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TitleThe Power of the Word
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsJensen, Jay E.
Issue Number10
Date PublishedOctober 1991
KeywordsScripture Study; Study Aids

After a decade of use, the new English editions of the standard works continue to help members unlock the scriptures.


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The Power of the Word

By Jay E. Jensen

After a decade of use, the new English editions of the standard works continue to help members unlock the scriptures.

Of all the contributions the Church has given our generation, the 1979 and 1981 English-language LDS editions of the scriptures rank among the most important. (See Bruce R. McConkie, “Holy Writ: Published Anew,” Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 2 Apr. 1982.)

Work on these editions began twenty years ago when the First Presidency asked Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, to develop an edition of the Bible that would help people become better acquainted with the scriptures. Under his direction, and that of a Scriptures Publication Committee, a small army of Church-service workers labored quietly for nearly ten years to produce the English editions of the scriptures as we now know them. (Similar revisions are now under way for non-English printings.)

The result of their efforts was so successful that Elder Boyd K. Packer said it would “be regarded, in the perspective of history, as the crowning achievement in the administration of President Spencer W. Kimball.” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 53.)

Why was such an effort so important? The answer is found in the scriptures themselves. Stated simply, it is the power of the word. As Alma noted, “The preaching of the word” has “a great tendency to lead the people to do that which [is] just—yea, it [has a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else.” (Alma 31:5.)

Nephi promised that “whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them.” (1 Ne. 15:24.)

Those are powerful blessings our world sorely needs. Indeed, finding peace, justice, faith, and love amid the personal tragedies and social injustice we witness daily is something of a miracle.

I witnessed such a miracle recently when a young member of my ward asked me, as his bishop, how he could know if he had been forgiven. Together we read Mosiah 4:3, which describes how “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” King Benjamin’s people following their own repentance, “and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience.” Hearing these words had a powerful impact on this young man, and I witnessed in him a spiritual rebirth.

Of course, any edition of the scriptures can lead the honest searcher to Christ. What makes the LDS edition of the Bible and the new editions of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price so powerful is how the study aids lead people to a deeper, more complete understanding of the word of the Lord. These aids clear away many obstacles that keep people from using the scriptures and serve as a vast reservoir of knowledge and spiritual power. They prepare our hearts and minds to receive personal insights from the Spirit of the Lord. (See D&C 39:6; D&C 121:26.)

Not long ago, our bishopric invited a family to speak in sacrament meeting, giving them a scripture reference to use as the basis for their talks. The father, a shy though faithful member in his fifties, had generally avoided all public speaking. The assignment had weighed heavily on his mind.

When the day came for his talk, this good man stood at the pulpit and said: “When I began to prepare, I read the assigned verse and wondered what to say. From what was in the verse, I concluded that this would be the shortest talk the ward had ever heard.”

But as he prepared, he noticed some tiny letters by some of the words. “I had never paid much attention to these before,” he said. “I finally discovered that they led to the related references in the footnotes. I looked up each reference with its footnotes, as well as the Topical Guide references. It wasn’t long before I had too much information. I never knew you could get so much from one verse!”

In producing these marvelous publications, the Church has given us a greater opportunity to tap into the power of the scriptures—but that can happen only if we obtain our own copies and use them. One of the members of the Church service committee who worked on the publication of the scriptures was invited to speak about the benefits of these new editions to a group of high priests. Afterward, as the committee member walked to his car, the high priests group leader accompanied him and said: “You brethren really did a good job on the scriptures. Someday I’ll have to get a copy. But I still like my old missionary scriptures.”

By then, they had reached their cars. The committee member turned to the group leader and said: “And this is the car that you used in the mission field?”

A humbled priesthood leader acknowledged the error in his thinking. (See Speeches of the Year, 1981, Provo: Brigham Young Univ. Press, 1982, p. 120.)

So that others don’t settle for less now that a new, more powerful model is available, the following pages review the study aids that make these editions of the scriptures a vital part of every Latter-day Saint’s life.

Features in All Four Standard Works

Footnotes. One important aspect of the footnotes is that they are often directional, pointing the reader to other scriptures or to the Topical Guide. These footnotes can focus either on a word or on a concept. For example, some people have trouble understanding Mosiah 15:1–4, which describes Christ as both the Father and the Son; the footnotes and references give invaluable help. The superscript e preceding the word Father in verse 2 directs the reader to seven additional references. Five of the seven (Isaiah 9:6; 64:8; John 10:30; 14:10; Alma 11:39) are word-oriented, focusing on the word Father. The remaining two (Mosiah 5:7; Ether 3:14) are concept-oriented, focusing on how Christ is both Father and Son. Together, the verses referenced clarify this important doctrine.

The footnotes also provide interpretive aids, such as alternate translations from the Hebrew (HEB), explanations of difficult constructions (IE), alternate translations from the Greek (GR), and clarifications of archaic English expressions (OR).

Running Heads. In the upper left and right corners of each page are inclusive references to the verses found on that page. These help the reader locate more quickly the verses being sought.

Chapter and Section Headings. Italicized headings introduce each chapter and section in the standard works. These headings point the reader to key doctrines and events in the text. Note the value of the heading to Isaiah 29: “Nephites shall speak as a voice from the dust—The apostasy, restoration of the gospel, and coming forth of Book of Mormon are foretold—Compare 2 Nephi 27.” [2 Ne. 27]

Also, the section headings and synopses to the Doctrine and Covenants have been revised for clarity. Each section is introduced with its historical background, giving the reader the context for the revelation that follows. This heading is then followed by a synopsis of the section, similar to the chapter headings in the other three standard works.

Features Unique to the Bible

Topical Guide. The Bible’s Topical Guide contains approximately 700 topical entries and 2,500 selected concordance and index entries. What is the distinction between a topical entry and a concordance or index entry? A topical entry is concept-oriented, whereas concordance or index entries are word-oriented. For example, “Mercy” is a concordance entry. In it you will find 81 annotated references. All but one (John 8:11) include the word mercy or a related word. Topical entries are often headings made up of more than one word—for example, “Jesus Christ, Atonement through.” In this case, immediately following the title are important related topics, called “see also” references: “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” and related titles of Jesus Christ. Following the “see also” references is a list of 62 annotated references, 18 of which have the word atonement in the verse. To study the doctrine of the Atonement, you must also read verses in which the word does not appear, so related words are printed in italics to lead you to all the information you need.

Concerning Topical Guide entries on Jesus Christ, Elder Boyd K. Packer pointed out that it “takes eighteen pages of small print just to list the references. It is the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural information on the mission and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world.” (Ensign, May 1990, p. 36.)

Joseph Smith Translation (JST). Although the Prophet Joseph Smith never finished his work on the Bible, the many revisions he did make are available to the Church. Only certain selected revisions appear in the LDS edition. Those selected changes that are six lines or less are found in the footnotes; those longer than six lines are found in the JST appendix, where the Prophet’s changes are printed in italics.

Gazetteer and Bible Maps. Knowing something of Bible geography can make the book come alive. With a gazetteer and twenty-four maps in color, the LDS edition of the King James Version provides valuable help. For example, we know that there are sudden winds on the Sea of Galilee. Map 1 shows why. The Sea of Galilee, it notes, is 696 feet below sea level. Mountains in the regions surrounding it have elevations ranging from 9,232 feet (Mt. Hermon) to 1,929 feet (Mt. Tabor). With such dramatic altitude differences, you can understand why there are sudden winds in that area.

Bible Dictionary. The more I study the scriptures, the more I value this great tool. Recently I was teaching a Sunday School class about prophets. Most class members recognized that a prophet, as a foreteller, predicts future events, but when we turned to the Bible Dictionary, we learned that a prophet also acts as a “forthteller,” telling forth truths: he serves as God’s messenger, makes known God’s will, teaches men about God’s character, preserves and edits the holy records, denounces sin and foretells its punishment, preaches righteousness, and, when people fall away, restores them to the faith. The concluding explanation from the entry indicates that in certain cases he predicts future events, but that as a rule he is “a forthteller rather than a foreteller.

It was as if someone had turned on the lights. Most of us had been living our lives with the narrow perception that a prophet’s main role is one of foretelling. As we thought about the fifteen men whom we sustain as prophets leading the Church today, we realized we had not recognized a major aspect of their divine callings.

Triple Combination Additions and Textual Changes

New Revelations and Information. Two sections were added to the triple combination when it was published in 1981—sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Also added were excerpts from President Wilford Woodruff’s talks on the Manifesto, and Official Declaration 2, given in 1978, which extended the priesthood to all worthy males.

The triple combination has more than three thousand topical, concordance, and index entries. Important additions to the triple combination index are name entries of important people in the latter-day scriptures. To help the reader determine which person is being referred to when there is more than one person with the same name, a small superscript follows the person’s name, with a note about the father. For example: Nephi1, son of Lehi1; Nephi2, son of Helaman3; Nephi3, son of Nephi2; and Nephi4, “possibly same as Nephi3, or his son.”

Textual Changes and Preservation. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have exercised great care to ensure that the scriptures are properly preserved and stored safely. This concern extends not only to the scriptures’ physical safety but to the safety of their content as well.

The publication of the new edition of the Book of Mormon illustrates the care taken to make sure that errors are not perpetuated or accidentally introduced into new printings. From history, we know that two hand-written manuscripts were made during the translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith kept what became known as the original manuscript, and Oliver Cowdery worked from what is known as the printer’s manuscript. Our church owns the original manuscript; the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints holds the printer’s manuscript.

When the new editions were being prepared, the Reorganized Church allowed members of the Scriptures Publication Committee to compare the printer’s manuscript with the most recent printing of the Book of Mormon. The committee also checked the legible, available portions of the original manuscript, as well as different editions from 1830 to the present. In doing so, they discovered minor errors. Some were simple errors of spelling, grammar, or style; others were apparently printing errors. The corrections approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve became part of the new editions.

Jay E. Jensen, director of Scriptures Coordination for the Church, serves as bishop of the Suncrest Third Ward, Orem Utah Suncrest Stake.