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Studying the Old Testament successfully

Experiencing the Old Testament is more like riding a bicycle and less like reading "Harry Potter."

Often

dismissed as complicated and perplexing, the ancient text is a valuable

collection of stories and teachings about creation, fall, covenants and

temples. "They provide powerful examples of faith and obedience. They

also show the consequences of forgetting, disobeying or opposing God.

Prophecies in these books bear witness of the Savior's birth,

atonement, second coming and millennial reign" (Old Testament Class

Member Study Guide).

So, how do we

access these insights from the book's 1,184 pages? Here are some

suggestions from general authorities, scholars and Old Testament

enthusiasts:Seek

the Spirit: In a 1999 address about studying and teaching the Old

Testament, then-Elder Henry B. Eyring emphasized the importance of the

Holy Ghost and testimony: "The words of God given by prophets will be

received only by those with the spirit of prophecy, a gift of the

Spirit, which both follows from and confirms the testimony of Jesus

Christ."

Focus

on the Savior: Elder Eyring encouraged church educators to "think more

often and more carefully" about Christ. "I can make you a promise if

you do that: The Spirit will come and you will sense less of the sordid

wickedness of the people, of their abominations, and more of the love

of their God ... " James Ferrell, author of "The Hidden Christ,"

suggests looking for parallels between Christ and Old Testament

figures. The similitudes are everywhere. "After a while, you just sort

of give in and say, this is no accident," he said. "There's a message

here."

Ask

questions: "You will be taught more easily as you approach the

scriptures if you search with a question and with a determination to

act on the answer," Elder Eyring said. Ferrell says the Old Testament

can't be read like a novel. Readers have to be curious and pose

questions. He suggests asking the following of words, verses, passages

and stories: What's the context? Why was this included? What are the

patterns? How is this story about Christ? What does this have to do

with me?"It's not like reading Harry Potter," he said. "It's different.

... The Lord won't provide answers if there aren't questions being

formulated."

Keep at it: Not

everything in the Old Testament makes sense at first. Some stories can

even cause readers to "take pause," Ferrell said. But he's had enough

experience to know that good answers will come. "I don't worry about

them ... because I know something amazing is going to come out of it," he

said. If you get stuck, move on. "How do you ride a bike? You get on

it," says Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, a BYU professor of church history

and doctrine. "If you fall, you get on it again. You have to hang in

there."

Study latter-day scripture:

President Marion G. Romney in 1980 encouraged members to make the Book

of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price part of their Old Testament study —

"to learn from other scriptures what the most righteous people who were

on the scene had to say. Such men as Abraham, Moses, Lehi and Nephi

qualify as specialists on Old Testament matters."In particular, he

recommended reading 2 Nephi 25-33: "In these chapters Nephi sifted out

the important from the unimportant. He also explained how these

teachings are important to us who live in the latter days."


E-mail: ashill@desnews.com