"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
February 19, 2014
Celebrating Words of Scripture
by Kathryn Grant

In one of those small, enlightening coincidences, I had an experience in Primary that tied in with the previous “Light for My Path” column on understanding the meaning of words. I was teaching the song “I Will Follow God’s Plan,” which includes these lines:

I will follow God’s plan for me,
Holding fast to his word and his love.

I asked the children what “fast” means here: “Does it mean you’re holding on in a hurry?” They realized that didn’t make sense. But the next two children who answered the question thought it had something to do with fasting, as in not eating, which didn’t make much sense either.

The correct meaning — holding tight or firmly — wasn’t even in their minds. And they couldn’t understand the meaning of that important line until they had a correct sense of the words.

In Old Testament times, Nehemiah’s people gathered to hear their leaders read the scriptures. These leaders “read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”(Nehemiah 8:8.) Whether we’re teaching ourselves or others, an important key to understanding the scriptures is understanding the words in them.

Seems obvious, right? But how many times do we guess at a word from its context instead of looking it up, only to be surprised later that it doesn’t mean what we thought it meant? Or how often do we skim over a word that doesn’t make sense instead of figuring out how to close the gap in our understanding?

Part of the challenge is that the scriptures were written long ago and sometimes use words that are unfamiliar, or at least have an unfamiliar meaning. For example, there are words we rarely use in everyday speech:

  • Betimes can mean “early” or “quickly”: “And they arose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.” (Genesis 26:31.)

  • Wist means “knew”: “And [Jesus] said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Luke 2:49.)

  • Wont means “inclined or disposed to do”: “And the people resort unto [Jesus] again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.” (Mark 10:1.)

Then there are words that are part of our modern vocabulary, but their meaning in the scriptures is different from our modern meaning:

  • Fear can mean “reverence”: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” (Psalms 66:16.)

  • Suffer can mean “permit” or “allow”: “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14.)

  • Save can mean “except” or “unless”: “And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.” (Moroni 7:43.)

Sometimes we as adults struggle with — or even complain about — the language used in the scriptures. But it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, when I ask Primary children what to do if they find a word they don’t understand in the scriptures, they know: Look it up, pray about it, ask someone.

And as they grow older, they’ll learn more about footnotes and other wonderful Study Helps included with the scriptures.

I love the reaction of Nehemiah’s people when they understood the words of scripture that were read to them: they celebrated! (Nehemiah 8:12.) Understanding the words we read is a cause for celebration as we grow in our ability to hear the Lord’s voice to us through the holy scriptures.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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