Short Take: Eight Tips for Loving the Old Testament

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there..

Read with Your Mind

  • Slow down. We’re to learn and experience, not check a box or win a race. Read aloud sometimes, to force yourself to slow down and make sense of words and syntax.
  • Consult footnotes for different shades of meanings in Hebrew and insights from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST).
  • Other books of scripture are the best commentaries on the Old Testament. See how Old Testament passages are quoted and explained elsewhere in scripture.
  • Use Bible maps and the Bible Dictionary to put people and events in historical and geographical context.
  • If you don’t know a word, look it up. (This will not always help. King James’ English is centuries older than your dictionary.)
  • Remember, we’re reading a translation. No translation – no human language, really – is perfect.

Read with Your Heart

  • The people in the Old Testament are real people leading real lives in the present tense. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how your own experience might be like theirs.

Read with the Spirit

  • Ask prayerfully for insight and understanding when you read. Gratefully welcome the Spirit when it comes and any insight it communicates. When it doesn’t come, study and ponder anyway.

Short Take: “The Most Correct Book”

The Book of Mormon’s title page suggests the book may contain “mistakes of men.” Joseph Smith called it “the most correct” book but didn’t call it perfect. Though written by God’s prophets and translated by God’s power, it actually cannot be perfect. Here’s why:

  • It is written in human language, which cannot fully describe divine things.
  • Human language constantly evolves. Many words don’t mean precisely what they meant two centuries ago.
  • The prophets could have written more perfectly in Hebrew, but had to use a simpler, more compact language to save space (Mormon 9:31-33).
  • The book is translated from language to language; in translation, any language pair poses challenges. Elsewhere, the Hebrew word describing Mary in Isaiah 7:14 could mean virgin or simply young woman. Other scripture says both apply, but what did Isaiah mean? Similarly, the Russian word for evil also means angry, so whichever English translation I choose limits the meaning more than the author did.
  • We see the prophets themselves still learning, filling in gaps in knowledge with their opinions (Alma 40:19-21) or clarifying earlier writings after further revelation (3 Nephi 28:36-40).

Knowing all this helps us understand why we need so many accounts of the same gospel, prepares us to discover new meaning in familiar verses, and helps us not to be shaken when we encounter human imperfections in sacred texts. In the end, salvation is in the Word, not the words. (See John 5:39.)

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. This is one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Short Take: We Are All Ministers

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

We’re often taught that to hold the priesthood is to be called to minister to God’s children – to teach, to help, to rescue, to lift. Certainly, most “priesthood” duties and assignments are to minister somehow; home teaching is the most universal example. A moment’s reflection informs us that the missions of the Relief Society and the Young Women organization are also to minister, so ministering is not solely the province of priesthood holders.

In Mosiah 18 Alma teaches that ministering is actually a universal assignment. At baptism, and again at the sacrament table, every Church member promises not only “to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,” but also “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; . . . to mourn with those that mourn; . . . to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, . . . and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (vv. 8-9). In other words, to minister.

Callings, assignments, and ordinations direct our ministry in some respects, but before any calling, beyond any assignment, and without any ordination, our Christian covenant is to minister to God’s children.

Short Take: “We Search the Prophets”

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter. We focused on the Book of Mormon in 2013. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Nephi’s brother Jacob looks back on his life and writes, “We … had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophesy; wherefore we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come. … Wherefore, we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God. … We would to God … that all … would believe in Christ” (Jacob 1:6-8).

Later Jacob hopes that readers will receive his words “with thankful hearts.” He writes so “they may know that we knew of Christ … and had a hope of his glory” (Jacob 4:3-4).

Then he explains a key to their “many revelations and the spirit of prophecy”: “We search the prophets” (v. 6, my emphasis). He lists other happy results of doing this: hope, unshaken faith and the power which attends it, and, perhaps surprisingly, humility (vv. 6-7).

Touchscreens have replaced inscribed metal plates, and the prophets’ words are more available to us than they ever were to the Nephites. But some things are unchanged. Searching the prophets still leads to revelations and the spirit of prophecy, so that we know of Christ and can fix our faith, hope, and humility in him. Thus blessed, our work is as Jacob’s: to persuade others, by our labors and even by our writing, to come in faith, hope, and humility to Christ.