President M. Russell Ballard described the significance of the Old Testament as “the first testament of Christ, . . . which predicted and prophesied of the coming of the Savior, His transcendent life, and His liberating Atonement.”[1] The Old Testament is foundational to our understanding of the birth, life, atonement, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Savior, as found in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and other scripture. The weight and magnitude of the mission of the Messiah is revealed in the thousands of years of history outlined in the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament is more than just foundational for our understanding of other scripture or a prologue to the life of Jesus; the text also teaches us about God, our faith, history, and the spiritual heritage of the house of Israel.

The Old Testament introduces us to the character and purposes of God. We are taught about the creation of the world and humanity, the Fall of Adam and Eve and the entrance of sin into the world, the role of prophets and the priesthood, the expectations accompanying kingship, and the punishments and blessings of the laws and covenants of God. God is revealed to be one who protects, provides, rescues, and guides but also one who corrects, punishes, chastises, and forgives. The love of God is shown in the Old Testament through his salvation of Israel from bondage in Egypt, their preservation throughout the wilderness wanderings, their settlement in the promised land, and the numerous calls for repentance via his prophets. These events serve as archetypal components of his great plan to gather, reunite, and restore humanity to divinity. These events also function as the overall story arc of the people of Israel within the Old Testament. Our own faith history is found in the narratives and lives of the women, men, and children of the Old Testament, whom we should connect with as part of our spiritual heritage in the house of Israel.

Approaching Holiness aims to assist in the personal and family study of the history and teachings of the Old Testament. The book is a compilation of writings on the Old Testament that were previously published by the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University. These important papers from the past two decades include many chapters from past Sidney B. Sperry Symposium volumes, articles from the Religious Educator journal, and chapters from the books Jesus Christ: Son of God, Savior and By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice.

The Old Testament provides a foundation for the gospel in all the dispensations. In this collection we hope to provide gospel scholarship that will help us all to better understand and appreciate the restored gospel. This collection begins with Elder Spencer J. Condie’s address at the 2017 Sperry Symposium, “I Will Write My Laws in Their Hearts.” In his essay, Elder Condie, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, shows how the Old Testament is central to the Restoration as it is quoted throughout the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon. He shows how many of the symbols set forth in the Old Testament can help us to better understand covenants and temple worship and blessings. In particular, the study of Old Testament symbols and doctrines can bring us closer to Jesus Christ.

As noted, the main purpose of the instruction of the gospel throughout the Old Testament was to teach about the future coming of Jesus Christ and to prepare the covenant people to identify and accept him when he came. In their essay “Jesus the Messiah: Prophet, Priest and King,” David and Jo Ann Seely, both who teach ancient scripture at BYU, explore the rich tapestry of Jesus as the Anointed One—or Messiah in the scriptures. An exploration of three of the Savior’s titles and offices—prophet, priest and king—as described in the Old Testament can help us better understand Jesus and his Atonement. In “The Old Testament and Easter,” Kent Jackson, professor emeritus of ancient scripture, demonstrates and celebrates the Easter events of Palm Sunday, Jesus’s suffering in Gethsemane and the resurrection as foreshadowed in the Old Testament. He shows how the gospel writers in their Easter narratives refer to Old Testament passages that are essential to understand the meaning of Easter.

The English title of the Hebrew Bible is the Old Testament, which means the “old covenant.” The record of the Old Testament lays the foundation to the new covenant established by Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament, and the new and everlasting covenant that we enjoy through the Restoration. In “Recognizing the Everlasting Covenant in Scripture,” Kerry Muhlestein, professor of ancient scripture at BYU, effectively demonstrates that covenant is the means by which God has established his relationship with his children throughout the ages. Muhlestein identifies the Abrahamic covenant as the new and everlasting covenant. He traces this covenant through its various manifestation in the Mosaic covenant in the Old Testament, and he helps us to identify covenantal language throughout the scriptures to better understand many of the doctrines of the gospel, including the scattering and gathering of Israel. In “The Marriage of Adam and Eve,” RoseAnn Benson, a longtime adjunct teacher in Religious Education at BYU, examines the literary and ritual elements of the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis and identifies a covenantal framework to this relationship.

The law of Moses was given to the children of Israel in order to prepare them to become holy as in Leviticus 19:2: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” Holiness was taught through the various statutes and ordinances of the law of Moses. Jennifer Lane, professor emeritus from BYU–Hawaii, in her article “The Whole Meaning of the Law: Christ’s Vicarious Sacrifice,” describes how the various aspects of the law point to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Robert E. Lund, from Seminaries and Institutes, in his “Teaching Old Testament Laws,” gives much practical advice on how to identify and teach the eternal gospel principles found in the law of Moses as presented in the Old Testament. In connection with the laws of Moses, Krystal V. L. Pierce, of ancient scripture at BYU, addresses the timely topic of the resident stranger in “The Gēr in the Pentateuch and the Book of Mormon: Refugee Treatment under the Mosaic Law.”

Several essays can help us to identify and understand various aspects of antiquity that may be foreign to our modern culture. For example, in “Biblical Hebrew Words You Already Know and Why They Are Important,” Dana Pike, professor emeritus of ancient scripture, gives a review of many of the important Hebrew terms in the Old Testament and shows how understanding their meanings can enrich our understanding of the scriptures. In “How Excellent Is Thy Lovingkindness,” Daniel Belnap, of ancient scripture, describes one of the most important divine virtues in scripture that is found in the word “lovingkindness.” And David Calabro, curator of Eastern Christian Manuscripts at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University, who has written a comprehensive doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago on the image of the hand of God in the Bible, illustrates the ancient biblical gesture of prayer in “Gestures of Praise: Lifting and Spreading the Hands in Biblical Prayer.”

Two essays in this volume address the values and practices of the ancient temple in Israel. Gaye Strathearn, of ancient scripture, in “‘Holiness to the Lord’ and Personal Temple Worship,” describes what the phrase “holiness to the Lord” means and demonstrates how understanding this concept can give life to our own personal temple worship experiences in the temples of the Restoration. Avram Shannon, of ancient scripture, in his study “‘Come Near unto Me’: Guarded Space and Its Mediators in the Jerusalem Temple,” explains the system of guarded sacred space in the ancient temple and its system of mediators through the priesthood.

One of the neglected areas of Old Testament study in Latter-day Saint scholarship is the Psalms. We are pleased to include in this volume two insightful essays describing the Psalms in ways that can make them more familiar to Latter-day Saints. Andrew Skinner, professor emeritus of ancient scripture at BYU, explores the wonderful image of “Seeing God in His Temple: A Significant Theme in Israel’s Psalms,” and Shon Hopkin, of ancient scripture, and J. Arden Hopkin, a music professor at BYU, show how the Psalms functioned in ancient Israel in a very similar way to the practice of hymns and hymnbooks in modern Judaism and Christianity, including Latter-day Saint worship, in “The Psalms Sung: The Power of Music in Sacred Worship.”

We have included several significant pieces on the prophets. Terry Ball, professor emeritus of ancient scripture, gives a nice overview of the teachings of Isaiah about the coming of the Messiah in “Isaiah and the Messiah.” In “Approaching Holiness: Sacred Space in Ezekiel,” Jacob Rennaker, a scholar associated with the Widtsoe Institute, describes the system of holiness described in the temple system in Ezekiel. Aaron Schade, in “The Imagery of Hosea’s Family and the Restoration of Israel,” reviews the dramatic imagery of Hosea and his marriage and family as it illustrates the scattering and the gathering and restoration of Israel. Joshua Sears, of ancient scripture, explores the grace of God in “‘Oh Lord God, Forgive!’ Prophetic Intercession in Amos.” And George Pierce, of ancient scripture, from his training and practice of archaeology, gives great insight on how historical and cultural background can bring the scriptures to life in “Understanding Micah’s Lament for Judah (Micah 1:10–16) through Text, Archaeology, and Geography.”

Our reading and study of the Old Testament should inform, change, and improve our spiritual and secular lives. Elder Richard G. Scott stated that the “precious jewels of truth” spread throughout the pages of the Old Testament are “key ingredients to the platform of truth that guides my life.”[2] The Old Testament is a call from God for his people to approach holiness through covenantal and faithful living. Within this volume of scripture, the concepts of justice and mercy, judgment and hope, scattering and gathering, and chastisement and restoration are seen through the lens of the covenants that the Lord makes with his people and serve as reminders for those who enter into covenants in our dispensation.


[1] M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign, May 2007, 82.

[2] Richard G. Scott, “The Power of Scripture,” Ensign, November 2011, 7.