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“The Law and the Prophets” and the Second Great Commandment

»Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Articles | 0 comments

“THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS” AND THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT In the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, after the Savior had silenced the Sadducees on an issue about the resurrection, a Pharisee, who was also a lawyer, came forward to confront Him with a question—in an obvious attempt at entrapment. “Which is the great commandment of the law?” he asked. It is important to our understanding of this man’s question to know that his reference to “the law” was specifically referring to the Law of Moses (or the five books written by Moses—the Pentateuch). The Savior of course knew the Law of Moses well (because He was the one who gave it to Moses) and He also knew the right answer.  He responded by quoting the scriptural passage found in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This,” said Jesus, “is the first and great commandment.” This answer was all that the question required, but He continued: “And the second [great commandment] is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”—here quoting part of Leviticus 19:18. But Jesus did not stop there either.  He not only cited these two commandments as the greatest and second greatest in the Law (of Moses).  He went on to point out that these two commandments together comprised the most significant message in the writings of the prophets.  Said He: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” When the Jews of the Savior’s day spoke of “the law and the prophets,” they were speaking of the scriptures—those writings of Moses and the prophets that were available to them.  This would have comprised what is now included in our Old Testament (give or take a few books), plus the Apocrypha. The scriptural writing in common usage during the Savior’s lifetime would have been the Greek Septuagint—the scriptural writings translated from Hebrew to Greek in the third century B.C. for the Greek-speaking Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt, during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (284–246 B.C.).  The title Septuagint derived from the tradition that it was translated in 70 days by 70 (actually 72) elders sent from Jerusalem.  In Old Testament commentaries, the Septuagint is often referred to by the designation LXX. As a matter of interest, I should point out that, in addition to the law and the prophets, the ancient scriptures also included books that were known as the writings.  These “writings” included the books that we usually think of as being more literary, including such works as the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Job, and Esther. To be sure, there were no greater commandments to be found in the Law of Moses than the two commandments mentioned in Jesus’s answer. But it is also important to observe that He later added some important enhancements to the second commandment.  Just as He specified significant changes in other matters, He also gave a higher law in the matter of loving our fellow beings.  Before I get to that, however, let us look at two other such enhancements to the Law of Moses as it was understoood by the Jews of Jesus’s day. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentioned various issues that required a higher standard than what the people knew from their interpretation of the Law of Moses.  For example, He told them… “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And whoso shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away”  (Matt. 5:38–42). Jesus also brought up the issue of loving our neighbors in the Sermon on the Mount.  The instructions He gave on that matter are interesting in light of His answer to the lawyer about the second great commandment of the Law.  His message was this: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just...

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The God of the Bible: What is He Like?

»Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 in Articles | 0 comments

THE GOD OF THE BIBLE: WHAT IS HE LIKE? Based on the creeds (Nicean [Nicene] and Athenasian Creeds) adopted by Christianity in the early centuries following the Savior’s earthly ministry, there is strong feeling among the “enlightened” in the Christian world that The Church of Jesus Crist of Latter-day Saints has a false concept of what God is like. The basis of this strong feeling is the fact that Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to those creeds.  The creeds proclaim a three-in-one God without body, parts, and passions of the while Latter-day Saints believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings and that the Father and Jesus have corporeal bodies of flesh and bone. And Latter-day Saints further believe that the Bible supports their position. In an effort to resolve this difference of understanding and to help us all better understand the God of the Bible, we ask all people to open-mindedly consider the following scriptures. These scriptures give ample support for the proposition that God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Only-begotten Son in the flesh, are two separate beings, that they have corporeal bodies (in whose image mankind was created), and that those bodies have parts. Genesis 1:27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 5:1-2: This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. ­Genesis 9:6:  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Genesis 32:30:  And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. Exodus 24:9-11:  Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink. Exodus 31:18:  And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. Exodus 33:11: And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of  Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. Exodus 33:22-23: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. Numbers 12:7-8: My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Matthew 3:16-17:   16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 14:23 (Mark 6:46): And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. Matthew 17:5: While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Matthew 26:39, 42: And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. … He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. Matthew...

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The Origin And Structure Of The Old Testament

»Posted by on Sep 17, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments

The Hebrew scriptures, as they existed before the days of Ezra were divided into three parts: The Tanakh (known as the Torah or the law). It is also called the Pentateuch (meaning the five-fold books) The Nebiim (the prophets) The Kethubim (the literary writings) In fact, there were many different manuscripts available to the religious leaders that were not generally available to the common people. The Savior was familiar with these writing during his ministry and referred to them often as the law and the prophets. For example, when he was asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law,” he responded that it was “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He then went on to say that the second commandment, which was like unto it, was to “love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:35-40, emphasis added). When Christ told His disciples the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), he also made reference to the ancient scriptures. When the dead rich man, recognizing eh error of his mortal pursuits, asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers of the punishments awaiting them if they did not repent, Abraham said (verse 31), “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” [emphasis added]. After the Savior’s resurrection, he appeared to the eleven Apostles gathered in the upper room. After eating fish and honeycomb with them, he said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms [Psalms being the most important book of the literary writings], concerning me” (Luke 24:44, emphasis added). The books of the Old Testament were not entirely settled upon until late in the First Century AD. With regard to the three parts of the Old Testament record mentioned above, we should also note the following. The Torah (the law) was closed (i.e., nothing could be either added or removed) centuries before the coming of Christ, though there are some scholars who believe that the book of Deuteronomy was actually written—or at least heavily edited—by a group of religious reformers that modern scholars call Deuteronomists, who date back to about the time of King Josiah of Judah. The other two parts of the Old Testament, however, the Nebiim (the prophets) and the Kethubim (the [literary] writings) were open and various writings (many from multiple manuscripts) were going in and out of favor. In fact, various writings not included in our Old Testament are mentioned in the Bible. Among these are: The “book of the wars of the Lord” (mentioned in Numbers 21:14) The “book of Jasher” (mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18) The “book of the acts of Solomon” (mentioned in 1 Kings 11:41) The “book of Samuel the seer” (mentioned in 1 Chronicles 29:29) The “book of Nathan the prophet” (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 9:29) The “book of Shemaiah the prophet” (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 12:15) The “story of the prophet Iddo” (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 13:22) The “book of Jehu” (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:34) The “sayings of the seers” (mentioned in 2 chronicles 33:19) Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will also recall that prophets named Zenos and Zenock are quoted there with some frequency. The book of Helaman says that these were two of the prophets who had testified and prophesied of the coming of the Savior since the days of Abraham (Helaman 8:19). After the prophet Lehi obtained possession of the brass plates containing the records of his fathers when he and his family fled from Jerusalem, his youngest son Nephi was told by an angel of that future time when the record of the Jews [the Bible] would be delivered to his (Nephi’s) descendants by the gentiles. The angel said that this record of the Jews would contain “many of the prophecies of the holy prophets and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many…” (1 Nephi 13:23, emphasis added). There are other terms relating to the origin and structure of the Old Testament that should be mentioned here. One of these is Septuagint. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, made in the third century before Christ. Its name came from the tradition that it was translated in 70 (actually 72) days by 70 Palestinian Jews, at the order of Ptolemy Philadelphus, for use by the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria. The Septuagint was used by the Jews during New Testament times....

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The Deuteronomists

»Posted by on Sep 17, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments

One problem that comes up in connection with in our study of the Old Testament is the problem of the Deuteronomists. Webster defines the word “Deuteronomist” as follows: “Any of the writers or editors of a Deuteronomic body of source material often distinguished in the earlier books of the Old Testament.” If that definition leaves you knowing no more than you did before you read it, you are not alone. First, note that the word comes from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch in the Old Testament. The word Deuteronomy actually means “Repetition of the Law.” The book of Deuteronomy primarily comprises three discourses supposedly given by Moses. The second discourse is in chapters 5 through 26. Chapters 5 through 11 contain the Ten Commandments and a practical explanation of them. Chapters 12 through 26 contain what is referred to at the Deuteronomic Code―a code of laws forming the basis of the entire book. It represents the law as interpreted by the 7th Century B.C.E historians, the Deuteronomists. When the temple was being renovated for reopening under the direction of King Josiah of Judah, about 621 B.C., a book of the law was discovered by the workers that became the basis of a great spiritual reawakening. Most scholars believe that the book found was likely the book of Deuteronomy and that the Deuteronomic Code now in that book was either revised extensively, or was actually written, by the historians of the time (those who are now called Deuteronomists) to suit their own interpretation of the law. Many people also believe that these Deuteronomists revised other parts of what is now our Old Testament. The popular theory is that what exists today in the books of Joshua through 2 Kings is mostly the result of Deuteronomic revisions. When you look carefully at the situation, it seems curious that the Old Testament contains no writings of some of the greatest prophets―prophets such as Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha. Many believe that the writings of these prophets were revised by the Deuteronomists to give us writings about them. There is also another Deuteronomic issue that relates to me and to my Old Testament stories in the book How Often Would I Have Gathered You. The issue is this: It is believed that in the original Old Testament writings, both Elohim and Jehovah were separately and distinctly identified. That being true, it is believed that the Deuteronomists obscured the distinction between the two in order to support their own beliefs. If this is true, the Deuteronomic revisions have a significant effect on my Old Testament stories. As I wrote my stories, I changed the Old Testament term “the LORD” (with “Lord” in small caps), as used by the King James translators to identify “Jehovah,” back to Jehovah in an attempt to clarify. Some of these changes, however, may in fact be―and likely are―incorrect. If the Deuteronomists are right, some should probably have been changed to Elohim, but it is impossible to tell. The scope of the work of the Deuteronomists, if in fact there really were Deuteronomists, is hard to discern, though scholars have studied it extensively. The scholarly study of the issue is intricate and complicated. It is not something that most of us who read the Old Testament for spiritual uplift want to worry about or get involved with. Considering all that the Old Testament has been through in the process of getting it to us, most of us are content to have it as it is, as good as it is. If we can get a little help with comprehension without becoming overly concerned about what the Deuteronomists changed and how they changed it, we still have a priceless treasure. For those interested in pursuing the study of the Deuteronomists further, I recommend a book by Thomas Römer entitled The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical and Literary Introduction (London: T&T Clark), 2007 [ISBN 9780567032126].   The Old Testament: understand it, love it!   © 2013 Val D Greenwood—all rights...

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Messages of the Old Testament

»Posted by on Sep 17, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments

There is much in the Old Testament that is difficult to understand, and because of the significant amount of repetition (especially the repetition of things that often seem unimportant or even irrelevant—such as the “begats,” the naming of the mighty men, and the division of the promised land among the tribes of Israel). There is also much that is tedious and much that seems strange. Sometimes the messages of the Old Testament seem irrelevant and remote from our times. Sometimes, in fact, it seems to us that all God wanted to do was punish His people, and punish them severely. There was indeed a lot of punishing going on—or so it seems. The extent of the punishment is put in a little better perspective when we realize that the Old Testament covers 4,000 years and that most authors tend to record those things that seem to be out of the ordinary—either because they are unusually good or unusually bad. Also, there are some things—especially some of the punishments—that just do not make sense to us. These things are there, and we have to deal with them in our minds one way or another. And sometimes that is not easy. We can get a better perspective, however, if we remember that what we are reading in the Old Testament is not giving us all the details about what happened. I believe that when the day arrives in the eternal worlds when you and I have access to all the facts surrounding what seem to be outlandish stories, our concerns about those events will be greatly diminished. It is safe to say, I believe, that the message of the Old Testament is not: “If you goof up you will be destroyed.” If the God of the New Testament is a loving God, as the record attests, then He was also a loving God in the Old Testament. He does not change, for, as he says, “I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6) Amidst all the carnage reported by those who kept the records, there are some marvelous themes that permeate the Old Testament canon. I would like to discuss four of the most significant themes. They are: The then-future coming and great redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. The great love of Jehovah for His people in spite of their sins and His willingness to forgive them if they turn to Him. The scattering of Israel (or Diaspora) The latter-day gathering of Israel from the four corners of the earth to the land of their inheritance and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. You might disagree with the sequence I have chosen, but all four of these messages are both relevant and prevalent in the Old Testament.   The then-future coming and great redemptive mission of Jesus Christ   I will not attempt to be exhaustive in my coverage of this subject, for there are many relevant scriptures. However, I want to use sufficient scriptures to properly illustrate the point. I shall first look at prophecies concerning the mission of Christ. Then I will point out some of the many events and persons in the Old Testament who were types and shadows of Christ. Prophecies of Christ’s coming: Moses: Perhaps the best-known Old Testament prophecy concerning the future mission of Jesus Christ was spoken by Moses and is found in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19. Because the children of Israel were afraid to come into Moses’ presence on Mt. Horeb (Sinai) Moses told them: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken,” Then the Lord, responding to Moses’ prophecy, said that He would… “raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [i.e., Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” Peter: In Acts 3:22 in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter—while preaching repentance unto the Jews for rejecting Jesus as their Savior—said: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as...

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Jehovah, the Loving God of the Old Testament

»Posted by on Sep 17, 2013 in Articles | 0 comments

Many people in today’s world are skeptical of the Old Testament and want little to do with it because they believe that the vengeful and cruel Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, stands in sharp contrast to the God they read about in the New Testament. Most of these naysayers believe this only because either someone told them it was so or they read it somewhere—and not because they have actually read the Old Testament. And a scant few of these Old Testament deniers realize that Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was our premortal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Certainly, there are examples in the Old Testament where Jehovah seems to punish disobedience much more harshly than the infractions seemed to deserve. A notable example is the case of Achan, a man from the tribe of Judah, who (along with his family and all that he owned) suffered the ultimate punishment because Achan took spoils from the city of Jericho contrary to Jehovah’s commandment. Achan’s punishment is described in Joshua 7:24–25: “And Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan… and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor… And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire…” Another example is found in 2 Samuel 24 (the same account is also in 1 Chronicles 21) that tells of  Israel being smitten with three days of pestilence, at the cost of 700,000 lives, for an infraction committed by King David that we do not even understand completely. And we could point to many other examples. I offer no explanations for any of these reported Old Testament events except to say that you and I do not understand everything—at least I don’t. But I cannot help feeling that something has been lost from the scriptural account of these incidents—they seem to be incomplete in some way that is critical to complete understanding. Thus, I truly believe that when the day comes, in the eternal worlds, when we know all the facts, we will understand these events differently than we do now. That having been said, I think it is also useful for us to look at the other side—at those cases where Jehovah’s love and His willingness to forgive are patently obvious but are seldom brought up in discussions of Jehovah’s attributes.  Old Testament examples of God’s love and His willingness to forgive Near the end of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, Moses explained to the people how much God loved them, how He had blessed them, and how He would continue to bless them if they would also love Him and keep His commandments: For thou art an holy people unto the Lord [Jehovah] thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:6–9). Does that not give us a marvelous insight into God’s love for his children? During the dark days after the kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by the Assyrians and Judah was gravely threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, Jehovah, through His prophets, pleaded mightily with the people to repent so He might deliver them from oppression. Two such cases are found in the book of Ezekiel. In both cases, Jehovah instructed Ezekiel exactly what to tell the people. The first example says: Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore...

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