Welcome to the Old Testament
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“Welcome to the Old Testament,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)

“Welcome,” Old Testament Study Guide

Welcome to the Old Testament

What Is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament contains the writings of ancient prophets and others who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is a record of God’s dealings with His children from the Creation to about 400 B.C. The Old Testament gives an account of the Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, the great flood in the days of Noah, and the establishment of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom the Lord renamed Israel. It records the history of God’s covenant people, the descendants of Jacob, who are called “the house of Israel” or “the children of Israel.” It states how God delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage through the prophet Moses and led them to a promised land.

The Old Testament also contains the prophecies and warnings of the Lord’s ancient prophets, whom He called to preach repentance to the children of Israel. Through His prophets, the Lord gave the Israelites laws, covenants, and doctrines to prepare them for His coming and teach them how to return to God and how to live in God’s presence. For Latter-day Saints, the Bible stands alongside the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price as holy scripture (see Articles of Faith 1:8).

Why Is Studying the Old Testament Important?

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the importance of studying the Old Testament:

“In the Old Testament course, you learn of the Creation and fall of man, the foundation for the temple endowment. You learn what a prophet is. You become familiar with such words as obedience, sacrifice, covenant, Aaronic, Melchizedek, and priesthood.

“The whole basis for Judaic-Christian law, indeed for Islam, is taught to you.

“The ‘why’ of tithes and offerings is explained. You read prophecies of the coming Messiah and of the restoration of the gospel. You see Elijah demonstrate the sealing power and hear Malachi prophesy that Elijah will be sent with the keys of the sealing authority.

“In seminary you learn to know the Old Testament. Now almost abandoned by the Christian world, it remains to us a testament of Jesus Christ” (“The Library of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1990, 37–38).

Like all scripture, the Old Testament teaches and testifies of Jesus Christ and of His divinity. He is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. The laws and ordinances Jesus Christ gave His people anciently helped them to have faith in Him as their Messiah and Redeemer. A sincere study of the Old Testament can strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and help us learn to rely upon His teachings and His Atonement to receive salvation.

Furthermore, the Old Testament contains prophecies about the work Jesus Christ will do in the last days before His Second Coming. The Old Testament records how the ancient Israelites were conquered, led away into captivity, and scattered throughout other nations because of their sins. Through His ancient prophets the Lord promised to gather the scattered Israelites in the last days. They would come to a knowledge of the gospel and be restored to their lands of inheritance. We are living in the days when many of these promises are being fulfilled.

The Old Testament also contains some of the most well-known accounts in history. As we become more familiar with them, we can find greater meaning as we study passages in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants that refer to these accounts. For example, we can better understand the teachings in John 3:14–15; 1 Nephi 17:40–42; Alma 33:18–22; and Helaman 8:14–15 by studying the account of Moses raising a brass serpent in Numbers 21:4–9. But we need to do more than just learn the stories in these accounts. We also need to learn the doctrines and principles taught in these accounts and then apply them in our lives. As you diligently study the Old Testament, you may feel the Holy Spirit touch your heart and help you identify ways to apply these doctrines and principles in your life. Acting on these promptings will help your testimony of the gospel to grow.

About the Old Testament

The Bible is not one book but a collection of books—the Greek word from which bible is derived originally meant “the books” (see Bible Dictionary, “Bible”). “The Christian Bible has two great divisions, familiarly known as the Old and New Testaments. …

“… In the Old Testament the word testament represents a Hebrew word meaning ‘covenant’” (Bible Dictionary, “Bible”). In a gospel context, a covenant is a special agreement between the Lord and a person or a group. The Old Covenant is the law the Lord gave to His people anciently. The New Covenant is the law the Lord, Jesus Christ, gave during His mortal ministry. The Old Testament contains scriptures that the Jews of Palestine during the Savior’s mortal ministry had.

When the Old Testament was put together, the books were not always placed in chronological order but were instead grouped according to their subject material. The books are grouped into four main categories:

  1. The Law. The books from Genesis through Deuteronomy are often referred to as “the law.” Because Moses wrote them, they are sometimes called the Pentateuch or “five books of Moses.” Genesis begins with the Creation of the world and Adam and Eve, and Deuteronomy concludes with the end of Moses’s life. These five books describe covenants God made with the ancient Israelites and the commandments these people needed to live to fulfill their part of the covenant.

  2. The History. The books from Joshua through Esther continue to relate the history of the children of Israel for more than 600 years after Moses. These books are commonly called “the history.” They are generally placed in chronological order; however, 1–2 Chronicles are essentially another writer’s version of the same history found in 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings.

  3. The Poetry. The books from Job through Ecclesiastes are filled with teachings and revelations that are written in poetic form; thus, this section is known as “the poetry.” The Song of Solomon is also contained in the poetry section; however, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, it is not an inspired book (see Bible Dictionary, “Song of Solomon”). The book of Psalms contains the words to various pieces of sacred music.

  4. The Prophets. The books from Isaiah through Malachi contain the teachings of prophets whose ministries occurred during or after the time in which kings ruled over the children of Israel. These books are not in historical order. The prophets warned the children of Israel of their sins and testified of the blessings that come because of obedience to the Lord’s commandments. They prophesied of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would atone for the sins of those who repent, receive the ordinances of salvation, and keep God’s commandments.

The Joseph Smith Translation and the Pearl of Great Price

The Lord commanded the Prophet Joseph Smith to complete a translation, or revision, of the King James Version of the Bible. Joseph Smith began his translation in June 1830 and completed it in July 1833, although he continued to make modifications to the manuscript until shortly before his death. While parts of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s translation were published during his lifetime, his complete inspired translation of the Bible was first published in 1867 by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ). Since 1979, the English Latter-day Saint editions of the King James Version of the Bible have contained hundreds of doctrinally significant passages from the Joseph Smith Translation. (See Robert J. Matthews, “Joseph Smith’s Efforts to Publish His Bible ‘Translation,’” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 57–64; Bible Dictionary, “Joseph Smith Translation”).

Short passages from the Joseph Smith Translation can be found in the footnotes with the designation JST (Joseph Smith Translation), while lengthier passages are included in the Bible appendix.

The book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price is the Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of Genesis 1:1–6:13. The book of Moses adds greater insight to our understanding of the Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, the doctrine of the Atonement, and events in the ministries of Enoch and Noah.

Also included in the Pearl of Great Price is the book of Abraham. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the book of Abraham is an inspired translation of some of the writings of Abraham, which he had recorded on papyrus (see the introduction to the book of Abraham). The book of Abraham gives us more information about his early life and describes the visions he saw of the premortal life, the Council in Heaven, and the planning of the Creation.

As part of the standard works of the Church, the Pearl of Great Price is holy scripture. Both the Joseph Smith Translation and Pearl of Great Price contribute in restoring some of the plain and precious truths that have been lost from the Bible (see 1 Nephi 13:20–41).