One of the big conundrums in the study of the Bible is that the god of the Old Testament (OT) is often portrayed as a vengeful, capricious and vicious deity – although also often loving and compassionate – whereas the Father God of the New Testament (NT) is seen as far more gentle and ‘nice’. In the past, I’ve called this the ‘nice God/angry god’ problem and I have written on it before.
The way I see it at the moment is that the OT reflects humanity’s, or at least, Israel’s, concept of God as it evolved from the primitive human-sacrifice gods ‘worshipped’ in Ur of Chaldea that Abram walked away from (in Genesis 12). Back then, all good and bad things were ascribed to supernatural causes, so, things like famines, volcanic eruptions and storms were seen as the result of the ‘anger of the gods’ who of course had to be placated. And the history of religion – sacrifices, Laws, prohibitions, rituals, high places of worship and all the rest – is the history we see in the OT.
In the NT, however, Jesus came to show us what God is really like. He came to correct our misconceptions of the ‘angry god’ of prehistoric civilisations, and demonstrate the love, power, beauty. compassion and above all love of the real God, whose image humanity had been so mistaken about all down the ages.
So, yes, the Bible does contradict itself, in its description of God’s character and nature, because fallible humans, just like you and I, wrote down their insights – and some of them got it wrong, again just like you and I!
In the following excellent piece, Jacob M. Wright expands on these ideas and explains how to reconcile the apparent difference between the Nice God and the Angry god.
“The most defining difference between the Old and New Testament is that Jesus refines our understanding of the character of God. God is not the one who comes to steal, kill, or destroy, that’s the enemy; God comes to bring life (John 10:10). God does not accuse and condemn, that’s the enemy; God comes to heal and save (John 3:17). God does not demand the stoning of sinners, that’s the enemy; God enables them to live free of sin (John 8:11). God does not command the wholesale slaughter of enemies including their wives, children, and pets; he commands to love and forgive them, for in so doing we are like our Father. And if we don’t, Jesus says, we are no better than the pagans (Luke 6:27-36). God dies for his enemies and doesn’t count their sin against them and by doing so, reconciles them (2 Cor. 5:19).
“God is not a God of retributive justice, but a God of restorative justice (Matt. 12:15-21). God freely forgives (Luke 5:20, 7:48; Matt. 9:5) and desires mercy instead of demanding sacrifice (Matt. 9:13, 12:7), and he offers himself as a sacrifice to prove it. God does not demand blood to make peace with him, he gives his own blood to make peace with us. God is not the destroyer, nor does he hold the power of death over us, that is the enemy; God comes to destroy death, and to destroy the destroyer who holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14).
“God does not send evil spirits to torment and deceive people (1 Samuel 16:14, 1 Kings 22:22), rather God casts evil spirits out (Matt., Mark, Luke, and John). God does not render the lepers and the sick as unclean and command for them to be abandoned to die outside the camp (Num. 5:2), but embraces the lepers unto healing (Matt., Mark, Luke, John). God does not want us to live in fear, but reveals a perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God is not wrathfully destructive towards us, but is in hot pursuit of us to bring us out of our own self-destructive waywardness and back into his fold (Luke 15:1-7). God is not an angry abusive father prowling the city streets looking for his rebellious son to beat him senseless in his white-hot wrath, but a kind Father watching the road longing for one sign of his sons return so that he can run to him and embrace him and bring him back to the safety of his home (Luke 15:11-32).
“God’s intent is to free the oppressed, bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, heal the sick, and set the captive free (Luke 4:18). God is Abba, the Father of Lights, from whom all good things come, and there is no shadow of turning from this (James 1:17). God is light, and does not have a dark side (1 John 1:5). God comes to heal us of our sin disease (Matt. 9:12, Mark 2:17), and raise us up to the dignity of sons and daughters (1 John 3:1). God cries out our forgiveness while we murder him (Luke 23:34). God is Christlike, and in him there is no un-Chrislikeness at all. This and this alone can change our hearts of stone back into beating, throbbing hearts of love that manifest the image of the divine.
“The writer of Hebrews said that all before Christ was a mere shadow of the reality (Hebrews 10:1). It’s kind of hard to decipher the true form of something by looking at its shadow. You can get some stuff wrong. John makes the audacious claim that “No one has ever seen God”, even though Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekial had all claimed to have seen God. But regardless of the dreams, visions, revelations, epiphanies, theophanies of these men in scripture that claimed to have seen God, John says that no one has ever seen God until they’ve seen Jesus. Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus appeared and was the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of God’s being, the radiance of the Father’s glory, the Word made flesh, the fullness of God in bodily form.
“So, if what is written by those who only saw a vague shadow contradicts the actual flesh and bones incarnation of God, then go with the latter. This is demonstrated in certain strands of the shadowy Old Testament. Whereas it was common for people in the Old Testament to slay enemies and say that God commanded them to do it, Jesus tells us that we are no better than the pagans if we do that, and reveals that if we love our enemies, then we are like our Father.
“When the Pharisees wanted to carry out what was written in their law of Moses to stone an adulteress, Jesus called them of their father the devil who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). When his disciples wanted to follow in Elijah’s footsteps and call down fire on Christ-rejectors, Jesus rebuked them and said, “You know not what spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) When Peter rebukes Jesus concerning going to the cross because Peter believes the Messiah will establish his kingdom through violent subjugation, Jesus says, “Get behind me satan!” (Matt. 16:23)
“Jesus expressly names all which steals, kills, or destroys as not of his Abba, but only that which comes to give life. It is never okay to quote the Old Testament to endorse something that Jesus clearly forbids.”
So then, it seems to me that if the OT and the NT say two different things, then the NT takes precedence because it was written after Jesus came, and was therefore better informed because of God’s nature having been revealed through Jesus. To me, the take-home message is this: if something doesn’t look/act/talk like Jesus, it’s not God. It is simply incorrect to interpret the OT as if the NT never happened. The NT trumps the OT every time; in fact, Jesus trumps Scripture every time. Bear that in mind and live in the Spirit, and you won’t go far wrong.