Studying the Old Testament is important for Latter-day Saints, because it contains the timeless word of God, members of the Sunday School general presidency affirmed.
In anticipation of the 2018 course of study in gospel doctrine classes throughout the Church, Brother Tad R. Callister, Sunday School general president; Brother Devin G. Durrant, first counselor; and Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor; recently spoke with the Church News.
“The word of God is important whether it was given 4,000 years ago or whether it was given today; the word of God is timeless,” Brother Callister declared.
“Also, in the Old Testament we not only have people living under the law of Moses, but we have the dispensations of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, who have the gospel sufficient to save and exalt them,” he commented.
He added that many principles in the Old Testament are just as applicable to those who live today as they were in ancient times “in terms of how to return to God and be like Him.”
Brother Durrant said the Old Testament, like any book of scripture, “is important, because it helps us to become better disciples of Jesus Christ as we apply the principles that we will come across in our study.”
Brother Ashton cited several reasons that studying the Old Testament is important.
Since the Old Testament testifies of Christ, “many of the stories and characters teach us about Christ, His mission and His characteristics,” he remarked.
“If you understand the Old Testament, you understand the Book of Mormon and the New Testament a lot better,” he added. “In fact, the Book of Mormon comes to life because you understand where Nephi and Lehi are coming from and what the law of Moses is that they were living under.”
Brother Ashton noted that the Old Testament “is a temple text.”
“As you recall what you see in the temple, you begin to understand both the Old Testament and the temple better,” he said.
Finally, teachings of the prophets, such as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Malachi “tell us much of what God has done or what God is going to do from the beginning of the world to the end of the world,” he said. “It’s not all in one place, and you have to find it, but as the Savior Himself testified in the Book of Mormon about how important it is to study the words of Isaiah and that those words would tell us what would happen in the latter days, that’s true of much of the Old Testament.”
Some, for whatever reason, find studying the Old Testament daunting. Brother Callister suggested that might be because they don’t always understand the historical context that can help give meaning to the words of the prophets.
“To the extent teachers can give historical context — just like they do in our study of the Doctrine and Covenants — it can help us understand the issues that are being discussed, the Lord’s answers and why He gave them in that particular context.”
Further, the Old Testament is replete with stories, Brother Callister noted. “Each of those stories has a doctrinal principle to it. Once we can identify the principles, we’re then able to liken them to our own day and age, our own particular circumstances.”
Brother Durrant suggested, “As we break it down into smaller segments, there are some beautiful gems that can be found within the pages of the Old Testament. So hopefully, no one backs away simply because of the quantity of the pages, but they seek out those principles and stories that can inspire them to be more Christlike.”
Some of the stories he cherishes in the Old Testament include the experiences of Daniel, and of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who were valiant in their youth.
“Think about Esther,” he said. “I love her words when she says, ‘If I perish, I perish.’ She was going to do what was right regardless of the consequences.
“And consider the prophet Elisha with his servant. I love the line where he says, ‘They that be with us are more than they that be with them’ and the eyes of his servant were opened.
“That’s just a sample of the marvelous stories within the pages of the Old Testament.”
Brother Ashton suggested four approaches in studying the Old Testament.
“The first is to slow down and do more than just read,” he said. “When I go through the Old Testament, I’m constantly looking at footnotes to help me figure out what the writers are trying to say. The more digging you do, the easier it is to understand the Old Testament.”
The second approach he suggested is to look for the Savior.
“You start to see prototypes of the Savior,” he said. “You may not understand all the symbolism, but you do start to understand His characteristics better and what we ought to become like.”
Thirdly, Brother Ashton suggested looking for temple symbolism in the Old Testament. “For example, when David is crowned king, that’s a coronation. It’s symbolic of what ought to happen to us in the future.”
Finally, he said, “Just enjoy the stories. If we’ll ponder them and say, ‘How does this apply to me, what can I learn from this?’ it will be beneficial.
“One that I love in particular is the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. He goes through affliction, which we all do, but he comes out the other side victorious. The Lord said He will consecrate our afflictions for our gain. He did that for Joseph, and a model of that for us. If we’ll remain faithful as Joseph did, we’ll come out the other side with success. And it’s a glorious success!”