17. Look for patterns, connections, lists, and themes.
The scriptures will open up to you as you begin to make connections between passages that may, at first glance, seem unrelated. As you develop this habit, you will begin to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the doctrines and principles that run through the scriptures and you will obtain "inspired insights and treasures of hidden knowledge" as you begin to grasp the relationships between them.
"A connection is a relationship or link between ideas, people, things, or events, and the scriptures are full of connections. Consider the relationship between the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 15:1–9); between mercy and grace (see 2 Nephi 9:8); between clean hands and a pure heart (see Psalm 24:4); between a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20); between the wheat and the tares (see D&C 101:65); between knowledge and intelligence (see D&C 130:18–19); between justification and sanctification (see D&C 20:30–31); between sheep and goats (see Matthew 25:32–33); between immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39); and countless others. Prayerfully identifying, learning about, and pondering such connections—the similarities and differences, for example—is a primary source of living water and yields inspired insights and treasures of hidden knowledge." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).As you search the scriptures learn to make associations between terms and to make connections between concepts. As you make these connections, note them in the margin or in a notepad so that you can build up a catalog of associated concepts and connections that you can reference in the future. Practice comparing and contrasting connected ideas and concepts. Examine differences and similarities. As you turn concepts and connections over in your mind you will come to comprehend them in a way that may never have occurred to you before. This practice will help you to improve in your ability to think critically, which will enable you avoid the trap of taking scriptural concepts for granted which can cause you to miss the finer details and deeper significance of the things you read in the scriptures. You will enjoy added insight, and your ability to actively apply the principles of the scriptures to a wide variety of circumstances will improve as you learn to make connections, not just among ideas in the scriptures, but between the scriptures and your own every day life.
Another excellent way to make or recognize connections in the scriptures is to look for lists. Mosiah 18 contains a list of duties and obligations that a person must take upon themselves at baptism. This list is an excellent reminder of just what we signed up to do when we entered the waters of baptism ourselves. Moroni 6 contains a related list of the practices of the church in the Book of Mormon in relation to the nurture and care of those who had recently been baptized. 2 Nephi 31 contains several lists, amongst which a wonderful list of what it takes to endure to the end is a notable highlight. I could list many more, but you will have to search them out on your own. Once you start to recognize lists and connections between ideas and concepts you will begin to see them almost constantly as you search the scriptures.
As you learn to make and discern connections you will begin to perceive patterns in the scriptures that will provide a template upon which you can model your life by helping you to understand the mind and will of God.
"A pattern is a plan, model, or standard that can be used as a guide for repetitively doing or making something. And the scriptures are full of spiritual patterns. Typically, a scriptural pattern is broader and more comprehensive than a connection. Identifying and studying scriptural patterns is another important source of living water and helps us become acquainted and more familiar with the wisdom and the mind of the Lord (see D&C 95:13)." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"Patterns are templates, guides, repeating steps, or paths one follows to stay aligned with God’s purpose. If followed, they will keep us humble, awake, and able to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit from those voices that distract us and lead us away." (Paul E Koelliker, "He Truly Loves us", Ensign, May 2012).
The best way to recognize a pattern in scripture is to look for common or repeated words, themes, or phrases.
"When you notice a pattern or repetition in the scriptures, there’s often something to be learned from it, like in the accounts of Christ’s birth in the New Testament. In Matthew 2, Matthew repeats the phrase “that it might be fulfilled.” He focuses on how various elements of the Savior’s birth fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. Instead of creating a pattern of words like Matthew, Luke creates a pattern of people in his account found in Luke 2, where the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna all saw and bore testimony of the Savior’s divinity. What can we learn from these two accounts of the Savior’s birth? What do you think each writer was trying to accomplish by telling the story the way he did?" (Afton Nelson, "Six Tips for Scripture Study," New Era, Oct. 2012).As you develop the habit of looking for patterns in the scriptures, you will begin to get a sense of the doctrines and principles that are the most important, and therefore bear the most repeating. As you look for patterns, learn to look for phrases that always accompany certain subjects and/or actions. As you master this technique you will be able to see patterns in what you read that may not be immediately apparent upon casual examination. One of the best examples of this is that nearly every time that the Lord makes a covenant, talks about covenants, or reminds His people of the covenants that they have made with Him, He uses a phrase along the lines of "Behold, thou art ________ (Abraham, Israel, etc.), and I am thy God." or "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:"
This is important covenant language, because one of the basic requirements for a contract to be valid is that each of the parties is expressly identified in the wording of the contract. The reason why the Lord uses this language when speaking of covenants is to emphasize the lawfully binding and valid nature of the covenants he has made with His children, so that each party knows exactly where they stand. (It also makes it easier to assign covenant duties and responsibilities to each party when they are expressly named in the arrangement because all parties can know exactly what they are agreeing to perform). Sometimes the Lord (or one of His prophets) will use this identifying phrase without specifically alerting you to the fact that He is talking about a covenant. When you know that this phrase is always associated with a covenant relationship you will start to recognize a recurring pattern of covenant language without needing to be expressly told that you are reading about a covenant.
You can gain great insight when you begin to recognize repeated phrases and patterns like this one. For instance, I was excited to discover biblical evidence that Christ covenanted with God to be our redeemer, when I recognized this covenant language among Paul's many Old Testament references (here he is quoting from Psalms 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14) in Hebrews chapter one:
Hebrews 1:5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?My point is that I never would have noticed this significant covenant language if I had not already been primed by previous study in which I learned to recognize an important scriptural pattern consisting of significant and repeated language. There are many such patterns in the scriptures, and the scriptures will open to your understanding when you teach yourself to recognize patterns and connections through diligent study and careful attention to the promptings of the Spirit.
As you learn to recognize connections and patterns in your reading you will come to recognize certain recurring themes that tie the scriptures together. It takes a greater degree of patient study, and spiritual sensitivity and perspective to recognize and comprehend the grand overarching themes that run through the scriptures.
"Themes are overarching, recurring, and unifying qualities or ideas, like essential threads woven throughout a text. Generally, scriptural themes are broader and more comprehensive than patterns or connections. In fact, themes provide the background and context for understanding connections and patterns. The process of searching for and identifying scriptural themes leads us to the fundamental doctrines and principles of salvation—to the eternal truths that invite the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost (see 1 John 5:6). This approach to obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir is the most demanding and rigorous; it also yields the greatest edification and spiritual refreshment. And the scriptures are replete with powerful themes." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).When you can grasp the broader themes and appreciate the larger context you can look at the scriptures from a "big picture" point of view. This allows you to gain a more profound insight into the doctrines and principles that form the foundation of salvation. This will allow you to comprehend the larger relationships of the various principles of the gospel as you take them together instead of only examining each one up close. When you can do this you will begin to have an inkling of "the why's and the wherefores" of the entire gospel plan and you will gain a greater appreciation of God's eternal design.
Personally, looking for connections, patterns, and themes is one of my favorite ways to study the scriptures. My scriptures are filled with notes in the margins that generally consist of a few key words and several related scripture references that shed more light on a given subject. More often than not, my notes contain references that are not contained in the footnotes provided in The LDS Church edition of the scriptures. This is because many of the things that I write in my scriptures are insights that come to me personally during my own scripture study, and that is what makes my notes so special to me. In my opinion, looking for connections, patterns, and themes in scripture is one of the most effective techniques for scripture mastery that I have found, not least of which because it can be exhilarating and fun, and bring you much joy as you study.
"Searching in the revelations for connections, patterns, and themes builds upon and adds to our spiritual knowledge...it broadens our perspective and understanding of the plan of salvation. In my judgment, diligently searching to discover connections, patterns, and themes is in part what it means to “feast” upon the words of Christ. This approach can open the floodgates of the spiritual reservoir, enlighten our understanding through His Spirit, and produce a depth of gratitude for the holy scriptures and a degree of spiritual commitment that can be received in no other way" (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"The blessings of knowledge, understanding, revelation, and spiritual exhilaration that we can receive as we read, study, and search the scriptures are marvelous. “Feasting upon the word of Christ” (2 Nephi 31:20) is edifying, exciting, and enjoyable. The word is good, “for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). “Behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them” (3 Nephi 20:11), and they “shall be in [you] a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).The scriptures can truly become a fount of living water, and a conduit to Christ. Your access to the living water can only be enhanced as you learn to make connections and to recognize and identify patterns and themes in the scriptures. When you do come across a pattern or a theme in scripture, remember that those things were provided as a template so that you can pattern your life after what you learn.
In my personal reading, studying, and searching over a period of years, I have focused many times upon the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. No event, knowledge, or influence has had a greater impact upon me during my 54 years of mortality than repeatedly reading about, studying in depth, and searching for connections, patterns, and themes related to the doctrine of the Atonement. This central, saving doctrine, over time, gradually has distilled upon my soul as the dews from heaven; has influenced my thoughts, words, and deeds (see Mosiah 4:30); and...has become for me a well of living water." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"As my awareness of patterns has continued, I have become very appreciative of the Lord’s patterns. Patterns for his handiwork are detailed in the scriptures. They describe the building of a tabernacle, an ark, an altar, and temples. The materials are important; the purpose is grand. Then comes that most important pattern of righteousness set by Jesus Christ, “a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” (1 Tim. 1:16.) In every imaginable setting from ancient times to modern days, we see this pattern repeated—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost. Patterns are meant to be repeated. A pattern of righteousness is worthy of duplication...Scripture study helps us increase our understanding of the pattern of righteousness. As we live the words of God, we are told, “He will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept.” (D&C 98:12.)" (Janette C. Hales, "A Pattern of Righteousness," Ensign, May 1991)."The spiritual gift of revelation most typically operates as thoughts and feelings put into our minds and hearts by the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2–3; 100:5–8). And as testimony and conviction move from our heads to our hearts, we no longer just have information or knowledge—but we begin to understand and seek after the mighty change of heart. Understanding, then, is the result of revelation; it is a spiritual gift, it is a prerequisite to conversion, and it entices us to more consistently live in accordance with the principles we are learning." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
Next tip: Scripture Master Tip #18: Dos and Don'ts of Scripture Marking