Greetings, fine writers!
I've got a question that you are likely in a better position to research and answer than I am. I'm curious whether we have any records of how early leaders and scriptorians in the Church studied the scriptures and Conference talks. Back in the day, they didn't have the benefit of the Topical Guide, extensive footnotes, an LDS edition of the Bible, search, Institute manuals, loads of LDS books, etc., so I imagine it was a much more manual, gradual, and individual process than it usually is today. Hence my curiosity. What methods and techniques did they use? How did they record/keep track of their studies? How did they deepen their knowledge of the Gospel? I suspect those of us here in the digital age could learn a lot from their examples about truly studying the scriptures.
- The Detective
Sorry this answer has taken so long. I don't know how early church leaders studied the scriptures, but my high school seminary teacher was very old school in his scripture study. Here are some of the old school techniques he used:
Making Lists: Making your own lists of scriptures is a really good way to familiarize yourself with the scriptures. Some people keep a journal with their scriptures to fill with lists of different subjects such as repentance, or prayer etc. After a while you end up with your own personal topical guide to make future scripture study easier
Cross Marking Scriptures and Making Notes: Physically writing notes in scriptures makes it a lot easier to remember or find specific scriptures. It also is useful for cross referencing other versions and creating your own personal footnotes. The best part about writing notes in your scriptures is that you can include ideas, inspiration, interpretation, and impressions about specific verses.
Reading the Book of Mormon and Bible Side by Side: I've heard this is what many of the early converts to the church did. It's a lot easier to compare verses when you can have the Bible and the Book of Mormon open at the same time without losing your spot. Using both books and comparing them can help open new perspectives and see connections you wouldn't normal see.
Getting Up Early to Study the Scriptures: I've heard that many general authorities get up extra early in the morning to do their scripture study. There are less distractions in the morning, and if you study a verse in the morning you have all day to think about it.
Pondering: If all we do when we read the scriptures is read straight through them, we miss out on a lot. Stopping and pondering after we read a verse or chapter helps us get a lot more out of it. Occasionally my seminary teacher would choose one verse to study and then stop and think after every word. He would look up words in the dictionary, read other verses, think about what that word meant in the context of the verse, and by the time he was done he would spend 20 minutes on a single verse. A lot of times I read my scriptures on my phone and then speed off to work or to my classes without time to think. Thinking about what we read more is really valuable.
Using Old Dictionaries: My old seminary teacher found a dictionary from the 1840's and uses it to study the scriptures. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon as accurately as he possibly could, but the English language has changed since then. By using a dictionary from the time period you can have a better idea of what the intended meaning of words were.
Spending a lot of time studying the scriptures: A really good way to know the scriptures well is to spend a lot of time reading them. I've met people who can tell you where in verse in the Bible is because they've read it so much. Phones are really convenient because I can pull up the scriptures and read when I have 5 minutes to spare, but if that's the only scripture study I do, I won't know the scriptures as well if I set aside 20 minutes or more every day to study.
Technology gives us so many amazing tools to enhance our scripture study, but there's a lot we can learn from the past. Hopefully you'll like at least one of these.