Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ on scripture interpretation

This section is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

Bruce R. McConkie

  • All scripture should be studied in context.[1]

Boyd K. Packer

  • The gospel tells us when and with whom these sacred powers may be safely experienced. As with all things, the scriptures do not contain page after page of detailed commandments covering every possible application of the law of life. Rather they speak in general terms, leaving us free to apply the principles of the gospel to meet the infinite variety of life.[2]
  • First: Instruction vital to our salvation is not hidden in an obscure verse or phrase in the scriptures. To the contrary, essential truths are repeated over and over again. Second: Every verse, whether oft–quoted or obscure, must be measured against other verses. There are complementary and tempering teachings in the scriptures which bring a balanced knowledge of truth. Third: There is a consistency in what the Lord says and what He does. That is evident in all creation.[3]
  • There are those who have made a casual, even an insincere, effort to test the scriptures and have come away having received nothing, which is precisely what they have earned and what they deserve. If a person thinks these books will yield to a casual inquiry, to idle curiosity, or even to well–intentioned but temporary searching, he is mistaken. They likewise will not yield to the overzealous or to the fanatic.[4]
  • Only last Friday while putting together some things for a presentation, I read part of it to some brethren from BYU. I noticed they looked at one another at one place in my reading, and I stopped and asked if there was a problem. Finally one of them suggested that I not use a certain scripture that I had included even though it said exactly what I wanted to convey. How dare they suppose that a member of the Twelve didn't know his scriptures! I simply said, "What do you suggest?" He said, "Better find another scripture," and he pointed out that if I put that verse back in context, it was really talking about another subject. Others had used it as I proposed to use it, but it was not really correct. I was very glad to make a change.[5]

Brigham H. (BH) Roberts

  • In the past, a too exclusive adherence to merely "text methods" of work has been followed. That is to say, there has been a selection of separate and disconnected texts marshalled together in support of a given subject without sufficient care being taken to know the context and historical association of the scriptural utterances, often attended with great danger of forming misconceptions of such texts, resulting in wrong deductions and conclusions. The present aim is to make our Seventies familiar with the spirit of the scriptures, learning something of the individual books, as a whole, something of their general import and their relationship one to another; that from this general acquaintance with the whole volume of scripture, the Seventies may become more competent to use separate passages more intelligently and effectively, and with less likelihood of making mistakes.[6]
  • The Book of Mormon text ought to be read in connection with its context—with the chapter that precedes it and the remaining portions of the chapter in which the expression is found—then, I think, those who study it in that manner will be forced to the conclusion that the prophet here has in mind no particular church, no particular division of Christendom, but he has in mind, as just stated, the whole empire of Satan.[7]

Joseph Smith, Jr.

  • In reference to the prodigal son, I said it was a subject I had never dwelt upon; that it was understood by many to be one of the intricate subjects of the scriptures; and even the Elders of this Church have preached largely upon it, without having any rule of interpretation. What is the rule of interpretation? Just no interpretation at all. Understand it precisely as it reads. I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? It is not national; it does not refer to Abraham, Israel or the Gentiles, in a national capacity, as some suppose. To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus.[8]

Joseph Fielding Smith

  • There is always danger in isolating passages from their context; or in failing to take into account all the factors of the historical setting.[9]
  • It seems to me, however, that the meaning should be interpreted by the reading of the context.[10]

James E. Talmage

  • However, the term kingdom is used in more senses than one, and a careful study of the context in each instance may be necessary to a proper comprehension of the writer's intent.[11]

Brigham Young

  • "Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?"[12]
  1. Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), 686. ISBN 0877478724. ISBN 978-0877478720. GospeLink
  2. Boyd K. Packer, Eternal Marriage: Student Manual (2001), 143.
  3. Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 286–287.
  4. Boyd K. Packer, The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 14 [April 1974 General Conference address]
  5. Boyd K. Packer, "Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council," (18 May 1993).
  6. Brigham H. Roberts, Seventy's Course in Theology 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1907–1912), 1:i.
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:31. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct link
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 286. off-site
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1957–1966), 3:38. ISBN 1573454400. GospeLink
  10. Joseph Fielding Smith, Way to Perfection (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1949), 269-70.
  11. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]), 330.
  12. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:333.