Old Testament

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

Author: Rasmussen, Ellis T.

The Old Testament is one of the standard works, or scriptures, accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which values it for its prophetic, historical, doctrinal, and moral teachings. The Old Testament recounts an epochal series of ancient dispensations during which people received periodic guidance through divine covenants and commandments, many of which remain basic and timeless. In relation to the Old Testament, it is significant for Latter-day Saints that in September 1823 the angel Moroni quoted a series of Old Testament prophecies when he revealed the location of an ancient record written on gold plates to the Prophet Joseph Smith, whose translation yielded the Book of Mormon (JS-H 1:36-41). Moreover, Joseph Smith's extensive labors on the Old Testament and the accompanying revelations to him (June 1830-July 1833), which led to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST) and certain informative sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, underscore the importance of these scriptural texts. In addition, from the Book of Mormon it is clear that before 600 B.C. the prophet Lehi and his colony carried to the Western Hemisphere from Jerusalem a record on the plates of brass that included many Old Testament texts (1 Ne. 5:10-15), leading Lehi and his descendants to look forward to a redeemer (1 Ne. 19:22-23) and giving them a guide for their moral and spiritual development (Mosiah 1:3, 5).

The Old Testament, even by the name Old Covenant, is thus not outmoded in the LDS view. It contains narrative, wisdom, and prophetic literature from ancient epochs; and even though some "plain and precious" parts have been lost, many of these have been restored in LDS scripture (1 Ne. 13:40). It frames a series of ancient covenants with Jehovah (Jesus Christ) as distinguished from the higher covenants in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 7:22). Latter-day Saints view them all as elements in the same divine Plan of Salvation.

ETERNAL COVENANTS AND COMMANDMENTS. Latter-day Saints feel a need to learn and practice the principles prescribed in all the divine covenants and commandments, which are eternally valid. To know and understand God's eternal purposes requires a study of the past eras documented in the Old Testament, together with those available in other ancient and modern scriptures. For example, Latter-day revelations help Latter-day Saints read the Old Testament with fuller appreciation for the continuity of the eternally significant concepts taught by the prophets in the scriptures.

From the beginning, the divine covenants associated with salvation have been taught through prophetic words, and some have been typified by sacrificial ordinances. A revelation to Moses, restored through Joseph Smith, states that animal sacrifice was required from the days of Adam and Eve (Moses 5:5) and that such sacrifices were "a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father" (Moses 5:7).

Another Old Testament covenant verified in modern revelation is the Abrahamic Covenant. It pertains not alone to literal descendants of Abraham but also to those adopted into Abraham's family because of their faith in the true God and their baptism into the gospel of Christ (Gen. 12:1; Gal. 3:26-29). These "descendants" of Abraham are charged with bringing the blessings of this covenant to all nations, through teaching about the true and living God and making known his Plan of Salvation (Abr. 2:9-11). Responsibility for knowing and acting in accordance with the covenant of Abraham has been transmitted to latter-day heirs by revelation (D&C 110:12). Moreover, a promise by the resurrected Jesus is recorded in the Book of Mormon that descendants of his ancient covenant people Israel, who have been scattered abroad, shall "be gathered in from the east and from the west, and from the south and from the north; and they shall be brought to the knowledge of the Lord their God, who hath redeemed them" (3 Ne. 20:13). They are to be established in their lands of inheritance and will accomplish their ancient and culminating responsibility of building the kingdom of the Lord (3 Ne. 20:21-46; cf. Isa. 52:1-15). For Latter-day Saints the restoration "of all things" (Acts 3:21) includes many Old Testament principles, doctrines, and ideals.

TEMPORARY AND ETERNAL LAWS. Latter-day Saints do not believe that when Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses he thereby abrogated the law, the prophets, and the writings of the Old Testament (3 Ne. 15:5-8). Indeed, he fulfilled the law of sacrifice by allowing his own blood to be shed (Alma 34:13) and by replacing certain ancient worship performances (3 Ne. 12:18-20;15:2-10). Thus, the feast of Passover became the commemorative Sacrament of the Last Supper (Luke 22:1-20): The paschal lamb culminated in the Lamb of God (Ex. 12:5, 21; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:6). Sacrifice of animals culminated in Jesus' ultimate sacrifice, of which they were mere types, but the sacrifice of "a broken heart and contrite spirit" continues (3 Ne. 9:19-20; cf. Rom. 12:1).

Jesus reiterated many moral and spiritual laws taught by Moses and the prophets. These include laws regarding reverence for God, respect for parents, chastity in moral conduct, avoiding violence and murder, and practicing honesty with fellow beings (e.g., Matt. 5:17-48; cf. 3 Ne. 12:17-48; Luke 16:19-31;24:13-47). The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi reiterated the Ten Commandments and was adamant about the necessity of teaching and living according to their standards (Mosiah 12:33-37;13:12-26). And latter-day revelation confirms the same necessity for any who would please the Lord (e.g., D&C 20:17-19;42:18-29;52:39).

For Latter-day Saints, all principles of morality and righteousness taught by Old Testament prophets remain valid. Micah, for instance, asks, "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). The Lord taught through Habakkuk that divinely inspired visions will surely come to fulfillment, even if far off; therefore, "the just shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:3-4). Moses urged the Israelites to live according to God's laws as good examples to others: "Keep therefore and do them [the laws and ordinances], for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (Deut. 4:6). Jesus appealed to Deuteronomy and Leviticus concerning the first and second commandments, to love God and one's fellow beings (Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18, 33-34; Mark 12:28-34).

This, however, is not to say that all worship practices admonished in "the law and the prophets" were to be perpetuated eternally. About 150 B.C., the Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi explained, "I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the Law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the Law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the Atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the Law of Moses" (Mosiah 13:27). The risen Jesus rehearsed teachings which he had fulfilled from the law and the prophets, the Psalms and "all the scriptures," to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the eleven apostles gathered in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13, 27, 33, 44). Only certain things had an end in him (3 Ne. 15:8; Gal. 3:24).

Latter-day Saints therefore value those Old Testament laws and doctrines that are eternal, believing that they were "given by inspiration of God" and are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).

PROPHETIC ANTICIPATION OF THE MESSIAH. More than five centuries before the time of Christ, Jacob, a Book of Mormon prophet, stated that his people knew of Christ through the teachings of Moses and the prophets, and thus had hope of his coming (Jacob 4:4-5). And Nephi 1 added, "For this end hath the Law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Christ]" (2 Ne. 11:4). On another occasion, Jacob said that "all the holy prophets…believed in Christ," and that his people faithfully kept the Law of Moses, "it pointing our souls to [Christ]." Indeed, they saw in Abraham's offering of Isaac "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son" (Jacob 4:4-5). Amulek, a later Book of Mormon teacher (c. 75 B.C.), when speaking of the "great and last sacrifice" of the Son of God, declared that "this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice…[of] the Son of God" (Alma 34:13-14).

The relevance of prophetic teachings and ordinances for bringing people to Christ is shown by Jesus' own references to such rites and teachings. While coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he spoke to Peter, James, and John about things "written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought" (Mark 9:12; cf. Isa. 53:3-7). In his hometown of Nazareth, he announced his fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah's actions of healing and making people free (Luke 4:21; Isa. 61:1-2). After healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus told those who would condemn him that the time was nigh that even the dead would hear his voice alluding, no doubt, to prophecies of that event (John 5:25; cf. Isa. 24:22). His parting words to that same audience were, "Had ye believed Moses, you would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (John 5:46; cf. Deut. 18:15-19 andActs 3:22-23; 1 Ne. 22:21; 3 Ne. 20:23). Even in his last mortal hour, as he suffered and fulfilled the promises of redemption, Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22-"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"-as if to point to the imminent fulfillment of the remaining lines of the Psalm (Matt. 27:46; cf. Ps. 22:7-8, 12-19).

Early Christian missionaries converted many to Christ among those who "searched the scriptures daily" (Acts 17:10-12). Those scriptures included what is now known as the Old Testament. Christian teachers succeeded in showing "by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ" (Acts 18:24-28). Paul declared that scriptures "written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" of salvation (Rom. 15:4).

Concerning Christ's future advent, more than a score of "royal" and "messianic" psalms anticipate the Lord's reign in the final age. Psalms 72 and 1 00 are typical (see Psalms, Messianic Prophecies in). Moreover, in the prophetic books of the Old Testament more chapters look forward to his triumphant final reign than point toward his first advent and sacrifice (e.g., Isa. 40, 43, 45, 52, 60, 63, 65; Ezek. 37-48; Dan. 12; Zech. 12-14).

PROPHECIES FOR PRESENT AND FUTURE. For Latter-day Saints, the present era of the gospel of Jesus Christ began not only with Joseph Smith's first vision but also with the visits of other divine messengers, who quoted Old Testament prophecies with the promise that they were about to be fulfilled. The angel Moroni quoted to Joseph Smith some of the eschatological prophecies of Malachi, Isaiah, Joel, and-according to Wilford woodruff-Daniel, and promised their fulfillment (JS-H 1:29, 33, 36-41; JD 24:241).

Latter-day Saints use both ancient and modern prophecies to bring the gospel light to the gentiles so that all can be mutually blessed (Isa. 49:5-22; D&C 86:11;110:12;124:9). In the last days the God of heaven will set up his kingdom to embrace all people, rolling forth until it fills the earth (Dan. 2:31-45; D&C 65). The Lord "shall bring again Zion" and, in doing so, will publish peace and salvation, proclaiming, "Thy God reigneth!" Then all nations will see the salvation of God (Isa. 52:7-10). All can be a part of Zion, "the pure in heart" (D&C 97:19-21). "Saviours shall come up on mount Zion," as Obadiah said, "and the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obad. 1:21; D&C 103:7-10).


Bibliography

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Ludlow, Daniel H. A Companion to Your Study of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City, 1981.

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Reynolds, Noel B. "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis." In By Study and Also by Faith, ed. J. Lundquist and S. Ricks, Vol. 2, pp. 136-73. Salt Lake City, 1990.

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ELLIS T. RASMUSSEN


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