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Lesson Plan for "We Are Responsible for Our Own Learning"

 The Intertestamental Period (Very Brief Summary)

The intertestamental period refers to the approximately 400 years between the end of the Old Testament (the ending of Malachi and/or Esther) and the beginning of the New Testament. Andrew Skinner, a faithful LDS Scholar, suggests that understanding what happened during these 400 years is indispensable for understanding the New Testament. (1) What follows is a very watered-down look at this period, but it should paint enough of a picture to really set the stage for the visit of the angel Gabriel and the birth of Jesus we will read about in the next few weeks.

For the last half of the Old Testament we were going back and forth within a 300-400 year period which included the following:

  • conquest from Assyria in which the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom become lost
  • Assyria attempts to conquer Judah but fails with a miracle under King Hezekiah
  • Babylon conquers Assyria and is successful in conquering Judah, thereby exiling them from Jerusalem and destroying Solomon's temple
  • During the life of Daniel, Persia conquers Babylon overnight (according to the biblical record)
  • King Darius and Cyrus both allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and rebuild the temple
  • For 200 years Persia rules over the Jews making them their vassal state.
In the last part of the fourth century B.C. the Greeks emerged and defeated the Persians under the military leadership of Alexander the Great. The Greeks also conquered these vassal states and swept through the entire Middle East. The Greeks, instead of exiling people or completely transpopulating them, built their strength through "Hellenization". This term means establishing Greek merchants, craftsmen, laborers, and others among the newly conquered people to plant Greek culture within the local culture.

The Greeks ruled over the Jews for around 200 years in which their culture was planted DEEPLY within Judea. Greek became the dominant language and the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek. The Greeks also deeply planted Platonic and Stoic philosophy which deeply impacts the Jewish leadership (in the New Testament this group is known as the Sadducees, we will come back to that quickly). This resulted in a loss of faith in things like bodily resurrection and the nature of God.

After about 150 years under various Greek generals and Greek offshoots, Antiochus Epiphanes came to power and adopted a much less tolerant view towards the Jewish religion. The New Testament Institute manual sums this up well:
"In 169 B.C., the temple was plundered under his orders. Shortly thereafter Jerusalem’s walls were knocked down, and a garrison was established in a fortress built near the desecrated Temple Mount. The limited temple worship that had taken place was soon suspended. Sabbath observance, celebrations, and circumcision were forbidden on penalty of death. Pigs, unclean under the Mosaic law and viewed by the Jews as a great abomination, were offered in sacrifice as the troops of Antiochus stood watch. The people were forced to worship idols of Zeus and other false gods." (2)
Despite being Hellenized, the Jews did not take to this kindly. The straw that broke the camel's back was when Antiochus erected an idol image of himself and put it on the altar in the Holy of Holies. Biblical scholars refer to this as an initial fulfillment of "The Abomination of Desolation" that the Prophet Daniel wrote about in the last few chapters of his Old Testament book.

With all this anger, it turned to violence when Greek soldiers demanded an old priest named Mattathias offer a sacrifice to a pagan God with the threat of death if he refused. Another priest stepped in to offer the sacrifice and Mattathias killed the weaker priest and one of the Greek soldiers. He and his sons fled to the hills and gained a large following that led to revolt. History knows this as "The Maccabean Revolt". Judas Maccabees, Mattathias' son, wins independence for the Jews and then cleans the temple and the land. This is why the Jews celebrate Hanukkah or "the Festival of Lights". It commemorates a miracle that occurred when they won their independence from their Greek overlords. Through their cleansing, they sought to relight the menorah within the temple walls, but they only had enough oil for one day. The menorah, on one day's worth of oil, stayed lit for 8 days until more oil could be found. It was a divine sign that confirmed the divine hand in the Jews' independence. But, as we saw repeatedly in the King Years of the Old Testament, this was short-lived due to wicked rulers. After about 100 years of Jewish independence, the Romans come in and conquer Judea (63 B.C.).

Of an important note, during the time of Judean independence and Roman rule two important Jewish groups form: the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees, according to N.T. Wright, sought to cast out Hellenistic influences and adopt a strict interpretation of the Torah to bring the political Messiah prophesied of for centuries. They viewed their relentless return to the Torah as being instrumental in bringing the second David promised to the nation of Israel. Even if you have casually read the New Testament previously, you remember that the Pharisees are typically the ones Jesus always butted heads with. N.T. Wright, quite precisely, sums up why they always butted heads, and it will be really helpful as we move forward in reading the 4 gospels in the coming months:
"Jesus' clash with the Pharisees came about not because he believed in 'grace' and 'faith' while they believed in 'justification by works', but because His kingdom-agenda for Israel demanded that Israel leave off its frantic search for national purity and regional hegemony, reinforced as it now was by the ancestral codes, and embrace instead the proper vocation to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth." (The New Testament In Its World, p. 128)

In other words, Jesus was coming to set up a Kingdom that would honor the Abrahamic covenant; namely, that "all the nations of the earth would be blessed". Therefore, it is important to remember that the Pharisees aren't meant to be viewed as the bad guys in the New Testament. They and Jesus believed many of the same things, but the Pharisees in their "doctrinal piety" were a little closed off in their interpretation of being the seed of Abraham.

As for the Sadducees, they were typically the Jewish Aristocrats and priestly class. They, while still being relatively doctrinally conservative, had accepted parts of Hellenized philosophy and disbelieved in angels and bodily resurrection. To sum up their role in the New Testament story, they accepted Greek culture and blended it with temple sacrifice and Torah.

To summarize the rest of the story, the Romans' appointed Herod the Great to be overseer of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. He too was a supporter of Hellenic & Roman culture, but also instituted a large expansion of the temple mount; the construction of which lasted into Christ's life. This silenced many of the Jews because the temple was returning to the former glory of what it was under King Solomon. It was during this return to the heyday of temple observance that the events of the New Testament take place, with an appearance of an angel to the aged priest Zacharias.

The New Testament stage is one of many competing political and messianic influencers, like in our day. You had Greek Culture, Roman Culture, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the zealots, and other foreign influences all vying for allegiance. This is the cultural backdrop of the New Testament; namely, after winning an improbable guerilla war against the Greeks a generation or two earlier, many of the Jewish people were looking for the political deliverance long promised to them by the prophetic voices of The Old Testament.


The Savior was born into a world of many various influencers like in our day. How do we ensure that we listen to the right influencers today, like the Savior?

I feel this sets the stage for the importance of Gospel Learning. Elder Bednar in the CFM teacher's manual is quoted as saying:
"If all you or I know about Jesus Christ and His restored gospel is what other people teach or tell us, then the foundation of our testimony of Him and His glorious latter-day work is built upon sand. We cannot rely exclusively upon or borrow gospel light and knowledge from other people—even those whom we love and trust” (“Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2019, 102).

The ancient Jews let Greek influence, Roman influence, and overt nationalism cause them to miss the Messiah. In other words, they did not know Christ as well as they did the competing voices. Seeking revelation through gospel learning is a vital part of combating that universal tendency.

Becoming Gospel Seekers

President Nelson sums up the importance:

"Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith. To do anything well requires effort. Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ is no exception. Increasing your faith and trust in Him takes effort... Become an engaged learner. Immerse yourself in the scriptures to understand better Christ’s mission and ministry. Know the doctrine of Christ so that you understand its power for your life. Internalize the truth that the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to you... The more you learn about the Savior, the easier it will be to trust in His mercy, His infinite love, and His strengthening, healing, and redeeming power." (3)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented on how we as Latter-Day Saints should feel about learning:

"Latter-day Saints should have all the genuine excitement others have in the traditional adventure of learning, including learning secular truths, and we should have a little more. In fact, when we are so learning and so behaving, we are truly “about [our] Father’s business.” This should bring to us a special and genuine zest for learning. (Luke 2:49; see also 2 Ne. 9:29.)" (4)

Group activity:

Using the scriptures and quotes below, we are going to identify what it looks like to be engaged in gospel learning.

1. Understand that the Gospel is Inexhaustible

1 Corinthians 2:9-11

"9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God."

Joseph Smith once said: 

"The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 267)


How can seeking to learn deeply about the gospel of Jesus Christ help us in our discipleship?

Elder Maxwell gives us what might be a hard saying for some:

"... Some Church members know just enough about the doctrines to converse superficially on them, but their scant knowledge about the deep doctrines is inadequate for deep discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 2:10). Thus uninformed about the deep doctrines, they make no deep change in their lives." - Neal A. Maxwell (Men and Women of Christ [1991], pp. 2-3)

 In his first talk to the world and general populace of the Church as President, President Nelson said the following:

"Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know... To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!" (5)


Some might feel they are not the type to drink deeply from the scriptures. How might we address the feelings of inadequacy?

Elder Uchtdorf once taught:

"The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is given to us in a plain and simple way that a child can understand. Yet the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to the most complex questions in life and has such profound depth and complexity that even with a lifetime of study and pondering, we can scarcely comprehend even the smallest part. If you hesitate in this adventure because you doubt your ability, remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly; it’s about doing things intentionally. It is your choices that show what you truly are, far more than your abilities." (6)

2. Acting upon the truths we learn goes hand in hand with us learning more

 John 7:17

"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."

In addition, the Hebrew word for education is 'hinukh'. At its roots, it has a double meaning. It not only means education but "it literally means 'consecration'." (Hayim Halevy Donin, To Be A Jew, p. 129) The idea is that gospel learning is largely a cyclical process of drinking deeply followed by application. The application of gospel truths usually leads us to more light and knowledge.

Elder Maxwell eloquently explained it this way:

"If we keep His commandments, the promise is that we will receive “truth and light” until we are “glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” (D&C 93:28.) Therefore, gaining knowledge and becoming more Christlike are two aspects of a single process. This process is part of being “valiant” in our testimony of Jesus. Thus, while we are saved no faster than we gain a certain type of knowledge, it is also the case that we will gain knowledge no faster than we are saved! (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 217.) Behaving and knowing are inseparably linked." (7)


Are there any examples from your personal or family lives where acting on a gospel truth brought more knowledge? If not, can you think of any scriptural examples?

How can an activity like ministering contribute to our gospel learning?

3. Don't be afraid to ask questions!

Matthew 7:7

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

D&C  42:61

"If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal."

At times in our dedication to the restored gospel, we might shun too readily the asking of questions in a gospel context. The asking of sincere, but hard, questions is a part of the wrestle of discipleship.

Elder Ballard in a landmark talk given to gospel educators said:

"As Church education moves forward in the 21st century, our educators need to consider any changes they should make in the way they prepare to teach, how they teach, and what they teach if they are to build unwavering faith in the lives of our precious youth. Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, “Don’t worry about it!” Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue." (8)

In your scripture study, don't be afraid to ask questions when things don't make sense or you simply want to know more. The restoration began with a question. 

A good example of asking questions during their scripture study was Joseph Smith. During his translation of the Book of Mormon and the Bible (what we call today "the JST") at least 20 sections of the Doctrine & Covenants are a result of Joseph Smith asking a question that came as he combed over the text of those scriptures (9)


The Lord loves sincere questions. What actions should we take if we have questions?

We obviously want to diligently pray and seek revelation, but Elder Ballard gives an additional suggestion with insight:

"Wise people do not rely on the internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards. Even then, prudent people seek a second opinion.

If that is the sensible course to take in finding answers for emotional, mental, and physical health issues, it is even more so when eternal life is at stake. When something has the potential to threaten our spiritual life, our most precious family relationships, and our membership in the kingdom, we should find thoughtful and faithful Church leaders to help us. And, if necessary, we should ask those with appropriate academic training, experience, and expertise for help.

This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to my own questions that I cannot answer myself. I seek help from my Brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve and from others with expertise in fields of Church history and doctrine." (10)

The Church has many wonderful sources to pull from if one has questions, but there are also many other wonderful sources from trained individuals that can help us as well.

As an example of this, the Church last year put in the Church Handbook a recommendation that other translations of the Bible are perfectly appropriate for personal & academic study. Another good example, if you have the time, is to see how often the General Authorities (including President Nelson) quote from and consult trained & faithful scholars. The whole idea of letting God prevail came from a question President Nelson asked a few trained Hebrew scholars. (11)

Joseph Smith is another great example of this as he sought out a Jewish scholar to teach him and the early brethren of the Church the ancient Hebrew language. What resulted from Joseph's intellectual pursuits were many of the more light-intensive truths revealed including "the nature of God, the Plan of Salvation, and even the early rituals of the Nauvoo temple." (12)



What do we do after the Lord answers our question or leads us to resources that help us answer it?

Elder Scott answered this question as he reflected on an experience he had when the Lord answered a question:

"When a feeling of peace came, I thanked [God] for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, “Was there yet more to be given?” I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated. Again I was prompted to ask, “Is there more I should know?” And there was. When that last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could hope to obtain in this life. Had I not responded to the first impressions and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance." (13)

CONCLUSION: Qualifying for Revelation is the key to Gospel Learning and applying the atoning blood of Christ

 James 1:5

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

President Nelson connects this opening of the heavens to a prescribed process of gospel learning:

"Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ..., and regular time committed to temple and family history work." (14)

The Bible Dictionary holds this key line:

"The principle of gaining knowledge by revelation is the principle of salvation." (bold and underline and italics added for emphasis)


We will end with a similar question I asked earlier, but with more specificity. What relationship does revelation from our becoming seekers of truth have with the atonement of Jesus Christ? 

"The true disciple has an inborn questioning to know, personally, all that God is willing to teach us. Nephi could have accepted gladly the vision of his father, Lehi. But Nephi ‘desired to know the things that [his] father had seen.’ (1 Nephi 11:1.) Abraham sought, even though he had a father who had turned from the faith, ‘for greater happiness and peace’ and ‘for mine appointment unto the Priesthood.’ (Abraham 1:2, 4.) Abraham described himself as desiring ‘great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness’ (Abraham 1:2), questing for the word of Christ. Divine discontent in the form of promptings can move us to feast because we know that by feasting we can increase our knowledge, effectiveness, and joy." - Neal A. Maxwell (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward [1977], 119)

"The gospel and its teachings lead us to Christlike living, which in turn leads us not only toward exaltation but toward knowledge. Of all the treasures of knowledge, the most truly vital is the knowledge of God, of his existence, his powers, his love, and his promises. Through this knowledge, we learn that our great objective in life is to build character. In fact, we learn that the building of faith and character is paramount, for character is higher than intellect, and perfect character will be continually rewarded with increased intellect. Thus, our real business on earth is to master self. And as we master ourselves, we will learn to master the earth and its elements. Most important, we will learn how to help others overcome and perfect themselves in all ways of living." - Spencer W. Kimball (“Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith”, September 1983 Ensign)



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