6. You are not alone!
Don’t study in a void. While certain aspects of personal scripture study are indeed meant to be personal (like the promptings, feelings, and even personal revelation that you may receive through the Spirit as you read), the gospel itself was meant to be shared with others. Just so, you can share insights gained from personal study with your family and friends. Also, you can ask each other questions about things that you read but don’t understand. Trust me, it’s not cheating to ask other people about the scriptures.
"Some prefer to study alone, but companions can study together profitably. Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all. Often youth and little ones have amazing insight into and appreciation for the basic literature of religion." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).You can adapt this idea and use it as a missionary tool (under the guidance of the spirit) to share the restored Gospel with those of your friends that have not yet heard it. I believe that talking about the scriptures with others is a form of pondering, which can lead to a much deeper understanding of the gospel as a whole. They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I think that that applies in this instance.
"You will find that efforts to share knowledge are often rewarded with more understanding as additional light flows into your mind and heart" (Richard G. Scott, "Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).I personally enjoyed the privilege of teaching an informal weekly bible study with a small group of my friends over the course of four years. Studying the scriptures and discussing them with my friends presented me with the chance to see things from their perspective and to learn from the wisdom and insight which they have received during their own personal scripture study. While I can't speak for my friends, I can tell you that I count the insights, knowledge, and comfort that I received through the spirit and from my friends while teaching and preparing Bible study, to be among the greatest experiences of my life. A scripture study group is certainly no substitute for church, and it should never be viewed as such, but it is still an excellent (and fun) way to improve your personal understanding of, and experience with, the scriptures. You can also benefit greatly from associating with wholesome friends who share your values and who support you in your desire to live a better life.
Also, it’s not cheating to seek out study aids, like Bible commentaries and concordances, or books about people in the Book of Mormon. There are also several excellent Bible websites out there that feature a whole range of commentaries on scripture. Christian bookstores, LDS centered stores like Deseret Book, and even your average run-of-the-mill Barnes and Noble offer a whole range of wonderful study aids which can help you to more fully understand some of the more obscure passages of scripture. The manuals created by the LDS church for use in their institutes of religion are also excellent, and inexpensive, and I recommend them highly. Print copies are available for purchase at church distribution centers, but they can also be easily accessed online for free HERE.
Some of the best study aids out there can also be found right inside the LDS edition of the scriptures. The LDS edition of the scriptures features one of the world's most exhaustive systems of footnotes and cross-references between all four of the standard works, as well as an excellent topical guide and Bible dictionary. All of these study aids and commentaries can do much to supplement your understanding and enjoyment of the scriptures.
However, I have two warnings on the subject of study aids and commentaries:
First, do not rely too much on study aids to do your thinking and pondering for you. I have met countless people who, because we have such an excellent set of resources right inside our scriptures, do not seem to feel any urgent need or desire to search and find things out on their own. They use the cross-references and appendices as a crutch, thinking that they do not need to search and inquire for themselves because it has all been provided for them. I hate it when people just assume that I get all of my scripture knowledge out of the topical guide-like it is some kind of cheat sheet, and there is no work involved-which is what I suspect they are hoping will be the case in their own studies. The LDS scripture aids are not comprehensive and all-encompassing nor were they ever intended to be. They were intended to be a supplement to your own study, not a substitute for your own study. This principle applies to all study aids, I have simply cited the misuse of the LDS scripture study aids as an example. Don't be lazy, or the Spirit won't teach you, and then you'll end up both lazy and ignorant.
“Latter-day Saints know that learned or authoritative commentaries [or other study aids] can help us with scriptural interpretation, but we maintain that they must be used with caution.
Commentaries are not a substitute for the scriptures any more than a good cookbook is a substitute for food. (When I refer to “commentaries,” I refer to everything that interprets scripture, from the comprehensive book-length commentary to the brief interpretation embodied in a lesson or an article, such as this one.)
One trouble with commentaries is that their authors sometimes focus on only one meaning, to the exclusion of others. As a result, commentaries, if not used with great care, may illuminate the author’s chosen and correct meaning but close our eyes and restrict our horizons to other possible meanings. Sometimes those other, less obvious meanings can be the ones most valuable and useful to us as we seek to understand our own dispensation and to obtain answers to our own questions. This is why the teaching of the Holy Ghost is a better guide to scriptural interpretation than even the best commentary” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995).
Second, be careful when you consult any book that deals with the meaning and import of scripture. Such commentaries and study aids are wonderful sources of knowledge based on the learning and insights of other people, and as such can be very beneficial, however it is well to remember that these books and guides are intended only as supplements to your study and are not actually scripture. Do not mistake these books for an authoritative and inspired source of pure doctrine. Even the best commentary on scripture contains nothing more than the opinions of a man, no matter how well educated, and therefore should not to be considered authoritative. While the best (and in truth most) scripture commentaries and study aids contain much that is true, their writers are not perfect and so their books will contain some error.
This warning even applies to BYU professors and other well-known LDS writers and scholars who write and speak about the scriptures and the gospel. It is common for people to confuse scholarly expertise with divine authority when it comes to defining and understanding gospel doctrine and scriptural meaning. Even the most respected religious scholars, including those who teach religion at church-owned schools, do not possess the same right to speak under the the inspiration of God to authoritatively establish doctrine for the church as do the prophet and the quorum of the twelve apostles. I'm sure that most scholars who are also members of the church would be the first ones to remind you that they do not hold the authority to interpret or declare God's word to the world.
Even after all of these warnings I still recommend using commentaries and other study aids. I am simply suggesting than you should exercise good judgment and always follow the direction of the Spirit concerning the truth when comparing a commentary or study aid with what you believe and what the church teaches to be true. If you need an answer to a question, or help to understand a difficult passage of scripture, there is no substitute for the guidance and profound insight provided by the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
“As Paul told Timothy, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16; also see 2 Pet. 1:21). This means that in order to understand scripture, our minds need to be enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord. As we learn from the fiftieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, “he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:21). When this happens, the reader is edified by personal revelation.
President Spencer W. Kimball told the members of the Church that he was “convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves” (Ensign, Sept. 1976, p. 4). When we do that, we can obtain revelation. If we depend only upon our own reasoning or the scholarship or commentaries of others, we will never obtain the understanding that can come only by revelation. Persons in that circumstance will be left forever with what Alma calls ‘the lesser portion of the word’” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995).
Go on to the next tip: Scripture Master Tip #7: Get Creative!