How To Understand The Old Testament: Three Key Themes



When studying the Old Testament, there are three key themes we should make sure we have a good grasp on; the fall, covenants, and the Sabbath. I have taken some time to write and compile a few thoughts on each of these topics.

The Fall

Although Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden caused mankind to be in fallen state, and this is seen as a disappointment in many other interpretations, there are a small number of pertinent distinctions within the Mormon faith that view this event, and especially Eve’s role as celebratory and incredibly heroic. Some of these distinctions include: the belief that Adam and Eve did not make a mistake in the Garden of Eden, that the Fall was planned by God, that Adam and Eve knew the choices and would have conversed with God in the Garden and have been intellectually and spiritually mature. The Mormon doctrine on the fall in particular emphasizes Eve’s celebrated role as the Mother of All Living, and the initiator of the Plan of Salvation. Eve is celebrated and honoured within the Mormon faith for her wisdom and courage. During the Saviour’s ministry (of all that we have recorded of it), not once did Jesus suggest that Eve sinned; moreover, he never uses Adam or Eve as models of sinners. Christ also never uses Adam and Eve as a model for the respective roles of men and women. Scholars suggest that such attributions to Eve as a seducer of sin, a model of women succumbing to sin and temptation (and thus needing to be repressed), are merely a product of post-biblical traditions.

Covenants

Covenants are a key motivation and discussion within the Old Testament. What are Covenants? A covenant is a two-way promise between you and God. You follow your end of the deal, and he follows his end of the deal. His end of the deal typically includes a lot of blessings that are truly amazing. In the temple, you make certain covenants. So you have to make sure you are living up to your end of the deal, and then you can receive the particular blessings that come with each covenant. As members of the Church is important that we uphold our covenants as these are direct promises between God and us. Thus, the correlating consequences and blessings occur when we don’t or do fulfill them. 

What are Ordinances? An ordinance is a sacred and formal act that is performed by the proper authority of the priesthood. Baptism is an ordinance. The temple endowment is an ordinance. The temple sealing is an ordinance. Each of these three ordinances is necessary for obtaining the highest glory in the celestial kingdom. When we perform ordinances, making certain covenants are usually involved as part of the process. For example, during the ordinance of baptism, we make a baptismal covenant. These covenants include promising to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, remember Him, keep his commandments, and serve Him to the end. When we participate in the temple ordinance of marriage we also make certain covenants. The covenants of temple marriage are required to obtain the highest degree of glory (D&C 131:1-3). In order for the marriage to be bound in heaven and on earth, the sealing ordinance must be done under the proper priesthood authority, and this is only possible in the temple; thus, for members it is considered important to marry in the covenant and with proper authority in order to receive all the possible blessings available to them.

In the Old Testament, the Abrahamic covenant is most commonly discussed. The Abrahamic covenant begins when God and Abraham made a covenant. With this historically important covenant came certain promises and responsibilities. See below this chart I made of these promises and blessings:



We too, our heirs of Abraham’s covenant promises and blessings. All Church members are the “seed of Abraham,” which means we are his descendants. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.” Thus, once you are baptized, you too become an ‘adopted’ member of the Abrahamic covenant and House of Israel.

How does this happen? Bruce R. McConkie explains, ““Abraham first received the gospel by baptism (which is the covenant of salvation); then he had conferred upon him the higher priesthood, and he entered into celestial marriage (which is the covenant of exaltation), gaining assurance thereby that he would have eternal increase; finally he received a promise that all of these blessings would be offered to all of his mortal posterity. (Abra. Abraham 2:6–11; D. & C.D&C 132:29–50.) Included in the divine promises to Abraham was the assurance that Christ would come through his lineage, and the assurance that Abraham’s posterity would receive certain choice, promised lands as an eternal inheritance. (Abra.Abraham 2; Gen. Genesis 1722:15–18; Gal. Galatians 3.) All of these promises lumped together are called theAbrahamic covenant. This covenant was renewed with Isaac (Gen. Genesis 24:6026:1–4, 24) and again with Jacob. (Gen. Genesis 2835:9–1348:3–4.) Those portions of it which pertain to personal exaltation and eternal increase are renewed with each member of the house of Israel who enters the order of celestial marriage; through that order the participating parties become inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (D. & C. D&C 132; Rom. Romans 9:4; Gal. Galatians 34.).”

The Sabbath

As members of the church we are asked to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13). During the Old Testament times, God’s covenant people observed the Sabbath. The Lord told Moses that Sabbath observance was a sign of the covenant between Him and His people and that if they would keep it holy they would know Him as their Lord and God (see Exodus 31:13; see also Ezekiel 20:20). This practice is still in effect today. In the Ten Commandments the Lord said, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (see Exodus 20:8–11). The Saviour also kept the Sabbath day holy during his mortal ministry  (see Matthew 12:9–13Luke 4:16John 5:9). During the restoration era Joseph Smith (1831) said, “That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:9–10).


During the Latter-Days we continue the practice of observing the Sabbath. One way we renew our covenants on the Sabbath is by partaking of the ordinance of Sacrament. During this ordinance, we renew our baptismal covenants each week. There are a number of ways we can observe the practice of the Sabbath and worship the Lord on Sundays. Russell M. Nelson during the April 2015 general conference session discussed how we can understand and observe the Sabbath in the modern day. He states, ““I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, ‘What sign do I want to give to God?’ That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear” (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” April 2015 general conference).

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© Miss Lauren Kyle
Maira Gall