As part of the four-year LDS Sunday School study cycle, it is time to open up that voluminous book known as the Old Testament. Many in the Christian community, including LDS, question the value of even studying the Old Testament. After all, they say, “we have the New Testament, which is Christ’s teachings to us.” And, the LDS have additional scripture that have Christ’s teachings as well.
Is that true? Is the Old Testament “Old,” and thus not as relevant as other scriptures?
The answer of course is no. These scriptures are important to us.
From the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 1,
“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.”
The Old Testament consists of a various number of books from 39 to 47, depending on which version you use. (We’ll cover this in detail in a subsequent posting). The order varies as well. “Old Testament” is somewhat of misnomer, the term “Old Testament” itself is credited to Melito of Sardis. The term “Old” is used to distinguish it from the “New” Testament, or the Old Covenant from the New Covenant given by Jesus. Most scholars refer to the Old Testament as the “Hebrew Bible” or the Jewish Bible. Jews refer to it simply as “The Holy Scriptures or TaNaKn.”
The books were written mainly in Biblical Hebrew with a few books in Biblical Aramaic. According to traditional Jewish belief, the Hebrew Bible existed as an oral tradition for a long time, and it was forbidden to be put into written form. According to that tradition, the date on which permission was given to write down the Bible is considered one of mourning. Contemporary conservative scholars date the origin of the Hebrew Bible between the tenth and seventh centuries BCE, while most contemporary secular biblical scholars date its finalization in the Persian period (539 to 334 BCE). (From Wikipedia, “Hebrew Bible”)
While many Christians tend to downplay the relevance of the Old Testament compared to the New Testament, it is ironic that much of the fire and brimstone teachings of Christianity can be more closely linked to the harshness of how God dealt with his covenant people who couldn’t seem to stay on the straight and narrow path. Jesus’ own teachings seem more gentle than those of the Old Testament.
So, are you looking forward to once again opening that huge book and studying it? I, for one, am looking forward to teaching it this year and bringing some of my own perspectives to the lessons, given my background.