Many people, Christians and non-Christians, have a distorted view of the God of the Old Testament. The reasons for this view of God are many, but primarily it focuses on the way people selectively read the biblical text.
Vanu Kantayya, one of my students at Northern Baptist Seminary, wrote a research paper for the course “Old Testament Theology: The God of the Old Testament,” in which she seeks to demonstrate that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. Her paper is titled: “The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.”
When Vanu selected this topic, her goal was to try to convince some of her friends that there is no contradiction between what they perceive to be the God of wrath of the Old Testament and the God of love who was revealed in Jesus Christ.
In order to accomplish her goals, Vanu selected several controversial passages in the Old Testament where God is portrayed either as violent, sexist, or vindictive. Vanu’s study of these passages is an attempt at clarifying the nature of the God of the Bible.
People who love the God of the Old Testament and understand the character of the God of the Bible have little problem dealing with these controversial passages. Vanu’s argument is an attempt at demonstrating that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. I believe Vanu has a good argument, but as it is well known, people who are predisposed to reject the message of the Bible will use any argument to prove their point.
I have decided to post Vanu’s paper on my blog because she addresses issues that are of concern to many people. At the same time, her paper will highlight the work of one of Northern Seminary’s graduating students.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
The God of the Old Testament
Who is this God of the Old Testament? Is he a God of love, mercy and justice as readily portrayed in the New Testament or is he a violent, angry and merciless judge? Is the God of the Old Testament also the God of the New Testament? There seems to be an insurmountable gap between the two in most people’s minds. These kinds of stereotypes are often the reason why people avoid the Old Testament and as a result, they are left with an incomplete picture of the God of the Bible.
For the Christian, the authority of the Bible in its entirety is the foundation of faith. God reveals himself in Scripture. The Bible is the story of God from creation to consummation. It is therefore my intention in this paper to argue that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and in so doing, establish the continuity between the Testaments.
I will examine some of the troubling images of God in order to prove them erroneous. In my defense of the God of the Old Testament, the portrayal of a loving, compassionate, and just God who is active in the lives of his people is of paramount importance. I will propose that God’s judgment is real but it is the discipline of a loving God in response to rebellion and disobedience to restore relationship and keep his salvific will intact throughout history.
The God who judges is the one who also enters into the suffering of his people because of his intimate relationship and covenant with Israel. His overarching purpose is to create a people who will be distinct in the world as a witness to the creator God. Ultimately, God’s desire is for the salvation of all humanity. The God of the Old Testament is an incarnate God who above all desires an intimate relationship with his creation.
Character of the God of the Old Testament and New Testament
Many believe the God of the Old Testament to be an angry, sexist, racist, misogynistic, genocidal, infanticidal, unjust, vindictive, harsh, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, unforgiving and judgmental executioner. These same people would have us believe that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is loving, gracious, gentle and everything that the Old Testament God is not.
How can we reconcile a God who is portrayed with such dichotomy in the Bible? There is no smoke without fire, so perhaps we can allow that there might seem to be some element of truth to this impression when looked at superficially. However, I would argue that Jesus, the God of the New Testament and Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament are not so very dissimilar. They are, in fact, one and the same.
The character of God is not malevolent as the witness of Scripture proves consistently. Yahweh says to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6). Again in Hosea 11:8-9, God reiterates his compassion and tenderness to Israel and reveals his love for them in heart wrenching terms. God does not intend to destroy or unleash his wrath on Israel but disciplines them with a heavy heart when they disobey. He does not take lightly his decision to punish sin.
Likewise, it is the loving Jesus who exhibits his anger when he cleanses the Temple of the money changers and traders (John 2:17). His righteous anger reveals that Jesus is no pacifist, contrary to popular belief. Jesus continually quotes from the Old Testament, validating its authority. At the heart of the Old Testament faith is the Shema, an acknowledgment of the one God of Israel (Deut. 6:4-6). Jesus affirms this in Mark 12:29-30 and so does Paul in 1Corinthians 8:4.
When Jesus was asked by the high priest if he was the Messiah, he answers in the affirmative: “I am,” using the divine name of Yahweh (Mark 14:62). Jesus makes his identity very clear in John’s gospel. In John 8:58, he makes a remarkable statement: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, “I am” and again in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”
There is one and only one God whose character does not change. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The narrative draws on the most iconic figure in the Old Testament, Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Once again, Jesus connects the Old Testament faith with that of the New. He clearly indicates that there is judgment ahead and we are held accountable for our actions. Jesus himself affirms that no one can escape the judgement of God and that there is justice for the poor and marginalized. The God of the Old Testament is not different in character from the God of the New Testament.
To be continued.
. Tremper Longman III, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 56-57.
. Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1984), 107-112.
. David T. Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 11-13.
. Longman, Making Sense of the Old Testament, 57-58.
Northern Baptist Seminary
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