A most powerful witness

The Old Testament has sometimes suffered from what public relations people call "bad press." It has unfairly and unfortunately been labeled as old fashioned or unreadable or forbidding or foreboding.

Furthermore, it has often been labeled with all these criticisms at once, with several more disdainful observations thrown in for good measure. One member of the Church is reported to have said, "I read the Old Testament once, and if the Lord will forgive me, I promise never to do so again." We all smile at that response, partly because we ourselves know something of the challenging reading that prompts such humor.There are reasons enough for this ominous reputation. The Old Testament is the longest of all the standard works, totaling 1,184 pages in our current edition, or slightly over twice the number of pages in the Book of Mormon. Reaching clear back to Adam and Eve, its culture and history cover eras very distant from our present day.

This volume is also rich in poetic and allegorical passages, material which gives it much of its beauty and meaning, but material which, nevertheless, can intimidate even the experienced reader. Furthermore, some parts of the book, such as lengthy genealogical lists, numerical rosters, and detailed descriptions of ancient rituals and ordinances, make the Old Testament seem less relevant - as well as less readable - than some of our other scriptures.

But in spite of all this, the facts are that the Old Testament has probably influenced the world of Judeo-Christian history and literature more than any other book ever written. It contains the stories and traditions and truths that generations of parents have handed down to their children and which pastors from innumerable pulpits have told with power and persuasion.

Who in every age and land having access to this scripture has not thrilled to the account of Moses and the children of Israel escaping from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, or Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho, or Samson winning - and losing - with superhuman strength, or Esther saving her people, or the heartfelt devotion Ruth had for Naomi - and on and on and on through stories of David and Daniel, through accounts of Elijah and Elisha? No volume of scripture in the western world is so filled with universally known and publicly recounted stories of faith and fear, of strength and weakness, of divine favor and godly sorrow.

More important, the Old Testament teaches us of God's covenant with ancient Israel. It teaches us of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, including promises to Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel - covenants and promises we still claim and seek today. It teaches of the scattering and gathering of Israel, it defines and demonstrates the role of a prophet and prophetic vision, it lays the groundwork for our understanding of the plan of salvation, sketching the issues of the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement, and the moral agency of mankind. It teaches the Fatherhood of God.

Perhaps best of all, the Old Testament, when properly understood, "is full of Christ, and [isT intended to point to Christ as our only Savior. It is not only the law, which is a schoolmaster unto Christ, nor the types, which are shadows of Christ, nor yet the prophecies, which are predictions of Christ; but the whole Old Testament history is full of Christ." (Alfred Edersheirm, Old Testament Bible History, pp. 2-3.)

As Elder Mark E. Petersen once wrote: "If we had the Old Testament as it was originally written, mankind would have a most powerful - an infallible - witness that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ. . . .

"The hand of the Lord has been over this volume of scripture and it is remarkable that it has come down to us in the excellent condition in which we find it. . . . The Old Testament is the word of God, and even though translations have dimmed some of its meaning, and many `plain and precious parts' have been deleted, it still is an inspired and miraculous guide to all who will read it.

"When augmented by modern scripture . . . it can direct us into the paths of eternal salvation." (Petersen, As Translated Correctly, pp. 16-17.)

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