Let’s face it, scripture study is hard. It’s hard to find time during the day to really experience a meaningful study of the scriptures. I’ve talked to many people who find it difficult to go beyond just checking daily scripture study off their lists and hear God’s voice speak to them as they read His word. They feel like meaningful study is something they want to do (or at least they feel like they should do) but that day is always somewhere in the distant future.
In addition to finding time to study the scriptures, there are so many to choose from…we don’t know where to start! Jewish people have what we call the Old Testament. Christians have the Old and New Testaments. But as Latter-day Saints we are faced with mastering not only the books of the Bible, we have three additional books of scripture. Besides this, we constantly have messages from General Authorities, mission presidents, and testimony meetings telling us that The Book of Mormon is the most important scripture for us to read. So, assuming we do find time during the day to read our scriptures we almost always fall to The Book of Mormon by default, and most scripture we read in the Bible is just two or three verses we reference from the footnotes.
Now, think of what a scripture study is like for an Apostle, maybe Elder Holland or President Uchtdorf. Do they only know the stories and characters of The Book of Mormon, or are they intimately familiar with all scripture, including the Old and New Testaments? Of course they know the four Gospels, but do they really know the stories told about Israel told in the Old Testament? Did they start reading the Bible when they became an Apostle to better fulfill their calling, or have they been studying ALL scripture long before they became Apostles?
For me, it is hard to imagine bringing up any scripture to an Apostle that they haven’t read or spent some time thinking about. Clearly, they are familiar with the whole canon of scripture, not just The Book of Mormon. In fact, President Uchtdorf gave a whole talk in April 2009 General Conference about the Old Testament character Nehemiah. President Uchtdorf spent time in his busy schedule to read the story of an obscure Old Testament cupbearer and thought it important enough to share principles it with the whole world. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “If reading the Bible is an important priority for Prophets and Apostles, should it be a priority for me?”
The obvious answer is yes. Yet this seems contradictory to the messages that we hear about spending most of our study time in The Book of Mormon. I want to make two things clear up front. First, I love The Book of Mormon dearly and want in no way to undervalue its importance and testimony. Second, really gaining a grasp on the message of the Bible will only enhance your reading of The Book of Mormon in ways that you cannot begin to imagine.
So, let me give you a few reasons why studying the Bible is so important for our personal path of discipleship. Hopefully, if you are reading this you will prayerfully consider with God if this is a book of scripture that you need to make a higher priority in your life, and ask Him how you will fit it into your personal scripture study.
1) The Bible is the word of God:
Neal A. Maxwell said this about the Latter-day Saint view of the Bible,
“Occasionally, a few in the Church let the justified caveat about the Bible—‘as far as it is translated correctly’—diminish their exultation over [it]. Inaccuracy of some translating must not, however, diminish our appreciation for the [its] powerful testimony and ample historicity.”
Out of all the things we spend time reading (this includes endless hours of social media consumption) the most important would be the word of God. And there are only four books in the world that are canonized to fit that description. This alone should be reason enough for us to want to master the teachings found in the Bible.
2) The Bible is the only living witness we have of the mortal Jesus Christ:
While The Book of Mormon is an important witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Bible is the only witness we have of how Jehovah came to earth to live His life in a mortal body. 2 Nephi 31:16 teaches that,
And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.
I know that I am lost in life without the example of Jesus’ life. The four Gospels are the only place where I learn how Jesus lived life as a mortal, how he faced the challenges we face every day, and how he lived what he taught. I am always surprised as well when I really consider what Jesus is doing in these stories. It is often different from what I expect Him to do. As I’ve sought to really know Jesus, the Bible provides for me four incredible witnesses in the Gospels that I don’t find anywhere else in all of scripture.
3) The Book of Mormon is translated in the language of the King James Bible:
Most of the language and many of the phrases that occur in The Book of Mormon come straight from the King James Bible. The more you understand and can recognize phrases in The Book of Mormon that are found in the Bible, the more you will understand the powerful doctrines and principles that God is trying to teach us in all of His word. For instance Nephi, Jacob, and even Jesus all quote Isaiah. Many members of the Church just skip or quickly glance through these chapters. But since I’ve really studied Isaiah in the Bible and the Israelite history before and after his time, I now understand why Nephi and Jacob and Jesus are so fond of his words. Additionally, words like charity, grace, Gentile, shepherds, and a whole host of other phrases are more clear in their meaning because I understand their context in the KJV Bible.
4) The Bible sets the foundation for the Book of Mormon:
The Book of Mormon takes place among a people who are directly descended from the tribes of Israel. In fact, the beginning of The Book of Mormon takes place after almost the entire Old Testament is over (besides a few books). These were people who had the Old Testament on their brass plates as the scriptures that they looked to, and they worshiped God under the law of Moses. After I decided to focus on understanding the stories and message of the Old Testament, amazing insights and vistas opened up to me when I revisited the Book of Mormon. It’s as if I finally understood the key that made ALL the teachings in the Book of Mormon make sense and how they fit into God’s larger picture. From the beginning, God interacts with all His children and an increased knowledge of the Old Testament can make a significant impact in understanding how The Book of Mormon fits into that larger story.
5) There are powerful promises for those who make the Bible and the Book of Mormon one in their hands:
One of the most astounding promises in The Book of Mormon comes when Lehi is quoting Joseph of Egypt to his own son Joseph. Speaking of the records of The Book of Mormon and the Bible in the last days, he has this to say,
“[The Bible and The Book of Mormon] shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.”
We cannot understand to the full extent the incredible promises that pave the way for our salvation until we give equal time to all of God’s word. These promises are available to everyone, but only if we allow The Book of Mormon AND the Bible to grow together in our hands. If we ignore the Bible and only read The Book of Mormon these promises are not binding.
6) The Bible has unique teachings/unique promises from God:
While it is true that there are unique things that are only taught in The Book of Mormon, the same still rings true for the Bible. There are things that are taught in the Bible that aren’t taught anywhere else. Where else can you learn about the Abrahamic Covenant, or Jesus’ charge to bring the Gospel to the whole world, or the testimony of Christ’s divinity on the Mt. of Transfiguration, or John’s vision of the last days in the book of Revelation? There are powerful stories, characters, and doctrines taught in the Bible that you simply won’t find anywhere else in scripture.
There are many other reasons besides these why reading the Bible would be a worthwhile effort to pursue in your personal studies. Hopefully, as you’ve considered these reasons you’ve gained a greater desire to include the Bible in your personal study, not just two or three verses here or there as a cross reference, but as a lifelong pursuit to know the Bible like you know The Book of Mormon. If the Old and New Testaments aren’t a regular part of your study of the scriptures, the most important thing you can do is ponder in the Spirit whether the Bible should be a more integral part of your worship, and ask God how He wants you to use it in your life. It can and will play a powerful role in coming to know Jesus Christ and live His gospel.
Chandler Kendall is a co-founder of Bibleaid, a website that provides resources to help Latter-day Saints study the Bible. For more information and resources visit bibleaid.org.