Time to Study the Old Testament…Again – Part 4 – How to Study the Old Testament

Jeff SpectorMormon 10 Comments

As we start the new cycle of scripture study this coming Sunday, just how should we study the Old Testament? As was pointed out in comments made in Part 1, we cannot really study the Old Testament in one year. In fact, two years is not nearly enough time. If you really wanted to study, let’s say, Isaiah in great detail, it could take a whole year by itself with its 66 chapters!

So what do we do?

First, we follow the course of study in Gospel Doctrine. We recognize that the intent of the class is to use the Old Testament to reinforce LDS Gospel Principles. Not to study the Old Testament as a book of scripture unto itself. But, there is much to be gained by the class itself. We also recognize the intent of the class so it is no use trying to make it more than it is. We can add insights and historical perspective but after all, we only have 40 minutes a week so we really do not study but a small portion of the entire Old Testament.

Second, we can, through personal study expand our study as much as we like. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Understand the historical aspects of the book itself. The time line and the events.
  • Recognize that for many hundreds of years, God was dealing with new converts to His teachings. Up to that point, there was a lot of pagan worship. You’ll note that much of the time, it was difficult for the people to give up their old ways for the new ways. And they faltered a great deal of the time. Not much different than today, really.
  • Look for the preparation for the coming of the Messiah. It is not so clear as the Book of Mormon, but it is there. Be careful not to assume that scriptures point to the Messiah because of what we know now.
  • Try to put things in the perspective of the time. it is easy to pass judgment on the harshness we read about. But we need to put it into proper context with the time.

Any other suggestions on how to go beyond the study we do in Sunday School?

Comments 10

  1. Though you have mentioned this, I think the best thing to happen first is for a class to come prepared with a basic understanding of what we are about to discuss. That being said, I have rarely seen that work in college or business, so I don’t know how it would ever happen in Church, were there is even less (immediate) incentive. I think a second point would be to take to heart just what you mentioned, there are only 40 minutes in the class and way to much to cover to try and do a comprehensive lesson. Teachers should either keep it to a theme, or one or two points at most.

  2. I think your point that the purpose of the class is not to study the Old Testament as a book of scripture unto itself is important. However, I do think that by taking the effort to delve into the text and the symbolism the LDS gospel principles will be reinforced quite naturally. The symbolism and imagery of the Torah, for instance, is particularly vivid. I would say one important way to get more out of reading the Old Testament is to observe the theme of covenants. Over and over, the Lord, is bringing his people into a covenant relationship with him. They are to turn from sin and remain faithful to their God. This has application for the modern church as a covenant people.

  3. I found your blog when I searched for liberal mormons. I am so frustrated. I have felt so alone in my beliefs. I have a testimony of the gospel being true but so many around me speak so rudely of people who are poor and needy, never bending in their beliefs that we should be kind to those who are poor, etc. I got into some huge battles on my blog and others when I spoke of more welfare programs.
    Anyway, thanks for this blog. I look forward to reading it and I am glad you, too, question some things that just don’t feel right, yet still have a strong testimony of the book of mormon.

    thank you,
    Gabrielle Valentine

  4. I would like to see a continued emphasis on more ways to clearly see and understand the role and teachings / prophecy about Jesus Christ in the new Testament. Knowledge, understanding, applications and facts…gained or memorized can only help our lives when we are centered and focused upon the Atonement and our Savior. Since I have been told there is much in the Old Testament buried / eluded to or veiled, I would like to have a whole picture pointed out…and a guide how it all melds together. A way to reinforce it’s place as a compound with the other scriptures..for real life as well.
    Love to All

  5. Sorry about saying new Testament, mean’t OLD.
    Shows how used to typing the ‘new’ makes finger do typo!!
    Happy New Year fellow bloggers.
    Health, Understanding, Love, Peace as well.

  6. Jeff, your first 3 parts seemed to really put an emphasis in “studying” the Old Testament. I have often become frustrated with Sunday School, because we don’t truly study the Old Testament, we “reinforce LDS Gospel Principles …[using]… the Old Testament”. I guess that’s why I prefer my own personal study to Sunday School. I am free to actually study the Old Testament rather than reinforcing gospel principles, which gets a bit old. (I’ve been reinforcing these principles for decades.)

    Perhaps the Title of this post could be what the church really does in Sunday School: “reinforce LDS Gospel Principles …[using]… the Old Testament.” I don’t think we come close to actually studying the Old Testament, and that is the source of my disappointment in Sunday School.

  7. To take on the point from MH. The correlation committee could use some lessons to ‘truly’ study the OT. I even think this would be keeping with the purpose. In my experience, the reinforcing principles works for some people and therefore should not be cut out, but I am also inspired and taught when I do those things you mention above, jeff. It would be nice if some of the materials reinforced this idea.

    To add another one, learn hebrew.

    It is not a small thing, but I genuinely feel that this is one important way into the text.

  8. I know a couple of Jewish converts who have great difficulty with the LDS propensity to remove the Jewishness of the OT and use it strictly as a stepping stone to Mormonism, which I suppose is the same problem cited by MH above.

  9. Thanks for all who commented on the post. I am in agreement with the idea that we do not study the Old Testament as a book of scripture by itself. But, guess what neither do most Jews. And certainly most Christians as well.

    Most Jews who study scriptures do so in much the same way as we do. They use their study to reinforce the teachings of the Sages and Rabbis as written in the Talmud and other books on the Law.

    Christians read the Old Testament, “in light of the New Testament.” Pretty much the same as the LDS Church. However, there is a benefit to doing that, to reinforce Gospel principles. After all, if we believe that the Old Testament is a written record of the attempt by Heavenly Father to bring His covenant people to Christ (or the Messiah), that that is very natural to study it in that light.

    I am also interested in studying it to see how certain things turned out the way they did. Why the Jews took the paths they did, why Heavenly Father (or Jehovah) asked some terrible things of them? Why they could never seem to stay on track?

    Learning Hebrew is not that hard. 26 letters and 7 vowels, pretty straight forward. There are about 3400 words in the Hebrew Bible to learn.

    anyway, I thought I pretty much covered both the church study and personal study in the post.

  10. Don, As a Jewish convert, I have more trouble with how folks view the Jews of the New Testament rather than the Old.

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