(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 12-28-17)
Why? Why bother? Isn’t it sometimes difficult to understand? Isn’t it full of violence? And aren’t the detailed rules and regulations of the Old Testament mostly irrelevant to Christian life today?
Moreover, the Old Testament is scripture, and not only for Jews. It’s true that Christian appreciation of the Hebrew Bible has varied widely over time.
The important second-century heretic Marcion, for instance, represents an extreme position; he rejected both the Old Testament and the God of the Old Testament, insisting that the father of Jesus was a different deity than that of the Hebrew prophets. Marcion was eventually excommunicated, but many Christians in later centuries have come dangerously close to espousing a kind of folk-Marcionism, carrying Bibles about with them that consisted only of the New Testament and the Psalms and effectively — and sometimes rather explicitly — overlooking the Jewishness of Jesus.
This is not an option available to the Latter-day Saints, whose keynote scripture, the Book of Mormon, bridges the era of the Old Testament and that of the New, effectively linking them, and whose church features not only apostles, teachings about Jesus Christ’s Atonement and the sacrament of the Lord’s supper but patriarchs, temples, tabernacles and priesthoods of Aaron and Melchizedek. The covenant of Abraham (Genesis 17; 22:15-18; Doctrine and Covenants 132:29-50; Galatians 3; Abraham 2) remains essential to Mormon life and doctrine.
Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were saturated with the whole Bible, not merely the New Testament, which is why Utah is studded with place names like Zion, Moab, Enoch, Eden, Ephraim, Salem and Mount Nebo. Early Mormon history cannot be fully understood apart from the Old Testament — nor even, specifically, apart from the book of Isaiah, which is cited throughout the Doctrine and Covenants.
Nor can the Book of Mormon be understood without the Hebrew Bible. When Lehi sent his sons to fetch the brass plates of Laban, putting their lives at risk in doing so, he was essentially in quest of a text of the Old Testament (see 1 Nephi 3-5). This was the only scripture known to the first Nephites. Isaiah is the prophet whom they quote the most in their own writings.
The Hebrew Bible was the only scripture of the first Old World Christians, too. The Psalms were their first hymnal. The New Testament cites Isaiah many times, and Matthew’s gospel repeatedly seeks to show how Jesus — a descendent of David — fulfills the predictions of Israel’s prophets. When Jesus comments of his critics that they study the scriptures diligently because, in them, they think they have eternal life (John 5:39), he is plainly referring to the Old Testament. The scriptures he says, “are they which testify of me.”
A good resolution for the Latter-day Saints in the new year of 2018 would be to deepen our knowledge of the Old Testament, to understand it better. It is, literally, the foundation of all of our scriptures.