Is God different in the Old and New Testaments?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 83 1

Is God different in the Old and New Testaments?

When I was in high school I had an interesting conversation with a friend about religion. While we talked he said that the God in the Old Testament was very strict and didn’t seem like the kind of being that he would want to be friends with. However, the New Testament presented God as someone who would be a joy to be around. He was loving and merciful, and was the kind of God who would be fun to watch Monday Night Football with.

This idea, that the Bible gives us two completely different views of God in each Testament, may seem strange to some. However, there are some people who think exactly this way. This belief has been around for two thousand years. The early church heretic, Marcion (c. 85 – c. 160 AD), believed that the teachings of Jesus were completely at odds with the way that the Old Testament portrayed God. Thus, he believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God as the New Testament.

The God of the Old Testament is vengeful, strict, arrogant, a murderer, and even gets jealous and angry when others worship other gods. He destroys cities (Sodom and Gomorrah for example) and sends a Great Flood to wipe out mankind. The God in the New Testament is the opposite. He is forgiving, merciful, and tells us to even love our enemies. Jesus is nothing but love, love, love. Jesus would never condemn anybody like that horrible Old Testament God!

Does this view have any merit?

There are many problems with this belief. Let’s start with the idea that the Old Testament presents God as wrathful and unloving. For anyone who has ever taken the time to actually study and comprehend the Bible, they would be the first to understand that there are more verses in the Old Testament about God’s mercy and love than in the New Testament (of course, this may be because the Old Testament is longer than the NT). The point being that there are many different places in the Old Testament that speaks of God being full of love and mercy. Here are a few verses:

  • Deuteronomy 7:8 – “Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
  • Psalm 103:13, 17 tells us, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers… But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers, and is faithful to their descendants…”
  • Jeremiah 31:3 says, “In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them. He will say to them, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.’”
  • Psalm 136 says no less than twenty-six times that “His {God’s] love endures forever.”

But isn’t the Old Testament full of God punishing people for breaking his laws? It does record many instances of God punishing sinners for their sins. However, he is also willing to show them mercy if they repent. Take a look at the account of the Great Flood. Why should we blame God for people dying in the Flood when he provided a way out? He gave them 120 years to repent (Genesis 6:3). All they had to do was get on the Ark and live! Yet, sadly, only eight people got on.

The same goes for many of the other so-called “evil deeds” of the Old Testament God. God promised not to destroy Sodom if he could find 10 righteous people in it. Apparently, there was less. Think about that! God was willing to spare a city that wanted to rape travelers coming into its city. Yet, God was willing to spare them if he could find only 10 righteous people in it (Genesis 18:32)!

It is the same for the Canaanites. The Old Testament records that God commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanite people for their sins. God gave the Canaanites hundreds of years (!) to repent of their sins which included child sacrifice and sex with animals (Genesis 15:16)! Even during the conquest of Jericho God saved Rahab and her family (and she was a prostitute and a Canaanite)!

The New Testament view of God

The common belief among most is that Jesus is nothing but love and no wrath. Yet the New Testament teaches about God’s wrath just as much as the Old Testament. The first thing to think about is the fact that Jesus teaches more about hell than anyone else in the Bible! Many readers tend to be shocked at that. Take a look at God’s justice and wrath in the following passages:

  • John 3:36 says, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.” Notice how this is only twenty verses after John 3:16 which speaks about God’s love for the world!
  • Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness…”
  • Romans 2:5-6 says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 says, “For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength…”
  • Revelation 14:9-11 says, “A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb. And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name.’”
  • Revelation 20:10 tells us that Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet will be tormented for all eternity.
  • Revelation 20:15 says that everyone whose name is not found in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.

Anyone who thinks that the two Testaments portray two different Gods has not paid very close attention when reading the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments teach about the same God who is full of love, yet punishes evil. Gleason Archer notes, “The portrait of God is altogether consistent throughout the sixty-six books of the Bible. God’s wrath is the reverse side of His love. As the upholder of the moral law – and He would be an unholy, Satan-like God if He failed to uphold it – God must pass judgment and execute sentence on every unrepentant sinner, whether demon or man. The sacrifice of His Son on the cross was the supreme exhibition of God’s indignation against sin…And yet the Cross was also the supreme revelation of His unfathomable love, for it was the God-man who suffered there for us, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”[1]

What do you think? Does the Bible tell us about two different Gods? Leave a comment below and visit us on Facebook.

[1] Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1982). Pg. 310.

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One thought on “Is God different in the Old and New Testaments?

  1. Pete Rambo

    Good post.

    Not only is the God of the Old Testament the same God of the New… the standards for righteousness in the Old are the same in the New… He does not change (Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8), nor do His standards (Isaiah 40:8).

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