Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » How We Taught This Lesson in the Past: Old Testament Manual

How We Taught This Lesson in the Past: Old Testament Manual

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 27, 2009

I’m going to pick up a series that I tried last year: The presentation of lessons from past LDS Sunday School manuals corresponding with the topics presented in the current year’s manual. Although those posts understandably drew little comment, I found them valuable as a Gospel Doctrine teacher because the old lessons were often presented from a different point of view, or at least in a different style of language, that helped me better understand a principle, or at least be prepared for the comments offered by my class of generally much older members who grew up learning from a different style of lesson presentation.

I don’t offer these old lessons as being better but merely different, not a substitute or replacement for the manual but another way of approaching the same material.

The current Old Testament Sunday School course is a blend of two tracks previously followed in LDS Sunday instruction:

Old Testament. In earlier generations, the Sunday School class on the Old Testament followed the course of Old Testament history, introducing stories and prophets in their order and attempting to present a cohesive account of thousands of years of Hebrew history.

Gospel Principles. This course, entirely distinct from courses on the Old Testament or any other book of scripture, taught principles of the gospel and examined problems of everyday living, drawing on scripture from throughout the canon, as appropriate.

The current course, although labeled “Old Testament,” is much closer to the principle-based courses of the past than to previous Old Testament courses. That is, the manual presents isolated principles and practices important to daily living, drawing on Old Testament stories where applicable, but making no attempt whatsoever to present a coherent account of Hebrew history or to nurture an appreciation of the Old Testament as a work of sacred literature. Rather than text itself, the Old Testament here serves as a pool of proof texts from which to draw support for the principles being taught.

This hybrid approach to Old Testament teachings makes it difficult to find lessons from past LDS Sunday School manuals that correspond to the current lessons. Still, I’ll try to find something that matches, at least in part. Rather than looking for principle-based correspondences – that is easy; you can go back through this year’s manual and find the same lessons taught under the guise of church history, drawing their proof texts from the Doctrine and Covenants rather than the Old Testament – I will focus on older manuals that place the proof texts in context of Old Testament history.

Does anyone else remember when the chorus of “I Am a Child of God” was changed from “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do”? This change in the Sunday School manuals reminds me of that – in the days of our parents and grandparents, the Sunday School most often instructed us in what we should know about ancient scripture and history, while the modern lessons focus on what we should do or be as disciples of Christ. That may be the most critical factor for Sunday lessons. Still, there is value in knowing as well as doing.



  1. Ardis,

    The best I can guess, the change to that verse happened around 1963-65. I learned the original words in Primary, and I remember the Primary chorister making a big deal out of it when it happened. That guess comes from the ward we were living in when it happened.

    Comment by CS Eric — December 27, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

  2. I’d put it toward the end of that span, Eric, since I remember it, too, but would have had to have been very precocious to remember it any earlier. They must have made a big deal of it in our ward, too, to recall it all these years later.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 27, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  3. For your last point in the OP, my favorite HB Lee quote goes something like: “Unless you know the gospel, you don’t know the gospel.” Maybe that is the point for the current manuals going back to the basics.

    Comment by CS Eric — December 27, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  4. Pres. Kimball asked them to change it to “do” at the end of “I’m A Child Of God”. I like the principles-based instruction much better since the order of the books in the OT is not very easy to follow.

    Thanks for doing this Ardis!

    Comment by Allison Sullivan — December 27, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  5. I suppose we leave the study of scripture in its historical context, to the extent that we do that at all, to Institute. It seems that many Mormons are profoundly uncomfortable with (or ignorant of) the Old Testament, and that in general we only focus on those parts that point to Christ. Sometimes we then force the rest of the text to conform to that, jamming the OT’s square peg into the round hole of “must foreshadow Jesus Christ,” or “must be part of a continuum that leads inexorably to latter-day gospel restoration” rather than studying the OT on its own merits and for its own sake. It’s too bad, that since the Gospel Principles topics have migrated into the 3rd hour, that the SS hour couldn’t return to old-style study of a book of scripture not as a chopped-up book of LDS quotations, but as an ancient text.

    Comment by jeans — December 28, 2009 @ 5:59 am

  6. Count me as one who is disappointed in this change. I find that I can get a bit more excited about the new principle-based structure when I change my expectations–rather than getting a good lesson on the contextual background of the sacred text, I’m getting a good look into how those texts are interpreted by 21st century Mormons. Reception history can be just as interesting as the historical/critical approach. Luckily, a friend who is a Hebrew Bible student at TCU, teaches a stake institute class on the OT that really gets into the text, so what I don’t get in SS I’ll get there.

    Comment by David G. — December 28, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  7. When I taught the Doctrine & Covenants this year, I found that taking the first three or four minutes of class to tell, in narrative form, what was happening that provoked whatever revelation was our subject for the day, worked very well. Everybody likes a story, and it satisfied in a small way my need for historical context.

    I hope to do something similar this year — not that we can adequately cover in four minutes what theologians and scholars have required entire volumes to cover, but I hope to maintain a little sense of the Old Testament as a text and not merely a miscellaneous collection of quotations on miscellaneous subjects of relevance to 21st century Latter-day Saint living.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 28, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  8. I totally agree with Jeans, #5. I got really tired of the lessons taught last year by teachers with no understanding of the history behind the revelations. All the teachers could do was hand out papers for people to read (“Who has number 5?”) followed by asking what the statement or scriptures meant. Because the answers were so obvious, nobody would answer the question. I can see the same thing happening again this year, where we won’t be taught any historical information at all. I could handle the new method of teaching if I had an Ardis for a teacher to give an introduction at the beginning of class.

    Comment by Maurine — December 29, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

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