Category: Lesson Aids

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but…

NT Sunday School Lesson 37: Hebrews

Ms

The book of Hebrews is what scholars call a “homiletic midrash” on Psalms 110, meaning that it a sermon responding to Psalm 110. It might be useful to read that psalm before reading Hebrews and to keep it in mind as you read Hebrews. Most contemporary scholars, including some LDS scholars, do not believe that Paul wrote this book. It is last among the letters of Paul because those compiling the New Testament (in the early 3rd century AD) were not sure that Paul had written it. There are a variety of reasons for these doubts, but the most significant is that the language of Hebrews is quite different from that of the rest of Paul’s letters. (However, the content and occasion of the letter are also different, and that might account for the difference in language.) Notice also that, though the title traditionally given to this book is “Letter to the Hebrews,” it doesn’t have the form of a…

NT Sunday School Lesson 36: Romans

Ms

I have to confess that Romans is perhaps my favorite book of scripture. Given the way that most Latter-day Saints think of Romans, that marks me as at least strange, if not perverse. It also means that I will have to restrain myself to keep the notes for this lesson to a reasonable length. To do that I have selected a few verses that I think get at the heart of Paul’s message and focus on those. I have also appended an outline of the book as a whole so that you can perhaps understand Paul’s overall message better. Chapter 1 Verse 7: Why does Paul describe the saints in Rome as “beloved of God”? Doesn’t God love everyone? If he does, why describe any particular group as beloved? In verse 1 Paul said that he was called to be an apostle. In verse 6, he tells the saints in Rome that they too have been called, and in this…

NT Sunday School Lesson 35: 2 Corinthians

Ms

Background 1 and 2 Corinthians are two of perhaps four letters that Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth. The first letter (referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) has not been preserved. 1 Corinthians is the second letter, written partially in response to reports of problems in Corinth and partially in response to questions that the Corinthians had written to ask Paul. As we can see in 1 Corinthians 16:3-6, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he intended to visit Corinth later, and he promised to send Timothy to Corinth. Timothy may have been the messenger who carried 1 Corinthians to Corinth. After writing and sending 1 Corinthians, Paul made a second trip to Corinth, but that visit was a difficult one, with bad feelings between Paul and the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 2:1 refers to that visit.) After that tense visit, it seems that Paul wrote a third letter (no longer in existence) from Ephesus rather than go to Corinth again.…

NT Sunday School Lesson 34: 1 Corinthians 11-16

Ms

Every so often I insert this reminder: These are study notes, not notes for a lesson. Of course, studying the chapter can help one prepare for the lesson, and the same questions used for study can be used to teach a lesson. But the primary purpose of these notes is to help people think about and prepare to talk about the Sunday School lesson. Recall that in this part of his letter Paul is responding to questions that the Corinthians have asked him by letter. (See the questions for lesson 33.) Chapters 7-15 comprise his response to their questions, and one problem we have interpreting his response is knowing when he is quoting their letter and when he is speaking as himself. For example, in chapter 10, verse 23 (and also in 6:12) Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Many scholars have argued that when he says “all things are lawful for…

NT Sunday School Lesson 33: 1 Corinthians 1-6

Ms

Some background on 1 Corinthians (in addition to that given in the Bible Dictionary): The church at Corinth was founded by Paul in 51 A.D, and this letter was probably written in the early spring of 57. Corinth had a reputation for debauchery in the ancient world, and that in a world that was tolerant of sexual promiscuity of all kinds. Paul and Sosthenes (the two of them are the senders of this letter—see verse 1) are responding to two things: reports from Chloe about what is happening in Corinth (chapters 1-6) and a letter that the Corinthian members have written and sent to him with Stephanas, asking Paul questions about marriage, eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, how women should conduct themselves in church, etc. (chapters 7-15). Paul’s answers to the particular questions of the first century may not be relevant to us, but the principles he uses to answer those questions certainly remain relevant. A man…

NT Sunday School Lesson 32: Acts 18:23-20:38; Galatians

Ms

The readings from Acts tell of Paul’s third missionary journey, to Galatia, Ephesus, Macedonia, and Greece. (See the maps in your LDS Bible.) Acts 20:28-32 Verse 28: To whom is Paul preaching in these verses? (See verse 17 and footnote “b” for verse 28.) The Greek word translated “overseer” is episkopos, the root word for the English word “episcopal.” It is often translated “bishop,” but “overseer” is a good (and very literal) translation because it shows what the episkopos does: he watches over others to see that they do their jobs properly. It may or may not refer to what we mean when we use the word “bishop.” Over whom should the elders first keep watch? Why? What does it mean to say that Jesus has purchased the church with his blood? What metaphor is Paul using? Verse 29: How soon does Paul expect the wolves to enter the flock? Who might these wolves be? He is leaving Ephesus to…

NT Sunday School Lesson 31: Acts 15:36-18:22; 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Ms

Almost all of our lessons cover an incredible amount of material. However, this lesson covers even more material than usual: 3 and one-half chapters of Acts, 5 chapters of 1 Thessalonians, and 3 chapters of 2 Thessalonians. To try to make the material more manageable, I will focus on 1 Thessalonians 4-5. As you will see, however, even that has produced a long set of study materials. 1Thessalonians is the oldest New Testament document we have, written before any of the Gospels or other letters. Thessalonica was a Greek city, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. You can see its location on your Bible maps. Acts 17:1-14 tells of Paul’s missionary work in Thessalonica. A review of those verses would be good background for reading this letter. Some of Paul’s letter are letters of correction, responding to doctrinal and other problems in congregations that he has left behind. 1 Thessalonians, however, is a letter of exhortation. Paul wishes…

NT Sunday School Lesson 30: Acts 10-14; 15:1-35

Ms

This part of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the mission beyond the area immediately surrounding Jerusalem to “the uttermost part of the world” (Acts 1:8). As you read these stories, notice how important the Twelve are in that work. Why do you think that they didn’t delegate more of the missionary work? Is there any connection between the extreme dependence of the early Church on the Twelve and the later apostasy? Notice also that the members of the Church come into greater conflict with traditional Judaism because of this missionary work. For most of the first century and perhaps even into the second, Christians did not think of themselves as a different religion from Judaism. Why did missionary work eventually change that? Does that perhaps suggest something about our relation to contemporary Christianity? To try to keep these materials to a reasonable length, I will concentrate on chapters 10 and 15. Acts 10 Verses 1-8: Where was…

NT Sunday School Lesson 29: Acts 6-9

Ms

Acts 6 Verses 1-7: Who were the “Grecians”? We would probably call them “Hellenists.” Remember that as yet the Gospel has not been preached to the Gentiles, so who might these people have been? Who were “the Hebrews”? Is there anything comparable to this division in today’s Church? Why were the Grecians complaining? The word disciples (verses 1-2) translates a Greek word that means “learners” or “students.” Why would Luke use that name to describe the members of the Church? In verse 2, the phrase “serve tables” is a misleading translation of a Greek idiom meaning “keep accounts.” (Just as one of our words for bench, bank, can mean either “bench” or “financial institution,” the Greeks used table to mean both the tables at which they ate and the tables at which they conducted monetary transactions.) The second translation fits the context better: “It isn’t reasonable that we leave the work of preaching the gospel to do bookkeeping.” What do…

NT Testament Sunday School Lesson 28: Acts 1-5

Ms

There are several stories in these chapters: In chapter 1, we learn that Jesus ministered to the apostles for forty days after his resurrection and that Matthias was chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Chapter 2 tells us of the visit of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, the gift of tongues given to them as a sign of the Holy Ghost, and Peter’s sermon admonishing those who hear them to repent and be baptized. Chapters 3-4 tell of Peter and John healing a lame man which resulted in many people believing their preaching, and the high priest, Caiaphas, and his family demanding that they cease preaching that Jesus was resurrected. Of course they didn’t heed that demand. Chapter 5 begins with the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who withheld part of the money they received for the sale of their property, lying to Peter about how much they had received—and dying as a result of…

NT Sunday School Lesson 27 (JF): Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21

Ms

Matthew 28 Verse 1: Who was the other Mary? (See Matthew 27:57.) Verse 2: Rather than “And behold,” “Look!” is probably a better translation. The angel only rolls back the stone when the two Marys come to see the tomb. Does Jesus leave the tomb at that time, or has he already left? Verses 2-5: Why don’t the women faint when the guards are so frightened that they do? Verse 5: Why does the angel describe Jesus as “which was crucified” rather than “your Master” or “who wrought the Atonement” or in some other way? Verse 6: “He is risen” translates a Greek clause that can more accurately be translated “He has been raised.” Verse 7: In Matthew 26:32, Jesus told the disciples that he would go before them into Galilee. Here the angel tells them he has done so. Why do you think he went to Galilee to reunite with his disciples rather than do it where they were,…

NT Sunday School Lesson 25: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

Ms

As important as the events in the Garden of Gethsemane were, they receive very little attention in scripture. Matthew has 11 verses on it, Mark also has 11, Luke has 7, John tells us nothing about it at all, though he was as close as anyone to what happened. The Doctrine and Covenants has 4 verses about it and the Book of Mormon 1. Why do you think the scriptures are relatively silent about such an important event? Does that tell us anything about how we should understand what scripture is or is not? Here is a link to a document with a side-by-side comparison of all of the scriptures about the events of Gethsamene. Matthew 26 Verses 36-46: The word gethsemane means “olive press,” so the garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove within which, presumably, there was an olive press. Is there any symbolic connection between the events in this grove and its name? The first part of…

NT Sunday School Lesson 24: John 16-17

Ms

Remember: though these may be useful in helping a person to prepare a Sunday School lesson, they are intended primarily to help one study and prepare for taking part in Sunday School. That’s why you’ll find questions with no answers; they are study questions. John 16 Verses 1-3: In verse 1 Jesus tells the disciples that he taught them what he did in chapter 15 so that they would not be “offended.” A more literal translation might be “caused to stumble,”“scandalized.” In Matthew 26:31 Jesus tells the disciples that they will be offended or scandalized by him that night. What particular things were the disciples facing that might make them stumble? What things in our lives are like those things? How would the particular teachings of the previous chapter, chapter 15, strengthen them against those difficulties? How long was it before some people began to think that persecuting Christians was a service to God (verse 2)? Are we ever guilty…

NT Sunday School Lesson 23: Luke 22:1-38; John 13-15

Ms

Getting caught up (as you can see). With this lesson we begin to read about the part of Christ’s life that is traditionally called “the Passion,” the time between the Last Supper and his death on the cross. The word “passion” and the word “passive” are related terms. Why is this part of Jesus’ life called the Passion? The longest part of each of the New Testament gospels is the part describing the Passion. As Latter-day Saints, our tendency is to focus on the resurrection rather than the Passion. Why do you think the gospels give so much attention to the Passion? Does 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16 explain that attention? Why might the Book of Mormon focus its attention, instead, on the resurrection—or does it? What should our focus be today? The Jerome Bible Commentary, a Catholic commentary, says that in the Passion stories of Matthew and John we are invited to worship Jesus as we see him completing his mission…

NT Sunday School Lesson 22: Matthew 25

Ms

Verses 1-13: The Parable of the Ten Virgins How does the parable relate to that given in Matthew 24:45-51? We know little about marriage ceremonies in Palestine during Jesus’ day. Indeed, we can assume that the customs varied from one place to another in Palestine, making it even more difficult to recover them. Most of what we say about such things is really a description of customs 200 years or more later. Perhaps those later customs reflect what happened in Jesus’ day, but we cannot know that they did, and the tremendous social upheaval resulting from the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. may well have interrupted the continuity of traditions. Nevertheless, we can infer some things from this parable itself: Wedding feasts seem to have been held at night, otherwise there would be no reason for the bridal attendants to bring their lamps or torches. (Ulrich Luz makes good case that these were torches rather than oil lamps:…

NT Sunday School Lesson 21: Matthew 24 (JST)

Ms

It is sometimes helpful to have the Joseph Smith revision (JST) and the King James translation side-by-side, so I have put both versions of chapter 24 together in a PDF file for those who would like to use it. Traditional Christianity finds this chapter ambiguous: in some ways it seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 A.D.; in some ways it seems to refer to the Second Coming. It seems to me that Joseph Smith makes it more clear which passages refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and which refer to the Second Coming. You may also wish to read Doctrine and Covenants 45:60-75 as background for understanding the Joseph Smith version better. I’ve marked references to the JST with “JST.” Other references are to the KJV. From Matthew 21:3 to Matthew 24:2, Jesus has been in the Temple confronting the Temple hierarchy and other community leaders, a confrontation that seems designed to bring about…

NT Sunday School Lesson 20: Matthew 21-23; John 12:1-8

Ms

Matthew 21 Verses 1-7: The end of verse 3 could also be translated “and straightway he will return them.” Verse 5 puts two scriptures together, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 (as they appear in the Greek rather than the Hebrew version of the Old Testament). What does “daughter of Sion” mean? Why is it important that the Lord enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (rather than a horse, for example)? Verses 8-11: Why did the people put their cloaks and branches from the trees on the road in front of Jesus? “Hosanna” means “save, we pray.” Do you think that the people were using it because of its meaning or only as a shout of acclamation (much as we use the word “amen” without usually thinking about its meaning)? In Israelite history, who was first called “son of David” as a title? What did that name signify? What does it have to do with the temple? What does…

NT Sunday School Lesson 19 (JF): Luke 18:1-8, 35-43; 19:1-10; John 11

Ms

Luke 18 Verses 1-8: The chapter division here (an artificial division not in the original text) makes us not see the connection between the end of Luke 17 and the beginning of 18. Might Luke have any particular prayers in mind in verse 1? How about the desire mentioned in Luke 17:22? In verse 1, Luke tells us the teaching of the parable before he gives the parable. Why? After reading the parable ask yourself whether there are other ways to read it, perhaps ways that Luke wants to forestall. We will later see that Paul particularly likes the language that Luke uses here, “pray always” (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Romans 12:12, and Ephesians 6:18) and “do not faint” (the word translated “faint” means “to become weary or exhausted” and can mean “lose heart”—for places where Paul uses the term, see for example 2 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16, and Galatians 6:9). What kind of fainting…

NT Sunday School Lesson 16: John 9-10

Ms

Chapter 9 Verse 1: Chapter 8 ends with the phrase “passed by” and chapter 9 begins with those words. Did the events of chapters 9-10 happen as Jesus was leaving the temple precincts, or did they occur later? (See verse 14 for a clue.) Why is it important that the man has been blind since birth? As you read the story, ask yourself, How we are like the blind man: in what ways are we or have we been blind from birth? How do we come to see? What do we see when we have been healed? Verses 2-5: How could the disciples believe that the man’s sins could be responsible for his blindness since he was born blind? What do you make of the fact that over and over again we see Jesus ignoring general, hypothetical, and legal questions such as the question that the disciples ask? (See also, e.g., Luke 10:25ff. and John 8:3ff.) What does he deal…

NT Sunday School Lesson 14: Matthew 18; Luke 10

Ms

Matthew 18 Verses 1-4: Why do the disciples ask the question that they pose in verse 1? What does it suggest about their understanding of Jesus’ message? What do you make of the fact that they are arguing about who shall be first so shortly after Jesus has talked about his coming death (Matthew 17:22)? In verse 3, the verb “be converted” translates a Greek verb that means “turn.” To be converted, to repent, is to turn back, to return. In what sense is repentance a return? Christ says that no one can even enter the kingdom (or reign) of heaven without becoming like a child. Then in verse 4 he says that if a person humbles himself and becomes as a child, then he or she is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. A logical conclusion from the two claims (though rhetoric may trump logic here) is that everyone who enters the kingdom of heaven is the greatest…

NT Sunday School Lesson 13: Matthew 15:21-17:13

Ms

There are a number of stories in this reading, and they appear not to be given to us in a haphazard way. There is a natural progression from one to the other: (1) Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). (2) He heals many and multitudes come to him (Matthew 15: 29-31). (3) He not only heals them, he feeds 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39). (4) Having just given a miraculous sign, he warns the Pharisees and Saducees against sign seeking (Matthew 16:1-4); (5) He tells the disciples to beware the leaven, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12). (6) He asks the disciples who he is and Peter testifies that Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20). (7) However, when Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed and resurrected, Peter denies that teaching and is rebuked (Matthew 16:21-23). (8) Following that rebuke, Jesus teaches the disciples what it means to be a disciple (Matthew 16:24-28). (9) Taking…

NT Sunday School Lesson 12: John 5-6; Mark 6:30-44; Matthew:14:22-33

Ms

As is almost always the case, there is far more here than we can cover in one lesson. These materials will focus on John 5, but I will also include some  questions on John 6. John 5 Some have suggested that the gospel of John is partially constructed around seven wondrous works or miracles. (I believe I got this from Art Bassett, but I’m not sure.) With each, Jesus gives a sermon that illustrates the significance of what he has done. The seven are: Turning water into wine at the wedding feast and the discourse on being born again (John 2:1-12; 3:1-21) Raising the nobleman’s son to life and a discourse on Jesus as the living water (John 4:43-51; 4:1-42) Healing the man by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and explaining that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (John 5:1-14; 5:19-47) Feeding the five thousand and teaching that Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:1-15; 6:22-66) Walking…

NT Sunday School Lesson 11: Matthew 13

Ms

A reminder that I post regularly for those who are new to these notes: These are study notes for the lesson material, not notes for creating lessons. I assume that a person would use these over several days, perhaps a week, of study. Of course someone studying the lessons will also be able to create a lesson, but the purpose of these notes is primarily for the students in Gospel Doctrine class and only secondarily for teachers of the class. This is a chapter of parables. We get the word parable from a Greek word (parabol?) meaning “to set by the side” or “to compare.” It is a translation of a Hebrew word (mashal) that we usually translate “proverb,” but we might better translate that word as “wise saying.” The Hebrew word covers a wide range of things, from what we call proverbs to what we call parables, to what we might call a sermon. Jesus’ hearers probably wouldn’t have…

Peace

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Sometimes unintentional mistakes lead to interesting lines of thought. A few weeks ago I misheard a speaker in an LDS meeting. The speaker was quoting John 14:27, and either because of the speaker’s mispronunciation or my imperfect hearing, I heard the word “live” instead of the word “leave.” This lead me to think about what it means to live in peace.

NT Sunday School Lesson 10 (JF) : Matthew 11:28-30; 12:1-13; Luke 7:36-50; 13:10-17

Ms

Matthew 11 Verse 28: What does it mean to come to Christ? Has he already told us how we can do that in readings from some of the previous lessons? The word translated “labor” means “wearying labor.” The phrase “heavy laden” translates a Greek word that means “weighed down.” What wearying, taxing work does Christ have in mind here? From what does he offer relief? Why is that described as something that wears us out? As something that burdens us? Can we understand sin as a kind of difficult work? The word translated “rest” literally means “cessation.” It is used to mean “refreshment,” “ease,” or “rest.” How does the Savior offer cessation from taxing labor? Verse 29: The word translated “take” means literally “lift up.” The Greek word translated “yoke” could also have been translated “scales” (the kind of scales one sees in statues representing justice). Do you agree with the King James version’s decision to translate the term as…

NT Sunday School Lesson 9: Matthew 6-7

Ms

As is usually the case, there is a lot of material to cover in this lesson, but the material in these chapters is so important that it would be a shame to focus on only part of it. So I will focus on the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), but I will also provide notes for the rest of both chapters. Notice that in 2007 Robert C and Cheryl M provided excellent materials on these chapters, and Karl D will almost certainly provide current notes on the lesson materials. Chapter 6 Jesus continues to teach about true righteousness, a righteousness that goes beyond mere obedience. He first discusses three basic acts of piety in first-century Judaism: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (verses 1-18). Then he teaches us where we will find our treasure (verses 19-23), and he teaches that we ought to serve God without taking thought for ourselves (verses 24-34). Verses 1-4: In verse 1, the Greek word translated “to be…

NT Sunday School Lesson 8: Matthew 5

Ms

The lesson this week picks out the first part of a longer sermon. Matthew 5-7 give us Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Even if preparing for only the Sunday School lesson, it is probably best to read the entire sermon to see the context of this part. At the time of Jesus there seems to have been considerable controversy over who was “in” and who was “out” when it came to being the children of God. This controversy had been on-going for some time, at least since the time of the return from exile. The Samaritan community was one of the earliest to be excluded, but they were not the only ones. We know of other groups, such as the Essenes who lived in Qumran and who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls. They thought of themselves as “in,” in other words as true to Israel’s covenant, and of everyone else as “out.” The controversy centered on a number of…

NT Sunday School Lesson 7: Mark 1-2; 4:35-41; 5; Luke 7:1-17

Ms

For purposes of this lesson, I take Luke 7:1-17 to be a supplement to the miracle stories we read in the material from Mark. So I will make my notes and questions on Mark, assuming that reading and thinking about Luke will be appropriate to them. As usual, I offer the reminder that these are study notes for the reading, not notes for preparing a lesson. Presumably study notes could help a person prepare a lesson, but these go beyond what one might expect in notes for a lesson. Mark’s Gospel This is the first lesson this year to use the book of Mark, so some review may be in order. Most non-LDS scholars believe that Mark was the gospel written first and that the other two synoptic writers used his gospel as a kind of first draft. In contrast, most LDS scholars believe that Matthew was written first because Matthew’s version of things is what we find in Christ’s…

NT Sunday School Lesson 6: Luke 4:14-32; 5; 6:12-16; Matthew 10

Ms

Before we look at some individual verses from this lesson, consider the overall structure of Luke’s narrative and think about how Luke’s story of the calling of the Twelve compares to Matthew’s. I have put in bold the parts that the lesson focuses on, but I have outlined all four chapters so that you can think about how Luke tells the story as a whole. Because of the length of the materials, I have created study questions only for the first part of the lesson, Luke 4:14-32. Luke’s story: • John’s preaching and message (Luke 3:1-20) • Jesus’s baptism (Luke 3:21-22) • His genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) • The forty-day sojourn in the desert and the temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-13) • Jesus’s first recorded sermon, on Isaiah 61:1-2, and its reception in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-32) • Jesus casts a devil out of a man in the synagogue (Luke 4:33-37) • He cures Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-39) • He…