Sunday School Lesson 7

Lesson 7: Various scriptures on the First Principles and Ordinances

Before I offer some study questions, let me say why I object to this year’s way of organizing our Sunday School lessons. The approach to the scriptures in these lessons is topical: choose a topic and then find scriptures that allow you to explicate that topic. There are perfectly legitimate uses for doing that, but it isn’t scripture study. It is topical study. The problem with topical study is that it cannot escape the fact that the person who chooses the topic and chooses the scriptures that discuss that topic must assume that he or she already knows what the scriptures have to teach us about it. The person need not assume complete knowledge, merely adequate knowledge. If my job is to give a talk on a topic in Sacrament meeting or to teach a lesson on that topic, that is a legitimate way to proceed. I decide what I want to teach and then find scriptures that support that teaching.

However, if instead I am trying to learn what the scriptures themselves teach, and perhaps to learn something I didn’t know before or to have an experience that shows scriptural teachings in a new light or to be brought up short by a question that I had never considered or to be motivated to faith and repentance, then this method is unlikely to produce results. Lesson 5 pointed out that personal revelation often requires that we ponder the scriptures, but the topical approach is exactly not a matter of pondering them. As I said, it explicates them in terms of what we already understand: my understanding is the origin of what is said and thought about, rather than the scriptures. So, if, as the Sunday School manual says, we are to teach from the scriptures rather than from what we already know, we ought not to use a topical approach.

Now that I have that off of my chest, consider these questions about the scriptures for this lesson.


Doctrine and Covenants 19:23

What does the Savior mean when he commands us to learn of him? If we are familiar with the Gospels and Third Nephi, then we have all of the facts of his biography that are known. Presumably that isn’t what he is commanding us to learn, so what is he commanding? How do we listen to his words? How do we walk in the meekness of his Spirit? What does it mean to have peace in Christ?

Doctrine and Covenants 88:118

What does “words of wisdom” mean? How do we seek them diligently? In the context of this section to what does “the best books” refer? What does the revelation mean when it commands us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith”? What does “study” mean in this case? How do we seek learning by faith?

2 Nephi 2:23

What are the two purposes for Nephi’s writing? How does the Book of Mormon persuade us to believe in Christ? How does it persuade us to be reconciled to God? What does it mean to be saved by grace? (Compare 2 Nephi 31:19; Mosiah 2:21; and Luke 17:7-10.) Why does Nephi’s point about being saved by grace follow his statement of his purposes for writing? Why make that point here? We sometimes read this verse to say that first we do everything we can, then Christ makes up the difference between what we can do on our own and what is needed. However, to my knowledge, the scriptures don’t say anything like that anywhere else. (Look, for example, at the three scriptures mentioned earlier in this paragraph.) Webster’s 1828 dictionary tells us that the phrase “after all” meant “when all is said and done.” Does that make it possible to understand this verse in another way, or does it require us to stretch the meaning of these words too far?

Alma 32:27

Why must the Zoramites awake and arouse their faculties? Webster’s dictionary of 1828 defines “faculty” as “That power of the mind or intellect which enables it to receive, revive, or modify perceptions. [. . .] The power of doing anything.” Does that add any understanding to what Alma is saying? In the same dictionary, “experiment” is defined as a “trial; an act or operation designed to discover some unknown truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, a historical dictionary, tells us that “experiment” first meant “an experience” and then came to mean “something ascertained by trial.” Do we learn anything about what Alma is asking them to do if we substitute the older words: “arouse your faculties, even to an experience based on my words”? Does thinking about these older meanings of the word help us understand any better or differently what Alma was asking the Zoramites to do? What does he mean when he asks them to exercise “a particle of faith”? Is a desire to believe the same as a particle of faith? How so?


Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43

Verse 42: What does the Lord mean when he says that he remembers no more the sins of a repentant person? Does it mean that he no longer knows that they occurred? Does it mean that he no longer remembers them as things that stain us, preventing us from being righteous, in other words, as sins?

Verse 43: Which sins need to be confessed to a Church authority and which sins need only to be confessed to the Lord? Why do we have to confess our sins in order to be repentant? “Forsake: 1. to quite or leave entirely; to desert; to abandon” (Webster’s 1828). What does this tell us about or attempts to overcome particular sins? Is it significant that this scripture speaks of forsaking our sins, in the plural? Does that suggest forsaking them one at a time or something else?


Doctrine and Covenants 18:22

What does “saved” mean in this verse? Why are only three requirements for salvation mentioned (repentance, baptism, endurance to the end)? Why aren’t obedience and ordinances mentioned? If “endure to the end” means “continue to be obedient,” why does the Lord use endurance as a metaphor for obedience?

Doctrine and Covenants 20:37

How does one humble himself before God? How do people “witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins”? That they “are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ”? How do they show that they have “a determination to serve him to the end”? What works manifest “that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins”?

2 Nephi 2:6-9

Verse 6: This verse begins with “wherefore,” or “because.” Redemption comes through the Messiah because the law cuts us off. What does that mean? What does “redemption” mean in this context? Why is the Savior referred to here as the Messiah rather than by one of his other names? Lehi tells us that redemption comes through the Messiah because he is full of grace and truth. How does that explain that redemption comes through him? What do “grace” and “truth” mean in this context?

Verse 7: What does the phrase “to answer the ends of the law” mean? “Ends” usually means “purposes.” What is the image of a broken heart and why is it relevant? Why are “broken heart” and “contrite spirit” used as synonyms? Why can the sacrifice of the Messiah apply to no one but those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Why doesn’t Lehi mention obedience or ordinances?

Verse 8: Why does Lehi tell Jacob it is important to make these things known to everyone? Jacob is in the wilderness of a new land, without much chance to tell very many others this gospel. Why is it that “no flesh [. . .] can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah”? What is his merit? His mercy? His grace? Why does Lehi connect resurrection to redemption? We know that everyone will be resurrected, but only those who come to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, or as it says here, relying on the merits and mercy and grace of Christ, will be able to enter into the presence of the Father.

Verse 9: Why is the Savior said to be the firstfruits? First fruit of what? Does this have anything to do with the fact that he is called the First Born? Why do the scriptures so often reduce to requirements for salvation to belief in Christ?

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Doctrine and Covenants 49:13-14

What kind of gift is the gift of the Holy Ghost? Why is it a gift rather than something we earn by having faith, repenting, and being baptized? What is the power of the Holy Ghost? (See Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost,” page 74.) Can you think of reasons that might explain why we confer the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands? What kinds of symbolism might be in that act?

22 comments for “Sunday School Lesson 7

  1. Amen to your thoughts on the topical approach.

    So: How _are_ you teaching your lessons?

  2. I wish I knew. Each week I take my study questions and look for some way to link them together. The manual has been helpful in that regard, probably because it at least shows me how someone who is thinking about teaching topically organizes this stuff. But I tend to take a few scriptures and try to link them into one coherent thread of questions, and I try really hard to keep the questions and the discussion to those particular scriptures.

    I think this looks like the most difficult lesson for me so far. The previous ones have had large chunks of scripture that I could work with rather than just a verse or two from all over the place.

  3. I am in the sunday school presidency in my ward, and I have to add my voice to the chorus. The lessons this year are TERRIBLE. I hate this approach. I can’t teach these lessons. What’s worse, this is the way many bad sunday school teachers put their lessons together in other years when they are supposed to be teaching from the scriptures. So it seems like this is a validation of their method, which I despise.

    I think there is some need to stretch the material in the Doctrine and Covenants year, since it is shorter than the Book of Mormon, New Testament, and Old Testament. So I hope that maybe this is just a one-year fluke rather than a sea change. If they do this to the Bible, too, I’m going to be very sad.

  4. I’m a Sunday school student, not a teacher, and I’m about ready to start retreating to the mother’s room second hour and read on my own. I’ve found the whole approach very dissatisfying, too. We have a pretty good teacher who had been using the scriptures as a text, as SS teachers ought to, until this year. Now he seems at a loss. But the most annoying thing about this change is the kind of input, anecdotes and responses he’s getting from class members. The topical approach seems to breed, well, “Sunday school answers,” worn out and monotonous. I’m not sure what the solution is.

  5. Though I certainly acknowledge the difficulties of teaching with this format, I am less despairing than John David Payne and Colleen seem to me to be. I’ve looked over the other lessons and few of them are as insistently topical as this one is. My solution is, when possible, to use the scriptures provided and focus on them as whole pieces rather than as illustrative illustrations of a topic. I think that usually works, and it also usually does get at the topic that is supposed to be the lesson.

    However, after my lesson last Sunday, one that I had more difficulty with than I have had before, two people came up to me at different times to talk about the lesson. One thanked me for helping him see prayer in a different light. The other–a very conservative member, politically, culturally, and doctrinally–asked me why whoever wrote the manual didn’t think the members were more prepared for better lessons. She usually likes my lessons, so I think she was genuinely complaining about the manual rather than my lesson (but I could be wrong and just protecting my ego).

    I’m always surprised at the very different ways that people react to lessons. I used to think that I had a good handle on when a lesson went well, that I could tell by the way discussion went, how well I felt I kept the questions in the air without irritating people, and so on whether it was a good class. But now I realize that often the very lessons I think went very well didn’t go all that well for some, and the lessons that I think failed were a great experience for others. I’m more baffled than ever about how to know what a good lesson is.

  6. Question:

    The seminary student book states that D & C 19 was in response to Martin Harris not wanting to put his farm up as collateral for printing the BoM for fear he would lose the farm (which he did), hence the verse about coveting your own property. The footnotes in History of the Church state that we do not know the occasion that prompted the revelation.

    Anyone? Anyone?

  7. “The footnotes in History of the Church state that we do not know the occasion that prompted the revelation.”

    It may be that since the time Roberts compiled the history, more has been found out. That would be my first guess. My second guess is that he means we don’t know the _specific_ circumstances–place, time, things that were said or asked, etc. that brought about the revelation.

  8. I know you all know this (I use that to not sound preachy), little good is done by complaint. It is also true that short lived complaining is better than long. I will assume that you are over it now, and are expressing your feelings not for pessimistic reasons, but for the hope that someone has an idea as to how to make it work. I am no expert (so please don’t read on if you are looking for something unique or scholarly) but my classes have actually gone quite well. (I also know that most horrible teachers don’t know they are horrible and actually think things go quite well when everyone is bored to the “mother’s lounge”…).

    I have taught every year of GD (BoM, OT, NT and D&C) like many of you have and will say up front that D&C is the most difficult. Mostly due to a lack of story line, some due to condensed lessons, partly due to its repetition, and a little for its familiarity (opposed to the Old Testament for example). In defense of the difficulty, I have found that 1) Starting your lessons with a hymn will improve you lesson dratically (especially when many of the early saints involved in the lesson wrote the hymns…makes the transition easy, also (Sing “Truth Reflects upon our Senses” written by…well you look it up. 2) Never, never, never underestimate the power of making people laugh. Never. 3) Scripture chases are seminaryish and very boring. (Sorry if you thought that stuff was fun, no one else does…they can look in the topical guide just like you can). 4) Mostly, I will find 1 scripture or idea in the lesson and take the whole hour on it. I know many of you will feel bad about not speaking about some things. But I would suggest that you absolutley exhaust one subject. This week, we will be divulging baptism and that is it. Its historicity, evolution, implimentation, importance forever.

    Anyway, as I said I am no expert, but complaining much does little good. The lesson is as good as you want to make it.


  9. With respect to D&C 19, Martin Harris was concerned about losing his farm because of fears the Book of Mormon would not sell. See the historical material in:

    which contains an excerpt from Lyndon Johnson’s _Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith_ wherein there is a quote from Knight shedding some light on the matter.

    With respect to the difficulty of teaching the D&C, I recommend concentrating on one section or one major theme for the lesson. When I have taught GD, we typically got about 30min of actual teaching time, and that isnt ever enough to cover all of the material or spend a lot of time reading passages directly from the text. So, I would focus very specifically on one thing. I did the historical research and did as much as I could to flesh out the people involved, as they were real people, and tried to discover the historical context, psychology, and personalities of these people, and the make sense of why the Lord said what He said. People tend to respond to this approach well because whether an individual is scholarly or not, we are all humans and generally have an interest in projecting ourselves into whatever situation we are presently put into.

    For example, for D&C 19, why did Martin Harris want this revelation? He was nervous about losing his farm. Wouldnt you be worried about mortgaging your house? Why was he nervous? Because the townspeople of Palmyra had generally joined ranks and decided to boycott the book. Wouldnt that make you nervous if you had underwritten said boycotted book? And to top it off, your paranoid wife who is hard of hearing, is constantly nagging you to get involved in your little enterprise. And all this while trying to run a farm. Could you loan up the family business, mortgage the house, deal with your beloved but irritating wife, be the talk of the town, and still keep a stiff upper lip?

  10. Amen to Jim F.’s views on the topical organization of the GD lessons. I am thinking of just doing Alma 42 on this lesson (verses from it are in the official list of scriptures for lesson 7), which I didn’t get to do last year because it was not in my co-teaching rotation. Can anyone recommend any good commentaries on what I consider to be the most neglected of the major doctrinal expositions in the BoM?

  11. I’m sympathetic to many comments made here. Specifically:
    1. I’d much prefer chronological study to topical study in the SS lessons
    2. Complaining is not the solution

    However, I would encourage those with these legitimate complaints and suggestions to express your experiences as legitimate feedback through the established channel. I don’t have a manual with me, but I remember seeing instructions (at least in previous manuals such as Teachings of the Prophets for RS/EQ) in the back for providing feedback and suggestions to SLC.

    Clearly, for this year we’ll have to make the best of what we’ve been given. But I would hope that the good insights shared here would also be sent to those soliciting feedback for the purpose of future improvements in Church curriculum.

  12. From the inside cover of the current manual:

    Your comments and suggestions about this manual would be appreciated. Please submit them to:
    Curriculum Planning
    50 East North Temple Street, Floor 24
    Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3200
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Please list your name, address, ward, and stake. Be sure to give the title of the manual. Then offer your comments and suggestions about the manual’s strengths and areas of potential improvement.

  13. I’d like to say a few things in support of the topical method for Sunday School teaching, which I personally prefer.

    When you teach a lesson in Sunday School based on consecutive chapters, you generally have to limit yourself to 1-3 topics anyway and focus on developing them. If you were to attempt to cover all (or even a fraction of) the possible messages from a set of chapters your lessons become disjointed and tedious. You have to be selective about which topic to include from all the others embedded in a series of chapters, but then must still call on other cross-references to support the passage. Teaching by topic helps focus the lesson, and you have the flexibility to use scriptures from the entire book. It’s almost impossible NOT to teach by topic, so therefore more sensible to arrange the course by topic.

    I also argue that you can just as easily “learn something I didn’t know before or to have an experience that shows scriptural teachings in a new light or to be brought up short by a question that I had never considered or to be motivated to faith and repentance” with topical study as with any other method. You can still “ponder” the scriptures just as well, sometimes even better, because everyone is focussing on the same topic as expressed in different passages. This is enhanced with good spiritual preparation and also good teaching methods.

    However I agree that topical study is not the ideal way of studying the scriptures from a personal perspective. Every member ought to study the scriptures independently from previewing the Gospel Doctrine lesson. Consecutive personal study gives you the ability to spend an hour on 10 chapters or a week on one verse. But you can’t do justice to this kind of scripture study in the setting of a 40 minute class, so this method is better left to private scripture study moments. Otherwise you risk your class turning into a forum for discussing the multiple meanings of a random verse rather than being edified by the united contemplation of a single gospel principle.

  14. I appreciate your insight and thought provoking questions. It appears to me that you , personally are seeking a spiritual level of “being” that most struggle to understand. I’m not sure however I agree with your approach to teaching, by introducing your “topic” as an approach you personally dissagree with. The brethren approve of the curriculum, and then pass it on to you and I as instructors to present the material with the power and illuminating light of the Spirit. Just because your own level of light and knowledge exceeds that of your class, don’t sell them short by passing on your personal bias for a curriculum already approved by the Lord’s chosen authorites.
    Perhaps a couple of years ago I would have agreed with you regarding “topical” study of the scriptures, but I think I am learning that all instruction that provokes thought, and interest, so carried by the Spirit’s Influence, will eventually lead the listener to NOT answer your intreguing questions, but to ask thought provoking questions of their own, and in this “ponder” the significance and true importance of the material. To present a blanket statement and say topical study carries the assumption we already know the material, is to assume everyone is at your level of understanding, and in my travels, and experience throughout the world, I do not find that to be the case, rather to the contrary.
    May I say that I enjoyed your perspective, and depth of questions you ask…I am certain those listening to you, will catch the Spirit, or at least be so stricken by the influence of the SPirit that they too will begin to develop and grow spiritually as you obviously have.

    Thanks for offering and sharing.

    Chaplain Horton

  15. Chaplain Horton: If you look at the materials that I offer as aides, I think you will notice that I do stick to the approved curriculum, and my experience with my class is such that I don’t think I sell them short. I have learned a great deal from those in my class and assume that I will continue to do so. Like you, I assume that they will learn to ask their own questions, if they are not already doing so. I tried to say something about that in my comment #6.

    My statement about topical scriptural study making the assumption that we already understand, however, isn’t a statement about a level of spiritual maturity. It is a statement about the implicit assumptions built into such an approach. As you will note, however, I have not said that topical approaches to doctrines are always wrong. Indeed, I have said the opposite.

  16. (Pardon an interruption of sorts–this isn’t about the adult Sunday School lessons. I need a little help if someone can point me in the right direction. The kids I teach in Primary (ages 8-11, though I have a few younger ones who attend anyway) aren’t sure that they’re Mormons and don’t know what it means to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been looking at the official Church website, trying to determine how to present in just a few minutes some general idea at their level of what it means to be Mormon. The material there seems very directed at literate adults, whether they are in the Church yet or not.

    These are English-speaking children of Spanish-speaking parents. They aren’t sure why they’re anywhere, I think, let alone in THIS Church on Sundays. I’m a late convert and I missed out on much of the cultural and historical context of our faith. This is something I feel deeply needs to supplement the current New Testament lesson I’m teaching them. They are partially disconnected from their parents and partially disconnected from their own culture by language barriers; they are somewhat disconnected from American culture as well. How can I help connect them with their Church culture? I’m looking for an approach and concrete teaching aids I can download and print. Thanks so much.)

  17. Well, thanks anyway–perhaps I’ll get inspiration by next week. I appreciate the lesson presented here for adults, Jim, and thanks for letting me interrupt.

  18. Sheri Lynn, I’m sorry that I didn’t see your note sooner, but it wouldn’t have made much difference. I know very little about teaching children or about materials for doing it.

  19. Sheri Lynn-

    A few (?) years ago, the Primary theme was “I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. Search for that title in the Friend magazine, and each month of the year there should be resources for teaching that theme. Good luck.

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