The Old Testament of the Bible is considered part of the official canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a common misconception, that Mormons do not study or use the Bible. Mormons believe in and study the Bible (see Article of Faith #8), typically the King James Version (in English-speaking countries). In fact, the Old Testament is considered an "indispensable foundation" to understanding the ordinances and covenants (promises made with God) men make during this life. "The Old Testament is like the roots of a great scriptural tree, and one needs to know about the roots to comprehend the tree and its branches" (George A. Horton Jr., “An Indispensable Foundation,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 38).
Importance of the Old Testament
The Old Testament consists of writings from ancient prophets who testified of Jehovah (Christ) and His ministry yet to come. It contains the records of the Creation, the Fall, and the great flood in Noah's day. It also tells some of the history Abraham and his descendants, as well as the covenant God made with Abraham and his posterity. The Old Testament teaches many important truths that must be understood to have a firm grasp of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lays the foundation for the ancient covenants which have governed God's people since the beginning. The Old Testament is also important because all of the other official scriptures of the Church are rooted in it. The Old Testament was the history and heritage of those living in New Testament times. It was the contemporary history of much of the Pearl of Great Price and the Book of Mormon. Even the Doctrine and Covenants is better understood in light of the teachings of the Old Testament. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated—
- We delight in the knowledge of the Lord that we find recorded in the Old and New Testaments. We know that Jehovah of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament are one and the same. We are grateful that this sacred record of God’s dealings with the people of ancient Israel ... has been preserved and passed to us to enlighten our minds and strengthen our spirits. The fragmentary nature of the biblical record and the errors in it, resulting from multiple transcriptions, translations, and interpretations, do not diminish our belief in it as the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.” We read and study the Bible, we teach and preach from it, and we strive to live according to the eternal truths it contains. We love this collection of holy writ (“Christians in Belief and Action,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 70).
History of the Old Testament
What the Christian world calls the "Old Testament," the Jews call the "Tanakh." Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketubim (Law, Prophets, and Writings). It is thought that the record began to be compiled under King Solomon, and that the compilation continued until about two hundred years before Christ. After the Babylonian exile, those Jews who did not return to Jerusalem spread abroad. A great Jewish population assembled in Alexandria, Egypt, then a Greek city. These Jews soon lost their ability to speak or read Hebrew, and they petitioned for a Greek translation of the scriptures. Seventy Jewish scholars assembled in Alexandria and created a Greek translation now known as the septuagint. The Greek and Eastern Orthodox churches use this ancient translation, while other churches use further translations or translations from Hebrew texts. Disagreements have arisen over the years as to which books of the Old Testament deserve to be canonized. The Jewish canon is the most compact—it doesn't include the aprocrypha. The Catholic Old Testament includes Tobias, Judith, the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and first and second Maccabees. The King James Version used by the Mormon Church does not include these books, nor does it include the apocrypha.
The King James Version (in the United Kingdom it is called the Authorized Version) is an English translation of the Bible begun in 1604 and first published in 1611 under the authority of King James. The edition was published by the Church of England. The Old Testament of the KJV was translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text. The translation was commissioned because of glaring errors of translation in the bibles commonly used in England. Older versions also included notes condemning or acclaiming behaviors cited in Old Testament stories, judgments the King disagreed with. The King wanted his subjects to be free of these unsavory lessons. "The Geneva Bible had criticized King Asa for not having executed his idolatrous mother, Queen Maachah. James believed - with good reason - that the Geneva Bible notes on this latter scriptural passage had been instrumental in promoting the death of his own mother Mary Queen of Scots. King James' instructions made it clear that he wanted the resulting translation to contain a minimum of controversial notes."
The Authorized Version was the result of the translating efforts of 47 scholars working in groups centered in universities. They often worked separately and then compared their translations. The guidance of King James encouraged them to uphold the "divine right of kings to rule," and common protestant ideals. Because of the numerous translations performed anciently and the orientation of the King James scholars, who made translation decisions by majority vote, the Bible includes many errors in translation. Thus, Latter-day Saints are Bible-believing Christians—as long as the Bible is translated correctly. Revelation directly from the Lord makes up for errors in translation. Thus, the other scriptures canonized by the Church clarify many obscure passages and omissions in the Bible.
The Law, also known as the Torah or the Pentateuch, consists of the first five books of the Old Testament---Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy---and were written by Moses. Genesis is vital because it teaches about the origin of the earth, mankind, different languages, races, and the covenental origin of the house of Israel. Exodus describes Israel's slavery in Egypt, their exodus, and their religious devotion after leaving. Leviticus explains the priestly duties of the people of Israel, and teaches moral conduct and religious principles through rituals. Numbers tells the story of the Israelites' travels from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab. It illustrates that the people of God need to have faith in Him. Deuteronomy contains Moses' final instructions to the Israelites. Although the book of Deuteronomy tells of Moses' death, Mormons believe this is an error introduced sometime after the original manuscript was completed. Rather, Mormons believe that Moses was translated, meaning that he was taken to heaven without experiencing physical death.
The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price is taken from Joseph Smith's translation of the first few chapters of Genesis. The additional revelation given to the prophet includes further information about Adam and Eve and their knowledge of the Gospel, the Creation and the Fall, Enoch and the City of Zion, as well as Moses' account of when God taught him face to face.
The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are all books written by prophets who lived in Old Testament times. These prophets prophesied of the coming Christ, His Atonement, and His Second Coming. They preached repentance to the people and warned them of the consequences of sin. These books also teach the concepts of tithing, fasting, the pre-mortal life and foreordination, the importance of temples and prophets, God's love for all nations, the return of Elijah, the sticks (writings) of Ephraim and Judah coming together, and the coming forth of the kingdom of God.
The books of Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, and Esther are all considered historical books. They tell some of the history of the people of Israel. The book of Joshua picks up where Deuteronomy ends, as Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land. Judges tells more of Israel's struggle to become unified and establish itself in the land under the leadership of a number of individuals. Some of the more prominent judges were Gideon, Deborah, and Samson.
The books of First and Second Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles outline some of the history of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The Books of Samuel tell of the united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. Kings and Chronicles follow the history of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They outline the kingdoms' external and internal wars, the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians, and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. These books also tell of such great prophets as Elijah and Elisha. Ezra and Nehemiah pick up the history with the return of some of the Jews to Jerusalem.
The only books of scripture named for women, Ruth and Esther, tell more personal stories, though the outcomes have long-reaching effects on Israel and the Jews. The book of Ruth tells how Ruth, a Moabite widow, forsakes her family and land to follow her mother-in-law Naomi to the land of Israel. Ruth later marries Boaz and it is through their line that King David and eventually Jesus Christ are born. The book of Esther recounts the events leading to the institution of the Jewish feast of Purim and dates to the third or fourth century before Christ.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations are all poetic books that record some of the wisdom of the prophets.
The story of Job, while it does not necessarily answer why the righteous must suffer, demonstrates how the righteous suffer. Throughout his afflictions Job puts his trust in the Lord, grows in his testimony, and is eventually blessed of the Lord with more than he had to begin with.
Psalms is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament. Seventy-three of the psalms are attributed to King David, including perhaps the most famous, Psalm 23, in which David proclaims the Lord as his shepherd. Proverbs contains insightful maxims and sayings, as well as lengthy poems. Though typically dealing with worldly wisdom, they are based on the premise that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1: 7). Ecclesiastes, possibly written by Solomon, is a collection of thoughtful reflections about some of the deepest problems of life. The Song of Solomon's romantic nature has led many to wonder at its inclusion in the scriptures. Some view it as an allegory of God's love for Israel and His Church. The manuscript of the Joseph Smith Translation states that “the Song of Solomon is not inspired scripture.”
Lamentations was written by Jeremiah, the prophet at the time of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and is his lament over the wickedness of the Jews, the fall of the kingdom, and the destruction of the temple.
(See also Deuteronomy, Law of Moses, 1-2 Chronicles, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Samuel, 2 Kings, Babylon, Babylonian Captivity, Creation, Ecclesiastes, Judges, Lamentations, Leviticus, Numbers, Proverbs, Psalms.)