Brother Newman’s ABCs of digging deep into the word of God

President Russell M. Nelson has been urging members of the Church to strengthen themselves spiritually. In the most recent general conference, he spoke about creating and maintaining positive spiritual momentum. One such way is to learn about God by studying His word.

“When we hear the phrase ‘word of God,’ we naturally think of scriptures,” said Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency. “But I think it’s broader than that. … Giving heed to the word of God … means giving heed to the Savior Himself.” 

Brother Newman addressed BYU–Idaho students gathered for a campus devotional in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26.

There are many ways the Lord speaks to His children, such as through the words of prophets, seers, revelators and inspired leaders; patriarchal blessings; and revelation directly from the Holy Ghost. 

BYU–Idaho students enter the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, before a devotional featuring Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
BYU–Idaho students enter the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, before a devotional featuring Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Brett Garamendi, BYU–Idaho

“In other words,” Brother Newman said, “we don’t read the scriptures just to read the scriptures. We’re seeking a daily connection with the Savior. We read the scriptures for conversion, not for coverage.”

In the parable of the wise man who built his house on a rock, a significant aspect of the account is often left out. The Savior said that those who hear and follow Him are “like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock” (Luke 6:48, emphasis added).

“Do we approach the word of God in this way?” Brother Newman asked. “Do we ‘dig deep’? Or are we satisfied with the sandy and superficial? I’m not talking about delving into mysterious doctrines or speculations. I mean digging past the trivial and nonessential until you find the Savior, Jesus Christ — the perfect rock upon which you can build your firm foundation.”

What does digging deep into the word of God look like? Brother Newman shared three phrases he called the ABCs of scripture study.

Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Madeline Carn, BYU–Idaho

Always be curious

Each person has been commanded to search the scriptures. When someone searches, they are looking to find something. 

Brother Newman said that he likes to ask questions such as, “Why did the Lord see fit to include that passage or that story?” or “What is the Lord trying to teach me?” when he studies the scriptures.

For instance, while studying Ether 12:27, he wondered what “grace” really meant in that verse and how it is connected to overcoming weakness. In searching the Bible Dictionary, he learned that grace can mean “divine means of help or strength.”

“So I added that definition to the verse, and it totally changed my understanding of how the Lord helps us overcome weakness: ‘My [divine means of help and strength] is sufficient’” (Ether 12:27).

BYU–Idaho students listen to Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, as he delivers a devotional address in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
BYU–Idaho students listen to Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, as he delivers a devotional address in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Brett Garamendi, BYU–Idaho

Brother Newman also explained a process he called Easter egg hunts, where he follows a footnote in the scriptures “to the ends of the earth.” 

For example, he followed the footnote on the word “edified” in Doctrine and Covenants 50:22, which brought him to the Topical Guide entry on “Edification,” and eventually to 1 Corinthians 8:1. There he learned from another footnote that alternate translation from the Greek New Testament for the word “edifieth” are “builds up, strengthens, establishes, repairs.”

“If charity is the pure love of Christ, and charity edifies, what does that mean for me as a disciple of Jesus Christ?” Brother Newman asked. “How might I approach my calling or my relationships differently if I know that Christlike love builds up, strengthens, establishes and repairs?”

A quintet performs a musical number before Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
A quintet performs a musical number before Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Madeline Carn, BYU–Idaho

Always be careful

Ever since he heard Sister Rebecca L. Craven’s talk “Careful versus Casual,” given by the Young Women general presidency second counselor in the April 2019 general conference, Brother Newman has made an effort to be more careful and less casual about his scripture study. 

“To me, being careful means, as President Nelson taught, ‘finding time for the Lord.’” Being careful includes removing distractions, pausing to think and ponder, thinking about the effort and sacrifice of those who wrote and brought forth sacred records, and recording impressions.

“Being careful about our scripture study opens our mind and heart to spiritual impressions while we study.”

The word of God is more important and valuable than anything else one can read, so treat it as such, Brother Newman said. “Our approach to scripture study should reflect our reverence for the word of God.”

Always be courageous

Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency speaks in a BYU–Idaho devotional held in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Michael Lewis, BYU–Idaho

“It’s normal to feel intimidated by the scriptures at times,” Brother Newman said. “They aren’t always easy to read.”

The Old Testament, for example, was written thousands of years ago by people from a different culture. Many people struggle with the book of Isaiah or skip the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi. “There was a time when I did that,” Brother Newman admitted. “But over the years I have learned that the Lord preserved these words for so many generations for a wise purpose. Because I love and trust Him, I’m willing to do my best to understand that purpose.”

When getting bogged down in scriptures that are hard to understand, he looks for the voice of Jesus Christ in the words, stories and symbolism and worries less about cultural nuances and linguistic trifles. 

A single verse of scripture can have a powerful impact on the soul. James 1:5 alone changed the course of the world.

“I invite you to identify at least one — though you may find several — that power your spiritual momentum,” Brother Newman said. “My dear friends in Christ, I invite you to dig more deeply into the sacred word of God. There you will find the fuel to power your spiritual momentum. There you will find your perfect foundation, and the scriptures will be beautiful to your eyes — because, like Alma’s people, ‘there [you] came to the knowledge of [your] Redeemer’” (Mosiah 18:30).

BYU–Idaho students listen to Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, as he delivers a devotional address in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
BYU–Idaho students listen to Brother Jan E. Newman, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, as he delivers a devotional address in the BYU–Idaho Center in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Credit: Michael Lewis, BYU–Idaho