JEF Sunday School Lesson #1 (More Background)

The Old Testament

What is the Old Testament?

The version of the Old Testament used by Protestants and Jews today contains thirty-nine books. (Catholic Bibles include nine more books and two additions to Daniel and one to Esther. At least some of these nine books were used as scripture by Saints of the first century AD.) For various reasons, Latter-day Saints use the same version as do the Protestants.

The major difference between the Protestant and Jewish Bibles is that the order of the books in each is different. The Protestants arrange the books chronologically, and the Jews arrange them according to the scriptural authority they give the books. (The New Testament is arranged, not chronologically, but according to type: Gospels, history of the early Church, then letters. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are arranged more-or-less chronologically.)

As you can see in Mike Parker’s chart of the Old Testament, Jews divide the Old Testament into three parts, each part less authoritative than the last, though all three parts are authoritative: the Law (or “Instruction,â€? namely the instruction a parent gives to a child), the Prophets, and the Writings. Scriptures such as Acts 28:23 reflect this arrangement. For other scriptures that also reflect it, see Zechariah 7:12; Matthew 5:17, 7:12, and 22:40; Luke 16:16, and 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15 and 24:14; Romans 3:21; 3 Nephi 12:17, 14:12, and 15:10; and D&C 59:22.

The Law is the first five books, also called “the books of Moses� (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Prophets are Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and “The Twelve Prophets� (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). The Writings are Psalms, Proverbs, and Job (the “Greater Writings�) and Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther (the “Five Scrolls�), and Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles (historical books which go by a variety of names).

Why is it called the Old Testament?

The New Testament Church sometimes spoke of a new covenant and an old covenant. (See, for example, 2 Corinthians 3:14, where the Greek word for “covenant” is translated “testament,” and Hebrews 8:7). This is a way of distinguishing the covenant between the Church and God before Christ’s coming from the covenant between the Church and God after Christ’s coming —but that distinction isn’t the same as the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament Church, what we call the Old Testament was simply called “the Scripturesâ€? or “the Law and the Prophets.â€? They had various books that eventually came to be our New Testament, but not a collection by that name, and not every branch of the early Church had the same books.

The name “Old Testament” isn’t used until the second and third centuries AD, when early Christians were deciding which of books are canonical and which are not. That is when the collection to which we refer as the “New Testament” was put together. The word “testament” is related to the word “testimony.” Thus, the Old Testament is “the older testimonyâ€? of Christ and the New Testament is “the newer testimony.â€? This is the same use of the word in the subtitle of the Book of Mormon: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.â€?

How can the Old Testament help to us today?

Here are some question to help you think about that broader question:

What did the New Testament writers mean by “the old covenant�? What did they mean by “the new covenant�? How do those differ? How are they the same?

On the old covenant, see Exodus 19-24, especially 19:5-6, 23:20-33, and 24:7-8. On the new covenant, see Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Hebrews 8:8-13) and 1 Corinthians 11:24-26 (Luke 22:19-20), 2 Corinthians 3:6, and Hebrews 9:1-15.

How does the Old Testament testify of Christ (cf. Jacob 7:10-11)? Why might someone be unable to see that testimony in the Old Testament?

2 comments for “JEF Sunday School Lesson #1 (More Background)

  1. Paul H
    January 3, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Wondering if you have any take on Old Testament authorship and whether it is a worthwhile discussion in Sunday School.

  2. Jim F.
    January 3, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Paul H: I don’t have a particular take, mostly because I don’t think I know enough to have one, though I lean in the direction of thinking that Moses may well have written a good deal of what he did based on existing records, much like Moroni, so the Y-J-P thesis may have some truth to it. I also think it is likely that major changes were made to the records at the time of Ezra.

    Is it worth discussing in Sunday School? That’s a difficult question. I can see some reason for perhaps saying something about it to help the class understand better what we have and don’t have, but I don’t think it would be an important part of a Sunday School discussion except to the degree that it helps the class read more comfortably and to have more confidence. Of course, a lot depends on the people in the class.

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