Under “Suggested Lesson Development” – provided, evidently, more for the teacher’s information than for teaching to the class – is the statement:
Introduction to the Old Testament
The Old Testament is an account of God’s dealings with his covenant people from the time of the Creation to a few hundred years before the Savior’s birth. The Old Testament provides powerful examples of faith and obedience. It also shows the consequences of forgetting, disobeying, or opposing God. Its prophecies bear witness of the Messiah’s birth, redeeming sacrifice, second coming, and millennial reign.
Past Sunday School manuals have devoted entire units to what is covered here in two sentences. In 1944, the Gospel Doctrine course “Feed My Sheep” based on the Old Testament reserved an introduction and five lessons to explaining this background statement. Some extracts:
The study material for this year is the Old Testament. It is not the intention to spend much time with the technical details and controversial questions of Old Testament history and theory, but rather to bring out the moral and religious implications of the Old Testament teachings for our own times. For, after all, the fundamental principles taught by the outstanding old Testament characters are timeless in their application. They can, if we allow them to be, of great help in the solution of our present-day religious and social problems.
Lessons 1-2: What the Old Testament Is
A Record of the Relations of God with a Covenant People. – We now begin the study of one of the world’s most interesting and significant books. It is called the Old Testament. We have heard about it all of our lives, but do we really know and appreciate what it is? If not, let us together in a spirit of good fellowship and free inquiry undertake to find out.
By the Old Testament we mean that body of literature or collection of Hebrew scriptures which records in the form of history, law, prophecy, psalms, and wisdom the relations of God with a covenant people who were descendants of Abraham. Stated in another way it is “primarily the written record of the origin, terms, and history of the solemn agreement which existed between the Israelitish nation and Jehovah.” [C.F. Kent, The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament, p. 22. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912.] The Old Testament may be spoken of as a book of life because it faithfully records and interprets life situations in the long history of a religious people, and simply and effectively presents a revelation of how God works with man.
“Back of the Old Testament is a vast variety of vital experiences, national and individual, political and spiritual, social and ethical, pleasurable and painful. Back of all these deeply significant experiences is God himself, through them making known his character and laws and purpose to man.” [Ibid., p. 26.]
The Old Testament has delighted, captivated, and enthralled mankind through the centuries and will continue to do so because it has beautifully recorded the truths of life and is satisfying to the yearnings of the human spirit.
Why the Name, Old Testament. – Why do we call the Hebrew scriptures the Old Testament and by what terms did the ancients know them? The title Testament is derived from the Latin Vulgate’s Testamentum. The latter in turn is a translation of the Greek word diatheke which translates the Hebrew word for covenant. We should not be inclined to criticize the Latin testamentum if it were the correct translation of the Greek diatheke. The latter has a double meaning, (1) a covenant between two parties, (2) will, testament. The Latin testamentum has only the last of these meanings and is the proper rendering of diatheke, will, not diatheke, covenant. It would be far better, therefore, to speak of the Hebrew scriptures as the Old Covenant than as the Old Testament. Furthermore, the idea of a covenant between God and a chosen group of people is one of the outstanding characteristics of the Hebrew scriptures. Angus and Green in their Bible handbook speak of the covenant as follows:
“Woven into the very texture of the Old Testament is the idea of a Covenant between God and man. First made with Noah, repeated with Abraham, renewed with Israel on the deliverance from Egypt, symbolized in the Ark of the Covenant, it recurs again and again throughout history, psalm, and prophecy, as the relation into which God entered with His chosen people. In Jeremiah, prophecy reaches its height in the sublime prediction of the new covenant, a prediction declared by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13; 10:15-17.) The phrase, New Covenant, was appropriated by Christ at the Last Supper, and is claimed by Paul as the substance of the ministry to which he was called. (Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:25; II Cor. 3:6.) This distinction of a new covenant involved a contrast with the old, and it was but a step to speak of the Jewish scriptures as pertaining to the old covenant. Thus Paul refers to the Pentateuch in the words, ‘at the reading of the old covenant.’ (II Cor. 3:14. Revised Version.) As the gospels and other apostolic writings gradually took their place as Scripture they were distinguished by the name of ‘the new covenant,’ a usage established by the beginning of the third century, when Origen can speak of ‘the Divine Scriptures, the so-called old and New Covenants.’ [Angus-Green, The Bible Handbook (new edition), pp. 5f. New York, Fleming H. Revell Co.] (See also I Nephi 13:23.) …
New Testament References to the Hebrew Scriptures. – The New Testament indicates that the Old Testament was the Bible used by Christ and his followers. They revered it and loved it, and made constant reference to it in their preaching and writing. it will be instructive to note some references the New Testament makes to the Hebrew writings. Thus the Lord speaks of “the Scriptures,” and Paul of “the Holy Scriptures,” “the oracles of God,” of “the sacred writings,” etc. In a number of cases – Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:16, 29, 31; John 1:45; Acts 24:14; Rom. 3:21 are good examples – the Hebrew scriptures are designated as “the law and the prophets” by which title or appellation is apparently meant the whole of scripture. Sometimes the lone term “prophets” is used in a broad sense to include all the inspired writers, cf. Heb. 1:1.
The Old Testament a Survival of Early Hebrew Literature. – The Old Testament is practically all that survives of Hebrew Literature prior to 350 B.C. It has been spoken of as a national literature, and, while that is true, it represents to the writer the actual writings of but relatively few men. There can be no doubt that the Hebrew people had a rich and varied literature, but our Old testament represents, unfortunately, only a small part of it.
The catastrophes that befell the Hebrew people through the centuries were probably responsible for the destruction of a large number of records of all kinds. Those which were saved may have been the ones that were regarded as particularly precious and necessary to the religious welfare of Israel.
A Record Compiled Over a Period of One Thousand Years. – If it be admitted that the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) was composed in the days of Moses – a fact denied by many – we could say that the Old Testament represents the writings of men over a period of about one thousand years. These writings in turn deal with events that happened during thousands of years of time – indeed from the Creation down to approximately 350 B.C.
The Old Testament Has a Remarkable Unity. – Despite the fact that the Old testament was written or compiled over a long period of time it has a remarkable unity. The organic unity which we believe it displays is due primarily to the fact that the men who wrote and compiled it were mainly prophets or historians who understood God’s purposes with Israel. the harmony, unity, and proportion of the Hebrew scriptures are best appreciated by those who are most willing prayerfully and intelligently to study them.
strong>The Old Testament Comes from an Oriental Culture. – While the Old Testament is a “book of history, of laws, of prophecy, of psalms, of wisdom literature,” it must not be forgotten that it comes, in its final form, from an Oriental culture. The Hebrews were a Semitic people whose language, manners, and customs were much different from our own. Their thought patterns and psychology make it impossible at this day for us completely to capture the charm and spirit of the Old Testament in ay English version, beautiful as the latter may be. Few of us may take the trouble to learn the Old Testament languages, but we can increase our appreciation by studying books in English dealing with the geography and archaeology of Bible lands, and with customs, habits, and psychology of the native peoples of that land and of other lands bordering on the Mediterranean. The real student of the Old Testament will not only attempt to learn its languages, but will fulfill the other requirements as well. The dividends are large in satisfaction and in spiritual development. …
Lessons 3-5: some Lasting Contributions of the Old Testament to Mankind
The Contribution of Hebrew Culture to the Western World. – Before dealing with some specific contributions of the Old Testament to mankind let us consider for a moment the general contribution of Hebrew culture to the West. Historically, our civilization rests upon three great ancient civilizations, the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Roman. From the Greeks we inherited science, philosophy, art, literature, and many other things without which we should be infinitely the poorer. From the Romans we inherited much of the law and the science of government, literature, and a language whose roots underlie many of our Western tongues. But it is to the Hebrews that we owe so much in the realm of religion, and it is thought by many that their contribution is the greatest of the three. Not only did they contribute the magnificent volume of religious literature known to us as the Old Testament – incidentally, one of the greatest single contributions of the ancient world – but they contributed Christianity and the New Testament, not to mention Judaism. The earliest Christians were Jews and they came into the Church with a good knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. The latter had a profound influence upon the writings that later formed the New Testament. It goes without saying that Christianity, Judaism, and the Old and New testaments have had an enormous and far-reaching effect upon civilization.
The Old Testament Contribution to the Idea of God. – One of the outstanding contributions of the Old Testament to mankind is the conception of the one true God to whom should go man’s undivided allegiance. The pagan nations round about Israel had many gods, which they played off, one against another. Not so in Israel. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob alone could answer prayers and grant men their needs. There was no conflict between the will of God and the will of other supernatural beings. One supreme law and one standard of righteousness determined for the man of Israel his course of action.
Not only so, but the Hebrew God taught men to strive for higher ideals of righteousness, even holiness.
”You must be holy; for I, the Lord Your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2.)
The Hebrew people, instead of attributing vices and human weaknesses to many gods, as did their pagan neighbors, had the training and advantage of ascribing all great qualities to the one true God. This developed within them great spiritual insight. They, more than other people, realized that God with all his marvelous attributes demanded similar personal qualities in those who worshiped Him.
It will be well to call attention to the fact that the fatherhood and love of God are distinctly taught in the Old Testament; they belong not alone to the New Testament. Hosea, Jonah, Isaiah, the Psalmist, and many others make us distinctly aware of that fact. Along with this teaching the Hebrews never lost sight of God’s majesty and glory. This produced in them a sense of awe and reverence. Furthermore, to them He was a God of redemption. This was constantly borne home to them from the day he redeemed them from slavery and bondage in Egypt.
Israel’s idea of God developed a great conception of man and the seriousness of sin. When men sinned they were not only offending God, but were warping and breaking down the elements of godliness in themselves.
Finally, we may point out that to Israel God was not just a shadow or a figment of the imagination, but a sure and everlasting reality whose power and influence were abundantly manifested in the crucible of living experience.
The Contribution of the Old Testament to the New Testament. – Some people have advocated the elimination of the Old Testament from courses in religion. We fear, however, that they know not what they do. In the first place, purely as literature the Old Testament is highly superior to the new Testament and, secondly, the great essentials of true religion are to be found in it beautifully expressed. Furthermore, much of the New Testament is unintelligible without an understanding of the Old Testament. The very nerve threads of Christian life in the first century of our era lead back into the Old Testament. There is much in the idiom of the New Testament that strongly reflects the Aramaic and Hebrew idiom of the Jewish authors. The great use of the Old Testament by New Testament writers is a fact well known to Bible scholars. The scriptures (the Old Testament) were carefully searched b early Christians for proof texts illustrative of their claims. The gospel of Matthew, for instance, quotes liberally from the Old Testament and its aim is to show that the Christ is the true Messiah foreshadowed by the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. In the two first chapters of the gospel of Luke we are undeniably in an Old Testament atmosphere. Many other places in the gospels give the same impression. In the Book of Revelation the Old Testament literary forms and religious conceptions are apparent throughout. The influence of the Old Testament upon Paul’s epistles is of course widely acknowledged. Dr. Thackeray has truly said:
There is perhaps no aspect of the Pauline theology in which the influence of the Apostle’s Rabbinic training is so clearly marked as the use which is made of the Old Testament. It appears at first sight paradoxical that whereas the Law is constantly spoken of as done away in Christ and as powerless to produce man’s salvation, yet the apostle as constantly bases his arguments for the truth of Christianity on the Law in the wider sense of the term. The epistle which may be regarded as summing up the main ideas of St. Paul begins and ends with a reference to the ‘holy’ and ‘Prophetical’ writings which foretold the coming of Christ (cf. Rom. 1:2; 16:26). The proof for his arguments is sought again and again in the Old Testament. He never for a moment thought of disparaging the Scriptures to which the Jew appealed, on the contrary he recognized that the chief privilege of his nation was the possession of the oracles of God: but he maintained that these oracles had been misinterpreted. … He met the Jew on his own ground and bade him search the Scriptures in the light of the coming of Christ.” [John Thackeray, “The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought,” The People and the Book (Edited by A.S. Peake), pp. 462f. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1925.]
This should emphasize the fact that the Old Testament is a book of supreme importance to us and instead of being read less should be read more.
The New Testament makes two hundred and eighty-three quotations from the Old Testament. These statistics reinforce the view that the connection between “the Old Testament and the New is of a vital and organic character. They stand in a single line of development.” [Ibid., p. 465.] …
From the 1942 Senior Lessons:
Lesson 35: Contributions of the Book of Moses
The caption to the first chapter of the book of Moses has in it very much of interest. “Visions of Moses as revealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet, in June, 1830.” Then in verses 1 and 2 is this added information, “The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceeding high mountain. And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.”
Who Wrote the Book of Genesis?
Fifty years ago the first five books in the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were called “The Books of Moses.” Almost everyone agreed in the belief that Moses was the author. Nephi believed it too, for he says of the Brass Plates, “And he (Lehi) beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.” (I Nephi 6:11)
More recently critics and students of the Bible have concluded that Moses is not the author of these books. “How could he have known about creation, Eden, Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the numerous other things that happened so long before his time?” they asked. Usually it is believed that the material in the early chapters of Genesis was compiled from very, very, ancient documents, or was handed down orally from generation to generation.
Whatever may be the facts, it is quite evident that the record contained in Genesis, chapters 1 to 6:13, could have been originally written by Moses. These chapters contain in brief just what was revealed to him while he was in the mountain, and what we now call the Book of Moses. Inasmuch as the original writings are lost, and what has come to us in the Book of Genesis has been changed, the Lord “revealed” tot he Prophet Joseph what he had once revealed to Moses.
Even Moses was told about the very time that Joseph should again receive these things. These are the Lord’s words to Moses: “And in a day (our day) when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee (Joseph Smith); and they shall be had again among the children of men – among as many as shall believe.” (1:41)
God, Creator and Father
This idea is not new, that God is Creator and Father, but if the following statements were in our Bible, there would be less confusion among men. “Moses saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore, Moses could endure his presence.” “Moses, my son; thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten.” So Moses was God’s son in the likeness of Jesus, the Only Begotten of the Father.
God is “without beginning of day or end of years; and his creations cannot be numbered.” Worlds come and go, but all for a purpose. “For behold,” He says, “this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (1:39). This makes man very important, and indeed, he is, for he is the son of God. Satan’s power is as darkness compared with the glory of God. One who has faith in the Lord need not fear Satan, for he is more powerful than Satan. …
The Council in Heaven
This interesting incident, the bible leaves out entirely. There was a council held in heaven to decide on the details of building our earth. The question of a Redeemer arose. “Whom shall I send?” the Lord asked. “I will go; send me,” Lucifer answered, for he, too, is a son of God. “Send me, I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost.” He would compel men to do his will and wanted all the honor himself.
But Jesus answered and said: “I will go, send me. I will save all who will be saved and the glory be thine, O Father.” Jesus was accepted, and Lucifer became Satan. he rebelled against God, and he with one-third of the host of heaven, who rebelled with him, was cast down to earth never to have a body. These spirits ever since have brought great suffering and misery unto the world. (Moses 4:1-4; Abraham 3:27-28) …