The most important, most overlooked, most easy and most superlative tool in scripture study: Part 1

It’s happened to you before. Lots, actually. You’re reading the scriptures, and say “hey, I read something about this that was cool/insightful/important! I wish I’d written it down, because I can’t really remember it.”

Or you’re on a blog, trying to recall that perfectly a propos statement you’ve read, but you can’t even remember when you read it or what the title was, or even if it was print vs. electronic and googling is no help at all.

Or you made some notes somewhere on a lesson you had to teach three years ago, and now suddenly you’re teaching it again and really wish you could remember what brilliant things you’d said.

Each of these benefits from some kind of system of note taking. Note-taking is the best long-term tool in your scripture study, general reading, and all-around pedantry/absent-mindedness. I think note-taking is far more important and productive than scripture-marking, but I don’t believe it’s a skill taught in Seminary and I’m not aware of any good anecdotes or GA’s authoritatively booming “thou shalt take notes!” (The Teaching:No Greater Call manual does mention it briefly.)

I’m going to focus on note-taking and the scriptures in these first two posts, and expand a bit in the third.

Why take notes on the scriptures?

  1. To build. Every time you read, you should have some kind of thoughts. If not, you’re not really paying attention. If you write down your thoughts and other things, the next time you return to the passage, you’re not starting from zero again, because you’re recorded your previous interactions with that passage. Otherwise, whatever epiphanies, aha moments, spiritual morsels, or revelatory insights you have… are gone the next time. If you don’t write it down, it never happened.
  2. To remind and remember. In particular, spiritual experiences and thoughts seem much more resistant to memory than more tangible experiences or knowledge. If they’re connected with your scripture study, write them down to be reminded of them.  I also have in my notes historical experiences connected with passages, like “I visited Nazareth on 3-15-99.” I sometimes date my notes, and as time passes that lets me see my own progression (or retrogression) in various ways. I’ve sometimes gone back and written responses to myself a few years later.
  3. To interact and enhance. Taking notes of various kinds (coming in part 2) requires more thinking and interaction with the scriptures, which helps use different parts of your brain, involving us more  and cementing those scriptures, thoughts and experiences deeper. This results in richer, more effective and more rewarding scripture study.

Part 2 addresses “what do I write?” And part 3 will cover various tools and ideas for keeping track of notes.

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  • Ali

    The idea of taking notes during scripture study is addressed in “Preach My Gospel” by the concept of keeping a “study journal”. It quotes Elder Richard G. Scott as saying, “Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. This practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge, Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 86).

  • Ben S

    Thanks Ali. I’ve often heard visiting authorities mention note-taking, but published discussions are hard to come by.

  • Jon Shurtleff

    I make note in my iPhone and sync everything to MS OneNote. Enourmously flexible and powerful.


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