In an address to Church Educational System teachers, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said:
“There is great value in presenting a brief but very carefully organized overview of the entire course at the very beginning. …
“Those few beginning periods, so brief an investment of time by comparison, make it possible for the students to locate themselves anywhere along the way. They have something of a feeling. They retain much more when they know how all of the pieces fit together, and the light of learning shines more brightly. The preview forms a framework and is more than worth the time and work invested in it” (The Great Plan of Happiness [address to religious educators at a symposium on the Doctrine and Covenants/Church history, Brigham Young University, 10 Aug. 1993], 2; or Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. , 113).
Take the time to develop and teach an introduction and overview of the New Testament. This will help your students understand the importance of the New Testament and look forward to the materials they will read and learn during the school year. An introduction and overview will strengthen your own and your students’ understanding of the divine mission of Jesus Christ.
What Is the New Testament?
The New Testament is a record of the life, teachings, and mission of Jesus Christ and the ministry of His disciples in promoting the spread of the early Christian Church. The word that was translated as testament could also be translated as covenant; thus the New Testament is the new covenant. In a gospel sense, a covenant is a sacred vow or agreement between a person or group and the Lord. When we enter into a covenant we promise to do certain things, and the Lord in turn promises blessings. The Lord sets the terms for both the efforts we must make (obedience to laws and ordinances) and the blessings we receive. If we keep our covenants and endure to the end in faith, the Lord blesses us during mortality and promises us salvation and exaltation when this life is over. The New Testament contains covenants and doctrines the Lord and His Apostles gave to His children during His mortal ministry to teach them how to return and live in His presence.
Why Should We Study the New Testament?
Both ancient and modern prophets have stressed the value of the scriptures in helping us come to know God. Jesus taught, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The Apostle Paul taught Timothy about the value of holy writings:
They are able to make one “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).
They are “given by inspiration of God” (v. 16).
They are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (v. 16).
They help the righteous become perfect and “throughly furnished unto all good works” (v. 17).
The prophet Mormon wrote:
“Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven” (Helaman 3:29–30).
The scriptures help us “divide asunder” (overcome) the lies and temptations of the devil and follow a course that will “land us in” (bring us to) the celestial kingdom.
Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:
“In the New Testament course, you learn of the birth and ministry of Jesus the Christ and His divine Sonship. You learn about ordinances, about baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.
“You read of the call of the Twelve and follow their ministry. You learn of the fatherhood of God. You learn of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and personal revelation.
“You relive the days of the Betrayal and the Crucifixion, and learn transcendent truths of the Atonement and the Resurrection. You learn of love and law and why a Redeemer.
“From the four Gospels to the book of Revelation, the teachings of the Master and of His Apostles—the Lord Jesus Christ’s gospel—are opened to you” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 1990, 49; or Ensign, May 1990, 38).
The following doctrines, all taught in the New Testament, show why a careful study of the New Testament is not only meaningful but crucial:
God is literally our Father in Heaven.
Heavenly Father created the heavens and the earth through His Son Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father sent His Son into the world that “the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Heavenly Father has given all judgment to the Son.
God can and does intervene directly in the lives of men.
Heaven is divided into different kingdoms of glory.
We receive blessings from God by making and keeping sacred covenants.
Idolatry in any form is spiritually destructive.
Jesus Christ’s Second Coming is prophesied, including events of the last days.
Being far removed in time and culture from the New Testament period brings special challenges to those who study the Bible. In addition, the record we now have is not complete. Many parts “which are plain and most precious” were taken away (1 Nephi 13:26). Much that was lost has been restored by the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and other modern revelations (see 1 Nephi 13:33–41). Further, some portions of the Bible are cloaked or hidden in symbolic language. Such prophetic cloaking has been useful because those who sought to remove the “plain and precious” parts have left many of the more obscure passages relatively intact. Thus, many great truths have been preserved to be read and understood by the power of the Holy Ghost and the “spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4) that God has made available to the Saints of the latter days.
How Is the New Testament Organized?
The Bible is not one book but a collection of books; that is what the word bible means. These books do not necessarily appear in the Bible in the order in which they were written. The New Testament contains twenty-seven books that can be grouped into four main categories based on the nature of their content.
Historical Books—This group consists of the four Gospels and the book of Acts. The Gospels record the testimonies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John concerning the ministry of the Savior. The book of Acts is an account of the ministry of several of the Lord’s Apostles. The Gospels can also be divided into two groups. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic (meaning “see-alike”) Gospels because of their similarities. John’s testimony is a separate and distinct witness and is thought to have been written specifically to members of the Church. (See Bible Dictionary, “Gospels,” pp. 682–83.) According to one Latter-day Saint educator: “In Bibles that are published today each of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John … is titled, ‘The Gospel According to. …’ Scholars tell us, however, that these titles were added sometime around the fourth century A.D., and that before that time probably only the name of the writer appeared; that is, only the name of Matthew, for example” (Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah , 22).
Epistles of Paul—This group consists of the books of Romans through Hebrews. The word epistle means “letter.” Most of Paul’s letters were written to specific branches of the Church organized in cities where Paul had proclaimed the gospel and which he had established. Hebrews and Philemon are exceptions to this rule. Paul’s letters are arranged according to their length, except for Hebrews. (See Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles,“ pp. 743–48.)
General Epistles—This group consists of letters written by James, Peter, John, and Jude. They are called General Epistles because they are not addressed to specific branches of the Church or individuals, except for John’s second and third letters. (See Bible Dictionary, “General Epistles,” p. 678.)
The Apocalypse—This is the last book in the New Testament and is known as the book of Revelation. It is a record of a vision received by the Apostle John while imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. John saw the history of the earth, including the events of the last days and the eventual victory of Jesus Christ over the kingdom of Satan. (See Bible Dictionary, “Revelation of John,” pp. 762–63.)
For more detailed information on the origin and history of the Bible, see “Bible” in the Bible Dictionary (pp. 622–24).
Prayerfully consider these introductory materials and the following principles before preparing your lessons.
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
The New Testament helps us come unto Christ.
The New Testament was preserved for our day and for our benefit.
Suggestions for Teaching
Use the following video presentations or some of your own ideas to teach an overview of the New Testament. Note: The two teaching ideas provided below cover some of the same material as the videos and may be especially useful to those without access to the videos.
New Testament Video presentation 1, “Come unto Me“ (11:36), shows how studying the New Testament can help us learn more about the Savior and how He can help us in our lives. Presentation 2, “The Maze” (10:07), teaches that the New Testament can give us perspective on resolving life’s questions and problems. (See New Testament Video Guide for teaching suggestions.)
New Testament Overview. The New Testament helps us come unto Christ.
Put some wet sand in a shallow container. Invite several students to each press a finger into the sand and then pull it out. Ask them to count the particles of sand that stick to their fingers. Have them guess how many particles are in the box. Invite the class to imagine trying to count the particles of sand along the western coast of Alaska to the tip of South America. Have students read Moses 7:30, and ask:
What does this verse teach about the extent of Christ’s creations and power?
Read John 1:1–3. What do these verses say concerning Jesus Christ and His power?
Tell the students that Jesus was a God (the Word) before He was born on earth, and that He created the heavens and the earth under the direction of our Heavenly Father.
What is His relationship to our Heavenly Father?
Read Matthew 11:28–30. What invitation does Jesus Christ extend to us?
What are some reasons that we should come unto Jesus Christ? (List responses on the board.)
Remind students that the Savior is willing to use all His power to help those who come unto Him. Invite them to think of times the Savior has helped them or their families. Invite any who would like to share appropriate experiences with the class to do so.
Testify that this year is a wonderful opportunity to learn of Jesus Christ through their study of the New Testament. Explain that during their study they will witness many people who came to the Savior and obtained His rest, as well as many who rejected His invitation. Tell the students that they will have that same opportunity. Ask: How do you accept His invitation and come unto Him?
New Testament Overview. The New Testament was preserved for our day and for our benefit.
Have students open their Bibles to the table of contents. Help them mark the groupings of the New Testament (the Histories, the Epistles of Paul, the General Epistles, and the Apocalypse), and discuss what each part contains (see “How Is the New Testament Organized?” above).
Have students name some of their favorite stories or teachings from the New Testament and tell why they like them. Ask:
Have you ever been asked to accomplish something that seemed impossible?
Have you ever been accused or punished for doing something you didn’t do?
Have you ever been confronted by bullies?
Have you ever felt alone?
Have the students read Hebrews 2:18and footnote a, and ask: How can the Savior know how to succor (comfort) us in our trials? (He suffered similar trials and more.) Tell students that the New Testament Saints also faced problems much like our own. Remind them that although the New Testament is a scripture from the past, its doctrines, histories, and stories are of great value today. The New Testament was organized and preserved for our day and for our benefit.
Tell students that we can come to understand the New Testament only if we open and study it. Ask: What do you think is the relationship between people’s attitude toward the New Testament and their ability to understand the gospel principles it teaches? Encourage students to approach their study of the New Testament with sincere effort and a prayerful attitude.