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 argues that the scriptural picture of the Lord’s nature and character is inconsistent and self-contradictory. But Christians always say that God never changes.
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The Bible is very clear about the unchanging nature of God. Consider two passages that assure us there has not been (and never could be) any shift in God’s character:

  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

However, your friend isn’t the only one who questions these claims. Many people read the Old Testament and see a God of violence. They see this God as an absolute contrast to the loving Heavenly Father of the New Testament.

But the problem of supposed differences between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God is far more complex than it first appears. To say that the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and punishing while the God of the New is loving and kind distorts the issue.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible really says.

God’s nature is consistent

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 only a kind, permissive, doting, grandfatherly figure? Hardly.

  • Consider the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
  • And remember the words of Jesus: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5, ESV).
  • The author of Hebrews agrees: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31, ESV). Why? Because “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, ESV).

On the other hand, the God of the old covenant isn’t the relentlessly bad-tempered taskmaster some people make Him out to be.

  • The Old Testament scriptures describe Him more than once as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” They refer to Him as a God who “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8-10 and Exodus 34:6-7).
  • Paul’s emphasis on grace and faith in the New Testament (as opposed to works of the law) didn’t start with him. This central biblical theme can be traced all the way back to Genesis: Abraham “believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6).
  • The same idea appears in Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet writes, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (ESV). In other words, grace isn’t just a New Testament idea; it’s a biblical idea.

Bottom line: All authors of the Bible agree that God’s love and God’s judgment are two sides of the same coin. Fire can burn. And fire can give 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.

Want to talk more?

Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be glad to help in any way they can. In the meantime, you can dig into the recommended resources below.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

What Every Christian Ought to Know Day by Day

If God Is Good . . . Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

Mere Christianity

Referrals
Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living

Lee Strobel

Articles
The Dynamic Yet Unchanging Nature of God

God Unchanging

Do Not Fear in the Face of Change

Copyright © 2011, 2020, Focus on the Family.

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