scholarship, much like reading the Apocrypha, can be of benefit in many ways, if the spirit is present: “And whoso is enlightened by the spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom” (D&C 91:5). Probably the best source for many standard biblical
reference works is the Academic Catalog of the Christian Book Distributors headquartered in Peabody, Massachusetts. Being on their mail list, even once will make you their friend forever.
Finally, it is important for gospel scholars to keep up with the latest LDS research and publications. Although there are many popular publishers, magazines, symposia, and lectures that one might wish to read or attend, it is impossible to do it all. For the most carefully researched and source-checked publications, you will probably want to subscribe to BYU Studies, 403 CB, BYU, Provo UT 84602. As the editor of this publication, I know I am biased toward it and its mission. For forty years, the BYU Studies staff has tried to bring you the best possible faith-promoting scholarship. Over the years, hundreds of the best LDS scholars have published landmark research projects in this journal. This quarterly publication is supported by Brigham Young University and is available to all people for only $20 per year. Drop BYU Studies a note and they will send you a free 1998 catalog.
In addition, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, P.O. Box 7113, University Station, Provo UT 84602, regularly mails out newsletters, catalogs, flyers, and other information about reprints, papers, books, and journals hot off the press. As Hugh Nibley once said, anyone embarking on a serious study of the Book of Mormon should first consult FARMS.
Much, much more can and should be said about striving to become a gospel scholar. Elder Bruce R. McConkie once went on to list other keys for unlocking the gospel truths in the scriptures: learn of local customs and traditions, distinguish between literal and figurative passages, and of course, ponder, pray, and seek the spirit. All of this lays out a lifetime of rewarding learning.
No one should expect to become a gospel scholar overnight. President Ezra Taft Benson admonished faithful members of the Church to make the study of the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, a lifetime pursuit. A gospel scholar is always keenly aware of the distances yet to be traversed and yet is not discouraged. The fact that scholarship is never finished gives new meaning in a gospel setting to the commandment to “endure to the end.” Eventually, being a gospel—scholar becomes less of a destination and more of a journey. The trip is difficult at times, but it is doable and full of satisfying rewards.
Ultimately, the challenge is to look into your heart and decide that you really want to walk the path of becoming a scripture scholar, eventually coming to love the words, the principles, thoughts, and experiences on each page of scripture.
If you do, the human beings who stand behind those words will become welcome friends in your life. Each verse or chapter will be cherished, like a dear friend. Each time you open the scriptures, you will want to hear what your friend has to say to you. You will remember those messages, each like a separate picture in a treasured photo album.