How to Read the Bible: The Importance of Genre

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families

At the risk of losing your interest right from the beginning… yes, genre. But stick with me because understanding genre will really help you as you make your way through the Bible.

And since were on the topic of genre, I’m including pictures of ancient libraries. The three largest ancient collections (that we know of) were held at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, the Library of Pergamon in Turkey, and the Celsus Library of Ephesus in Turkey. Large libraries in antiquity were more of a symbol or display of power and status rather than a place of learning for the masses. Their contents were often confiscated or acquired during war.

Side note: Did you know Christopher Columbus’s son tried to assemble one of the world’s largest libraries? And the book containing the catalog of his whole library was just discovered in Copenhagen three weeks ago??! So cool. Read about it here.

LEARN

So let’s talk genre. Why, you say? Imagine that a group of people, 1000 years from now, discover and read the Harry Potter books. Since they just dug it out of the ground and have no idea what they are reading, they decide the Harry Potter books must be a historical non-fiction collection. Can you imagine what their reaction would be while reading?! They might be confused and a little troubled, at the very least! Maybe after these people continue digging, they can find cars, cell phones, or buildings that date to our era that help them understand the kind of people we were. I wonder what they would think if they uncovered a bunch of LDS church buildings, each with a basketball court in the middle. Would they think we worship basketball?! I guess that wouldn’t be wrong in some cases… 😉

Back to the point… As a reader of the Bible, you are picking up a collection of books that are thousands of years old. (That blows my mind every time I think about it!) Remember that we don’t know all the details of ancient Israel. Understanding the Bible is like putting together a giant puzzle with thousands of pieces. In this puzzle, we add all the pieces of knowledge from archaeology, ancient texts, ancient languages, surrounding empires, etc., and scholars and theologians try to make their best educated decisions as they go.

Do you remember the scene in National Treasure where Nicholas Cage’s character has the glasses with the different lenses on them? As he changes the lenses different things appear on the paper. Without realizing it, you are reading the Bible through a hypothetical set of glasses just like this. The multiple lenses on your glasses include your personal viewpoints, life experiences, perspectives, culture, expectations, and understanding of God. You impose all those things onto what you are reading which can make the Bible confusing to modern readers. As you study and better understand the ancient history, languages, styles of writing, archaeology, etc., surrounding the Bible, you will be able to remove your modern lenses and try to replace them with the lenses of ancient peoples and authors. Just like in National Treasure, different things will begin to appear on the paper for you and your understanding will increase. Again, this is hypothetical, but hopefully you catch my drift.


“The Great Library of Alexandria” by O. Von Corven

THE BIBLE IS A COLLECTION OF BOOKS

It is important to understand that the Bible is a collection of different books written by different authors. It may be easier to look at the Bible as an ancient library, or a collection of sixty-six ancient books. After all, the word Bible comes from the Greek word biblia, meaning “books.” These books were written separately during a span of over a thousand years.

The authors of the Bible each had differing views, perspectives, governments, and cultural experiences from their particular day and age. This is why I don’t get too worked up when the Bible contradicts itself. Again, the Bible was written during a period of over a thousand years. Imagine what life was like 200 years ago from today, or 500 years ago. It was a very different world than what it is today. This was true for the ancient world as well. So just remember as you go: different authors, different time periods, different editors, and different books.

This shouldn’t be an unfamiliar concept to LDS readers of the Bible. The Book of Mormon has many different books, many different authors (many of which identify themselves), spans many hundreds of years, and Mormon goes through the collection of books and serves as redactor (or editor).

GENRE

Modern day libraries separate books by genres such as fiction, non-fiction, biographies, children’s literature, etc., both for organization and to help the reader know what they are reading. The authors also give me clues as to what genre I am reading. If I pick up a book that starts with the words “Once upon a time,” it is a clear clue from the author and I can prepare myself to read a fairy tale. If I read something that starts with the words “Four score and seven years ago,” the education in my country has taught me that I am about to read a speech.

Similarly, the Bible is a collection containing multiple genres. These genres include ancient legal codes, poems, chiasmus, songs, prayers, writings, parables, conquest narratives, etc. Many of the Biblical authors use cultural references that wouldn’t be firsthand knowledge to us, but we can learn. The authors also leave clues about the genre to the reader as well. You have a responsibility to determine, as best you can, the genre of what you are reading and the Bible will suddenly become much less confusing.

DIG DEEPER

TRUTH CAN BE TAUGHT IN FICTION

Here’s where we often get tripped up: If “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as long as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith) then shouldn’t the Bible be 1,000% historically accurate? And filled with facts? Shouldn’t we be able to read every story literally?

LDS scholar Ben Spackman explains it this way go his classes: “I start off by saying, ‘Are Jesus’s parables true?’ And it’s pretty unanimous that people say, ‘Yes.’ I say, ‘Okay, when Jesus talks about the man who went down to Jericho and got robbed and the Good Samaritan came by, is he describing a historical event that actually happened?’ Most people will say, ‘No.’ ‘So Jesus, when he tells parables, he’s telling us stories that didn’t happen.’ ‘Well, yeah.’ ‘Okay, but we still say they’re true.’ ‘Well yeah.’ What we have with parable is a genre where its truth is not dependent upon its historical value.”

Modern day parents teach their kids truths and important lessons through fictional books all the time. We love books that have a moral to the story. Parents still read their kids Aesop’s Fables who, by the way, was Greek and estimated to have written in the 6th century BCE, the same era where some of the Biblical writings come forth.

Bible scholar Sheldon Greaves says the first time we have evidence of the Bible being read in a literal interpretation isn’t until the 1500’s AD. But don’t fret… Of course there is historicity in the Bible that we can take at face value. Of course plenty of the characters were literal people. But don’t lose your faith over a story you thought was historically accurate only to find it was a parable. You just mixed up the genre, no worries. The fun part comes when the story has a cooler meaning than you originally thought.

The Bible is sometimes colloquially referred to as “God’s Best Seller,” except God Himself didn’t sit down and write it. He inspired mortals to write it and inspired mortals to edit it. The scriptures are the word of God told through the writing of mortals. As such, the ancient scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, are considered so precious to the human family that they have been painstakingly preserved and brought forth out of obscurity for our benefit. They are such a treasure.

THINK

Bible scholar David Bokovoy says, “…Rather than a manual that perfectly defines God, religion, and morality, the Old Testament should be used as a springboard lifting its readers to further levels of enlightenment as we consider the various ways different groups of Israelite authors understood divinity.”

Here’s the question: WHY DO YOU CARE about how a group of ancient people understood divinity thousands of years ago??

2 Nephi 29:4 says, “…they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people” (emphasis added).

Through the ages, God has made covenants with His children…
In the Bible we read of men and women in the Old World who were identified as children of the covenant. What covenant? “The covenant which God made with [their] fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”…In the Book of Mormon we read of people in the New World who were also identified as children of the covenant…To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Master declared: “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are…This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham.”

With this renewal, we have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel…Ours is the responsibility to help fulfill the Abrahamic covenant. Ours is the seed foreordained and prepared to bless all people of the world…After some 4,000 years of anticipation and preparation, this is the appointed day when the gospel is to be taken to the kindreds of the earth. This is the time of the promised gathering of Israel. And we get to participate! Isn’t that exciting? 

Covenants, Russel M. Nelson

As you read the following paragraph, choose from the three options below which group you think I am describing:

  • Ancient Israelites
  • Nephites
  • Latter-day Saints

This people were gathered and sent to a promised land. Prophets were called. The priesthood was given. The gospel was continually revealed as the people learned and transformed. Temples were built. Covenants were made. They were asked to prepare the world for the coming of Christ.

Which is the correct answer? Tricked ya… the answer is ALL OF THEM! From an LDS perspective, we have all been assigned the same job. Why wouldn’t we do all that we can to learn from the successes and failures recorded in the Bible and Book of Mormon?! Can you see how it is no wonder why the scriptures have been preserved for the latter-day? We have so much work to do. It is incredible that we have these ancient scriptures and peoples to learn from.


Façade of the Celsus Library in modern-day Selçuk, Turkey. Completed c. 117 CE.

Holy Week

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families

It’s Holy Week! I want to share a few of my favorite Holy Week resources with you. I’ve included a few to stretch your brain.


Agony in the Garden by Frans Schwartz, 1898

The Small Seed has a free downloadable poster complete with pictures and descriptions for each day of the week. This is a wonderful visual and daily reminder for all ages, but especially kids. Find the Easter Week download here. Did I mention it’s FREE? And amazing?! I printed mine off at a copy shop several years ago and reuse it every year. I suggest getting it laminated so pictures can be easily taken off and on.

If you want a more in depth study on Holy Week, read daily posts by BYU Professor Dr. Eric Huntsman here.

To learn more about the symbol of the cross and how it plays a role in our individual discipleship, listen to this LDS Perspectives Podcast with BYU Professor Dr. Gaye Strathearn.

The Savior’s Final Week by Andrew C. Skinner is a must read. The book is a 3-in-1 omnibus containing Skinner’s previously published Gethsemane, Golgotha, and The Garden Tomb.

ChurchofJesusChrist.org has a whole page of Easter resources including videos, stories, conference talks, music, and activities for kids. Find the page here.

Sacrifice and Symbolism

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families

*Okay, here’s the scoop. I’m back. I’ve had an angry infection that wouldn’t quit and my husband and I have attended three funerals in two weeks. So I’ve allowed myself to rest. But I’ve dusted off the ole computer and I’m ready to get this going again. Thanks for sticking with me, I love your face.*

A few thoughts…

So, three funerals. Two were from suicide and one was from cancer, all were too young. It has been heartbreaking. So, first off, if you (or someone you know) struggle with suicidal thoughts, please get help. Right now. The wife of the friend who died from suicide put it this way, “You are loved and these irrational decisions can’t be taken back. Stay with the people you love and let them love you. Believe what they say. YOU ARE IRREPLACEABLE. 💕”

In the past few weeks, I’ve had my dress soaked in tears by someone desperately heartbroken. I’ve watched another display their emotions with anger and fists in the air. I’ve seen others bewildered, unsure what to do with the incredible load of grief and sorrow suddenly upon their shoulders. Emotions have surfaced from the stage 4 cancer diagnosis that my husband received not even 2 years ago (he is now cancer free).

So I’ve thought a lot about what I can do to help. When hard things happen to people you love, you wish you could take the pain away from them. But the reality is that there is only one person that can do that and that is the Savior. But we should certainly help.

Agnes Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1635-1640.

Elder Holland’s talk left me absolutely reeling last night after conference. The picture above was on my mind as he spoke. Elder Holland pleaded:

“We are to remember, in as personal a way as possible, that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the human family … There’s no shortage of suffering in this world, inside the church and out. So look in any direction and you’ll find someone whose pain is seeming too heavy to bear and whose heartache seems never apparently to end. One way to always remember Him would be to join the Great Physician in His never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught … May we bring to the sacramental altar more tears for His sorrow and more pain at His grief.”

We talk so much about the suffering of Jesus while in mortality which is, of course, appropriate. I feel silly to admit that I have never truly considered how much He suffers continually by the incomprehensible burden of the human family. The pictures of yoked oxen from our perspective is a beautiful symbolic representation of what the Savior does for us by sharing our individual burdens. And He absolutely does. But I’m realizing that from His perspective, the picture would probably be more accurate if billions of oxen were yoked to Him.


Deux boufs sous le joug by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

So the question is what I can offer as part of my own personal sacrifice to the Savior to help ease His “never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught?”

My degree is in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, with an emphasis in Hebrew Studies and a minor in English. While I often wonder and joke about why I couldn’t have gotten a degree in nursing (or anything marketable to the job world), I will always consider my time at BYU studying under some of the most brilliant Bible scholars, historians, and Hebraists as one of the great privileges of my life. I’ve been trained well in literature, ancient history, and how to read ancient scripture. I can at least offer some of what I’ve learned to the world and hopefully it can help someone, somewhere find the scriptures less intimidating.

I was not born a “scriptorian” nor did I even know much about the Bible other than the Old Testament was written Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. I have spent years learning and will continue to learn, pray, and seek the inspiration of the Spirit to educate me. I’m here to tell you that consistent, diligent effort in studying the scriptures is worthwhile, life-changing, and exciting.

So I’m going to take a detour from Come, Follow Me for a minute. I want to talk about some concepts that have changed how I read and appreciate the scriptures now, rather than wait to try to work them into a Come, Follow Me lesson. The subjects below are not yet complete, but I will keep updating. You can find the subjects here once they are all completed.

Learn

SYMBOLISM

If symbolism isn’t something that is regularly on your mind as you read the scriptures or attend the temple, it absolutely should be. Learning more about symbolism is probably THE BIGGEST thing that has changed my understanding about the scriptures, Heavenly Father, and the Savior.

The following are quotes and scriptures to help with this concept:

Elder Orson F. Whitney: “The Universe is built on symbols, lifting our thoughts from man to God, from earth to heaven, from time to eternity . . . God teaches with symbols; it is His favorite way of teaching.” (“Latter-day Saint Ideals and Institutions,” Improvement Era 30 [August 1927] 861).

Moses 6:63: “And behold, all things have their likeness and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.

2 Nephi 11:4: “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.

“We can’t comprehend the things of God by ourselves.  We need His Spirit to teach us. Symbols help with this spiritual communication.  Through symbols, the Lord forges a link with us by using the things of this earth to represent the things of heaven.  He has given us revelations, prophecies, teachings, ordinances, and ceremonies filled with symbols that can give us spiritual insights if we are prepared to receive them.” David A. Edwards, New Era, February 2007, 10.

The Lord through His prophets used a great number of symbols, types, and shadows to provide insight into the atonement. The prophets drew on the natural world, including things in the heavens, geographical sites, and the plant and animal kingdom; everyday clothing and sacred vestments; civil and religious positions; building and architectural components; common women and men, as well as prophets, priests, and kings; ordinances both ancient and modern; historical events; cities; such ordinary things as colors, liquids, numbers, and foods; and many other things … Why are the types and symbols of the atonement ever present? Because the Father wanted to manifest His Son’s atonement clearly and time and again to His children who seek to know Him.” Symbols & Shadows: Unlocking a Deeper Understanding of the Atonement by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry

Gerald N. Lund: “It is our privilege and blessing to learn to understand the similitudes and images, the symbols and metaphors designed by a wise and loving Father to more effectively teach his children. The imagery of the prophets was meant to be understood by the faithful and those who search his word with diligence. If we pay the necessary price, the writings that were so filled with life and power when first uttered by these inspired men can and will once again be filled with life and enter with great power into our minds and hearts.”

TEMPLE SYMBOLISM

“Much of the teaching relating to the deeper spiritual things in the Church, particularly in the temple, is symbolic.” (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 82; emphasis added).

“Each temple is a house of learning. There we are taught in the master’s way. His way differs from modes of others. His way is ancient and rich with symbolism. We can learn much by pondering the reality for which each symbol stands. The teachings of the temple are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds. … The basis for every temple ordinance and covenant—the heart of the plan of salvation—is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Every activity, every lesson, all we do in the Church, point to the Lord and His holy house. Our efforts to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead all lead to the temple” (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign May 2001, 33; emphasis added)

“Before going to the temple for the first time, or even after many times, it may help you to realize that the teaching of the temples is done in symbolic fashion. The Lord, the Master Teacher, gave much of His instruction in this way . . . Have you ever wondered why it is that many patrons of the temple can go session after session, week after week, month after month, year after year, and never become bored or tired or resistant? At the end of that time they are quite as anxious to go as they were in their beginning days. That is a testimony indeed. By that time, you might imagine, they could have the entire endowment memorized. Yes, they could, and I suppose some of them do, particularly those who are temple workers. How, then, could they continue to learn? The answer to that lies in the fact that the teaching of the temple is symbolic. As we grow and mature and learn from all of the experiences in life, the truths demonstrated in the temple in symbolic fashion take on a renewed meaning. The veil is drawn back a little more. Our knowledge and vision of the eternities expands. It is always refreshing . . . If you will go to the temple and remember that the teaching is symbolic you will never go in the proper spirit without coming away with your vision extended, feeling a little more exalted, with your knowledge increased as to things that are spiritual. The teaching plan is superb. It is inspired” (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 38–39, 41; emphasis added).

Jesus Christ and the Great High Priest (watch until the end to get the symbolic descriptions)

SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE IN THE SCRIPTURES

As you read, look for the following literary devices. These methods are all signals to you from the author that there is a deeper, symbolic meaning to what you are reading.

*Note* As you seek to decipher meaning, here is a good rule of thumb: If you can interpret the section as teaching you about the Savior, then you’re on the right track. Your interpretation needs to be in line with what you already know about the Savior. If it doesn’t feel right, then pay attention to that and try again. (Sometimes the scriptures are weird. If you can’t render a meaning out of it, then let it just be weird and move along.) The meaning is most often to shed enlightenment on a characteristic or trait of the Savior. I had a professor teach about interpretation, “The answer is always Jesus.” And he’s right.

  • Allegory – A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral one.
  • Metaphor – Explains how one thing represents another. 3 Nephi 15:24: “Ye are my sheep”
  • Similes – Explains how one thing is like another. Notice key words or phrases such as like, likened, as, as it were, and like unto. Mosiah 14:2 “Ye shall grow up as a tender plant”
  • Parables
  • Types
  • Shadows
  • Imagery
  • Figurative expressions
DIG DEEPER

Additional resources on symbolism:

Symbols and Shadows: Unlocking a Deeper Understanding of the Atonement by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry

Understanding Scriptural Symbols by Gerald N. Lund

All Things Testify of Him: Understanding Symbolism in the Scriptures by Janet Hadley Read

Lesson 11: “These Twelve Jesus Sent Forth”

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families
LEARN

Read March 11-17 Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families lesson here.

Attestaments focus: Matthew 10

DIG DEEPER

THE TWELVE APOSTLES

Listen. I’ve just been over here nerding out over the amazingness that a temple opened in Rome, Italy. And that ALL of the modern-day apostles attended the dedication. And that we’re studying the New Testament at the same time. And we’re assigned to learn about the first apostles called by the Savior this week in Come, Follow Me. I can only imagine the rejoicing in heaven by those early apostles and early Christians who suffered such severe persecution in Rome. This truly is a historic moment.

And can we talk about this picture? What a statement. While in Rome, Elder Renlund said, “We know that two former-day apostles, Peter and Paul, were here…and then to have modern-day apostles here, all of us, is just a moving experience, in some ways paying homage to them and homage to the gospel we all preach.” The original church that Jesus Christ established in the meridian of time has been restored to the earth. What an amazing time to be alive!

And have you read this quote by President Nelson?

“This is a hinge point in the history of the Church. Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace of which this is a part. We think the Church is an old Church. It’s 189 years old. But it’s only the beginning. Just project out what the next future will be and the Church is going to have an unprecedented future. Unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

President Russell M. Nelson

Unreal. And I know…that was a lot of sentences starting with the word “and!” I’ll settle down now. I’m just excited. But in light of everything, I think it’s worthwhile to learn more about the original apostles called by the Savior. These original apostles were first hand witnesses to Jesus and some write and assign words to His personality, His behaviors, and His miracles.

The Apostle Paul taught that faithful Saints are “of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19–20; emphasis added).

Statues of Peter, James, and John in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center

THE ORIGINAL TWELVE APOSTLES CALLED BY JESUS

The night before Jesus called the twelve, “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphæus, and Lebbæus, whose surname was Thaddæus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

Matthew 10: 2-4

Side note: Names in the Bible often reflect the personality of the person or qualities they develop over time, so we can learn about their individual character as we consider the meaning of their names.

SIMON PETER

  • Alternate Names and Meaning: Simon bar Yonah means “son of a man named Jonah.” Also called Cephas in Aramaic or Petros in Greek which means “stone or rock.”
  • Hometown: Bethsaida
  • Family Info: Son of Jonah, brother of Andrew. Married.
  • Occupation: Successful fisherman, with brother Andrew and business partners James and John.
  • Death: Crucified upside-down in Rome. Tradition holds that he chose to be crucified upside-down as he didn’t feel worthy to be killed the same way as Jesus.
  • Interesting Facts: Peter was present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the Mount of Olives, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter appeared to Joseph Smith in 1829, along with James and John.

ANDREW

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: From the Greek Andreas, means “manly.”
  • Hometown: Bethsaida
  • Family Info: Son of Jonah, brother of Simon Peter
  • Occupation: Successful fisherman, with brother Simon Peter and business partners James and John.
  • Death: Tradition holds that Andrew was crucified on a cross turned on its side.
  • Interesting Facts: Andrew had been a follower of John the prophet (or John the Baptist). He believed John’s testimony of Jesus, told his brother Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus. Andrew is mentioned with the feeding of the five thousand and the ascension of Jesus.

JAMES

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Ya’akov in Hebrew. Jesus gave James and his brother John the title Boanerges, meaning “sons of thunder.” This was likely in reference to when they suggested to bring fire down to destroy villagers who refused Jesus hospitality in Samaria, or their zeal in service of the Lord (Luke 9:54).
  • Hometown: Bethsaida
  • Family Info: Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Salome, the mother of James and John, may have been a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • Occupation: Fisherman, in business with brother John, and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew.
  • Death: Beheaded by Herod Agrippa. He was the first martyr apostle.
  • Interesting Facts: James was present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the Mount of Olives, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

JOHN

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Yohanan in Hebrew, means “God is gracious.” Also called “the Beloved” and “the Revelator.”
  • Hometown: Bethsaida
  • Family Info: Son of Zebedee, brother of James. Salome, the mother of James and John, may have been a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • Occupation: Fisherman, in business with brother James, and brothers Simon Peter and Andrew
  • Death: Is a translated being, granted the wish to remain on earth as a ministering servant until the Second Coming. Read D&C 7 right this minute! It is a translation of a record written by John himself regarding his desire to stay on the earth. Amazing!
  • Interesting Facts: John is never actually named in the gospels. He is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and this character is traditionally assigned as John.” The disciple whom Jesus loved” leaned on Jesus’s bosom at the Last Supper, stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus, took care of the mother of Jesus after the crucifixion, and ran to the tomb of Jesus when he heard it was empty. John was present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, on the Mount of Olives, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. John was given a special commission to write down his visions. Thus, he is the author or source for the Gospel of John, Revelation, and three epistles. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos in about A.D. 93 or 94.

PHILIP

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Greek, means “lover of horses.”
  • Hometown: Bethsaida
  • Death: Tradition holds that Philip was crucified.
  • Interesting Facts: Friend of Andrew and Peter. Philip believed in their testimony and he was introduced to Jesus. Philip then told his friend Nathanael of Jesus. Was possibly the only apostle that Jesus personally sought out and to hear the words “Follow me” from Jesus. Philip is mentioned in connection with the feeding of the five thousand.

NATHANAEL

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Hebrew, means “Gift of God.” Also called Bartholomew.
  • Hometown: Cana of Galilee
  • Family Info: Bar Tolmai (notice the same sounds in Bartholomew) means son of Tolmai in Hebrew.
  • Death: Tradition holds that Nathanael was skinned alive.
  • Interesting Facts: Was told of Jesus by his friend Philip. Nathanael’s first reaction to the news is, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” But Nathanael accepts the invitation to “Come and see”. In his first conversation with Jesus, Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Jesus goes on to tell him, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (See John 1 for the amazing conversation between the two.) Nathanael sees the risen Jesus after His resurrection.

THOMAS

  • Alternate Names and Meanings:  Didymus, which may have been his surname. Didymus in Greek and Thomas in Aramaic each mean “twin.”
  • Death: Tradition holds that Thomas was killed by the spears of four soldiers.
  • Interesting Facts: Thomas is referred to as “Doubting Thomas” due to his doubt of the actuality of a risen Jesus as he wasn’t with the apostles when they first saw Him. Eight days later, the resurrected Jesus returned again to the apostles and Thomas was able to see Him. Thomas expressed his belief, to which Jesus replied, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou has believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Thomas is mentioned in the raising of Lazarus as a witness. Thomas was willing to accompany Jesus into areas of intense persecution exclaiming, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

MATTHEW

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Greek Mattathias or Hebrew Mattithyah means “Gift of God.” Also called Levi and the Publican.
  • Family Info: Son of Alphaeus, brother of James the less.
  • Occupation: Tax collector
  • Death: Tradition holds that Matthew was stabbed by a sword in Ethiopia.
  • Interesting Facts: Wrote the Gospel of Matthew. The Hebrew name Levi connotes his priestly lineage of the house of Israel. Very active in his apostolic duties after the death of Christ.

JAMES

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Also called “the less” to distinguish him from James, son of Zebedee.
  • Family Info: Son of Alphaeus, brother of Matthew
  • Death: Tradition holds that James was crucified in Egypt or that he was stoned and clubbed to death.

JUDAS

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: Yehuda or Judah in Hebrew or Judas in Greek. Sometimes referred to as “not Iscariot” so not to be confused with Judas, the traitor. Also called Lebbaeus, meaning “root” in Arabic, or Thaddaeus, which is the Hebrew root meaning “heart.”
  • Death: Tradition holds that Judas was crucified.

SIMON

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: The Canaanite or the Zealot, from the word Zelotes. Zealots were a Jewish sect which advocated a violent overthrow of Roman rule.
  • Death: Tradition holds that Simon was crucified.

JUDAS ISCARIOT

  • Alternate Names and Meanings: “Iscariot” was a name assigned to him from the Hebrew ish Karioth, which means man from Kerioth
  • Hometown: Kerioth
  • Family Info: Son of Simon
  • Occupation: Treasurer of the Quorum
  • Death: Suicide by hanging
  • Interesting Facts: Judas Iscariot was the only apostle called from Judea as all others were from Galilee. Betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for 30 pieces of silver.

MINI HISTORY LESSON

The Apostles were killed during a time when the entire Church was being persecuted. Nero, a Roman emperor, was the first to make laws to exterminate Christians, in about A.D. 65. Under his reign, thousands were cruelly killed. A second round of persecutions began in about A.D. 93 under Emperor Domitian. Succeeding emperors continued torturing and killing Christians. As a result of these persecutions, thousands of Christians were martyred. Many others apostatized.
In about A.D. 324 Constantine became the emperor of the Roman Empire. He made Christianity a legal religion, stopping centuries of persecution. His actions linked the church to the government, and corrupt church leaders began seeking power and the honors of the world.
Teachers within the church began to adopt false religious concepts from Greek philosophy and pagan religions. False ordinances and ceremonies were also introduced. Even though the church still taught some truth, the true Church of Christ and the priesthood were no longer on the earth. And as Christianity spread to various parts of the world—including to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas—new churches were formed and grew. None of these churches, however, was the true Church, since the Lord had already taken priesthood authority and priesthood keys from the earth.

Read the rest of the article “What Happened to Christ’s Church?” here.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Talmage considers each apostle individually in this chapter: “Chapter 16: The Chosen Twelve,” Jesus the Christ (2006), 217–229.
  • BYU New Testament Commentary has listed additional sources to learn further about some of Christ’s closest disciples here.
  • Read tons of quotes from modern prophets and apostles testifying of the divine calling of an apostle and that Jesus is the Christ here.
  • Listen to a really excellent podcast about discipleship here.
THINK

The mere utterance of a few simple words to deny Christ would have stopped a violent and incredibly painful death of many of the apostles. But they were first hand witnesses to the life, miracles, and ministry of Jesus. They knew Him. They were strengthened by Him. They were His friend. And they loved Him. They simply could not deny that He was the Christ.

Do the apostles’ accounts and testimonies of Jesus help you have a stronger faith in Jesus and what He is capable of? I hope so.

The first twelve apostles “provide us a mirror in which we can view our own walk with the Lord, seeing how the seeds of our testimony were planted and how we can share that witness with others. The titles that these first disciples give Jesus reflect what we as disciples should believe about him, and their choice to follow him and share their faith show us we should do.” Becoming The Beloved Disciple by Eric Huntsman, page 17.

Lesson 10: “Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole”

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LEARN

Read March 4-10 Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families lesson here.

DIG DEEPER

ROMAN CATACOMBS

Since the Rome Italy Temple being dedicated this weekend, I’m going a little unconventional for a minute …cuz this is just cool. We have art in ancient Roman catacombs of the stories that we are studying this week from around 240 CE through the later 400’s CE. Isn’t it incredible that we have paintings of the stories of Jesus so soon after the time he was on the earth?? I love it. (I don’t have many catacomb pictures on this post due to copyright issues, but do a Google search and you’ll find a ton.) First, let’s learn a little about the earliest Christian art and earliest depictions of Jesus on the planet, shall we?

No trace of Christian art has been found from the late first or second century CE. No one is sure why, but possibly due to the heavy persecution Christians experienced for several hundred years after Jesus. Christian art emerged in the early third century and, as the Romans did so well, the Christian Romans began to express their beliefs through art. Some of the best examples can be found in the Roman catacombs. These paintings are precious to Christian history as they are the earliest surviving examples of Christian art from this era.

Miracle of the Paralytic, Catacomb Domitilla

The Roman catacombs were used from around 200 CE to the early 400’s CE. Hundreds of thousands of the poorer people in society were laid to rest here, many of them were Jews and Christians. The custom in Rome at the time was to burn the dead, however, Christians buried their dead due to their belief in life after death. Bodies were not permitted to be buried within the city limits of Rome, so the catacombs were built on the outskirts. Approximately 70 catacombs have been found.

The paintings on the walls of the catacombs have themes of salvation, healing, and resurrection. These symbolic stories were meaningful in this funerary context. The most common scenes from the life of Jesus were chosen to illustrate salvation from death, such as raising Lazarus, and stories of healing, such as the healing of the paralytic.

The Roman influence of the artists can often be seen in the Roman hairstyle and clothing they depicted. It isn’t until later in the fourth century that we start to see a bearded, long-haired Jesus rather than with a clean shaven, short haired Roman appearance.

Bust of Christ found in the Catacomb of Commodilla, late fourth century CE.
This is one of the earliest images of a bearded Jesus. The Greek symbols on either side are Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.
D&C 19:1 “I am Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord; yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world.”

THE WOMAN WITH THE ISSUE OF BLOOD

The woman with the issue of blood had been bleeding for 12 years. Because of her bleeding, the law of Moses declared her ritually unclean. The law of Moses also declared that anyone who touched her would become ritually unclean as well (See Leviticus 15:19-33). She would have been socially ostracized (out of fear for becoming ritually unclean from her) and it was likely that hadn’t experienced human touch during those entire 12 YEARS! Can you imagine? She certainly would have been desperate for a cure and she “had spent all that she had” to be healed (Mark 5:26). Her faith in Jesus made her whole.

Have you ever considered why certain stories are placed where they are in the scriptures? The authors and redactors of the Bible were deliberate with their placement of the stories in each book. They are organized with intended purpose and meaning. For example:

“Mark interrupted the story of Jairus to report the story of a woman who was healed from persistent bleeding … Following the stories that had just been told, Mark highlights the source of Jesus’s power. In this example, Jesus possesses the power Himself. It emanated from Him, and when someone touched Him, He knew that power had left Him. The word translated as (virtue) can also mean ‘influence, power, and strength.’ Jesus acknowledged that the woman’s faith was the reason she was healed.”

Scripture Study Made Simple: The New Testament by Thomas Wayment

Christ healing a bleeding womanCatacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Fourth Century AD.

THE HEALING OF THE PARALYTIC IN CAPERNAUM

“…Before healing the man, he makes a pronouncement that causes contention with some of the Jewish scribes present: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5).  When the scribes began to think to themselves that Jesus’ statement was blasphemous, he perceived their thoughts and set the healing of this paralyzed man into a larger, more symbolic setting: “Why reason ye these things in your hearts?  Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?  But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (Mark 2:8–11).

“…which one is, in fact, more difficult?  While curing paralysis with a word seems impossible to us, to actually forgive a man’s sins … required that Jesus take upon himself those sins, suffer for them, and then die for them.”

A Paralytic Forgiven and Healed by Eric D. Huntsman

Before the paralytic was healed, Jesus first saw the faith of his friends.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Mark 2:5

If you’re interested in looking at all the miracles charted out, visit this BYU Studies Quarterly page.

THINK

Have you ever thought about the value of faith in your life? As you study the miracles, look at the role faith played in each circumstance. Faith was a precursor. Just as Jesus had the power to perform miracles in the lives of those he interacted with in the flesh, so does Jesus truly have the power to perform miracles in each our lives today. These miraculous stories of outward, physical healing can also be seen as symbolic of the miraculous, inward healing Jesus is able to perform on each of us. Whether the healing comes in this life or the next, the miraculous thing is that it will happen. It all begins with faith. Then the miracles will follow. Faith precedes the miracle.

See this talk on being made whole by Matthew L. Carpenter from the October 2018 General Conference.

“When any child of God is broken or feels that he is falling apart, faith in Jesus can make him whole again.” Verse By Verse, The Four Gospels by D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner

“For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them … And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.” Ether 12:12, 18

To learn more on the power of faith, see this page on ChurchofJesusChrist.org containing links to articles, talks, videos, and music all on faith.

Lesson 9: “He Taught Them as One Having Authority”

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LEARN

Read February 25 – March 3 lesson here.

Focus: The Lord’s Prayer Matthew 6:9-13

DIG DEEPER

I’ve sure appreciated studying the Lord’s Prayer this week. It’s such a famous section of scripture …and for good reason. Jesus gives a succinct, beautiful example we should all follow as we address our Father. The Lord’s Prayer is found in three sections of scripture: Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, and 3 Nephi 13:9-13.

I’m choosing not to dissect the variants of the Lord’s Prayer across Matthew, Luke, and 3 Nephi. I’ve translated enough of the Bible to know not to get too uncomfortable when words aren’t exact because sometimes it’s just splitting hairs. The books are written by different people and I’m ok with different people telling the same story using different words.

We can learn a lot from the variants. For example, I love that Luke’s story includes this additional insight: “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1). Can you imagine the scene? This disciple saw Jesus, wanted to learn from him, and wanted to emulate him. We should do the same.


Lord’s Prayer in the Church of the Pater Noster
(By Alistair from Montreal, Canada – Israel 2009)

After this manner therefore pray ye:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

The Lord’s Prayer on the Eucharist Door at the Glory Facade of the Sagrada Família by sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs

This prayer was given by Jesus to those who believed in him, not to be used for repetition, but as a model for the contents of an effective prayer. The prayer is deeper and more eschatological than one might expect. One can enjoy returning to its lines and phrases frequently, as a builder repeatedly consults the architect’s design. It is a master plan that is not fully understood on first reading. Though its form is simple, its messages are profound; it supports many meanings and has many useful applications.

“The Lord’s Prayers” by John W. Welch

Sampler (England) 1784

Our understanding of Jesus’ prayers is heightened by noting that the recorded prayers of Jesus dwell upon three concerns: he thanked God, especially for revealing his word unto the world; he continually interceded to seek forgiveness and purification for mankind, even for those who were crucifying him; and he submitted himself to the will of the Father.

“The Lord’s Prayers” by John W. Welch

The Lord’s Prayer by James Tissot, 1886-1896

Anyone else struggle with submitting yourself to the will of the Father? Sometimes it is SO hard. The verse that always comes to mind when I think about this is D&C 19:16-19. Jesus knows intimately about the struggle to submit to the will of the Father. In this section, Jesus retells his experience at Gethsemane:

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

D&C 19:16-19

See that dash at the end of verse 18? When I read this, I imagine the experience was so harrowing, that even retelling it is incredibly difficult. But, nevertheless, He submitted to the Father’s will. This verse, where the Savior is such an example in His willingness to submit to the Father, even in the hardest possible circumstance, always brings me strength.

THINK

“The present is an age of pleasure-seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, Happiness.”

Improvement Era, vol. 17, no. 2, 172-73.

How are your prayers? Should you adjust the focus? Take this time to speak to the Father a little more seriously? Ask for help to know and do His will?

The most valuable inspiration will be for you to know what God would have you do…Whatever it is, do it.

The Holy Ghost as Your Companion” by Henry B. Eyring

Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion (see Alma 12:10–11). The Lord will work with us even if, at first, we “can no more than desire” but are willing to “give place for a portion of [His] words” (Alma 32:27). A small foothold is all He needs! But we must desire and provide it.

Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father” by Neal A. Maxwell

Lesson 8: “Blessed are Ye”

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LEARN

Read February 18-24 lesson here.

Focus: Matthew 5

DIG DEEPER

The word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin word beatus, meaning “to be fortunate, to be blessed, to be happy.”

The Lord told Moses to teach the people the importance of honoring the Sabbath and doing so would be a sign of their faithfulness to Him. (see Exodus 31:12–17).


Moses with the Ten Commandments, Rembrandt, 1659

The scribes and Pharisees became meticulous about their observance of the law. “During these centuries, many uninspired religious leaders placed many restrictions on what a person could do on the Sabbath. For example, they taught that a fire could not be started or put out on the Sabbath. A person could untie a knot only if it could be done with one hand. One mile was the limit anyone could walk. Broken bones could not be reset until after the Sabbath. It became so difficult for the people to obey all the rules that they forgot the true purpose of the Sabbath day. Rather than being a blessing and a joy, the Sabbath became a burden.” (Find quote here.)

20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

The scribes and Pharisees became immensely concerned with their outward display of their observance of the law. The new and higher law established by the Savior would no longer be written on stone, but in their hearts, as foreseen in the Book of Jeremiah. True discipleship of the Lord is an internal commitment.

31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:31-33

Sermon on the Mount, Luce Memorial Window, 1902, Tiffany Studios

“Human expression cannot fully capture the meaning and significance of the Sermon on the Mount. A great and profound discourse, the Sermon on the Mount reflects truth as a multifaceted diamond reflects light. It signals the inauguration of a new dispensation of the gospel. It provides a window into the Savior’s own personality and character and summarizes the essence of Christlike behavior. It describes the characteristics of those who will inhabit the celestial kingdom. It compares the old law with the new.” (Verse by Verse, The Four Gospels by D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, pg. 170-171)

Now what about this “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” commandment?

“Has it occurred to you as you read this sermon, that Jesus is actually describing the qualities of an exalted person? With this in mind, the Beatitudes become steps of perfection…” (Find this quote on page 60 here).

“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel – you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”

Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:306-7

“The Beatitudes are directed to the duties of mortal life as a preparation for a greater existence yet future. In the kingdom of heaven, twice named in this part of the Lord’s discourse, are true riches and unfailing happiness to be found. The kingdom of heaven was the all-comprising text of this wonderful sermon; the means of reaching the kingdom and glories of eternal citizenship therein are the main divisions of the treatise.” Jesus The Christ, by James E. Talmage.


Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually
THINK

Give yourself a break for being an imperfect human. Being perfect is not something that will be attained in this life. But what an incredible gift it is to know that we can become as perfect as our Father in the eternities and radiate every phenomenal quality mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. It is almost impossible to comprehend that in these verses the Savior could be describing a future YOU.

Lesson 7: “Ye Must Be Born Again”

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LEARN

Read February 11-17 lesson here.

This lesson will focus on the “Christ offers me His living water” section from Come, Follow Me.

DIG DEEPER

I’m pretty sure this is an actual picture of me this week. (Jokes.) I’m sorry this lesson is posted so late in the week, but its been a rough one, folks. I know you can relate because we all go through times when we feel like this. When you have days where you feel “heavy laden,” what can you do to pull yourself back up? Does the Savior truly give you rest?

What was the cause of so much contention between the ancient Jews and Samaritans?

The story of the woman at Jacob’s Well took place in a village called Sychar in Samaria (John 4:5). By this time the Jews had long since had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). The history here goes back to when the 12 tribes settled in Israel. After King Solomon died around 930 BCE, the United Kingdom was divided among the 12 tribes. Ten tribes settled in the Northern Kingdom, thereafter referred to as Israel, while the remaining two settled in the Southern Kingdom, or Judah. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh settled the area of Samaria in the Northern Kingdom. Notice Jerusalem is in the Southern Kingdom. Jeroboam, was the first king of the Northern Kingdom and was often at war with Judah. The Northern Kingdom frequently fell into apostasy and worshiped pagan gods, including the Canaanite storm god Ba’al. The divisions and hostilities between the two kingdoms only escalated from here.

***I’m going to make an interjection here that may be helpful. It was a common understanding during this time that particular gods only ruled over certain pieces of land. It was not a common belief that god/s could be everywhere at once and care for everyone. For example, it was understood that the victor in a war or battle won because their deity or group of deities were stronger than the other group’s deity. So since the tribes were in Samaria, an area they presumed to have different gods, they began to listen to Samaritans who told them that they needed to worship their gods, such as Ba’al, in order to provide the rain water necessary for their survival. So they did. In doing so, they disregarded much of what Yahweh (or Jehovah) had taught them. Sometimes they remembered to worship Yahweh, but often did so in an incorrect manner. You can read the story of Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, and his worship of false gods here.


Sacrifice of Jeroboamby Claes Moeyaert, 1641

Around 721 BCE, the Assyrians, under Sargon II, conquered the Northern Kingdom and the ten tribes were scattered. This was a common war tactic at the time. The idea was if you deport the conquered peoples, the less likely it will be that they come back together to revolt. The Assyrians brought several groups into Samaria to live and mixed with the remaining Israelites.

Sargon II

Alexander the Great conquered the land in 332 BCE and brought Greek colonies to Samaria. Worship practices and scripture between the two groups became different as well. For example, the Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch, but but not the other writings of the Old Testament. The Samaritans claimed their Israelite heritage, but Jews of Jerusalem viewed Samaritans as unclean, genealogical mixed-bloods.

Alexander Mosaic

By Jesus’ time, hundreds of years of bitter history between the Jews and Samaritans resulted in deep-rooted, harsh feelings toward one another. For the Jews, a term of ultimate insult was to call someone a Samaritan. This feeling is recorded in John 8:48: “Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and has a devil?”

(Remember Jesus’ parable of a half-dead Jew laying on the side of the road and the Good Samaritan had compassion on him? Wow, what a poignant lesson in love.)

Back to the story … It is unclear why Jesus took the route through Samaria back to Galilee, rather than through the Jordan valley. It was possibly due to mounting hostilities toward him in Judea, but likely because he knew of a certain woman in Samaria and the important role her testimony would play in converting many in her village. Either way, Jesus did not avoid the Samaritans as did the rest of the Jews.

Jesus’ talking to the woman of Samaria broke all of the complicated societal boundaries. It would have been uncommon for a man to be alone with a woman that was not family. Divorce had become common in the ancient Middle East, yet, only the men were given the authority to initiate a divorce. A meaningless reason to initiate the divorce would have been enough. Still, a woman having five husbands would have been unusual. Society would have considered her an outcast, which is likely the reason she was drawing water in the middle of the day. It is possible that Jesus sent his disciples away in order to have an uninterrupted conversation with her free from protests.

Further, Samaritans were viewed as permanently ritually impure. Jesus asked for a drink and the woman of Samaria was surprised because she knew that he would become ritually impure by drinking from her vessel. Then Jesus replied, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

Have you considered the importance of the word “living” waters? Water from a jug or a pond can become stagnant. Living waters are a continual source of clean, fresh nourishment. Jesus emphasized, “…the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). What a gift.

THINK

I love that Jesus sought out this woman of Samaria, an outcast of outcasts. He knew her heart and in turn, she played an important role in her village by bringing others to Christ, as true disciples do. Can you imagine how differently she must have felt about herself after that experience? The people that deemed her an outcast were suddenly considering the importance of what she had to say. Her soul certainly would have found rest. I hope you know that just like the Samaritan woman, Jesus knows you and seeks to give you rest as well. He is more intimately involved in your life than you could ever imagine.

How can you actually draw from Jesus and His living water? What are sources of living water?

The scriptures are certainly a source of living water. As you read them, the Spirit will testify to you of their truthfulness. When I dig deeper into the history, the more I understand the scriptures, which allow me to better understand the Savior and the impact of His teaching.

What can you do to become closer to Christ? Learn of Him.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

When you partake of the bread (of life) and (living) water this week in Sacrament, consider what you can do to partake more fully in what Jesus is offering.

TEACH

The best lesson you could teach this week is to show love others more fully than before. Follow Jesus’ example of uninhibited love and try to remove the filters of ill feelings and societal prejudices and viewpoints from your eyes as you interact with others.

Lesson 6: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me”

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LEARN

Read February 4-10 lesson here.

“Jesus Christ is the prophesied Messiah.”

If you haven’t already read Luke 4:16-30, do so now.

DIG DEEPER

I’m an Old Testament gal, so I’m excited about these Isaiah verses in the lesson…Hooray! (Stick with me!) First of all, let’s rearrange Isaiah into a different format that makes it easier to understand. Can you see the clear description of the Savior’s mission?

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me
to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord

Isaiah 61:1-2

These are the words Jesus spoke to “the synagogue on the sabbath day.” Jesus was given the scroll and spoke from this section. We don’t know if the passage was assigned prior or if Jesus was able to chose the particular passage, but either way, the Messianic passage (which Isaiah wrote in first person) is highly significant. Think about the message that Jesus was telling them.

Let’s elaborate on a few things about “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord:

1) This is referring to Israel’s jubilee year. The phrasing is from the law written in Leviticus 25:10, which discusses Israelites who lost their land and were forced into indentured servitude. The law in Leviticus rules that every fifty years, they can leave their servitude and regain their land. Debts were forgiven and mercy was shown. The main idea of jubilee laws are to underscore that the world, and thus the land, belongs to God and to protect people from bondage and disinheritance.

2) This also alludes to the Jews regaining their land after fifty years of servitude in Babylon. The Jews lost their land in 587/586 BCE. Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to proclaim liberty and were free to return to Israel fifty years later (certainly a jubilee year!). This event is recorded on the Cyrus cylinder, which is dated at around 539 BCE. The cylinder was discovered in 1879. Guys, history is rad. (To learn more, watch this video.)

3) The jubilee year is symbolic of Christ, the greatest Liberator of all, who frees from physical and spiritual bondage, so each of us can gain our eternal inheritance. King Benjamin expounds in his speech (likely given during a jubilee year) that, “there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.” That Jesus spoke that particular passage from Isaiah during a jubilee year, and the first year of His ministry, is surely no coincidence.

Now consider the following translation of Luke 4:16-21:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been raised, and he came to the synagogue, according to his usual practice on the Sabbath Day, and he stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and he unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to declare release to the captives, and the restoring of sight to the blind, to deliver the captives, and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord.” And when he had rolled up the scroll, he gave it back to the attendant and then sat down, and the eyes of all those in the synagogue were looking at him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled while you hear it.”

The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints by Thomas A. Wayment

The people in the synagogue that day would have been intimately familiar with the words Jesus spoke from Isaiah. Remember, back then their only scriptures would have been those contained in our Old Testament (plus or minus some, but that’s a lesson for another day). They knew those scriptures inside and out and had plenty of it committed to memory. They had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Messiah for CENTURIES. So when Jesus said, “This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears,” it would have been simply astonishing to some and infuriating to many. Imagine the intensified feeling that would have accompanied the Savior proclaiming He is the Messiah as the Spirit bore witness to these words. Emotions were surely charged in that synagogue.

Then Jesus says, “Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” Jesus knew what they were thinking. The Nazarenes knew of the miracles Jesus had performed elsewhere as “there went out a fame of him through all the region round about” and they want to see miracles as well. Jesus points out the stories of Elijah and the widow (1 Kings 17:1-16) and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-14), which are stories of prophets performing miracles and being cast out by their own people. Jesus also uses these stories to show that God cares for everyone, even those outside of Israel. This also foreshadows when the gospel leaves Israel (in their near future) due to rejection, and is sent to Gentiles, who are converted. The Nazarenes become infuriated at the suggestion that the Gentiles could have the same status with God as they do. They take Jesus to a hill with the intent to kill him by throwing him off of it for the blasphemy he had just spoken. Jesus, of course, escapes, but moves to Capernaum where “his word was with power” (Luke 4:32).

“How aptly Jesus chose his illustrations! Both of these ancient prophets, dishonored by their own, conferred great blessings upon foreigners. So it was with the Nazarenes; others, not they, had seen his great works.”


Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, (1:162), by Bruce R. McConkie

Jesus Declares He Is the Messiah

THINK

The author of Luke reminds the reader that Jesus was from Nazareth at the beginning of the story with “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been raised.” The people in the Nazareth synagogue knew Jesus well. This fact is further underscored by the statement, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” The Nazarenes cast their long awaited Messiah out and lost the matchless blessing of having Him in their midst. Jesus “came unto his own, and his own received him not.

We have prophets and apostles in our midst today, whose job it is
to bear witness, not out of belief but out of a certain knowledge of the Son of God, their Friend and Master, whose servants they are.” It was difficult for the Nazarenes to comprehend that the man they knew since infancy was the Messiah. Is it difficult for you to fully grasp the words of prophets and apostles because they are like other men in so many ways?

Last thought: The scriptures are like no other books on the earth. The more effort we put in, the more we are rewarded with insight and a deepening testimony. The scriptures are endlessly interesting, especially when combined with history, archaeology, and insight from others. What a gift it is to live in a day where we have all of these resources available to us.

Lesson 5: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families
LEARN

Read January 28-February 3 lesson here.

Mark 1:6 “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey.”

DIG DEEPER

Locusts and grasshoppers were not a typical food during John’s time. Locusts and grasshoppers would have been consumed by the poorest classes of people. Preparation consisted of putting the live locust in boiling salt water or boiling butter. The wings, legs, head were then torn off, it was laid in the sun to dry, and then eaten. See Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage, Notes to Chapter 10, 136 here.

“On any given day, people may forget to pray or neglect to work or worship, but they seldom forget to eat. Since one purpose of the law of Moses was to provide continual daily reminders to the Israelites of their duty to God, the law included instructions concerning what the children of Israel could and could not eat. Leviticus 11 contains these instructions. The rules and instructions are commonly known as “kosher laws.” Kosher comes from a Hebrew word that means “religiously clean.” Like the Word of Wisdom revealed in our day, the kosher laws promoted good health, but their major purpose was to teach obedience. This law of health, like the Word of Wisdom today, helped set God’s people apart from the world in habits and practices, which was another purpose of the law of Moses, and helped them become clean and holy.” “Leviticus 11: A ‘Word of Wisdom’ for the Israelites,” Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide (2002), 58–59.

Leviticus 11: 21, 22 “Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.”

Side note: The only other place John the Baptist is mentioned outside of the scriptures is in The Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus. See Book XVIII, Chapter 5.

THINK

If you were describing someone, would you include a description of what they eat? Why do you think the authors of Matthew and Mark included the fact that John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey? What clues do the food give us about John’s life?

John the Baptist spent his time fully devoted to bearing witness and preparing the way of the Lord. This was a paramount objective for him. The locusts and wild honey mentioned in these scriptures further emphasize this extraordinary characteristic found in John the Baptist. The locusts and wild honey, found in the wilderness, demonstrate the time he spent tirelessly traveling to “Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan” to spread the word of Christ’s coming. The food also demonstrates John’s understanding and strict observance of the law of Moses, thus, his desire to follow God’s commandments. We can deduce all that (and more) about John the Baptist just from the mention of locusts and wild honey.

Consider who is preparing the way for the second coming of Jesus in our day. Are you listening?

TEACH

I’m all about doing anything you can to bring the scriptures to life. Get your hands on some human grade edible grasshoppers (It’s a thing…you can order them online!) and natural honeycomb for your family or class members to eat.

Physical Map of the Holy Land

Lesson 3: We Have Come to Worship Him

Come, Follow Me - For Individuals and Families
LEARN

Read January 14-20 lesson here.

1 Nephi 11:26 “…Look and behold the condescension of God!”

DIG DEEPER

Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of condescension “Voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.”

D&C 88:6 “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;”

Moses 1:33, 35: And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten…But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

“Truly, the observation made by Enoch the Seer is literally one of the grandest understatements of all time: ‘And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still’ (Moses 7:30). Such are the sweeping and incomprehensible powers of Jesus the Creator.” The Premortal Godhood of Christ: A Restoration Perspective by Andrew C. Skinner.

THINK

Consider the greatness, power, and glory that Jesus possessed before He descend to the earth He created. Jesus chose to descend below all things so man could rise above all things. What do you think that means about how do you think Jesus feels actually feels about YOU?

Consider the “worlds without number” that have been created. You were sent to live on the same earth that Jesus lived on. We can walk where Jesus actually walked. What do you think that means about how Heavenly Father feels about you? Does that add to your understanding of the phrase “Holy Land?”