Applying the Scriptures to Our Circumstances
By Marcus H. Martins, Ph.D.

1. Are we supposed to apply all scriptures to us? For example, in D&C 8 were we read "Oliver Cowdery ..." is it okay to put our names in there so that they hold meaning for us? Or would that be considered as taking the scripture out of its context?

2. I had a question about who the revelations are intended for. You mentioned a little today but I have noticed that many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are directed towards certain people. Can they apply to us too?

Those revelations recorded in the scriptures offer "precedents" of commandments and blessings that will be confirmed to us by "present-day" revelation.

First, let's consider the scriptural accounts of promises and bestowal of blessings. By studying the scriptures we learn how the Lord worked with his saints in past dispensations and centuries--in other words, we learn how the Lord blessed his people of the past in times of need. Then, through prayer and personal revelations we may obtain those same blessings to us, to help us overcome present-day challenges.

When it comes to specific commandments, ordinances, and the administration of specific covenants, current living prophets (i.e. the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve) will indicate and from time to time reiterate which commandments are still applicable to us. This is nothing new. In the New Testament we read that through revelation the Apostle Peter learned the gospel had to be taught to the entire world instead of just to the Israelites--which had been the norm for almost 1,500 years.

Likewise, latter-day prophets have been instructed to implement and discontinue programs, procedures, and even commandments. For example, the Law of Consecration and Stewardship together with the United Order were instituted and later discontinued on account of specific revelations. So was the case with polygamy (formally implemented in 1852 and discontinued in 1890), fast and testimony day (used to be first Thursday of every month until 1896), meeting schedules (the present 3-hour combined schedule was implemented in 1979), etc.

Nephi stated: "... for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Nephi 19:23.)  Following Nephi's experience, I may say that it is appropriate to look upon the experiences lived by others as prototypes or precedents of experiences we ourselves might live.  However, the prophet Joseph Smith taught that reading alone is not enough:

The Prophet Joseph Smith
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.324)

"... it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our suffering here, and our departure hence. ... Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose."

So, besides reading and "likening" these scriptures to us, we need to receive the personal revelations that will confirm that these scriptures really apply to a current event or circumstance in our lives. The prophet Joseph Smith taught: "... This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted--by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed." (Teachings, p.256)

Just a word of caution, though: Avoid likening to us any scriptural events that involve guns, swords, bloodshed, migrations to the wilderness, etc. Remember that we live in a different dispensation.

This essay is published as a support for and an extension of classroom discussion and in no way represents an official statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or its General Authorities. Dr. Marcus H. Martins assumes full responsibility for the opinions, views, and interpretations contained herein.  For more information contact me at: