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|Title||The Old Testament Speaks Today|
|Publication Type||Magazine Article|
|Year of Publication||1972|
|Authors||Skousen, W. Cleon|
|Date Published||December 1972|
|Keywords||Elijah (Prophet); Gospel of Jesus Christ; Isaiah (Book); Joseph (of Egypt); Joseph Smith Translation; Messiah; Prophecy|
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The Old Testament Speaks Today
By W. Cleon Skousen
Professor of Ancient Scripture
Brigham Young University
For centuries some scholars have looked upon the Old Testament as an archaic, pre-Christian (and therefore inferior) scripture. But with the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea scrolls, a number of modern scholars have been shocked into believing that Christianity actually may have originated during the Old Testament period.
The scrolls refer to concepts, doctrines, and practices that had been considered nonexistent before the ministry of Christ. In fact, as the story of the scrolls has unfolded, it has gradually dawned on some of the authorities that Jesus did not initiate Christianity after all. He simply restored the rich religious culture that God had shared with mankind from the earliest times, which puts a different perspective on the study of the Old Testament.
None of this, however, has come as a surprise to Latter-day Saints; they already know that the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught to Adam. (Moses 6:51–68.) They know he was told all about the mission of the Savior, the doctrine of repentance, the need for baptism by immersion, and the bestowal of the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, modern revelation discloses that Adam was ordained to the holy priesthood (D&C 84:16–17), he received the endowment (Moses 5:59), and he was instructed to record the whole gospel story in a perfect language (Moses 6:5–6).
As a result of this tremendous dispensation of divine knowledge, Adam was able to teach his descendants the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. Enoch did the same thing for his people, and so did Noah, Abraham, and Moses. In fact, a modern scripture reveals that the Old Testament prophets testified of Christ. (Jacob 7:11.)
This is precisely what Eusebius said had happened. Eusebius, who lived approximately A.D. 260 to 340, was the first great Christian ecclesiastical historian. He called Christianity the oldest religion in the world:
“… our life and our conduct, with our doctrines of religion, have not been lately invented by us, but from the first creation of man, so to speak, have been established by the natural understanding of divinely favored men of old. …
“What then should prevent the confession that we who are of Christ practice one and the same mode of life and have one and the same religion as those divinely favored men of old? Whence it is evident that the perfect religion committed to us by the teaching of Christ is not new and strange, but, if the truth must be spoken, it is the first and true religion.” (Eusebius, Church History 4:4, 15.)
The moment the Old Testament began to be recognized as a significant part of the gospel story, its prestige also began rising. Nevertheless, scholars cannot help wondering how so much of the story has become lost, especially the prophecies and teachings concerning the earthly mission and message of Jesus Christ. No wonder it has come as such a surprise when the Dead Sea scrolls seem to reveal that there was a pre-Christian “Christianity.”
Of course, it is important to remember how terrible the prophecies concerning the first coming of Christ must have sounded in the ears of the ancient Jewish scribes. These prophecies said the great Messiah would come among men and would be slain by his own people. Such a possibility seems to have become so completely abhorrent to the minds of the venerable scribes who lived during the Jewish period of national decline that they began striking these passages from the scriptures. But at least one prophet, Nephi, knew in advance that this would happen. (1 Ne. 13:28–29.)
Fortunately, they missed the great messianic chapter of Isaiah (chapter 53), but nearly everything else concerning the first coming of Christ was deleted. Sometimes whole books were excised, including the priceless messianic texts of Zenos, Zenoch, and Neum. (1 Ne. 19:10.)
But the restoration of the gospel has changed all this. Whole segments of Old Testament history and doctrine have emerged in a vast outpouring of revelations from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Inspired Version of the Bible.
These remarkable scriptures provide contributions far exceeding the value of those from all other sources. Not only do they establish with dramatic finality the antiquity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they make it clear that the entire Old Testament was originally a history of the repeated rise and fall of Christianity in ancient times.
They also reveal that the Lord intends the Old Testament to be of great value to modern man. The entire text is pertinent to the problems of our times except the small portion dealing with the law of carnal commandments that was fulfilled and made obsolete by the earthly mission of the Savior.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Old Testament research is discovering how much the ancient servants of God were told about our day.
None of them recorded more details concerning the latter days than Isaiah. Latter-day Saints well recognize that he knew about America, about the American Indians, and about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He knew Joseph Smith 2,500 years before he was born. He knew the words that would be spoken during the First Vision in the sacred grove at Palmyra, New York.
Isaiah knew the role Martin Harris would play in the early days of the Church. He was also familiar with the role of a certain “learned” man, who turned out to be Professor Charles Anthon, one of America’s foremost classical scholars during the mid-nineteenth century. Isaiah knew what Professor Anthon would say when Martin Harris told him about the Book of Mormon plates. (Isa. 29.)
It is now known that Joseph who was sold into Egypt had many revelations concerning modern times similar to those of Isaiah. He knew that Joseph Smith would be one of his own descendants, that his name would be Joseph, and that his father’s name would be Joseph. He knew the modern Joseph would launch the great last gathering of Israel, bring forth the Book of Mormon, unite it with the Bible, and make them both one body of scripture. He knew the young prophet would begin his work in abject weakness but that eventually he would become a magnificent and powerful leader like Moses. (2 Ne. 3:7, 11–21.)
These writings of the ancient patriarch Joseph were so impressive to Moses, who came later, that Moses included them in the fiftieth chapter of Genesis. Tragically, some ancient scribe presumptuously stripped them out and they had to be restored again in our day. (See JST, Gen. 50; 2 Ne. 3:5–24.)
In spite of the alteration of Genesis, however, the orthodox Jews have retained a rich tradition about a latter-day descendant of Joseph who would come to prepare the way for the great Messiah. References to this modern Joseph, whom the Jews call “messiah ben Joseph,” can be found in the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Jewish Targum.
These traditions say that the latter-day servant of God would be a descendant of Joseph through Ephraim, that his mission would commence about the same time Elijah returned (Mal. 4:5–6), and that ultimately he would be killed.
All of this is summarized with sources cited in a book by the late Dr. Joseph Klausner of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dr. Klausner’s book, The Messianic Idea in Israel (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1955), devoted the entire ninth chapter of part 3 to a discussion of the “messiah ben Joseph” tradition. Yet it always puzzled Dr. Klausner that this tradition should be so thoroughly established in Jewish lore, even though there was no reference to it in the Jewish scripture.
Had Dr. Klausner lived a little longer, he might have met some of the Mormon scholars who are doing scriptural research in the Holy Land. They could have explained this mystery to him and shared with him the good news that this great Jewish expectation has now been fulfilled. “Messiah ben Joseph” has come, and so has Elijah.
The coming of Joseph and Elijah in the latter days was to herald the dawn of a great new era for the tribe of Judah, and it is interesting to see that the Jews have gone ahead fulfilling prophecy, without even knowing that the two harbingers they were expecting have already come.
The Old Testament prophets said that in the latter days the Jews would begin to return once again to their ancient homeland. (Isa. 11:12; Isa. 61:4; Jer. 3:18; Jer. 12:14–15; Jer. 30:3.) They predicted that the land would change from one of blinding, blistering sterility to one of beauty, abundance, and fertility. (Isa. 35:1; Isa. 41:19–20; Isa. 55:13.)
There is a prophecy in the Old Testament that a new temple will be built in Jerusalem according to the design described in the book of Ezekiel. (Ezek. 40–43.) The modern Jews must also take from their midst the sons of Levi (identified as cohens from ancient times) and have them offer up the ancient sacrifices as an “offering in righteousness” that will be acceptable to God. (Ezek. 43:18–27; Ezek. 44:9–27; Mal. 3:3.)
The scriptures then give a warning that this work is so important that any Jews or gentiles who fight against Zion and try to frustrate God’s purposes will be destroyed. (2 Ne. 10:16.) It is God’s purpose to have righteous Jews, righteous Arabs, righteous gentiles, and all others who will hearken to his voice work together for universal peace and prosperity preparatory to the ushering in of the millennium.
Before the millennium, however, there awaits for the Jews a dreadful experience, which the prophets called Armageddon. It will be a time of great suffering, which Isaiah called the “dregs of the cup of trembling.” (Isa. 51:17.) A vast coalition of gentile nations will try to conquer the Jews. A whole chapter in Ezekiel is devoted to this siege (Ezek. 38), and elsewhere we are told it will last three and a half years.
No Jewish leader will know how to save the people from their predicament, but the Lord will raise up two mighty prophets who will use the power of the priesthood to stop the hosts of the gentiles. Nevertheless, the gentiles will eventually break through and kill these two prophets. (Rev. 11:2–7.) Half of Jerusalem will be pillaged. The bodies of the two prophets will lie in the streets for three and a half days, and then they will be caught up to heaven to meet the Messiah as he makes his appearance in behalf of his people.
The scriptures say the Savior will appear on the Mount of Olives and that that mount east of Jerusalem will split in two, thereby opening a pass through which the survivors in Jerusalem can flee to safety. (Zech. 14:2–5; Rev. 14:1.) At the same time the gentile armies will be destroyed by the power of God. Only one-sixth will be left. (Ezek. 39:1–8.)
Then the Jews will gather around their Messiah in the deepest adoration, but they will be puzzled by the wounds in his hands. Gradually it will dawn on them that this is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, and the people will go into great mourning because their forefathers failed to recognize him when he came to earth, and they had him crucified.
From that moment on, both Jews and Christians will worship the same Messiah. Heathen nations will say to the Jews: “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zech. 8:22–23.)
The Old Testament is an exciting book. We have sampled here only a few of its treasures; there are other profound subjects relating to modern times that have been recently explored, and these are equally stimulating.
One of them is the description of a special type of civilization that is potentially capable of eliminating crime, slavery, prisons, war, poverty, injustice, intemperance, and immorality. The laws and principles for such a civilization were revealed by God and actually demonstrated on occasion during the Old Testament period.
God also revealed a pattern for ideal priesthood government that offers the most efficient and economical way to govern large populations without sacrificing local control or private initiative.
There is scarcely any problem in social relations today that is not treated in the Old Testament. That is why we call it a modern book designed for modern man. It speaks to us in our day.
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