Modern Revelation: Window to the Old Testament

From Joseph Smith’s inspired pen comes new knowledge about Old Testament writings and characters.

Modern Revelation:

Latter-day revelation is the key to understanding the Old Testament, because it still retains its own original flavor and intent. That is, we can be certain that the text of latter-day revelation gives the inferences and understandings that the Lord wishes this generation to have. The revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith that have direct application to the Old Testament are of at least three different types:

1. The restoration and translation of ancient documents, such as the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. These two books had their origin in the same environment and milieu of the ancient world as the Bible and have been translated for our use in this dispensation by a prophet of God. Therefore, we are assured that we have a correct translation.

2. A restoration of the writings of certain Old Testament prophets, but without Joseph Smith’s actually having the ancient documents in his hands. These writings include the Book of Moses, which contains the visions and writings of Moses and a prophecy of Enoch, revealed to the Prophet Joseph, though not translations of ancient documents in the same sense as were the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.

3. Divine revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith about Old Testament events and/or personalities. Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, though not translations of biblical documents, comment upon and illumine our understanding of biblical personalities and events. These include sections 84, 107, and 132, revelations that give us much assistance in understanding the Old Testament.

Thus the Latter-day Saint has a great deal of recorded information at his fingertips relative to the Old Testament, and he is unfair to himself if he fails to utilize all of these sources in his study.

The revelations given to the Prophet Joseph bear record that the biblical story is essentially correct, although not complete. That is, they certify that the creation of the world was a sacred accomplishment, purposeful and deliberate and according to direction of a divine will. They further attest to the biblical claim that man is the literal offspring of God—not simply his handiwork, but his child, of the same race and lineage. Latter-day revelation further teaches that there has actually been a fall of Adam, that it was a necessary step in man’s progression, and that the Father, having anticipated the fall, provided a Savior for mankind. (See Moses 4:1–4; Abr. 3:22–28; 2 Ne. 2:22–26.)

Latter-day revelation further supplements our present, though incomplete, biblical record by showing that the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught to Adam by heavenly beings. Adam had faith in Jesus Christ, knew the plan of salvation, and taught it to his children.

The revelations to the Prophet certify that the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets were real people who actually lived upon this earth. Furthermore, they show that the ancient prophets and patriarchs were intelligent, righteous men who were taught by God and by angels and had the holy priesthood and the Holy Ghost to guide them; that the kingdom of God was set up in the days of Adam; and that the authority of the priesthood came down from the beginning in regular succession and ordination by the laying on of the hands of those who held it.

Some of these items are new to this generation and are known only because of latter-day revelation. That is, they are not taught in our present translations of the Bible. Others are not necessarily new, for they are hinted at or alluded to in the Old Testament record. However, it is the clarification and emphasis given these things in latter-day revelation that brings them within the scope of our present discussion.

The reader of the Old Testament knows, for example, that the God of the ancient Israelites was known by the name that we today pronounce as “Jehovah.” However, readers who limit themselves to the Bible often do not realize that Jehovah, the God of Israel, is the same being who was later born of Mary in Bethlehem and is named Jesus Christ. This means that it was Jesus Christ in his premortal state who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. Latter-day revelation makes this very plain. It also makes it clear that the ancient prophets fully understood that their God would come to earth to become their Savior. The resurrected Jesus himself told the Nephites that it was he who had given the law to Moses. (See 3 Ne. 15:4–5.) He also declared to them “that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.” (3 Ne. 11:14.)

At the burning bush Moses was told that one of the names of God was “I Am.” (See Ex. 3:14.) Two of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants identify Jesus Christ as “I Am.” (D&C 38:1 and D&C 39:1.) Thus, from latter-day revelation we come to know that the God of Israel who covenanted with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses was the same being also known as Jehovah, I Am, the Holy One of Israel, and Jesus Christ.

Other facts that can be gleaned from reading and studying latter-day revelation and that reinforce and add to what is given in our present Bible include the following:

1. ADAM. Latter-day revelation, particularly the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, elucidates on baptism in water and the reception of the Holy Ghost, the offering of animal sacrifice, the fact that Adam had many children, and the gathering of Adam and his posterity to the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, where the Lord appeared to them.

2. CAIN. In addition to that which is recorded about Cain in the Old Testament, we learn from latter-day revelation why Cain’s offering was not acceptable to God (Moses 5:18); that Cain’s rejection of the counsel of God led him to covenant with Satan and to establish a secret society for the purpose of getting gain (Moses 5:26–33 and Hel. 6:26–27); and who Cain’s wife was (Moses 5:28).

3. ENOCH. Very little is mentioned in the Old Testament concerning Enoch—only six verses in Genesis (Gen. 5:18–24). From the Book of Moses we learn much about his ministry, his great prophecies, his city, and his translation; his call to the ministry, and his great knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Moses 6:21–68; Moses 7:1–69.)

4. METHUSELAH. Again, the Bible tells us little of this man, while from latter-day revelation we learn that he was privileged to remain on the earth when the city of Enoch was taken up (Moses 8:2–3); that he was ordained to the holy priesthood by Adam, and that he in turn ordained Noah to the priesthood (D&C 107:50–52). Joseph Smith indicated that the Egyptian papyri made known that Methuselah was an astronomer. (See Joseph Fielding Smith, Man, His Origin and Destiny [Deseret Book, 1965], pp. 269, 470, 488.)

5. NOAH. Very little is given in the Bible about what Noah preached to the people before the coming of the flood. However, from the Book of Moses we learn that he preached faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism in water, and receiving of the Holy Ghost. Latter-day revelation shows him to be much more of a prophet than a weather predicter, which one might surmise from reading the Bible. We learn also that Noah is Gabriel, which identifies him as the angel who visited Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary. (See Luke 1:5–17, 26–38; Dan. 8:15ff.)

6. MELCHIZEDEK. Melchizedek is something of a mystery man in the Bible, being mentioned only briefly in connection with Abraham (Gen. 14:18–20), in Psalms (Ps. 110:4), and a few times in Hebrews (Heb. 5–7). In these passages he is presented as a great priest unto whom Abraham paid tithes, but little else is forthcoming. From latter-day revelation we learn that he was a great preacher of righteousness who brought a whole people to repentance (see Alma 13:18–19); that he ordained Abraham to the priesthood (D&C 84:14); that he was such a great high priest that the priesthood was named after him by the church in ancient times (D&C 107:1–4). None of this is contained in the Bible.

7. ABRAHAM. The Bible tells much about Abraham, while latter-day revelation offers much more, particularly because of the Book of Abraham. Among new knowledge this latter-day scripture adds is Abraham’s knowledge of the planetary system, his knowledge of the premortal existence, and his foreordination to be a prophet before he was born, as well as a supplementary account of the creation, and greater elucidation and knowledge concerning the Abrahamic covenant.

8. JACOB. Of particular interest in latter-day revelation is the statement in Doctrine and Covenants 132:37 [D&C 132:37] that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are now gods and that each attained that status because of his faith and obedience to the Lord during his mortal state.

9. JOSEPH. From the Book of Mormon we learn of the part of the fulfillment of Joseph’s blessings and the covenants God made with him. (See 2 Ne. 3:4; 2 Ne. 4:2.) Among his prophecies, of which only the slightest traces exist in our present Bible, were predictions and explanations about Moses and Aaron leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, and a seer named Joseph to come in the last days. (See 2 Ne. 3 and also JST, Gen. 50:24–38.)

10. MOSES. Latter-day revelation in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price adds to our understanding of Moses by giving us an extended account of his visions and writings, including some information about the events on Mount Sinai.

11. JOSHUA. From latter-day revelation we learn something about why the Lord would direct the armies of Israel under Joshua to go into Canaan and take possession of the land, even at the death of many of the inhabitants. (See 1 Ne. 17:31–35.) These concepts in the Book of Mormon focus upon an important principle of the gospel—that people are chosen of God not by happenstance but by righteousness—and that nations and people are rejected by the Lord when they become wicked. This clarifies a difficult and oft-misunderstood historical event of the Old Testament.

12. ELIJAH THE PROPHET. From revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith we learn that Elijah the prophet held keys of sealing power of the priesthood (D&C 110), enlarging our understanding of his ability to call down fire from heaven and to seal up the heavens that no rain should fall in Israel for three and a half years. (See 1 Kgs. 17–18). As a result of Elijah’s visit to the Kirtland Temple in Ohio in 1836, we comprehend more fully the prophecy of Malachi 4:4–6 [Mal. 4:4–6]. (See D&C 2; D&C 110.)

13. ISAIAH. Latter-day Saint revelation, especially the Book of Mormon, gives many keys to understanding Isaiah, by offering interpretations and explanations about his prophecies. The Book of Mormon repeatedly quotes portions of Isaiah and then follows with an explanation of what is meant. These are particularly found in the teachings of Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and Jesus.

There are many other clarifications and points in latter-day revelation that assist in understanding the Old Testament. Each volume of scripture is a testimony for the truth of the other, and the latter-day records make known many of the plain and precious parts that have been lost from the Bible. Eventually all scripture will be “gathered in one” and shall “grow together” to establish truth and put down contention. This will bring many to “the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.” (1 Ne. 13:40; see also 2 Ne. 3:12; 2 Ne. 29:8, 2 Ne. 12–14; 1 Ne. 15:14.)

Joseph Smith’s Acquaintance with Old Testament Personalities

The story of the restoration of the gospel is truly one of the most stimulating of all time. Many personalities from beyond the veil visited Joseph Smith as the gospel’s restoration unfolded—among them were persons whose mortal lives are discussed in the Old Testament, including, said President John Taylor, “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 21, p. 94.) The Doctrine and Covenants has references to visits also by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and of “divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time. …” (D&C 128:21.)

[illustration] Art by Dale Kilbourn

[illustrations] Adam; Seth; Enoch; Noah; Abraham; Moses; Elijah

Dr. Matthews, assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, is a member of the Church’s Adult Correlation Committee.