The Old Testament and Jesus Christ

My book Divine Violence and the Character of God will be published on February 1, 2022. My book addresses the issue of divine violence in light of God as a gracious and merciful God. The issue in the minds of people today is how can we relate the violent God of the Old Testament to the God of love revealed by Jesus Christ?

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Many people struggle with this issue because they are unable to relate the Old Testament to the New Testament. To many people, the Old Testament ends where the New Testament begins. By this I mean that many people believe that there is a chasm between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This chasm reveals two kinds of God, a God of wrath and a God of love.

This understanding of God, of course, is false. The view that there is a radical discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament is also false. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the story of God’s work of reconciling the world unto himself. In the Old Testament, God was working to bring reconciliation between himself and the fallen world through Israel. In the New Testament, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Below in an excerpt that describes what God is trying to do in the word. This excerpt is taken from Claus Westermann, What Does the Old Testament Say About God? (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 81-83. Westermann, in explaining the relationship between the Old Testament and Christ, comes close to what I attempt in my book. Read this except taken from Westermann’s book and you will have an idea of the aim of my book. Westermann wrote,

To start with, a remark concerning method: in explaining this relationship [between the Old Testament and Jesus Christ] it can be presupposed that each statement in the Bible may only be understood within its context. Since we are concerned with the relationship of the entire Old Testament to Christ, we ought to start from the context of the Old Testament as a whole, i. e., the canon in its three parts. It can further be assumed that this context is a historical rather than a theoretical one; both the Old and the New Testaments stem from a history that actually occurred.

It is then not possible to have a comprehensive concept of this relationship according to which the Old Testament deals with the Law, the New Testament with the gospel; or the Old Testament with the wrathful, the New Testament with the merciful God. Such a concept is necessary, but it remains subordinate to the historical context.

The Saving God and the History of the Saved People

The beginning of the Old Testament tells the story of a rescue in the book of Exodus. The beginning of the New Testament tells the story of a rescue in the Gospels. The prime declaration about God in the Old Testament, that God is the savior of Israel, persists even in the case of his relationship to the individual, as the Psalms demonstrate. Throughout the New Testament Christ is proclaimed as the savior; “there is salvation in no one else” declares the sermon of the first apostles (Acts 4:12).

It is the saving God who acted in sending Christ. This, then, is a fundamental proclamation about God common to both the Old and the New Testaments. This proclamation of God as savior remains the same even though salvation in the Old and New Testaments may mean something different. The message of Christ as savior rests upon what the Old Testament says about God as savior.

What is said in the New Testament about salvation from sin and death through the work of Christ would be incomprehensible without the experience of physical rescue from the danger of death. There would be no confession of Christ as savior from sin and death if there were no thanksgiving on the part of the person saved from the danger of death. Hence, even in the New Testament God remains the savior from the physical threat of death, as the accounts of the Gospels show.

If, however, the history of the saved people, or the history which grew out of the salvation process, is compared with the New Testament, then a very great contrast appears. In the Old Testament God’s saving act inaugurates the history of a nation which, from the possession of the land up to the collapse, is based on political-military power, as one nation among others. In the New Testament, God’s act of salvation in Christ establishes a religious or cultic congregation without any political power, made up of followers from many peoples, and similar to other cult-congregations within the Roman Empire.

This constitutes a definite contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament which must be recognized. But the historical books of the Old Testament do not limit the history of God’s people to the period of their existence as a state. Rather, they describe a history in various stages. The state of Israel is preceded by several different stages; after the end of the state a remnant continues to exist which no longer possesses the form of a state.

The History of Humanity and of a Family

The history of God’s people is rooted in the history of humanity and in the history of the world (Gen. 1–11), from creation to the end of the world. This statement is common to both the Old and the New Testaments. What is said in the Old Testament about God does not come to an end with the close of the historical books; and what is said in the New Testament about God cannot begin with the birth of Jesus.

The working of the creator remains the same in both the Old and the New Testaments; God is just as much the creator for Christ or for Paul as he is for David or Isaiah. What is said in Genesis 1–11 about the relationship of God to the world and to humanity remains valid even after Christ’s coming. The history of God’s people in both the Old and the New Testaments is related to the history of the world and of humanity. In the Old as well as in the New Covenant God works not only for his people but for the sake of all men.

In Genesis 12–50, the history of a family precedes the history of the people. All types of community which are important in the history of humanity are relevant to the path of Israel through history; just as the history introduced by Christ is relevant, in the course of time, to all of these types of community. The family is of prime importance in this. It is for this reason that the patriarchal history belongs to the Old Testament. In it the whole of existence is defined by the communal form of the family, a pre- and a-political form of existence.

The form of communal existence among the disciples of Jesus and among the first congregations is closely allied to this, as is the celebration of the Last Supper, the only form of cult in the Gospels. In the whole of medieval tradition the church was viewed only in relation to the state, and this was one-sided. The relation of the church to the family is at least equally important.

What it means to be a brother in the Gospels can only be explained by the patriarchal history, even to the extent that a brother is prepared to suffer in the place of his brothers, as the Joseph story shows.

The ultimate goal of Divine Violence and the Character of God is to show that in the midst of human violence and human evil, God is at work trying to reconcile the world unto himself. I conclude that God himself recognizes that violence could not accomplish the work of reconciliation.

In Christ, God emphasizes that the work of reconciliation must be done without violence. That is the emphasis of my book.

You can order a pre-publication copy of Divine Violence and the Character of God at a 40% discount. If you want to order the book at 40% discount, send an email to drmariottini@gmail.com and put Divine Violence in the subject line and I will send you information on how to order a pre-publication copy of the book at 40% discount. This discount will be available only on pre-publication orders. This offer expires January 31, 2022.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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9 Responses to The Old Testament and Jesus Christ

  1. spiritplumber says:

    Are you familiar with stories such as “The Salvation War”, “Doom Eternal” or “Left Beyond”?

    Like

  2. RaPaR says:

    Of course, Westermann must begin his specious argument with “presupposition” and assumption.” Once you set up the argument in this way, you can connect anything together. And to assume that the context is historical rather than theoretical is simply absurd.

    If you want to believe, believe, period. Since by setting up your own parameters subject to no accountability for accuracy, cogency, or fact, you can explain anything in any way you wish, what difference does it make?

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    • RaPar,

      What Westermann is saying that the events in the history of Israel are based on historical events. Some people may accept this fact; others many not.

      Claude Mariottini

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      • RaPaR says:

        With all due respect Dr. Mariottini, no they may not. Events are either historical – by which we mean they can be supported by some body of acceptable evidence – or they are not and we can assume they are not supported by any form of acceptable evidence that a HISTORIAN, or person of some kind of science, would accept. Religion is pretty much an opportunity to pick and choose what you’d like to believe or not; decide what is literal and what is figurative, what is historical and what is not. No legitimate person of science or reason or serious study of any subject would choose to make those decisions so capriciously.

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      • RaPaR,

        Religion is not based on science. Science cannot prove that God exists. Religion is based on faith and faith is hard for many people to understand. People of faith believe that the narratives of the Bible are based on historical events. Science refuses this conclusion because there is no evidence that Abraham existed or that David had a kingdom. You may reject these facts, but people of faith accept them.

        Let finish our discussion with this: let us agree to disagree. You may disagree with many things the Bible says, but allow people of faith to believe them.

        Claude Mariottini

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  3. Craig Baugh says:

    Dr Claude, Passing this along since it touches on the violence of God theme. Jerusalem University College hosted an online seminar this past weekend where Dr Richard Hess’s presentation dealt with Joshua as a Test Case for Genocide: An Archaeological and Canonical Perspective. Neither the paper nor the power point were shared, but you might track down Dr Hess to get a copy. His presentation explored several historical factors (Jericho as a military fort?) and aspects of the Hebrew words that mitigate drawing the conclusion of genocide. https://juc.edu/transitions-in-the-land-online-seminar/

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