The Way to Apply the Truth to (My) Life

January 10, 2005 | 23 comments
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As I read yesterday’s text from the David O. McKay reader, “Jesus Christ: ‘The Way, the Truth, and the Life,’� I was struck by its repeated injunction to apply Christ’s words to our lives—and, more boldly, to extend that application into the world. I frequently hear admonitions of this sort urging me to liken the scriptures to myself, and inasmuch as this means merely that I must be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, I think I get it. But once I get down to the actual business at hand—that is, reading the scriptures and figuring out how they bear on my life—I confess I’m often at a loss: what does it mean to apply the scriptures to one’s life?

I love studying the scriptures, I really do: commentaries, topical study, cross references, notes in the margins, the whole bit. When I’m faced with moral choice in my everyday life, though, I have rarely found direct guidance in the scriptures: the large and small dilemmas and decisions of my world, embroidered as they are on an early-21st-century life and lifestyle, seem far more susceptible to the strictures of my temple covenants and the pronouncements of present-day prophets than to the (wonderfully rich, marvelously polyvalent, breathtakingly beautiful, but ultimately temporally removed) scriptures. The problem may lie partly in my expectations, partly in my method: perhaps I misunderstand what “application� means, or perhaps the generic hybridity of the scriptures requires me to expand and adapt my repertoire of reading strategies. In hopes of accomplishing the latter, a brief anatomy of scripture-application methods (or hermeneutics, if you prefer):

1. Personal proof-texting. I have a question about, say, disciplining my three-year-old; I go to the Topical Guide, look up “Family, Children, Responsibilities,� and try to glean from the half-column of references a solution that makes sense in my circumstances.

2. Catalyst to personal revelation. I pray about the problem, then go to the scriptures (perhaps even at random) where a particular passage (perhaps even regardless of its context or meaning) seems to jump out at me with particular clarity: the Holy Ghost transmits a personalized answer using the scriptural text as a medium for inspiration.

3. Prophecy. A small percentage of scripture consists of prophecy to be fulfilled in the latter days; I determine that it is only this portion of scripture that is intended to be applied to latter-day life.

4. Moral law. Some small proportion of scripture consists of direct commandments, and some proportion of those commandments is still in effect; I determine that it is only this subset of scripture that is directly applicable to my life.

5. Casuistry. I take scriptural narratives to embody “pure cases� of good or evil behavior, from those cases I distill principle, and from that principle I extract a solution to my particular “impure� case.

6. Critical meta-reading. As Julie suggests, I consider scripture primarily as text in order ask what challenges or dilemmas it presents to the reader; from those challenges or dilemmas I draw some moral principle (perhaps even unrelated to the content of the passage) that bears on my life.

One would think that I, as a professionally trained reader, could make at least one of these methods work for me. On its own, though, each of these methods leaves me cold in one way or another: 1 and 2 require too much disregard of historical context and difference for me to feel comfortable; 3 and 4 rarely yield specific principles that bear on my life; 5 and 6 require too much sophistication from the reader to seem fair to untrained readers of the scriptures. What have I left out? How do you liken the scriptures to your life?

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23 Responses to The Way to Apply the Truth to (My) Life

  1. Adam Greenwood on January 10, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Ask an answerable question next time, will ya?

  2. Carleh Drennsaf on January 10, 2005 at 6:50 pm

    Well, I suppose we could go to the scriptures to find out how to liken the scriptures, but I suppose that would be begging the question, setting up a tautology that provides no satisfying reconciliation, the reconciliation being between our lives and the scriptures. Likening the scriptures simply seems to be a process of finding yourself in the scriptures. Or, in other words, finding personal meaning and significance in the words. It’s a matter of influence. Rosalynde, I’m sure any reader of your posts would agree that you have likened the words of text theorists unto your life. You’ve absorbed their language, you’ve trained your mind to that way of thinking, and although you probably don’t refer to your old college textbooks to solve problems with your three-year-old, you do internalize her actions (for example, the episode with the quesadilla) according to the rigors of thought which you have learned from them. Can you mimmic the same process with the scriptures? I don’t know.

    I’m thinking now about how I read the scriptures, and how they change me. Here’s how it usually goes: I hear an idea that interests me from some source in my life – school, books, personal experience, times and seasons. I get fixated on that idea. I read the scriptures and see that idea everywhere and decide that I must be a prophetic genius (sans priesthood, though) for having thought of that idea before I even read it in the scriptures. There is at least one thing wrong with that scenario. Rather than responding to the scriptures, I am manipulating a forced response from the scriptures. I don’t know if I can ever avoid my own impositions upon the influences in my life, but it seems that I ought to at least try to escape myself.

    In the end, though, scriptures are just about people. Of God, but by the people, for the people, never to perish from the earth. So, the troubles that hinder our understanding of the scriptures are the same that hinder our understanding of each other. Likewise, the scriptures change our lives in the way that people change our lives. Well, that may not be entirely true. But it sounds good, and I think it is mostly true.

    This is a terribly scattered post – I don’t know if any of it was meaningful. Oh, well.

  3. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    At last, a bite! Thank you Carleh, I was feeling a little foolish here. I haven’t seen you comment before, and I’m glad you around. (By the way, what’s so unanswerable about my question, Adam?)

    You may be on to something when you suggest that the process of “likening” is a process of internalization that occurs nearly involuntarily with sufficient familiarity; the consumption model, maybe–I consume and metabolize the scriptures, and thus change the composition of my soul without conscious effort. But Nephi seems to suggest that there’s something more active that must be done to profit from scriptural texts: “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).

    Your point about our (unavoidable) wrangling of the scriptures is excellent: I think we more often liken ourselves to the scriptures than the scriptures to ourselves. This is a pitfall in reading any historically-distant text, and while I’m quite sure that I need to avoid it when reading Marlowe, I’m not so sure if I need to do the same when I read Matthew.

    Your last point gets closest to my instinct: the scriptures, above all, give us information about how God deals with his human children–most especially in the form of the condescension of Christ. But to find God’s dealings with, say, Esther relevant to me, I’d have to accept a transhistorical human nature–that is, I’d have to accept that people are largely similar in emotional and psycho-social makeup across time–that has never felt right to me. The emotional responses and social stakes in the Old Testament so often feel utterly foreign to me–no matter how fascinating or illuminating. I’m willing to be talked out of this (paging Adam!), but I haven’t been, yet.

  4. Naomi Frandsen on January 10, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    It’s interesting to see how “likening the scriptures to ourselves” becomes both institutionalized and commercialized in our dense LDS culture. For example, the peculiarly Mormon historical novel, from the “Work and the Glory” to Lund’s more recent “The Kingdom and the Crown” and from Chris Heimerdinger’s Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites Series to Nephi Anderson’s “Added Upon,” often offers easily digestible narratives about how familiar characters (the rebellious teenager, the nurturing, truth-seeking wife and mother, the beautiful, strong-minded Gentile girl) are changed by their interactions with the Savior, his words, his disciples or missionaries. Seminary videos, too, offer models for how to apply the scriptures to our lives. I remember a girl bearing her testimony once about how she finally got around to reading “The Work and the Glory” ( “They were just sitting on the shelves and I knew it was something I needed to do…”) and how it really solidified her testimony about the early Saints and the (much easier) trials she had to face today. Now this experience suggests a couple of things: sometimes we as a people substitute likening the scriptures to ourselves to likening interpretations of, elaborations upon, or media products inspired by the scriptures to ourselves; and sometimes we do in fact benefit from models of behavior (narrative and scriptural–although the historical distance of scriptural texts can make this more challenging). Personally, I think there can be a danger in these types of “likenings”–they offer a fairly generic model of relationships and dealing with the real situations in our lives. But they also sometimes seem more approachable than, say, Tamar and Judah. Anyway, I’ve masked a personal response in some institutional comments, so I’ll end by agreeing with Carleh’s insights: my favorite way of likening the scriptures to myself–and also the richest, most real, least mechanical, it feels–is to assimilate the vocabulary and thought structures and even linguistic patterns of the scriptures. When I served my mission in Romania, I learned the language primarily through reading the Book of Mormon. Perhaps this is a little sad, but my grammar, my vocabulary, my turns of phrase were all courtesy of the ROmanian translators back in Church headquarters. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the scriptures in Romanian seem much more personal, much more immediate to me than even my scriptures in English, or at least they did on my mission. The language of the scriptures was how I thought about my life in Romania. I’m not suggesting that we stop reading anything but our scriptures as a means of internalizing the scriptures, but I really do think that the Word can change the composition of our hearts and our minds. Anyway, great–and quite exhaustive–post, Rosalynde. The fact of the matter is that I still remain a fairly lazy scripture reader, and that’s what your post has shown me most!

  5. Amira on January 10, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    I’m not sure that your #6 requires necessarily requires much sophistication. Untrained readers of the scriptures can bring entirely different interpretations that we may not have thought of, that have nothing to do with the content, but that apply to them personally. I’ve seen this happen in many settings, with both members and non-members. I think this is the best way to liken the scriptures to ourselves.

    Of course, you could just trot out and buy Julie’s book. Many of her questions help me apply the Gospels to my own life.

  6. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    Interesting comments about your mission, Naomi. For me, too, my mission was the time when I was most naturally able to apply the scriptures to my life; my mission BofM is full of little notes to myself in the margins: “This is you, Rosalynde!” and “FAITH is the key” and “NEVER get discouraged” and the like. I don’t know whether it was the spiritual intensity of the experience, the unique relevance of the book of Alma to missionary work, or merely the lack of other materials that fostered this kind of reading.

    And Heimerdinger’s deliberate anachronism in the “Tennis Shoes” series is really interesting, too. (Does this belong in the kitsch thread above?) Let me think more about this.

    (And now that you’ve commented once you won’t be able to stop–just watch! :) )

  7. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Amira. I know, I really do need to get Julie’s book!

    You make a good point about untrained readers, one that I should have conveyed more strongly: it feels like a profound contradiction of the most basic gospel principles to suggest that effective scripture reading requires skill as a reader. But I’m not sure that I’m ready to accept what you suggest as the alternative–a radically subjective view of scripture in which the text conveys only the barest outlines of meaning and the reader fills in the personal remainder, even if that has little to do with the original meaning of the passage itself. As I suggested in #2, I think scripture can sometimes work this way as a catalyst to personal inspiration, but it seems to make th content of scripture itself strangely irrelevant to normalize this method.

  8. Pete on January 10, 2005 at 10:07 pm

    Naomi:

    It looks like you didn’t complete the URL linking your name to your web-site. I was going to shoot you an email just to say “hello.”

  9. Gabrielle Turner on January 10, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    Rosalynde,
    I have similar feelings regarding “likening the scriptures.” While I know that we are encouraged to do so, even from the scriptures themselves, it has always seemed forced to me. I think the main benefit I get from reading the scriptures is increasing the spirit in my life in general. When I have the spirit with me, I make better decisions. But I have rarely received direct guidance on a particular issue in my life simply by reading a passage of scripture. The only significant experience I can recall at this time is during a time when I was particularly struggling with my faith. Of course the scriptures have extensive passages regarding faith, and I did find certain scriptures to be directly influential in answering some of my questions.
    For me, reading the scriptures strengthens my testimony more than anything else. It is because I know the scriptures are true (especially the Book of Mormon), that I KNOW the Church is true. And I am therefore better able to accept and act upon the words of our modern-day prophets and apostles.
    I am reading the Old Testament at the moment in my scripture study, and I suppose the greatest lessons it has to offer me are how NOT to behave. I, too, have a very hard time believing that the human emotional and social responses to various situations remain constant throughout the generations. I just do not get that from the Old Testament.
    For these reasons, and others, I have a hard time “illustrating” talks in church with various scriptures. It seems manipulated and forced to me. But perhaps this just illuminates my own shallow understanding of the scriptures.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on January 10, 2005 at 11:09 pm

    That’s a really good point, Gabrielle (and thanks for coming on over, by the way!). I remember President Benson saying of the Book of Mormon that “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book”. In this sense the scriptures make a difference in our lives even when they don’t seem directly applicable.

  11. Eric on January 10, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    I’m going to agree with Carleh and Amira. I firmly believe that those “surprise” confirmations of ideas we have, or seemingly off-the-wall interpretations are in many ways the best method to liken the scriptures to our lives. That is part of the beauty and richness of the scriptures–they are not just dead words, but there are meanings in them that I may find to bring me closer to the Lord that other people just don’t see.

    My favorites are the Savior’s parables, since I have beenat one time or another both the lost coin and the woman cleaning the house to find it; the man who fell among thieves and both the men who walk past and the one who stops to help; and I have even been (not as often as I should like) the sheep who hears His voice and follows Him.

  12. Amira on January 11, 2005 at 12:21 am

    I agree with you, Rosalynde. Making the scriptures totally subjective is not the best way to study the scriptures. It’s actually not the way I prefer to study the scriptures, because it can totally eliminate so many other aspects of the scriptures. I have heard many women in Relief Society who seem to rationalize their lack of study of the scriptures with the idea that they can glean personal insight without any additional knowledge. True, they certainly can, and I don’t argue with the insight that they do gain, but using this method exclusively is limiting.

    I still think #6 is the easiest way to liken scriptures to ourselves, trained or not. I guess that I agree with Naomi- likening the scriptures to ourselves can be dangerous. It may be an effective (and easy) method at times, but not the best.

  13. Jim F. on January 11, 2005 at 12:22 am

    I think Amira is right, Rosalynde, when she says that you are wrong about the sophistication that #6 requires. It requires patience and study, but I don’t think it requires much sophistication. My experience in a very non-academic ward is that it doesn’t.

  14. Shannon Keeley on January 11, 2005 at 1:11 am

    I think I’m having a hard time likening this thread to myself. Perhaps, it’s just my lack of vocabulary. I’m going to have to look up hermeneutics, tautology, and casuistry. Maybe that’s why I’m going to risk sounding anti-intellectual. I think you can overthink how to liken the scriptures to yourself. I think training can get in your way.

    I come at the scriptures the way I come at any great, involving story. Even though I take them as authentic histories I identify with the people in the scriptures as I do the characters in a great novel or other narrative. I vicariously put myself in their place and immerse myself in their world. Probably, the only reason I first fell in love with the Book of Mormon at an early age was because Laman and Lemuel reminded me of my two older brothers, who I felt were always picking on me. I feel God helped inspire the prophets to be great storytellers precisely so there was a little entertainment value in the scriptures to help the doctrine go down. On occasion, I’ll tear through the Book of Mormon like it’s a cheap paperback novel. We’re told to feast on the word, right. Well, sometimes I think we can devour the scriptures like a good book.

    I’m surprised so many have expressed difficulty finding “emotional responses and social stakesâ€? foreign in the Old Testament. I believe people are largely similar across time. I’ve always felt this is one inescapable lesson of the scriptures. To me the short-sightedness of Esau, the lust of David, the pride of Samson, all these things are “transhistorical.â€? (I’m not sure I’m using that word, right. I’m sure someone will inform me.) I don’t mean to belittle peoples’ difficulties, but as I say I come at it as I do a great novel and I feel you can read stories from hundreds of years past and still relate them to your life, glean lessons, and alter your behavior.

    Personally, I feel likening the scriptures to yourself is more an act of imagination than of literary criticism. Does saying that make the process too subjective? Not really, not for me. Likening something to yourself is necessarily subjective, isn’t it. There’s only one you, after all.

    By the way, I’ve heard women in the Church complain that the scriptures are harder to relate to because there’s not many female characters. Now, this is a complaint I can understand and I feel like it bears discussing.

  15. Brian G. on January 11, 2005 at 1:13 am

    Oops. It was me, Brian that wrote that last post, not Shannon. We share the same computer. Now, I feel really stupid.

  16. Rosalynde Welch on January 11, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Thanks for the comment, Brian (and I knew it was you right away–Shannon wouldn’t have put a comma after “perhaps.” (gently teasing)). It’s no surprise, really, that you see scripture reading as an act of imagination and I see it as an act of criticism–you’re the playwright, I’m the literary theorist. Maybe we not only liken the scriptures to ourselves, but the act of scripture reading, too. You may be right that my training is working against me here, but I don’t think it’s because I simply can’t relax and read unrigorously: believe me, I can tear through “The Nanny Diaries” with the best of them. But I do have difficulty surrendering language to purely subjective interpretation, because, obviously, that would make my disciplinary project competely irrelevant–but also because all my experience reading rigorously has shown me that while reading will never yield the kind of results that calculus will, there are more and less valid ways to read.

    And about gender… thanks for bringing it up. (I didn’t dare–things always go south whenever I do.) And since you mentioned it… yeah, I’ve heard women say the same thing, that they can’t relate to the scriptures because there are so few women there. They need to check out Julie’s series here on women in the scriptures! I don’t really have that problem, because, as you know, accepting only a limited gender essentialism, I don’t *necessarily* feel that I have any more in common with sciptural women than with scriptural men in terms of my relationship to God, my moral challenges, and the other issues I bring to the scriptures. But I can understand how other women would come to the scriptures hoping to find a kind of devotional mirror there that simply isn’t present–both because women are so scarce in the scriptures, and because their situations are so foreign (Tamar, anyone?). It’s interesting that you find scriptural men’s challenges so familiar… maybe, and this is complete speculation, women are in some ways more susceptible to socialization than men and thus “female nature” seems to change more over time than men’s. This could be because women have historically been in a position of subjection, and perhaps also because of some physiological differences. I’m willing to accept that women’s sexuality is more malleable than men’s, for example, and maybe that is related in some way to the transhistorical familiarity of male lust, competition, etc (your examples, not mine!).

    And thanks for the follow-ups, Amira and Eric! Good points, both.

  17. MDS on January 11, 2005 at 11:41 am

    I find a tendancy in both myself and others to liken the scriptures to others rather than to myself. There are so many warnings to those of the last days to be found in the scriptures, and yet when read these warnings, we often find ourselves asking “What does this passage say about non-members?”, or “What does this passage teach us about the Catholic church?” and not “What does this passage mean for me? What particular bad tendencies is it warning me against?” There is too complacency about our own spiritual state, and too much finger pointing. As an example, modern prophets have cautioned that 2 Nephi 28 should be read as if its warnings were directed to members of the church, but when it is discussed, it often becomes a springboard for talking about the apostasy and restoration, and “Gee, aren’t we blessed to belong to the true church, and not an apostate one!”

  18. Shannon Keeley on January 11, 2005 at 11:54 am

    You’re right Rosalynde, I definitely would NOT have put a comma after ‘perhaps’! Brian is very resistant when it comes to learning proper grammar, he always argues that one can put whatever punctuation where ever one wants in the name of “dramatic effect”! Well, maybe in a screenplay, but in prose. . .no way!

  19. Julie in Austin on January 11, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    I want to add to the idea that intellectual sophsitication is not required for a good experience of interpretation. All it takes is the willingness to do a close reading. For example, this week we spent *all* of Gospel Doctrine on D & C 29:1-2. We took apart each phrase. Because of the participation by class members, I feel that it was one of my better lessons. I asked the class to reflect on the use of the phrase ‘arm of mercy.’ We read the only other uses of that phrase is scripture (three in the BoM) in order to provide some context. One person commented that it reminded her of action movies where someone is falling off of a cliff or into an ocean or whatever and someone else reaches out to them–with an arm of mercy. Someone else said that the extended arm reminded them of Jesus’ arms extended on the cross. Other similar comments showed how very differently people read that phrase, but the overall effect, at least for me, was to invite the Spirit and reflection on what Jesus does for us.

    It doesn’t take a graduate degree in Biblical Studies (grin) to teach this way or to study the scriptures this way on your own. Anyone can make the decision to (1) focus closely on details and spend some time with them and (2) look up other uses of the phrase/idea under consideration and (3) ‘free associate’ with an image or idea to see what it suggests to you.

    Brian notes the ludicious language that interpretation often hides behind. The reason for this is that the emporer has no clothes–without the vocab, the masses would understnad and would know that they could try this at home. Jargon is truly the last refuge of a scoundrel.

  20. Rosalynde Welch on January 12, 2005 at 8:46 am

    Hey Julie, I don’t appreciate being called a scoundrel! (good-natured self-mocking) In a desperate effort at weak self-defense, perhaps I could point out that “generic hybridity” is really the only instance of jargon in my post (since I explain hermeneutics); the others are just big words. And certainly “ludicious” is as blameworthy as “casuistry.” Hmmm… I sense a post in defense of jargon coming on…

    I’m really glad you commented, and you reveal clearly why you are a gifted teacher and I am not. It sounds like you use an ultra-close-reading method that takes linguistic details as a kind of Rohrshach (sp?) test for your students’ personal spiritual concerns. I can see how this would be very effective and engaging in leading to the kind of inspiration or personal revelation that uses the scriptures as a catalyst, my #2. And more and more, as I’ve read the responses to my post, I think this is really what we’re after when we talk about “likening” the scriptures to ourselves; that is, the process has as much to do with self-reflection, and with the Spirit, as it does with the actual meaning of the scriptures themselves.

    I’m wondering, though, whether your ultra-close-reading method is really justified if we move to a more text-based, academic (and thus less personal and devotional) study of the scriptures. It seems like Royal Skousen’s work, which he reported upon here some time ago, would suggest that the text of the Book of Mormon has seen enough migration to make a too-close reading of individual words unjustifiable, at least academically; and you know far more about the Bible than I, but I know enough to realize that in the Bible we’re often some distance from the original, as well.

  21. Naomi Frandsen on January 12, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Okay, Brian, now that you’ve confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know all of those words, here are the definitions I hastened to look up after reading Rosalynde’s post:
    hermeneutics: theory of interpretation (esp. scriptural), and more generally, I’ve always understood it to be the making of meaning– how we make scriptures meaningful to us, I suppose.
    tautology: redundancy, a vacuous statement containing no significant meaning (either it will rain tomorrow or it won’t, courtesy of dictionary.com). This, unfortunately, characterizes most of my scriptural insights (so, faith is a PROCESS…hmmm…).
    casuistry: This really was an unfair word for Rosalynde to use, since she devoted entire sections of her dissertation to it, but I think it means theories of ethical choice between good and bad. Interesting, because so often–maybe even most often–the choices that are presented in scriptures don’t seem cast in terms of pure good and pure bad–Nephi had to really justify his decision to slay Laban; Joseph (son of Jacob) didn’t seem to be too sensitive to his older brothers’ possible responses to his dreams; Tamar…well, she figured out how to have a baby, and sometimes I wonder what would happen in singles wards if that story were discussed in more depth.
    One last thought about how I read scriptures. Often I don’t find myself lighting upon doctrines or stories or characters but upon phrases. “For I am persuaded that neither height nor depth nor kingdoms nor principalities nor any other thing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (grossly misquoted); “Sorrow is at night but joy cometh in the morning;” “seller of purple;” “Give me this mountain”–sometimes they articulate a vague feeling or conviction I’ve felt before, sometimes they just strike my fancy. This is, however, a thin way of reading the scriptures, since they can offer much more than just nice turns of phrase.
    Finally, it sounds like this concern with textual migration and corruptions introduced through many translations comes from the notion that we cannot impute “authorial intention” to the words we have in front of us. In other words, we can’t put the full weight of our interpretation and meaning-making on words that may just as easily have been others if the translator or copy-editor had made a different but just as arbitrary choice. And I think I agree with this partially– approaching scriptures as inspired texts rather than just regular texts requires understanding and accepting a process of human cooperation, shared authorship, with the source of inspiration and revelation. And perhaps this is why you’re still resisting the idea of a radically subjective reading of the scriptures, Rosalynde–it suggests that there is no authorial intention to find, or that it doesn’t matter what empirical meaning was being communicated by the prophet or scribe or God. Maybe taken to an extreme, this can become an instance of wresting the scriptures. Anyway, I’m coming to no conclusions, but I just realized that I’ve spent more time writing this than I have actually reading the scriptures today, so perhaps I’d better fix that.

  22. Mark B on January 13, 2005 at 9:49 am

    If you don’t know what hermeneutics means, you’re not in bad company.

    Elder Oaks, writing in the March 1997 Ensign (from an article entitled Teaching and Learning by the Spirit):

    I was talking with a Protestant minister who taught in a seminary. When I asked what subject he taught, he said, “Hermeneutics.� I had never heard that word, so I said, “What is that?� My minister friend explained that hermeneutics is the art of interpreting and expounding the scriptures. I smiled and said, “Well, yes, I guess I understand a little bit about that, but I’ve never heard it called that.�

    By the way, this was the only hit on “hermeneutics” in the entire online Ensign file.

  23. Russ Johnston on January 13, 2005 at 10:48 am

    I have enjoyed the thought provoking nature of this post. My wife and I had a conversation related to this last night. She got her degree in English Education while mine is in Computer Science. What we find is that I know the stories told in the Book of Mormon very well. I can relate the life stories of many of the characters. But I’ve never been able to sink my teeth into the D&C. She on the other hand knows where to find many specific scriptures and would much rather dissect them. I love the book of Alma while she finds it boring due to all the warfare. What I am getting at is that I agree with some of the comments above that training has an effect on how we read the scriptures and consequently how we liken them unto ourselves. I can’t believe that either one is inappropriate. The message of divine text is applicable on both macro and micro scales. We can find inspiration in the life stories of the prophets as well as the sermons of those same prophets.

    Instead of looking at this topic as, “How do I find answers to my daily problems in the scriptures?” I view it as, “How does what I just read apply to my daily problems?”. I seldom, if ever, have a problem in my life and then go looking through the scriptures and find the answer. Likening the scriptures means to me that as I read the scriptures I should take the things that I have read and ponder how those teachings or stories apply to my life.