A Tale of Two Gods: Old vs. New Testament?
It is one of the peculiar benefits of preaching through books of the Bible: we are forced to confront the lumpy bits of the Bible. The bits that seem strange or even shocking to us. This is especially true when we dive into the Old Testament, as we have been doing for the last few weeks in our series through 2nd Samuel.
One of the most prominent and potent difficulties presented in the pages of the Old Testament is actually its picture of God. To put it simply, the God revealed in the narrative of the Old Testament can sometimes seem at odds with the God revealed in the pages of the New Testament and in the story of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament we see God wipe out entire families for their disobedience, strike down priests for their irreverence, and remove entire nations for their wickedness. What are we to make of all this? How do we reconcile this picture of God with the God revealed in Jesus? Does the Bible tell us a tale of two gods?
Of course, a comprehensive answer to this question requires more space than I have, which is why I’ve linked to further articles and books at the end. If you wrestle with this question, please let me encourage you to explore these resources and to do some further reading and study. But for now, let me make one important point that I pray will help us to formulate the beginning of an answer to this important question.
The point is simply this: God does not change. We read in Malachi 3:6: “I the Lord do not change.” James says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17). Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”.
Now, if this is true it follows that there has not been, nor could there ever be, any shift in God’s character. The Bible is not a tale of two gods, but rather the one true God who has progressively revealed Himself in human history. This is why, when we dig a little deeper, we discover that the Old and New Testaments both consistently bear witness to the same God; a God of grace and truth, a God of salvation and judgement.
Though the Old Testament distinctly shows us the reality of God’s judgement on human sin and evil, it would be a mistake to conclude it is devoid of God’s mercy and grace. It frequently tells us about “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). We see this love in action in God’s gracious choice and preservation of his people, the nation of Israel. Even God’s judgement on Israel’s enemies can be seen as an expression of His love, for God is determined to preserve a witness to himself in the world.
Similarly, though the New Testament distinctly reveals the reality of God’s love for sinners in the words and work of Jesus Christ, it would also be a mistake to conclude it overlooks the judgement of God. In fact, Jesus himself taught regularly and starkly about the reality of God’s coming judgement (Matthew 5:22, 29; 12:36; 25:41; Luke 12:5; 16:19-31; John 5:28-29); a reality vividly described in Revelation, the final book of the Bible.
The true scandal at the heart of the Bible is not that God might judge us, but rather that this God might enter into human history to bear the judgement that we rightly deserve. The cross stands at the heart of the biblical story to show us that God is both just (our sin must be paid for) and loving (he pays the price for us). This is the same God we see right throughout the Bible, from front to back. This is the God we meet in the opening pages of the Bible; the God who expels Adam and Eve from the Garden (Gen. 3:), but also promises a coming Saviour (Gen. 3:15). This is the same God we meet at the end of the Bible; the God who warns of his judgement should we reject his Saviour (Rev. 22:14-15), but also welcomes all who would come to him in faith (Rev. 22:17). The Bible is not a tale of two different gods, but one gloriously good God who has done everything for us to know him and come to him freely.
Old Testament Mass Killings by Paul Coulter (article)
Thinking Through Old Testament Violence by Andrew Judd (article)
Jesus and the “Ogre” by Peter J. Leithart (article)
Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan (book)