The New Testament is a phrase that could also be translated as the New Covenant. More than 600 years before anything that is currently in the New Testament was written down, the prophet Jeremiah said to his people, who were about to have their nation, temple, and social structure dismantled because of their persistent disobedience:
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; emphasis added).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised that He would give the house of Israel another opportunity to build Zion and to come back to Him. He would make a new covenant with them. Rather than having a law written on stone as in Moses’ dispensation of the gospel, He would write the law in their hearts. They would have personal revelation through the Holy Ghost that would enable them to know God and to overcome spiritual death. God would also act to forgive their sins, blot them out, and remember them no more.
The New Testament is a record written by the Jews who entered that new covenant. It is about how God continued His work and His glory in bringing to pass mankind’s immortality and eternal life as He had covenanted to do in the beginning (Moses 1:39).
The Music of the Gospel
In studying the New Testament, our aim should be to have His covenant written on what the Apostle Paul called the fleshy tables of the heart.
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:2-6).
Paul said that the letters written on paper, the words, were not the true reality. Paul’s records of what he had done in his ministry were the people he had taught and served. They were his epistles (letters) to the world. They had the testimony of Christ written in their minds and hearts by the spirit of revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). That’s where it counted, not what was written on paper, but what was engraved in the heart. Paul had ministered to them in giving them this new testament (new covenant) through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost brings life and joy, not the deadness of a written word.
So, does the written word count for nothing? Do we not need to read the text, but just have the gospel in our hearts?
We are indeed to read the scriptures, for in them, as Jesus told the Jews, we shall find eternal life. But they are a means to an end. The end is conversion, a mighty change of heart—having the law in our inward parts, written in our hearts.
“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:37-40).
The scriptures give us access to the music of the gospel, the song of redeeming joy as Alma put it. “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
A talk by Elder Wilford W. Andersen of the Seventy from April 2015 general conference has made me ponder this image of the music of the gospel. He told the story of a Native American elder who came into an emergency room and asked the doctor if he could dance.
“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?” The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music” (“The Music of the Gospel,” Ensign, May 2015).
Reading the scriptures is part of the dance, but will we hear the music?
Will we engage with the study of the New Testament and hear the music of the whisperings of the Holy Ghost in our hearts and in our families?
That’s our question for 2023.
Will we come to Him through His story in the New Testament?
. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, et. al. (Ed.) The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol., Abingdon Press, 2008.
. Brown, Raymond E., Fitzmeyer, Joseph A., Murphy, Roland E. (ed.) New Jerome Biblical Commentary; Prentice Hall; 1990.
. Carson, D.A., et. al. (ed), New International Version: Biblical Theology Study Bible, Zondervan Press, 2011.