In a excellent article published in the Irish News titled “Why Christianity needs the Old Testament,” Fr Martin Henry explains the reason Christians today need the Old Testament. Martin Henry is a former lecturer in theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and a priest of the diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland.
Below is an excerpt from the article:
In the course of the history of Christianity, there have been many attempts made to drive a wedge between the Old Testament and the New. For the Old Testament was thought to be too closely associated with the idea of a nasty God, whereas the New Testament was seen as presenting a God of peace.
The distinction between the two parts of what came to be the Christian Bible was particularly acute in the early centuries of the Church, when a movement known as `gnosticism’ (from the Greek term for `knowledge’) strove to discard the Old Testament entirely and retain only the parts of the emerging New Testament that suited its view of reality.
The obvious question is: Why? The answer is wonderfully simple, and apparently quite rational. The gnostics were clever people, and also keenly sensitive to the problem of evil. Maybe the two things go together. In any case, the gnostics were so oppressed by the reality of human suffering that they couldn’t square the idea of a good God with the existence of a world of unending pain.
Their solution to the dilemma was, as just intimated, admirably simple. They detached the world of creation from the realm of the good God, represented by Jesus the Redeemer, and attributed its existence, as the opening pages of the Bible claim, to the God of the Old Testament. In this perspective, Jesus came to redeem humanity not from any `fall’, but from `creation’ itself. For the gnostics, creation itself was the fall.
People then and since have not infrequently been attracted by the argument that the Old Testament shows a cruel God, or at least a God indifferent to the pain of the world he created, a God indeed who was even occasionally prone to encourage his followers to commit acts of barbarism.
Perhaps a somewhat similar view of God lay behind the quip allegedly made by the French writer Stendhal (1783-1842) that, “God’s only excuse is that he doesn’t exist”. The gnostics in an earlier age avoided that wry conclusion, but only by having two gods.
Read the article in its entirety to know the reason the Old Testament is important for our understanding of God’s revelation in Christ. You can read the article in its entirety by visiting the Irish News.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary