Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:12

Scripture Study and the Holy Ghost

And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

There is a deep and vital connection between reading the word of God and being filled with the Spirit. On the road to Emmaus, when the two disciples walked with the resurrected Lord, not knowing it was him, and then invited him to stay and eat with them, immediately after Jesus vanished, they said to one another:

And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? [1]Luke 24:32

When Josiah, king of Judah at a time of great Israelite wickedness, accidentally found the book of the law (the scriptures) among other treasures of the temple, he felt the Spirit and changed his life. It was the scriptures that sparked the change.

And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments,and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. [2]2 Chronicles 34:31

Speaking of the scriptures to the early brethren of the church in the latter-days, the Lord said that the scriptures are given by the Spirit, and it is by the same power that they are read:

These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them; [3]Doctrine and Covenants 18:34-35

Or, as Elder Richard G. Scott put it,

Because scriptures are generated from inspired communication through the Holy Ghost, they are pure truth. We need not be concerned about the validity of concepts contained in the standard works since the Holy Ghost has been the instrument which has motivated and inspired those individuals who have recorded the scriptures. [4]The Power of Scripture, Richard G. Scott, October 2011 General Conference

Elder Neal A. Maxwell speaks of his own experience with the Book of Mormon:

Neal A. Maxwell:
For my part, Brothers and Sisters, I am glad the book will be with us “as long as the earth shall stand.” I need and want additional time. For me, the Book of Mormon is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings. My tour of it has never been completed. Some rooms I have yet to enter, and there are more felicitous fireplaces waiting to warm me. Even the rooms I have glimpsed contained further furnishings and rich detail yet to be savored. There are panels inlaid with incredible insights, and design and décor dating from eden. There are even sumptuous banquet tables painstakingly prepared by predecessors which await all of us. Yet we as church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall. May we come to feel as a whole people beckoned beyond the entry hall. May we go inside, far enough to hear clearly the whispered truths from those who have slumbered, which whisperings will awaken in us individually, a life of discipleship as never before. [5]Neal A. Maxwell, The Great Answer to the Great Question, FARMS audio cassette, Deseret Book.

The scriptures, by means of that life changing Holy Spirit, are of primary importance in gaining, maintaining, and strengthening a testimony of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Elder Richard G. Scott said,

A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that bring tears to the eyes and make it difficult to speak. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. These choices are made with trusting faith in things that are believed and, at least initially, are not seen. A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. A testimony grows from understanding truth distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths with faith anchored in the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained. [6]Richard G. Scott, The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, October 2010 General Conference

As we face various phases of life, and diverse challenges, the Spirit we feel as we study the scriptures can help us find answers to prayer.

You may be facing decisions regarding a mission, your future career, and, eventually, marriage. As you read the scriptures and pray for direction, you may not actually see the answer in the form of printed words on the page, but as you read you will receive distinct impressions, and promptings, and, as promised, the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what ye should do.” [7]Spencer J. Condie, Becoming a Great Benefit to Our Fellow Beings, April 2002 General Conference

What and how much we get out of the scriptures is entirely dependent on our spiritual maturity and preparation. Bruce R. McConkie says it this way:

Each pronouncement in the holy scriptures … is so written as to reveal little or much, depending on the spiritual capacity of the student. [8]Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985, p. 71

It is also important to remember that we can’t just read and expect the Spirit to come. We do need to make some effort.

The prophet Abinadi explained the role of the feelings that come from God to our hearts. He taught that we cannot understand the scriptures completely unless we apply our heart to understanding. [9]Walter F. González, Learning with Our Hearts, October 2012 General Conference

It is intended that we understand different scriptures in different ways based on our situation. If the message is the same every time we read a particular verse, it could mean we’re not seeking the guidance of the Spirit as we read. The Holy Ghost will reveal insights when we seek the guidance of the Lord. Said Elder Dallin H. Oaks,

Those who believe the scriptural canon is closed typically approach the reading of scriptures by focusing on what was meant at the time the scriptural words were spoken or written. In this approach, a passage of scripture may appear to have a single meaning and the reader typically relies on scholarship and historical methods to determine it.

The Latter-day Saint approach is different. Professor Hugh Nibley illuminates this in his essay “The Prophets and the Scripture.” He observes that “men fool themselves when they think for a moment that they can read the scripture without ever adding something to the text, or omitting something from it. For in the wise words of St. Hilary, … ‘Scripture consists not in what one reads, but in what one understands.’” Consequently, he continues, “in the reading of the scripture we must always have an interpreter” ( The World and the Prophets, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 12 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, 3:202).

He concludes: The question is not whether or not one shall add to the word of the scripture—thousands of volumes of learned commentary have already done that—but whether such addition shall come by the wisdom of men or the revelation of God” (ibid., p. 206).

Latter-day Saints know that true doctrine comes by revelation from God, not by scholarship or worldly wisdom (see Moses 5:58 ). Similarly, the Apostle Paul wrote that we are not “sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” ( 2 Cor. 3:5 ). Rather than trusting in our own interpretations of written texts, we rely on God and the glorious “ministration of the spirit” ( 2 Cor. 3:8 ). Here we encounter a new meaning of Paul’s familiar teaching that true believers are “ministers … of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” ( 2 Cor. 3:6 ). [10]Dallin H. Oaks, Scripture Reading and Revelation, Ensign Jan 1995

How do we get that Spirit as we read? First we pray for it. Then, as Elder Scott said,

Pondering a passage of scripture can be a key to unlock revelation and the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Scriptures can calm an agitated soul, giving peace, hope, and a restoration of confidence in one’s ability to overcome the challenges of life. They have potent power to heal emotional challenges when there is faith in the Savior. They can accelerate physical healing. [11]Richard G. Scott, The Power of Scripture, General Conference Oct. 2011

I once had a teacher who would always tell us, “Every time you open the scriptures under the right circumstances, you open a conduit to heaven through which the Spirit can flow.”

I believe that.

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Chas Hathaway is the author of the books Scripture Study Made Awesome, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? and Giraffe Tracks. Learn more at Please participate in the conversation by adding comments and sharing with friends on the web!

Gospel Living Made Awesome is not an official work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Chas says something stupid, it's his own fault.