The New Testament is a record of the mortal life, teachings, and Atonement of Jesus Christ, the establishment of His Church, and the early ministry and teachings of His disciples. In this lesson you will learn about the historical and cultural context of the New Testament, including why many Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, or Savior. You will also read about those who humbly accepted Jesus as the Savior and chose to follow Him.
The Context of the New Testament
Put your hand over the picture on the right. Based on what you see in the picture on the left, what do you think is happening in the picture? Uncover the picture on the right.
How does seeing the full picture help you understand what is happening? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The man with the blue head covering is Stephen, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Read the chapter heading for Acts 7 to learn what event is portrayed in this picture.
Think about how you could liken uncovering the full picture to understanding the scriptures.
This activity illustrates the importance of understanding the context of the scriptures. The word context refers to the circumstances that surround or give background to a passage, event, or story in the scriptures. As you become familiar with the historical and cultural context of the New Testament, you can better understand and apply its teachings.
The following sections in this lesson contain information that will help you understand more about the context of the New Testament.
Jewish Religious Leaders during the Savior’s Ministry
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob recorded a prophecy that helps us understand the circumstances surrounding Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry. Read 2 Nephi 10:3–5, looking for words or phrases Jacob used to describe the spiritual condition among the Jews during the Savior’s ministry.
The word priestcrafts in 2 Nephi 10:5 means preaching that seeks “gain and praise of the world” rather than the welfare of God’s people (2 Nephi 26:29). Those who were guilty of priestcrafts were primarily wicked religious leaders among the Jews who were leading people astray.
Additions to the Law of Moses, and Other False Philosophies
To understand further how religious leaders led people astray, draw a circle around the following circle representing the law of Moses, and label it Oral Law.
The law of Moses refers to the commandments and teachings God gave to ancient Israel through the prophet Moses. Jewish teachers added their own rules and interpretations to the law. Known as the oral law or oral tradition, these added rules and interpretations were intended to prevent violation of God’s law. For example, according to the oral law, it was forbidden to untie a knot with both hands on the Sabbath. Doing so was considered work and thus a violation of the Sabbath day. However, untying a knot with only one hand was permitted.
In your scripture study journal, write what you think could be the danger of adding man-made rules to God’s commandments.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that “for generations that went before, and then in the day of our Lord’s ministry,” some of the religious leaders of the Jews “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. The living spirit of the Lord’s law became in their hands the dead letter of Jewish ritualism” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 1:238).
According to Elder McConkie, what had the Jewish religious leaders done to God’s law with their added interpretations?
The Jews in Jesus’s day were in a state of apostasy. Although the authority and ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood continued among them, many of the Jews had fallen away from the true practice of their religion as revealed by God to Moses (see D&C 84:25–28). The oral tradition added by the Jewish leaders had gained priority over pure religion and the written word of God.
Read Matthew 12:14, looking for what the Pharisees desired to do to Jesus because He disregarded their oral laws or traditions.
Foreign Rule and the Expectation of a Messiah to Deliver Israel
In addition to apostate Jewish traditions, false expectations of the coming Messiah also led many Jews to reject Jesus.
Read the following paragraph, and then answer the accompanying questions in your scripture study journal:
Except for a brief period of independence, by New Testament times the Jews had lived as a conquered people for over 500 years. A revolt led by the Maccabees, a family of Jewish patriots, led to independence 160 years before Christ’s birth. However, by the time of Christ’s birth, Rome had conquered Israel. King Herod, who had married into the Maccabee family, was appointed by Rome to rule over Israel. The Jews resented Roman rule, and they eagerly looked forward to a promised Messiah who they believed would deliver them from the Romans. Because many Jews expected a Messiah who would deliver them from foreign rule, they rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior.
What did many Jews expect from the coming Messiah?
Why did this false expectation lead many Jews to reject Jesus as the Messiah?
Many Jews Were Humble and Accepted Jesus as the Messiah, or Savior
While some of the Jews rejected Jesus Christ, others who were humble and sensitive to the Holy Ghost recognized Jesus as the Messiah, or Savior.
Read Luke 2:25–33, looking for what a righteous man named Simeon did and said when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple.
According to Luke 2:30–32, why was Jesus sent to earth?
From these verses we learn that Jesus Christ was sent to bring salvation to all people.
In your scripture study journal, write down what Jesus Christ did to allow all people to be saved.
John the Baptist was called of God to prepare people for the coming of Jesus Christ. The next day after he had baptized Jesus, John bore testimony of Him, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Read John 1:37–42, looking for what two of John’s disciples did after hearing his testimony of Jesus.
What did Andrew do after he heard John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus was the Messiah? Why do you think he was so anxious to share this news with his brother, Simon Peter?
What was Philip’s invitation to Nathanael?
Based on these examples from the New Testament, complete the following principle: As we come unto Jesus Christ, we will have a greater desire to ____________________________________________________________________________________________________.
Why do you think we will have a greater desire to invite others to come unto Christ as we come unto Him ourselves?
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency said that there is a great blessing that we receive as we invite others to come unto Jesus Christ: “When you give your heart to inviting people to come unto Christ, your heart will be changed. … By helping others come unto Him, you will find that you have come unto Him yourself” (“Come unto Christ,” Ensign, Mar. 2008, 52).
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
Why do you think inviting others to come unto Christ can help us come closer to Him as well?
Who has invited you to come unto the Savior and His gospel? How has your life been blessed as a result?
Consider who you could invite to come unto Jesus Christ. What can you do to invite others to come unto Him?
As you study the New Testament this year, you will feel the Savior’s continual plea to come unto Him. As you accept this invitation, you will be filled with a desire to help others come to Him as well.
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied the “Introduction to and Context of the New Testament” lesson and completed it on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher:
The chart on the following page can help you better understand the context of the accounts of the life of Jesus Christ that you will study in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.