In this lesson, students will learn about the historical and cultural context of the New Testament, including factors that contributed to many Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. Students will also learn about the structure of the New Testament.
I think we need to know the actual context. First of all, the New Testament is not in order. The Gospel of Mark is the first of the gospels, for example. The epistle of James is the first book written. Understanding that God did not guide the process of the New Testament being assembled is very important for understanding the text in context.
I find this video (Although it covers both Old and New Testaments) helps explain where we got the Bible from far better than any church-produced source. Note, the man in the video is a preacher. He visits only theologians who spent their lives dedicated to studying the history and context of the bible
Stoning: In Context
The lesson has the kids look at a picture of someone being stoned without context. Then they read Acts 6 and find out it is Stephen being stoned. That helps a bit, but I think this shows a very surface level of understanding. They should read in Leveticus where God commands the Hebrews to stone people to death over and over. They should see how these Jews are just obeying the scriptures they were given. A discussion that Saul/Paul was trying to be righteous by following the scriptures and his current authority was helping people to murder Christians, that’s a much deeper understanding of the context.
But beyond that, we should know about Romans and their relationship to Israel at this point and why the Jews expected a savior. How Isaiah’s words set them up to believe a man would throw off the literal government, and how they expected a very physical structure.
My point is, that if you watch the rest of these lessons, you’ll see a very clear “make the students feel learned without actually letting them think” approach. And that is exactly what Jesus railed against in the New Testament. Ironic.
Jewish religious leaders during the Savior’s ministry
Invite a student to read 2 Nephi 10:3–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for words or phrases the prophet Jacob used to describe the spiritual condition among some of the Jews during the Savior’s ministry.
Trying to learn about the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducee from the Book of Mormon is like trying to learn about what Utah Government is like by reading the Ensign. This is just bad.
For example, how many “Jesuses” were there?
- Jesus ben Sirach. This Jesus was reputedly the author of the Book of Sirach , part of the Old Testament Apocrypha. Ben Sirach, writing in Greek about 180 BC, brought together Jewish ‘wisdom’ and Homeric-style heroes
- Jesus ben Pandira. A wonder-worker during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (106-79 BC), one of the most ruthless of the Maccabean kings. Imprudently, this Jesus launched into a career of end-time prophecy and agitation which upset the king. He met his own premature end-time by being hung on a tree – and on the eve of a Passover. Scholars have speculated this Jesus founded the Essene sect.
- Jesus ben Ananias. Beginning in 62AD, this Jesus had caused disquiet in Jerusalem with a non-stop doom-laden mantra of ‘Woe to the city’.
- Jesus ben Saphat. In the insurrection of 68AD that wrought havoc in Galilee, this Jesus had led the rebels in Tiberias (“the leader of a seditious tumult of mariners and poor people” – Josephus, Life 12.66). When the city was about to fall to Vespasian’s legionaries he fled north to Tarichea on the Sea of Galilee.
- Jesus ben Gamala. During 68/69 AD this Jesus was a leader of the ‘peace party’ in the civil war wrecking Judaea.
- Jesus ben Thebuth. A priest who, in the final capitulation of the upper city in 69AD, saved his own skin by surrendering the treasures of the Temple, which included two holy candlesticks, goblets of pure gold, sacred curtains and robes of the high priests.
- Jesus ben Stada was a Judean agitator who gave the Romans a headache in the early years of the second century. Crucified in the town of Lydda (twenty five miles from Jerusalem).
That no Seminary manual explains that the Jews were perhaps “Messiahed out” with so many anointed ones indicates they are not interested in actual context. Instead they turn to the Book of Mormon to understand the context of Jerusalem.
What could be the danger of adding man-made rules to God’s commandments?
Ask your teacher if Coffee is against the Word of Wisdom. Point out that the scriptures only say “Hot Drinks”. Ask if a man added rules to the scriptures and which man. Ask to see the scripture he added. Point out that you will bring a coffee tomorrow as you are now convinced that it is wrong to trust man-made rules added to scripture.
They took the plain and simple things of pure religion and added to them a host of their own interpretations; they embellished them with added rites and performances; and they took a happy, joyous way of worship and turned it into a restrictive, curtailing, depressive system of rituals and performances. (Bruce R. McConkie)
Note, he’s not actually talking about mormonism, but he could be. This is how most of the world views Mormons.
Point out that the Jews in Jesus’s day were in a state of apostasy.
…And they didn’t realize it. They followed their leaders, did their rites, had the same scriptures and were entirely wrong. Yet this manual encourages kids to follow their leaders, do the rites and read the scriptures.
Wake up. Throw off the chains that bind you. Shake off the Dust of the Earth.
Wait, did I just use Nephi to explain the conditions of Seminary Manuals… Shame on me.