Scripture references have been highlighted in red and are hyperlinked to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window. Please click to read! Resource quotes have been highlighted in blue and are noted at the end of the blog.
For this year 2019 The New Testament is the Gospel Doctrine course of study, which is fitting as in 2018 the Old Testament was the focus. Its very helpful to have a historical background to aide in your study. I believe it helps things to make sense in one's mind when you can put the end of the Old Testament in perspective with the New; as well as understand information about the gospels, their writers, and just how the New Testament came to be and why we use the King James Version.
There is much commentary concerning these books and chapters. I encourage you to be prayerful as you choose your resources and remember the best way to gain and remember the knowledge we seek is through the Spirit and the chosen leaders and teachers of the Lord.
The New Testament consists of 27 separate books, written mainly by Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. These books teach and testify of the ministry and Atonement of Jesus Christ and the rise of the early Christian Church. The Bible, meaning the Old and New Testaments, has influenced more people than any other book ever written. Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that the New Testament “is the centerpiece of scriptural history, just as the Savior Himself should be the centerpiece of our lives. We must commit ourselves to study it and treasure it!” (“The Sabbath and the Sacrament,” Ensign May 2011, 6).
Following is a brief overview of the historical period between the Old and New Testaments, a short summary of the contents of the four Gospels with emphasis on the final week of the Savior’s mortal life, a brief history of how the New Testament came to be, information about the Joseph Smith Translation, and statements on the importance of the New Testament for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members.
Between the Old and the New
Knowing some of the main historical events between the end of the Old Testament era and the beginning of the New Testament era helps us better understand the people and circumstances as we begin to read the New Testament. The time period between the testaments can be divided into the Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and Roman periods.
Persian period: This is where we left off in the Old Testament. As you recall from previous lessons around 539 B.C., Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and permitted Jews who had been brought there as captives to return to Judea. The Jews who chose to return brought the Aramaic language with them from Babylon, and by New Testament times it had replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of most Jews. With permission from Persian rulers, the Jews rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and Old Testament books written during the Persian period include Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The book of Malachi, was written by the prophet Malachi about 430 B.C. After Malachi, scribes, temple priests and rabbis gradually replaced prophets as spiritual leaders of the Jewish people.
Hellenistic period: After the Persian period, Judea was one of the conquests of Alexander the Great (336–323 B.C.), bringing the influence of Hellenistic or Greek culture to the land of the Jews. (1) Many Jews left Judea to live in other Greek cities, furthering the dispersion of the Jewish people. The presence of Jewish communities and synagogues throughout the Mediterranean world later facilitated the spread of Christianity in the first century A.D.(2) New occupations, such as tax collectors and hired day laborers, found their way into Jewish society. The Jewish governing council, the Sanhedrin, was formed during this time. Then in the third century B.C., the Old Testament began to be translated into Greek. The finished translation, known as the Septuagint, was the scripture commonly used during New Testament times. Most of the quotations of the Old Testament found in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint. This Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures later proved to be of special value in spreading the Christian faith to the Gentile world, for it made the religion of the Jews available to the civilized world (3)
Hasmonean period: Antiochus IV Epiphanes (descendant of Seleucus Nicator) began his rule of the Judean area in 175 B.C. (4) Believing that a complete Hellenization of the region would bring stability to his kingdom, he banned Judaism completely, including Sabbath observance and circumcision. He made the possession or reading of the Torah punishable by death.(5) In Jerusalem, the temple altar was desecrated with the sacrificing of swine, and an altar to pagan gods was placed over the temple altar. Though done to embarrass Jews and discourage observance of Jewish law, it instead outraged the Jewish community. In response, a priest named Mattathias, of the family of Hasmon, and his five sons led a Jewish revolt in 167 B.C., called the Maccabean revolt (6) By 165 B.C., Maccabean forces had recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple. The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) mentioned in the New Testament commemorated this momentous event(7) Maccabean leaders succeeded in establishing an independent Jewish state for the first time in over 440 years. Simon Maccabeus, a son of Mattathias, became both high priest and governor of Judea, thus establishing the Hasmonean dynasty.
Roman period: Over time, Hasmonean leadership degenerated into a corrupt political entity. In 63 B.C., at a time when two Hasmonean brothers were vying for power, the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem, and the land of the Jews fell under the control of the Roman Empire(8) At the time Jesus Christ was born, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea was the Jewish king Herod the Great, who, threatened by reports of the birth of the Messiah, ordered the slaying of the children of Bethlehem age two and under Matthew 2:1–18. After this, as a powerful, ruthless leader who was unpopular with his people, Herod attempted to win their favor by undertaking massive building projects, especially the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple(9) After Herod’s death in 4 B.C., his lands were divided between three of his sons. They ruled as tetrarchs; which means in Greek "rulers of a part or portion”. They ruled not as full-fledged kings like their father. One of them, Herod Antipas, ruled Galilee and is the Herod mentioned most frequently during the time of Jesus Christ’s ministry.
Beginning in A.D. 6, after one of Herod’s sons was deposed, leaders of the Roman Empire began to appoint governors over the province of Judea. They were first called praefectus and then procurators from the time of Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41–54) onward Acts 11:28. Pontius Pilate was appointed governor in A.D. 26 and ruled until A.D. 36.
The office of high priest at this time was the official head of the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood but was filled by corrupt men. During the Hasmonean era, the legitimacy of the office was increasingly challenged. Under the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, the office was sold to the highest bidders, and Herod the Great relegated the office to a marginal role. But with the coming of the Roman governors, the high priest was given greater power so that the office could become a pro-Roman aristocracy. The high priest during Jesus Christ’s adulthood was Caiaphas, who was a son-in-law of Annas John 18:24. Annas was high priest from A.D. 6 to 15, and Caiaphas ruled from A.D. 18 to 36. Annas was so powerful that several of his sons went on to become high priests.
The Roman period is generally regarded as ending in A.D. 324.
These events during the intertestamental period, the period between the Old and New Testaments, help us understand the great desire many Jews felt for the coming of the promised Messiah. After centuries of conquest and humiliation, many felt desperately that only the Messiah could rid them of foreign oppressors and reclaim their national dignity.
The Gospels Written as Testimonies of the Ministry and Atonement of Jesus Christ
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written not as biographical sketches of Jesus Christ but as testimonies that He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Rather than revealing a day-to-day story of the life of Jesus Christ, the Gospels emphasize His atoning mission, as told in the context of His mortal life and ministry. The public ministry of Jesus Christ spanned about three years; however, the four Gospels relate information about a small number of specific days of the Savior’s life. John stated that the authors were selective in what they recorded John 21:25.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our Heavenly Father’s plan for the redemption of His children, it is important to recognize the emphasis that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each gave to events of the Atonement: the suffering in Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. These inspired Gospel writers showed how these sacred events were central to Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry. And, as recorded by John, “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
The Canonization of New Testament Texts
The Apostasy began to occur in the early Christian Church while the Apostles were still alive Acts 20:29–30; 1 Corinthians 1:10–13; Galatians 1:6–8; 2 Peter 2:1–3; 3 John 1:9–10; Jude 1:3–4, 18–19).
After apostolic authority was taken from the earth through the deaths of the Apostles, which resulted in the loss of priesthood keys, the Apostasy exploded and competing groups of Christians claimed scriptural support for their beliefs. As debates over the authenticity and value of various texts intensified, Christians felt a need to gather together an accepted collection of authentic Christian writings. It was generally understood that some writings were authentic and others were questionable, with some being of greater value than others. In time, Christian leaders of the third and fourth centuries determined which texts would be included in the accepted canon of scripture; based on whether texts had known apostolic authority, continuous and widespread support among Christian communities, and an absence of false teachings. Using this criteria, in A.D. 367 Athanasius of Alexandria recommended a list of the 27 books currently in the New Testament. This collection was confirmed by the third council of Carthage in A.D. 397.
Replica of Greek papyrus codex
From the first century, Christians began producing copies of New Testament texts in codex form, which is a “book” format with separate pages bound together rather than scroll form, which had been the customary way to write Old Testament texts. This may have been a factor in the development of the collection of books now known as the Bible. The word Bible derives from the Greek biblia and literally means “books.” With a codex, a collection of multiple books could be created in one bound volume. The earliest complete text of the New Testament is the Codex Sinaiticus, written in the fourth century A.D.
Translations of the Bible
Once the 27 books of the New Testament were canonized, they were translated and organized into the Bibles we use today. Following is an overview of a few of the major translations of the Bible throughout history. As this overview makes clear, many of the people responsible for bringing the Bible to the four corners of the earth “sacrificed, even to the point of death, to bring the word of God out of obscurity” (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign May 2010, 32).
The Vulgate: Jerome’s Latin Translation. (In Latin, vulgate means “common.”) When the need arose to take the scriptures into Latin-speaking areas, such as northern Africa, Latin translations were made of the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament) and the New Testament. However, because these translations were not closely controlled, church leaders soon became concerned about the many corruptions and variances in the separate texts. To address this problem, Pope Damasus in A.D. 383 commissioned his secretary, Jerome, a very able scholar in Greek and Latin, to produce a new suitable Latin translation. In the preface to his Vulgate translation of the New Testament, Jerome wrote a letter to Pope Damasus, describing the problem with creating a new translation: “For if we are to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it is for our opponents to tell us which; for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake?” Jerome’s words describe the same problem Joseph Smith dealt with as he created the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
Jerome’s Latin Bible, known as the Vulgate, eventually became the Bible of the western world for close to a thousand years. The Vulgate was given official sanction at the Council of Trent (1545–63). It has been said that the Vulgate was the pillar that preserved Europe’s spiritual and intellectual heritage against attacking waves of northern barbarism.
The Luther Bible: Martin Luther’s German translation. The history of the Bible’s translation into German began in A.D. 348. To escape religious persecution by a Gothic chief, a Catholic priest named Wulfila (sometimes known as Ulfilas) fled with his followers from Germany to what is now northern Bulgaria. There, Wulfila translated the Bible from Greek into the Gothic dialect. This version established much of the Germanic Christian vocabulary that is still in use today. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a number of German translations of the Bible were produced, but the German translation that had the greatest influence was the one produced by Martin Luther. Luther was a German priest and theologian, whose break from the Catholic church helped to fuel the Protestant Reformation. He disagreed with many church practices that he felt did not accord with the teachings of scripture, and he came to regard the Bible rather than the church as the reliable source of authority for Christians.
After publicly announcing his disagreements with the church in 1517, Martin Luther began to work on translating the Bible into German. He completed work on the New Testament in 1522 and published his translation of the entire Bible in 1534. This translation into the vernacular of German-speaking peoples was one of the most important acts of the Reformation. It not only gave the German people access to the Bible, but it influenced German culture, standardized German religious and literary language, and helped create national unity. Its influence on the German language is comparable to the influence the King James Bible had on the English language. The Luther Bible was also one of the factors leading to the production of the King James Bible.
It is of interest to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith possessed a copy of the New Testament in several languages, including Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German language. He compared the various translations of some New Testament passages and felt that Luther’s translation was very good (History of the Church, 6:307).
John Wycliffe’s English translation. A century and a half before Martin Luther, the work of translating the Bible into English was pioneered by John Wycliffe. One of the most prominent scholars of his day, Wycliffe loved the scriptures and was troubled by the ignorance of scripture that he observed among many clergymen and lay persons. Like Luther, he grew disillusioned with the church and concluded that the only accurate guide the people still had was the Bible; thus he embarked on the task of taking “God’s law” to his countrymen in the English language they understood. Working from Jerome’s Latin translation, Wycliffe and his associates completed an English translation of the New Testament in 1380 and portions of the Old Testament in 1382. Approximately 30 years after his death, he was denounced as a heretic. Later, in 1432, by order of Pope Martin V, his bones were dug up and burned and the ashes scattered. His followers, the Lollards, were persecuted long after his death.
William Tyndale’s English translation. Despite Wycliffe’s pioneering efforts, English speakers did not have widespread access to the Bible until after the time of William Tyndale, who has been called “the father of the English Bible.” Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the contributions made by Tyndale:
“Tyndale, born in England about the time Columbus sailed to the new world, was educated at Oxford and Cambridge and then became a member of the Catholic clergy. He was fluent in eight languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Tyndale was a devoted student of the Bible, and the pervasive ignorance of the scriptures that he observed in both priests and lay people troubled him deeply. In a heated exchange with a cleric who argued against putting scripture in the hands of the common man, Tyndale vowed, ‘If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost!’
“He sought the approval of church authorities to prepare a translation of the Bible in English so that all could read and apply the word of God. It was denied—the prevailing view being that direct access to the scriptures by any but the clergy threatened the authority of the church and was tantamount to casting ‘pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6).
“Tyndale nevertheless undertook the challenging work of translation. In 1524 he traveled to Germany, under an assumed name, where he lived much of the time in hiding, under constant threat of arrest. With the help of committed friends, Tyndale was able to publish English translations of the New Testament and later the Old Testament. The Bibles were smuggled into England, where they were in great demand and much prized by those who could get them. They were shared widely but in secret. The authorities burned all the copies they could find.”
In 1535 Tyndale was arrested for heresy and treason, and for nearly a year and a half he was imprisoned in a castle dungeon near Brussels, Belgium. The dungeon was dark, cold, and solitary. On October 6, 1536, he was taken outside the castle wall and fastened to a post. Elder Christofferson continued:
“He had time to utter aloud his final prayer, ‘Lord! open the king of England’s eyes,’ and then he was strangled. Immediately, his body was burned at the stake. …
“ … Within three years of Tyndale’s death, God did indeed open King Henry VIII’s eyes, and with publication of what was called the ‘Great Bible,’ the scriptures in English began to be publicly available. Tyndale’s work became the foundation for almost all future English translations of the Bible, most notably the King James Version” (“The Blessing of Scripture,” Ensign May 2010, 32).
Tyndale’s was the first English translation of the Bible to draw directly from both Hebrew and Greek texts and the first English translation to take advantage of the recently invented Gutenberg printing press, which allowed for wide distribution.
King James Version. From 1604 through 1611, a team of approximately 50 translators commissioned by King James I of England (1566–1625) worked on a new English translation of the Bible, which became known as the King James Version, sometimes called the Authorized Version. The translators used Tyndale’s text and consulted other helpful resources, including other translations of the Bible in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian; numerous scholarly works; and manuscripts of Bible texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The resulting translation had a tremendous influence on the English language, similar to the impact of the Luther Bible on German. It was the King James Version of the Bible that was studied and used by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Its vocabulary and style of language can be seen throughout the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants D&C 1:24. The King James Version is of lasting value in the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In August of 1992, the First Presidency of the Church released a statement on the King James Version of the Bible. Part of the statement reads: “While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church. In light of all the above, it is the English language Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“First Presidency Statement on the King James Version of the Bible,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 80).
Reina-Valera Spanish translation. As early as 1490, a translation was made of the four Gospels from the Latin Vulgate into Spanish. In 1543 Francisco de Enzinas, a Protestant, translated a complete New Testament and was imprisoned for what were considered perverse readings. In 1569 Casiodoro de Reina produced and published a translation of the entire Bible in Spanish. Reina had been a monk, but he left the Catholic church after hearing the message of the reformers. Like many other reformers and Bible translators, he faced persecution and threats on his life—King Philip of Spain put a price on Reina’s head in 1564—and he spent much of his life in exile. One of Reina’s colleagues, Cipriano de Valera, worked for 20 years to revise and improve Reina’s translation, and in 1602 at the age of 70, he published what has become known as the Reina-Valera translation. This version has become the classic translation of the Bible in Spanish. It has been as central to the understanding of the scriptures in Spanish as the King James Version has been in English. Over the centuries, numerous revisions have been made to the Reina-Valera version. Reina and Valera are remembered with honor as “two men in whose hearts existed the noble purpose of giving to Spain the Bible in their mother tongue” (Eduardo Balderas, “How the Scriptures Came to Be Translated into Spanish,” Ensign, Sept. 1972, 27).
In 2009, under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints produced an LDS edition of the Reina-Valera version, with updated language, new chapter headings, footnotes, cross-references to all the standard works of the Church, maps, and other study aids (“Church Publishes LDS Edition of the Holy Bible in Spanish,” Ensign, Sept. 2009, 77–78).
How do the translations of the Bible described here help fulfill the promises made in these verses? 2 Nephi 29:731:3 D&C 90:11
7 Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
3 For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
Miraculous Nature of the Bible
The miraculous nature of the Bible was described by President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“It is a miracle that the Bible’s 4,000 years of sacred and secular history were recorded and preserved by the prophets, apostles, and inspired churchmen.
“It is a miracle that we have the Bible’s powerful doctrine, principles, poetry, and stories. But most of all, it is a wonderful miracle that we have the account of the life, ministry, and words of Jesus, which was protected through the Dark Ages and through the conflicts of countless generations so that we may have it today.
“It is a miracle that the Bible literally contains within its pages the converting, healing Spirit of Christ, which has turned men’s hearts for centuries, leading them to pray, to choose right paths, and to search to find their Savior.
“The Holy Bible is well named. It is holy because it teaches truth, holy because it warms us with its spirit, holy because it teaches us to know God and understand His dealings with men, and holy because it testifies throughout its pages of the Lord Jesus Christ” (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 80).
What do these scriptures teach about Latter-day Saint belief in the Bible? D&C 42:12 Articles of Faith 1:8;
12 And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Bible
The Bible plays a central role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President M. Russell Ballard spoke of the importance of the Bible and encouraged us not to neglect it in our personal study:
The Bible “is one of the pillars of our faith, a powerful witness of the Savior and of Christ’s ongoing influence in the lives of those who worship and follow Him. The more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to love the scriptures that we spend time with. We may need to balance our study in order to love and understand all scripture.
“You young people especially, do not discount or devalue the Holy Bible. It is the sacred, holy record of the Lord’s life. … It is the bedrock of all Christianity. …
“I am puzzled by any who would question this Church’s belief in the Bible and our position as Christians. The name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In our last general conference, here in this building, our Church leaders quoted from the Bible nearly 200 times. This Church is organized and functions like the Church that Christ and His Apostles established in the New Testament. …
“I bear solemn witness that we are true and full believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His revealed word through the Holy Bible. We not only believe the Bible—we strive to follow its precepts and to teach its message” (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” 82).
Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
The Bible Dictionary explains that the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) is “a revision or translation of the King James Version of the Bible begun by the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1830. He was divinely commissioned to make the translation and regarded it as ‘a branch of his calling’ as a prophet. Although the major portion of the work was completed by July 1833, he continued to make modifications while preparing a manuscript for the press until his death in 1844. …
“The translation process was a learning experience for the Prophet, and several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (and also other revelations that are not published in the Doctrine and Covenants) were received in direct consequence of the work (D&C 76–77; 91). Also, specific instruction pertaining to the translation is given in D&C 37:1; 45:60–61; 76:15–18; 90:13; 94:10; 104:58; 124:89. The book of Moses and the 24th chapter of Matthew (JS—M), contained in the Pearl of Great Price, are actual excerpts from the JST. … The JST to some extent assists in restoring the plain and precious things that have been lost from the Bible (see 1 Ne. 13–14)” (Bible Dictionary, “Joseph Smith Translation”).
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency has stated that the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible “is a member of the royal family of scripture. … It should be noticed and honored on any occasion when it is present” (“Scripture Reading,” in Plain and Precious Truths Restored, ed. Robert L. Millet and Robert J. Matthews , 13).
In the LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible, short excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation can be found in the footnotes, while longer revisions are included in the Bible appendix.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written as testimonies of Jesus Christ rather than as comprehensive biographical sketches of His life. How are these testimonies of Christ more important to us than biographies of His life? Why should we be grateful to men like Jerome, Wulfila, John Wycliffe, Casiodoro de Reina, and William Tyndale, even though their translations of scripture are not widely used today? Considering that many men gave their lives as martyrs so we can have the Bible today, what could you do to make the Bible more important in your life? Answer the call to "Come Follow Me" and engage in a prayerful, spiritual scripture study.
Body taken from New Testament Student Manual and the following
1. (see Bible Dictionary, “Alexander”)
4. (see Bible Dictionary, “Antiochus Epiphanes”).
5. (see Bible Dictionary, “Torah”)
6. (see Bible Dictionary, “Maccabees”).
7. (see Bible Dictionary, “Feasts”).
8. (see Bible Dictionary, “Roman Empire”).