Skip to main content

The Easier Shall be Made Harder and the Harder Shall be Made Easier

Review of James E. Faulconer, The New Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions. Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2015.

Who does not want their study of the scriptures made easier? Such a desire is entirely understandable. Recognizing that desire, a wide variety of scriptural commentators have offered their services in making the scriptures “easier” to understand. Their commentaries are scattered across the shelves of every LDS bookstore. While the urge to assist others in their scripture study is admirable, I think that making it “easier” sort of misses the point.

For starters, most commentaries geared toward the goal of making things “easier” take a verse-by-verse approach, usually having the full text of the scriptures right there, with the commentary side-by-side. The commentary usually does the interpretive work for the reader, eliminating the need to actually think about the scriptures themselves (though you may find yourself thinking about the commentary and marveling at the brilliant insights of the commentator). This all makes things really, really easy. You just need to open up a single book and start reading, straight though as the commentator holds your hand and tells you what to think about each passage.

Now, I do not want to sound too critical of such traditional commentaries. There is certainly value in them, and it is a good thing to share our insights into the scriptures with others, and publishing such commentaries is one way to do that. But there is something that is lost when we make scripture study “easier.” Enos tells us of his wrestle with God (Enos 1:2), how he spent all day pondering and praying to gain understanding. When we sit down with the scriptures, we have the opportunity to engage in our own wrestle with God, and commentaries that simply give us the answers preempt such wrestles. That is why, in a certain sense, “made easier” commentaries actually make serious, productive, and engaging scripture study harder.

James Falconer’s “made harder” series, of which The New Testament Made Harder is a part, is different. As it says on the back cover, “This is a book of questions. It is questions because, in my experience, questions prompt reflective, deep study.” One of the first things I noticed is that I could not get away with just reading the commentary. This is largely because the commentary is just a series of questions, questions which did not make sense unless I got out the scriptures and read the relevant passage(s). Thus the effect of the questions is what every commentary ostensibly aims to do: pointing the reader back into the scriptures.

After I had my scriptures out, the next thing I noticed is that if I really wanted this exercise to be productive, it would not be enough to just read the passage, read Falconer’s questions, and ponder over them, and move on. If I really wanted to learn anything, I need to have something to record my thoughts and answers.

Finally with Falconer’s book of questions, the scriptures, and a notepad, I was ready. Falconer organizes the book based on the Gospel Doctrine lessons, making it useful for anyone, whether student or teacher, wanting to prepare for Sunday school each week. I chose to study from Lesson 22, on Matthew 25. After reading the parable of the 10 virgins, I turned to see what questions Falconer asked. The very first question—“How do the scriptures use the symbols of a bride and groom in other places?” (pg. 255)—had me not only reviewing Matt. 25:1–14, but had me looking up other passages in the New Testament that use the bride and groom symbolism.

Notice what is happening here. Rather than having a single book out that I could just read through and get “the answers” from, I had three different things out: Falconers question book, the scriptures, and a notepad (confession: I just used a split screen on my tablet for both the scriptures and the notepad), and I was not just reading straight through. Falconer had me stopping after reading certain segments to think about questions, questions which had me flipping to different passages to enhance and enrich my understanding of the symbolism. To be sure, this is a lot more work. But Falconer had me actively engaged in my scripture study. His questions provided guidance in making my study more productive, and thus in a certain sense made things easier. It was easier to be active and involved in the study of the scriptures. Falconer won’t let you bypass your wrestle with God, but he will coach you through it.

I probably spent about 30 minutes on two questions. Most lessons are only a few pages of questions, which you could probably cover each week if you choose 1–3 questions you want to focus on each day. Of course, you don’t have to probe every question and have the freedom to pick and choose the questions that interest you.

Overall, Falconer’s volume is an effective companion to your New Testament study. It does not have all the “answers to gospel questions,” but rather has the questions that help you find gospel answers in scriptures themselves. I would recommend The New Testament Made Harder—and all the other volumes in the “Made Harder” Series—to every Latter-day Saint. 


Popular posts from this blog

Nephite History in Context 1: Jerusalem Chronicle

Editor’s Note: This is the first contribution to my new series Nephite History in Context: Artifacts, Inscriptions, and Texts Relevant to the Book of Mormon. Check out the really cool (and official, citable) PDF version here. To learn more about this series, read the introduction here. To find other posts in the series, see here
Jerusalem Chronicle (ABC 5/BM 21946)
The so-called “Babylonian Chronicles” are an important collection of brief historical reports from Mesopotamia, found in Iraq in the late-19th century.1 They are written on clay tablets in Akkadian using cuneiform script, and cover much of the first millennium BC, although several tablets are missing or severely damaged, leaving gaps in the record. One tablet, colloquially known as the “Jerusalem Chronicle” (ABC 5/BM 21946),2 provides brief annal-like reports of the early reign of Nebuchadrezzar II (biblical Nebuchadnezzar), including mention of his invasion of Jerusalem.
Biblical sources report that King Jehoiac…

Nephite History in Context 2a: Apocryphon of Jeremiah

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of the second contribution to my new series Nephite History in Context: Artifacts, Inscriptions, and Texts Relevant to the Book of Mormon. Check out the really cool (and official, citable) PDF version here. To learn more about this series, read the introduction here. To find other posts in the series, see here
Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q385a)
Between 1947 and 1956, a few well preserved scrolls and tens of thousands of broken fragments were found scattered across eleven different caves along the northwest shores of the Dead Sea near Qumran. Now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are arguably the most significant discovery ever made for the study of the Bible and the origins of Judaism and Christianity. Among the writings found are the earliest copies of nearly every Old Testament book, many of the known apocryphal and pseudepigraphic works, and several other texts discovered for the first time at Qumran. Altogether, more than 900 differe…

Nephite History in Context 2b: Letters of ʿAbdu-Ḫeba of Jerusalem (EA 285–290)

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the second contribution to my new series Nephite History in Context: Artifacts, Inscriptions, and Texts Relevant to the Book of Mormon. Check out the really cool (and official, citable) PDF version here. To learn more about this series, read the introduction here. To find other posts in the series, see here.
Letters of ʿAbdu-Ḫeba of Jerusalem (EA 285–290)
The Amarna Letters make up the bulk of the 382 cuneiform tablets found at Amarna, Egypt in 1887. The letters date to the mid-fourteenth century BC (ca. 1365–1335 bc), with most of them coming from the reign of Akhenaten (ca. 1352–1336 bc), though some date to the reigns of Amenhotep III (ca. 1390–1352 bc) and perhaps Smenkhkara (ca. 1338–1336 bc) and Tutankhamun (ca. 1336–1327 bc). The collection includes international correspondence between Egypt and other nations, such as Assyria and Babylonia, but most of the letters are to and from vassal kings in the Syria-Palestine region, whic…