Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving. Right? Or wrong?

Painting of God

In the Old Testament, God, who is variously known by names like Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai and El Shaddai, is active, angry and violent – talking to Moses, defeating armies, guiding by pillars of smoke and of fire, and threatening those who disobey.

But in the New Testament, God seems to be more relaxed – a voice at Jesus baptism and not much else – while Jesus, and later the Spirit, take centre stage.

Is this a fair picture, a caricature, or totally wrong? What should christians think about the Old Testament picture of God, especially the violence he seems to sometimes initiate?

God in the Old Testament

There is no doubt that God is portrayed in the Old Testament as commanding and doing some things we would regard as barbaric today. Perhaps the classic example is 1 Samuel 15:3:

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

But this isn’t the whole story. God is also portrayed as loving and patient, and there are many commands to love and be merciful, and practical commands that care for the poor and the defenceless (Deuteronomy 24:14-15), even refugees (Deuteronomy 10:18-19), and to provide opportunities for justice rather than revenge (Exodus 24:13).

The prophets revise the picture we get from the earlier parts of the Old Testament, showing vividly that God cares about compassion for the poor and justice and honesty for all.

Despite what critics say, the loving nature of God is more on display than the violent. Many years ago I did a genuinely random selection of 100 Old Testament verses, and found that there were twice as many positive portrayals of God as there were ones we would find negative now (although they almost certainly wouldn’t have seen as negative back then).

God in the New Testament

Of course we know the picture looks very different in the New Testament. God is love says 1 John 4:8. Jesus says if we’ve seen him we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9) and we see him caring for women victims of a male-dominated society (John 8:10-11), outcast lepers (Matthew 8:2-3) and hated tax collectors (Luke 19:5). And Jesus is very strongly opposed to violence, saying (Matthew 5:44-45):

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

How can we put it all together?

There seem to be three ways we can make sense of these apparent and large differences.

1. Defend all statements in the Bible

Some christians argue that the Bible stands in its entirety and all the apparently violent depictions of God and his commands can be justified. The people who he commanded be killed were really evil and depraved and liable to lead the Israelites away from God or even destroy God’s chosen people. And the children had to go because they couldn’t survive without their parents.

I cannot follow this course. I cannot see how ordering people to murder can be squared with God’s character revealed in Jesus. Can I imagine Jesus carrying out that command? No I cannot! I would rather give up believing in these Old Testament teachings than try to defend such a view of God.

2. The whole Bible is barbaric

Some non-believers, sometimes those who left the faith over issues like this, agree that the Bible stands in its entirety, and therefore must be rejected because the barbaric depiction of God in the early books of the Old Testament belongs to a long gone age.

I cannot follow this course either. I believe in Jesus and he taught and embodied a loving God. I cannot let go of that understanding because I believe it is the truth.

3. Believe what the New Testament shows us about the Old

There is a third way. I believe we can see that Jesus and the apostles rejected this violent portrayal of God and replaced it with with something nobler and truer.

Interested?

Violence and vengeance in the New Testament

As we have already seen, there are strong New Testament teachings against violence and commanding loving service, even of enemies. But how did Jesus and the apostles deal with Old Testament violence?

Jesus and his mission

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus sets out his mission by quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2:

““The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He goes on to say that this scripture was fulfilled in him. But it is notable that he chooses not to complete verse 2 of Isaiah 61, which goes onto say: “and the day of vengeance of our God”

There are several views on why Jesus omitted this section, but they all lead to the conclusion that Jesus was distancing himself from violence as a means for fulfilling his mission. And arguably, he was correcting an Old Testament misunderstanding about God.

This emphasis seems to permeate Jesus’ use of the Old Testament. According to the Enemy Love website, the most common Old Testament themes referenced by Jesus were mercy and not seeking revenge.

Paul and violence

In the book of Romans, Paul several times quotes Old Testament passages that included God’s vengeance or condemnation of gentiles – and each time he omits those sections.

  • In Romans 15:9-10 he quotes from Psalm 18:49 and Deuteronomy 32:43, both passages that are surrounded by statements of revenge on the enemies of God’s people. But Paul omits these and only quotes the shorter sections on praise to God for his mercy.
  • In Romans 12:19-21 Paul urges christians not to take vengeance, and again quotes from Deuteronomy 32. But whereas the original passage was a celebration of God’s vengeance, Paul turns it into an admonition to love enemies.
  • Then in Romans 3:10-18, Paul quotes from a series of Psalms to illustrate human sinfulness. But the original context of most of these Psalms was the supposedly righteous writer calling on God to judge these evil-doers, whereas Paul uses the passages to teach that all of us, without exception, need the mercy and forgiveness of God, not his justice and vengeance.

Comparing emphases

The Old Testament contains several commands to seek vengeance (e.g. Numbers 31:1-3, Joshua 10:12-13, Judges 16:28-30, Jeremiah 50:14-15) along with others to be more loving, but the New Testament strongly teaches mercy, non-violence and not taking revenge.

It is clear then that the New Testament has a different overall emphasis from the Old Testament. However we might explain this, it seems likely that both Jesus and Paul were correcting faulty understandings of God’s character that appear in some passages in the Old Testament, and explaining some passages in a new way.

They seem to have felt free to reinterpret the Old Testament, something that isn’t uncommon in the New Testament, or in first century Judaism – see Interpreting the Old Testament.

Interpreting the Old Testament’s portrayal of God

It seems then that both Jesus and Paul were not happy with the portrayal of God as taking vengeance, and gave us a new emphasis on forgiveness and mercy. How can we understand this?

It seems to me that there are two possible ways to resolve this apparent dilemma.

We all make mistakes

However much or little we may think them inspired by God, the Old Testament was written down by people, and these people used the language and thought forms of their day. It may be that they simply recorded their understanding of God at the time, and they were mistaken on this aspect. This easily resolves the difficulties, but makes the Old Testament less useful as an authoritative revelation of God’s true character.

Learning all the time

God adapts himself to our human limitations, and his self-revelation has always been progressive, starting with what is most easily understood, and gradually moving to a more compete revelation in Jesus. The early Old Testament belongs to an early stage when God’s revelation was incomplete, and the commands to violence were part of their culture that God hadn’t corrected yet.

Or perhaps both

I can’t help feeling the truth is a combination of these. Something like this was the view of CS Lewis, who wrote:

“If you take the Bible as a whole, you see a process in which something which, in its earliest levels …. was hardly moral at all, and was in some ways not unlike the Pagan religions, is gradually purged and enlightened till it becomes the religion of the great prophets and Our Lord Himself. …. At first hardly anything comes through but mere power. Then (v. important) the truth that He is One and there is no other God. Then justice, then mercy, love, wisdom.”

Is this selling the Bible short?

Our initial reaction may be to feel alarmed at this “answer” – it is compromising the truth of the Bible. But we have Jesus and Paul’s example to show us that they seem to have been comfortable with that approach, so perhaps we don’t need to be fearful after all

And anyway, which is most important, a true understanding of God’s love or a doctrine about the Bible?

On this understanding of the Old Testament, it still is inspired, it still points to Jesus and it is still the scriptures Jesus used and which allow us to understand his mission. But we are in a new covenant now, and God is revealed in new ways in Jesus that make the Old Testament view of him incomplete.

I wouldn’t say I am completely comfortable with this view, nor do I think I have arrived at a final view, but I feel this is the way God is leading me.

Read more

On this website:

On the web:

Photo: Sistine Chapel fresco Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo, in Wikipedia.

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31 thoughts on “Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving. Right? Or wrong?

  1. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Wow! You really handled this well. Most of the content reflects my views very closely. I really like your tone, your style, and your arrangement. The section on Jesus’ and Paul’s use of OT passage while avoided connected angry God content was intriguing; I will pursue further your references to this issue.

    Thanks for including my link among your further resources.

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  2. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    If you say something further on it, I should see it because, when I found your blog, I began following you at once on RSS.

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  3. unkleE says:

    Thank you. I have enjoyed reading your blog too, it seems we have quite a bit in common. Perhaps we should compare notes. Please feel free to email me using the link at the top.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rwwilson147 says:

    Nice piece, well presented, argued, concluded. Now, not to be overly contrarian, because I too am trying to be a follower of Jesus in all things non-violently, but isn’t there a chance that you have done the “I have a hammer,” “where’s the nail” kind of bible study here? I once did an undergrad essay critiquing my professor’s book that presented a similar thesis in which he described the evolutionary development of the Judeo-Christian conception of God from the angry, mean, violent Old Testament view through the “mollifying” prophetic view, on to the meek, kind, never-violent view of God in the NT. I wish I still had a copy of my paper, although I’ve modified my probably sophomoric oversimplifications since, but if one really wanted to do an objective analysis of whether God has gone all meek and mild one might start with Jesus’ affirmations of the not to be messed with OT God whom he knew like a Son knows a Father. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” (Matthew 22:13) Whoa, really, we’re just getting started in Matthew and we’ve already found screws for which a hammer is completely inadequate. Intellectual and spiritual truth seeking means looking for nails as well as screws in order to know God fully through Christ.

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  5. unkleE says:

    Hi Benjamin, thanks.

    Hi Michael, thanks for reading and commenting, but I’m not sure what you were wanting me to understand, I’m sorry.

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  6. unkleE says:

    G’day RWW, thanks for your comment, both the compliment and the critique.

    I confess to not being absolutely sure about all this, but exploring. But I think I disagree when you use the phrase “all meek and mild”. Jesus told us to be meek, but he didn’t say mild. No-one (at least no-one who believes in Jesus) is likely to disagree that while he was loving and serving, he surely wasn’t mild! And if we have seen him we have seen the Father.

    So I think you are correct, there is tough stuff in Jesus’ teachings. Whatever else we say about God, he created a world where nasty things happen, and he will judge us all one day. And I believe that will indeed mean that some people will be destroyed, or their life come to an end, in the next age. But I don’t think God will do that vindictively, but sorrowfully, and I think if there was anything he could do to change that situation, short of taking away our freedom, I think he would do it and has done it. As for the parable you mention, I don’t see why we have to say that God is like the king in every respect, any more than God is in every way like the Father in the Prodigal Son parable – e.g. in having two sons.

    So I certainly take your point that we have to see God as tough, righteous and just as well as loving, but I still think the way Jesus and Paul quote, and don’t quote, the Old Testament is suggestive. I’d be interested to hear more of how you see this.

    Thanks.

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  7. rwwilson147 says:

    I am inclined to think that what is just suggestive is not very compelling. If there are other scriptures attributed to Jesus and Paul that support a very Old Testament kind of “avenging God” understanding of God then selective suggestions aren’t very convincing.

    Pardon those inadequate and/or inaccurate catch phrases like “meek and mild.”

    It is interesting that I didn’t think about the possibly parallel implication regarding Jesus and Paul themselves “just looking for nails.”

    I understand the New Testament, and Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teaching, primarily in the context of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic expectations. Their conceptual matrix was largely the Old Testament as seen through the cultural inspiration of the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha. In that light I’m inclined to think that Jesus and Paul weren’t leaving off parts of passages of scripture to alter our view of God but to suggest that those elements were not the focus of the moment with the coming of the Good News of God’s grace for all.They seem to have been very aware that “the vengeance of God” would soon be brought to bear more on the Jews than the Romans, but eventually on all those who didn’t believe and obey

    In short, neither Jesus nor Paul would, I think, approach scripture with a “canon within the canon” attitude the way people do today. At obvious risk of projecting onto God my own sorrows, I don’t see a “sorrowful” vengeance as being beyond an appropriate appreciation God’s own view of how God will engage the necessity of judgement, now and in the End.

    I tend to think that our culture bends toward ignoring the Second Temple Jewish understanding of God as being as he was in the ancient past, and as such still a God of wrath and vengeance. Hence Jesus and Paul both reflect that understanding of God that we tend to find distasteful.

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  8. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing a little more of how you see this. I have a few comments.

    “If there are other scriptures attributed to Jesus and Paul that support a very Old Testament kind of “avenging God” understanding of God then selective suggestions aren’t very convincing.”

    Well I think all the evidence needs to be considered. These passages are not on their own. For example, Jesus twice defends women who were accused of adultery, and never that I can remember utters any threats to ordinary people – only the religious leaders are threatened. John says God is love, Paul says the greatest of all character values is agape love. So I think there is a strong case.

    What other scriptures were you thinking of?

    “I understand the New Testament, and Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teaching, primarily in the context of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic expectations.”

    What differences do you think that perspective gives you?

    I would have said that on many matters Jesus was correcting or even opposing second temple Judaism, as represented by the religious leaders he argued against so often.

    “I’m inclined to think that Jesus and Paul weren’t leaving off parts of passages of scripture to alter our view of God but to suggest that those elements were not the focus of the moment with the coming of the Good News of God’s grace for all.”

    I agree with you here, and said as much in my post. The question then is, does this represent a hiatus only, or a more correct understanding of God which will be true now and into the eternal future?

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  9. rwwilson147 says:

    UNKLEE: What other scriptures were you thinking of?
    RWW: Look for the “screws” my friend and I think you’ll find them.
    “I understand the New Testament, and Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teaching, primarily in the context of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic expectations.”
    UNKLEE: What differences do you think that perspective gives you?
    RWW: Of course Jesus offers counterpoints and divergences, my point is that Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic it is not in synch with our contemporary “God is Love and can’t be angry or wrathful or vengeful” orientation but is almost completely in synch with the Old Testament portrayal of God compared to many contemporary perspectives. The New Testament doesn’t actually present God as having a different character from that conveyed through the Old Covenant scriptures. If it did there would be valid reasons to judge Christ’s followers as apostate. Today we have an extremely difficult time reconstructing biblical perspectives partially because of the chronological distance and even more because of our cultural and spiritual distance. These are bridges not easily crossed even in approximation–nevertheless, that is our obligation as those seeking to know the God of the Bible better.
    UNKLEE: I would have said that on many matters Jesus was correcting or even opposing second temple Judaism, as represented by the religious leaders he argued against so often.
    RWW: This is certainly the case, but that is not the same as saying Jesus was correcting or opposing the idea that God could and would do vengeance on those who didn’t recognize the time and way of His Coming, or that He was a jealous God, and angry with those who opposed Him.
    RWW: “I’m inclined to think that Jesus and Paul weren’t leaving off parts of passages of scripture to alter our view of God but to suggest that those elements were not the focus of the moment with the coming of the Good News of God’s grace for all.”
    UNKLEE: I agree with you here, and said as much in my post. The question then is, does this represent a hiatus only, or a more correct understanding of God which will be true now and into the eternal future?
    RWW: The whole idea that (our interpretation of?) the New Testament is offering “a more correct understanding of God” is, I think, completely misguided. The only scriptures New Covenant believers, and Jesus (for heaven’s sake!) had were the Old Testament. To think that they conceived of God as being different from those portrayals is at least quasi-Marcionite, and doesn’t seem to suggest that God himself is the author of a coherent narrative of his history. I think that is problematic.

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  10. unkleE says:

    Hi, thanks again. I find myself in agreement with some of what you say, then wondering why we are so far apart on other matters.

    Let’s start with Second Temple Judaism. I agree that Jesus lived in this culture, and we need to understand it to understand a lot of what he said and did. One of the most important steps in my growth as a christian was realising that modern 20th century (as it was then) western evangelical Jesus was not the Jesus of the New Testament, because it missed his Jewish context.

    And I agree that “Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic it is not in synch with our contemporary “God is Love and can’t be angry or wrathful or vengeful” orientation but is almost completely in synch with the Old Testament portrayal of God”

    But the rest of what you say assumes Jesus agreed with Second Temple Judaism, and hence with the picture of God in the OT. This is where we diverge, because I doubt this assumption.

    I have already given the evidence of the passages in the blog post. I have pointed out that Jesus argued vehemently with the Second Temple Jewish authorities and called them whitewashed tombs etc. I have pointed out that there was vengeance in the OT but only forgiveness and love for enemies in the NT. I have pointed out that he didn’t enforce Mosaic law on two adulterous women, and never threatened any common people, only the Second Temple authorities. And they eventually pressed for his execution.

    I could add the times in Matthew 5 where he made his words as higher authorities than the Law, ad the many times when he contested the Second Temple authorities’ teachings about God and what God expects of us, which certainly looks on occasions like changing or amending OT teachings. I could mention where the Second temple authorities accused him of doing miracles by the power of the devil and accused him of blasphemy.

    I reckon I could go on. But that seems to me to indicate quite clearly that he might have lived in the Second Temple period but he had a different ethic and theology. And it seems different to the OT in some places. Of course the OT was his scriptures, but the evidence also shows that he (and the apostles) were willing to re-interpret the OT when they needed to, and its authority didn’t stop them. Of course I know he upheld many teachings of the OT, and didn’t present “mild” God. But “not mild” is different to “vengeful”.

    So I can’t see how you can deny this, and I’m interested to see how you justify what you have said. But we need examples, not just statements about Second Temple Judaism – we are agreed on it’s relevance, we just need some evidence that he didn’t argue with some of its ideas – including a vengeful God.

    Thanks, I appreciate the opportunity to be provoked by your ideas.

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  11. rwwilson147 says:

    Thanks for this interaction.

    I don’t assume or think I implied that “Jesus agreed with Second Temple Judaism, and HENCE (emph. mine) with the picture of God in the OT.” I think Jesus conforms to the OT picture of God because he believed the OT scripture. My impression is that Jesus’ mind-set was deeply in resonance especially with the Prophetic traditions of the OT; his contemporaries, other than the authorities, recognized and confirmed this.

    My impression is that when you say “… that there was vengeance in the OT but only forgiveness and love for enemies in the NT” you create too great a dichotomy. Yes, Jesus refined and even amended OT Torah, but that doesn’t equate to a changed portrayal of God. As Jesus said:

    “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matt 6:14-15

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” but to the others “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Matt 7:21
    And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matt 25:46

    So, yes, Jesus calls his followers to only love and forgive, but that doesn’t mean that God can only be loving and forgiving. Since we are discussing the portrayal of God in the Old and New Testaments I don’t think your point has been made.

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  12. unkleE says:

    Hello again. I don’t wish to sound like a typical internet debater (I hope I’m not that!), but I feel you haven’t yet engaged with the texts that I referenced.

    I have no doubt that Jesus “believed the OT scripture” and his “mind-set was deeply in resonance especially with the Prophetic traditions of the OT”. That is not under question. The question I am raising is whether he was totally in agreement with the portrait of God there. So here are three points I think it would be useful to see your answers on:

    1. You say “Jesus refined and even amended OT Torah, but that doesn’t equate to a changed portrayal of God”. I can’t see how a God-given law (as you see it) could be changed without it changing something about our picture of God. Can you explain what things you think Jesus changed and how they don’t mean our picture of God is changed?

    2. You also say: “Jesus’ mind-set was deeply in resonance especially with the Prophetic traditions of the OT” Now it seems to me that the prophets definitely changed the picture of God given in the law. Ezekiel (18:19-20) disagreed with Torah (Exodus 20:5-6, Deuteronomy 5:9-10), and most scholars say the concept of Yahweh in the earliest parts of the OT was henotheistic (worshiping one god while other gods are believed to exist), and Yahweh behaved somewhat like a local tribal god (winning battles for his people and doing strange things – Exodus 4:24, 1 Samuel 18:10), yet by Isaiah we get some of the most sublime depictions of God – quite a development in revelation. Do you accept a progression in revelation within the OT?

    3. I have offered about half a dozen examples of how the NT makes some significant changes to the OT revelation of God. You haven’t yet explained these any other way. Do you have an alternative explanation?

    It seems to me that you already accept development in the revelation from OT to NT, but you don’t think it is as strong as I suggest. Hopefully your answers to these question will help us judge exactly how far apart our views are. Thanks.

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  13. rwwilson147 says:

    I think this kind of conversation can be helpful as we should all be rethinking our understanding of God since it is so easy to be mistaken. I get the impression that you think the authors of many parts of the OT were mistaken, from your most recent comments that the OT prophets changed the picture of God, and your original thesis here is “that Jesus and the apostles rejected this violent portrayal of God and replaced it with with something nobler and truer.” Following your outline above….

    1) I’ll stand by what you quoted me saying. Changing parts of the Torah doesn’t change the overall picture of the God behind the law. Even a major change in a strategy or plan of action doesn’t change the person behind it. If I’m working as a handyman while a student, working as a teacher for a time, then becoming a businessman reselling computers I don’t think that changes the picture, the portrayal, of who I am (except for those who don’t actually know me). Similarly I don’t think even major changes in strategies or covenants necessarily equates to a change in perception of WHO YHWH GOD IS. Nevertheless, I know perceptions of God vary from person to person and time to time; especially in relation to God there is no comprehensive timeless picture that can be painted. Your last sentence asked me to prove a negative, so I’ll take a pass on that.

    2) I know I’m just repeating myself, but a progression in revelation of God doesn’t equate to a change in portrayal of the character of God–which is what you are asserting. Do you think the OT prophets thought they were changing the picture of who God is? My impression is that they were trying to change the behavior of people and get them to confirm the Torah portrayal of God in the process. There are scholars who argue for coherent biblical trajectories and others that see all “revelation” as merely human perceptions of God, as though there were no god behind the narrative of those portrayals. I’m not a scholar, and definitely not a god, but I try to imagine revelation from the perspective of God; from that perspective I imagine God being either annoyed or amused by efforts to change who s/he is.

    3) Our divergences in perspective are probably mostly that, matters of perspective. I can’t imagine Jesus or the Apostles thinking they had a changed view of the character of God, nor denying his ability to use power or violence to accomplish his purposes. I don’t think they looked back at the OT and thought to themselves “that can’t be what God is like.” Similarly I don’t think we should; there are other ways to understand what we see as the OT portrayals of God; there are currently serious scholars reworking our orientation to the contexts and texts of OT narratives that help mitigate the discontinuities we tend to experience in relation to the OT as followers in Jesus’ NT way of non-violent love.

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  14. rwwilson147 says:

    Some afterthoughts. I know I haven’t dealt with any specific text you refer to as changing the revelation of God. The assumption is that the texts do what you say they do, they present a different portrayal of God than previous texts. I have a hard time concluding that from the texts because none of them say that is what they are doing. If none of the authors thought they were doing that why should we?

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  15. unkleE says:

    “I get the impression that you think the authors of many parts of the OT were mistaken”

    I don’t know I’d say “many parts”, but certainly some parts. I have given a few examples, and I’d be interested in your take on them.

    1. Did God really send Moses on a mission then trying to kill him (Exodus 4:24) and send an evil spirit to Saul (1 Samuel 18:10)?

    2. The Torah (Exodus 20:5-6, Deuteronomy 5:9-10) says that God will punish children and grandchildren for the sins of the fathers, but Ezekiel 18:19-20 says this isn’t so – we all stand or fall by our own behaviour. Do you regard that as a change in teaching about God?

    I have made my views a little clearer in my most recent post and the page it references. You may wish to comment there. To clarify your views, do you believe the Bible is inerrant?

    “Similarly I don’t think even major changes in strategies or covenants necessarily equates to a change in perception of WHO YHWH GOD IS.”

    Obviously I don’t believe God changes, I’m just suggesting that the revelation is more complete in the NT, with some of the OT views being corrected by Jesus. I can’t see how you can say that there are changes in teachings (strategies and covenants) but no change in perceptions, – that would have to mean we didn’t perceive those strategies and covenants, and the teachings of Jesus and Paul we started with.

    “a progression in revelation of God doesn’t equate to a change in portrayal of the character of God–which is what you are asserting.”

    But surely this could only be true if we didn’t take any notice of the revelation? A revelation is meant to reveal, and if the revelation progresses, that means it changes, and reveals something new. That surely must change our understanding, or it hasn’t achieved its purpose?

    “Our divergences in perspective are probably mostly that, matters of perspective. I can’t imagine Jesus or the Apostles thinking they had a changed view of the character of God, nor denying his ability to use power or violence to accomplish his purposes. I don’t think they looked back at the OT and thought to themselves “that can’t be what God is like.””

    OK. I can imagine that. I don’t know if it is true, like I said, but it is suggestive to me, and to others. But I do know that Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees didn’t know the scriptures or the power of God, so he was clearly telling them they had a wrong concept of God, and of the scriptures. So maybe here as well?

    I sort of feel we have reached an impasse. You don’t think it’s possible that Jesus could have corrected the OT, whereas I think it is possible. Your view must logically colour the other statements I’ve referenced here, and I can’t see how you can change you view until and unless you decide it is possible Jesus could have done that. I think that is the core of our disagreement. What do you think?

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  16. rwwilson147 says:

    Rather than say that biblical authors were mistaken I think that it is more likely that we are mistaken either about what they were saying in their own conceptual matrix or at least that saying they were mistaken is not the most helpful approach for understanding what they were saying and why. Thousands of years of cultural and historical distance tends to make it very difficult to be certain we comprehend what the authors meant.

    The inerrancy shibboleth is not one I prefer to engage. There are too many well intentioned cultural and spiritual time-bombs waiting to go off already.

    Saying that Jesus “corrected” mistaken portrayals of God in the OT is too problematic a way to explain what we don’t understand about scripture. Saying there were changes in teachings, strategies, and Covenant (!) doesn’t necessarily imply that OT Prophets were “mistaken,” that Jesus had to “correct” them, or that our perceptual tensions between them are in error either. There is divergence, but the language we use to describe the transition between covenants need not dichotomize the two.

    Imagine for the sake of argument that God achieved his purposes through the Old Covenant and the OT adequately portrays that process (this is not to say that how anyone perceives that portrayal today is accurate), and that he is now engaged in achieving his purposes through the New Covenant (tho we may not accurately understand what he intends or how we are to participate in that process). Isn’t it possible that our perceptions of possible divergences in the portrayals of God has more to do with the limitations of our distorted viewing lenses rather than the portrayals themselves? Progression in revelation may have more to do with a progression in human ability to comprehend it rather than an evolution in the revelation of God _per se_. You “don’t believe God changes” but if you say that scriptural revelation of who God is changes then I think you have ceded the field of revelation to the relativists. If the OT gives mistaken views of the character of God why not the NT also? Therein lays the rub.

    Changes in the revelation of what God wants us to do is different from changes in revelation of the character of God. This is to me a vital distinction. Yes “Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees didn’t know the scriptures or the power of God, so he was clearly telling them they had a wrong concept of God,” but that is far different from saying that the scriptures themselves have a portrayal of God that was “corrected” by Jesus and the Apostles. So, yes, we may have a conceptual impasse here, but I think we are really close to coming to understand one another.

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  17. unkleE says:

    Hi, I agree that we are reaching some mutual understanding and we may agree about more of all this than at first appeared. You tend to use words like “divergence”, “the limitations of our distorted viewing lenses” and “progression in human ability to comprehend” whereas I use more direct (and possibly more outspoken) words like “correction”, “mistaken” and “change”, but perhaps we mean similarly.

    “Progression in revelation may have more to do with a progression in human ability to comprehend it rather than an evolution in the revelation of God _per se_.”

    I can’t see how this statement works – it seems to me to be inconsistent. If there is progression in revelation then there was evolution in the revelation, surely, and yet you seems to accept the first but not the second. It seems clear to me that if our ability to comprehend grew, and God adjusted to that, then the revelation changed and the new replaced the old – just as for example, when I studied physics at high school we were taught Newtonian physics, then later at Uni we learnt Einsteinian physics, which “corrects” the Newtonian at high velocities.

    I would also be interested to know how you feel about the examples I asked about:

    1. Did God really send Moses on a mission then trying to kill him (Exodus 4:24) and send an evil spirit to Saul (1 Samuel 18:10)?

    2. The Torah (Exodus 20:5-6, Deuteronomy 5:9-10) says that God will punish children and grandchildren for the sins of the fathers, but Ezekiel 18:19-20 says this isn’t so – we all stand or fall by our own behaviour. Do you regard that as a change in teaching about God?

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  18. rwwilson147 says:

    Ah, perfect example: “when I studied physics at high school we were taught Newtonian physics, then later at Uni we learnt Einsteinian physics, which “corrects” the Newtonian at high velocities.” You put the “corrects” in quotes because Newtonian physics hasn’t been “replaced,” but rather subsumed within a more elaborate and complicated system. Our current understanding of quantum mechanics and the relativities doesn’t invalidate the accuracy of Newtonian mechanics within appropriate parameters; sub-atomically quantum mechanics it the better portrayal of reality but on galatic scales Newtonian mechanics are still quite reasonable approximations. As some say, classical mechanics can be considered a subset of quantum mechanics. I’m not sure it would be helpful to say that the OT is a subset of the NT, but I’ll have to think about that some more. Analogies seldom carry us very far in understanding the nature of things.

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  19. rwwilson147 says:

    1) This feels like a straight line for which any reasonably competent rabbi would have a follow up punch line, but I’m just a goy pedant. My thought was, “do you think God couldn’t have killed him if he wanted to?” Rhetorical flourishes to follow…. Ah, then for the second question it gets a bit more complicated. Comprehending biblical ways of expressing the providential control of God over everything while allowing free will takes more than a Phd; and I think there is a joke or two circulating about how many opinions there are on any particular theological topic in a room full of rabbis that might be brought to bear in this case.
    2) I think this is more a change in the teaching about how God is going to interact with people than it is a change in the teaching about God. (I know, you think I’m equivocating) Ezek. 18 is a remarkably cogent example of exemplary moral reasoning. This is where careful arguments for the evolution of human readiness for receiving the revelation of God’s may be employed. OSISTM

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  20. unkleE says:

    Hi, just a few brief comments.

    1. I think the Newtonian/ Einsteinian example works just fine. The whole OT is “subsumed within a more elaborate and complicated system”, and some parts are negated. Of course no analogy works 100% but they can illustrate.

    2. I enjoyed what you said about the first OT example I gave, but you didn’t actually answer the question – do you think this actually happened as reported?

    I think we are close to agreeing, but I think you are reluctant to be pinned down on a few things. I think that’s sometimes wise, but I think sometimes it is avoiding a difficult personal decision. I cannot say any more than that.

    I think that’s probably all from me. Thanks for an enjoyable and challenging discussion.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to believe the early Old Testament wasn’t well preserved. Our earliest manuscripts come from a thousand years after the events. On the other hand, the earliest New Testament manuscripts come from the 100s!

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  22. unkleE says:

    Hi, glad you have visited and found something of interest. I think the NT situation is even better than you say. Yes, the earliest manuscript we have is 100 years after the events, but we have so many manuscripts that we can cross check that we can be sure that most of what we have is what was originally written. There are a few difficulties to be sure, but they affect so little.

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  23. Mario says:

    ive read the entire bible beginning to end and i think he was a little more angry in the old testament i think he may have been in an awful mood after being betrayed by satan not saying all the old testament he was angry but he did some things that made me think he was mean and cruel i know old testament and new testament sre the same god but i think he was a bit more angry in the old like i said maybe from the betrayal

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