Old Testament God vs. New Testament God?

Recently an Atheist said to me concerning the Old Testament Portrait of God verses the New Testament Picture of God revealed in Jesus:
I like the old testament because it was there that god’s voice is most vindictive. But in the new testament it would seem that he changes from being prick-ish to somewhat hopeful for us.

The fact is that the Bible is fairly consistent in it’s portrait of God, when taken in context.

If you read the book fairly you’ll find that the God of the OT is very clearly the God of the New as well – virtually the same amount of love, same amount of things that dismay him as well, and that the grace that is offered in the New Testament and beyond, is available in the Old as well – the main change between the testaments is that the ‘mystery’ has been revealed, and that the New Testament is a universal text, with the offer of salvation, as was intended from the beginning, going out to all peoples, and not a text, like the old, directed specifically at the nation of Israel and the Jewish peoples

One thing to consider contextually is that a majority of the OT was written to apply to Israel at a national – not individual – level, and applied to the infant nation as it was developing and not as much to the interaction of individual people as it regards their personal relationships. Granted, you may pull verses out of context that seem VERY personal from your perspective, but in context they – at that time – were meant to act as Israel’s national law. The New Testament reveals God-made-Flesh, the intimate side: How individuals relate, and behave, as a correction to the very misinterpretations and misunderstandings you seem to abhor (or enjoy, it seems like) from the Old Testament law.

Do know this: The Old Testament speaks plenty about God’s love – Deuteronomy 7:7-13 speaks of His love for the nation of Israel; Isaiah 63:9 speaks of God saving people due to His love for them. On many occasions through the Old Testament the mercy of God is praised (Psalm 57:3; 59:10; 62:12; 86:13; 100:5; 106:1, etc.). Sure, judgment is emphasized, but that is as it often is in any legal document – which the Old Testament primarily is – a legal and historical document for the Nation of Israel which gives us a backdrop to the coming of Jesus.

Also, a cursory non-academic scanning of the Old Testament reveals 446 mentions of God’s ‘love’ and 100 occurrences of ‘mercy’ as opposed to 135 mentions of ‘hate’ and 173 of ‘wrath’. Again, considering this is a legal document, including consequences, where one would expect to find a significant amount of ‘wrath’, this is a significant statistic: 551 love/mercy vs. 308 hate/wrath. Compare this to the New Testament where the statistic is 291 love/mercy vs. 71 hate/wrath. The percentage of love/wrath in the OT is 64% love to 36$ wrath, again noting that it IS an ancient legal document for a nation, with consequences of the actions written into it. In the New Testament that statistics are: 80% love vs. 20 % wrath…again, noting that the New Testament is a personal account written towards how individual followers of Jesus should behave, rather than a law-book given to a nation. I think we both can agree that what is right for a nation as a whole, especially in a time of war, is very different that what is allowed or accepted between individuals within a culture. Anyway…there you have it…the NT picture of God is – very roughly – 20% more loving than the OT one…factoring in the difference between the context and intentions of those written words, I personally don’t find that to be very significant.

It really helps to remember that most of the old testament is a legal document, and those parts that don’t read like a modern legal document are actually modeled after ancient legal agreements between a king and his vassals, as a great amount of research has shown over the past few years. But essentially, I just try to be a responsible reader of an ancient text that God seems to promise that if I properly understand it – according to the Spirit of Christ – will change my life, and it has.

But, let it be known, due to the complexity of the Old Testament, which many skeptics employ almost soley in their arguments against faith, it is not really the logical foundation of my faith – only the historical background to it. My faith resides in the person of Jesus, whom I’m convinced revealed the creator God of the universe…I take the OT only because of my faith in Jesus, who often referred to the text, albeit in ways that surprised and dismayed many of His hearers.


~ by heatlight on August 20, 2007.

9 Responses to “Old Testament God vs. New Testament God?”

  1. A well written essay. However it is our own faults that skeptics can take us to task with our own texts. Many Christians fail to read the texts of the Ancient Near East to understand the cultural, political, economic, and religious influences of that time period. We ourselves are to blame for digging the whole of anti-Intellectualism. That traditional ladder that we rely on to climb out has most of the rung broken.

    We painted our own modern theology over the ancient wisdom on the Old Testment and we can no longer see the original painting that once existed. We need to realize that proper context is not the theology of St. Agustin and those of the proto-orthodox movement, but that of the Ancient Near Eastern environment, with it’s deities, wars, suffering, oral history, archeology, and story telling. The law code in in treaty format. But there are many formats by many writers.

  2. interesting

  3. Nice!

  4. You are certainly correct to point out the context of the Old Testament is important. This was an age of small tribes warring continuously to gain control of scant resources and the measures they took against each other were absolutely draconian. My problem with the Old Testament is not that the Israelis did commit genocide (they very clearly did in their wholesale slaughter of entire tribes, at least one of which is even described by specific physical/ethnic traits) but that they did it in God’s name, by God’s demand. I cannot believe in a God who would order or even condone genocide. Genocide is morally repugnant, today, tomorrow, yesterday, for any reason, ever. The very idea that entire ethnic groups were declared “wicked” by God and made fair game for genocide runs counter to everything I believe about the dignity of human life.

  5. I agree with parts of the statement you’ve made with smal warring tribes etc… In ancients times this was the law of the land …. But about those people that where wiped out by war genocide done by the isralites and ordered by GOD himself….What does the bible says about those wicked nations ? I will post here what God says about those nations at the time….. In Deuteronomy 12:30-31, God calls Human sacrifice something that He hates, and an abomination to Him, “for every abomination to the Eternal, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. In Jeremiah 19:4-6, God tells us that Human sacrifice is so horrible a concept to Him, that it did not even come into His mind to demand it from His creation, “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind.” We see the same thing in Psalm 106:37-38, and in Ezekiel 16:20. So you see God’s justice is served by those who at the time where practicing genocide themselves commiting horrible crimes in the name of their Pagan God’s like Baal…..trowing newborns babies into pits of fire… What more horrible genocide of infants or children is that ?

  6. I see that you are all arguing about the above mentioned topic,. But my question is “How near is the end of the world?”

  7. My answer is: Wow, pretty off topic, don’t you think? Are you a nutjob? Seriously?

  8. Once again we see christian moderates picking and choosing which parts of the bible to take literaly. It truly is astonishing how people can see the bible as anything more than a work of literature, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

  9. Isn’t a true literalist not one that reads as literal aspects of a text that were never intended as such, but someone who reads a texts as it’s authors intended, and takes that messages seriously? I think to read poetry as history is a grave error – not matter what the text. Since the Bible is God’s Word, I think I’ll be even more careful to be sure to understand the context, genre and content of what is being said – seems to be a good idea not to misunderstand God, wouldn’t you say?

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