The God of the Old Testament vs. the God of New

Why is God so angry in the Old Testament and so loving in the New? A non-Christian friend has used this question to plant a seed of doubt in my mind. He argues that the scriptural picture of the Lord's nature and character is inconsistent and self-contradictory. This has really got me thinking. Christians are always saying that God never changes. Where is the biblical support for that idea?

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The Bible is very clear about the unchanging nature of God. James declares that every good gift comes down from the Father of lights, “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” If this is true, it follows that there has not been, nor could there ever be, any shift in God’s character.

Your friend is not alone in questioning these claims, of course. Many people seem to suppose that the deity of the Old Testament is a “God of violence.” They see this God as standing in stark contrast to the “loving Heavenly Father” of the New Testament. But this idea is largely a figment of the popular imagination. This can be seen by taking a closer look at the Scriptures.

The God of the New Testament is clearly a God of love (1 John 4:8). No doubt about it. But does that mean He’s nothing but an indulgent, doting, grandfatherly figure? Hardly. If you’re unsure about this, go back and re-read the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). And remember the words of Jesus: “I will show you whom you should fear. Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). The author of Hebrews agrees: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Why? Because “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

On the other hand, the God of the old covenant is anything but the relentlessly bad-tempered taskmaster some people make Him out to be. The Old Testament Scriptures are forever describing Him as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” They refer to Him as a God who “has not dealt with us according to our sins nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8-10; see also Exodus 34:6, 7).

As a matter of fact, all of the biblical authors agree that God’s love and God’s judgment are actually two sides of the same coin. Fire can burn. Fire can also provide warmth and comfort. It all depends on where we stand in relationship to the flame. Both Testaments reflect this truth, each in its own way.

And that’s not all. Paul’s “New Testament” emphasis upon grace and faith (as opposed to works of the law) did not originate with him. This central biblical theme can be traced all the way back to the Book of Genesis. There we find it recorded that Abraham “believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; see Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6). The same idea appears in Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet writes, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” Grace, then, is not just a New Testament idea. It’s a biblical idea.

To sum up: the problem of the supposed “differences” between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God is far subtler and more complex than it appears at first glance. To say that the God of the Old Testament is “wrathful and punishing” while the God of the New is “loving and kind” is a gross oversimplification.

If you would like to discuss these concepts further, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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