It is written:
For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
One of the questions that I am often asked is whether or not there is a difference between the God of the Old and the New Testaments.
Usually, it is claimed, the God of the Old Testament seems much more harsh and vengeful then the God of the New Testament; and the God of the New Testament seems much kinder and loving.
What shall we say to this?
First, the Bible is clear that the God of the New Testament is the same God as that of the Old Testament. This is made especially clear by the many references in the New Testament to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (an Old Testament designation for the God of the Old Testament):
Matthew 22:32-‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ ? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Mark 12:26-But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ ?
Luke 20:37-But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.’
The inspired Apostles clearly understood that the God they served was the same God that revealed Himself throughout the Old Testament period:
Acts 3:13-The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.
Acts 7:32-saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS—THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look.
More to the point, the inspired Apostles connect Jesus with the God revealed throughout the Old Testament:
Acts 3:18-But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
Acts 3:21-whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Acts 3:24-Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.
Acts 7:52-Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,
Acts 10:43-To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.
Second, it is not true that there is a difference between the lovingkindness and judgment of God in the Old and New Testaments. This is made especially clear when we study such factors as the love and judgment of God’s Nature as displayed equally in both the Old and New Testaments. While interviewing famed scholar Normal Geisler about this subject, Strobel records the following exchange:
“Isn’t there a big difference between the often-cruel God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament?” Geisler smiled. “It’s interesting you ask that,” he replied, “because I just did a study of every time the Bible uses the word that the King James Version translates as ‘mercy.’ I found it occurs 261 times in the Bible—and seventy-two percent of them are in the Old Testament. That’s a three-to-one ratio. Then I studied the word ‘love’ and found it occurs 322 times in the Bible, about half in each testament. So you have the same emphasis on love in both. “Ironically,” he added, “you could make a case that God is more judgmental in the New Testament than the Old. For example, the Old Testament talks very little about eternal punishment, but the New Testament does.” “There’s no evolution in God’s character, then?” “That’s right. In fact, the Bible says, ‘I the Lord do not change.’9 In both testaments you’ve got the identical, unchangeable God—the one who is so holy he cannot look upon sin, and yet the one whose loving, merciful, gracious, and compassionate heart wants to pour forgiveness on all people who repent.” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity, 117-118 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Third, it would also help us to understand that God’s Word to mankind of Himself has been gradual over time. Consider these Scriptures in this light:
Mark 4:33-And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it.
John 16:12-I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
1 Corinthians 3:1-2-And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;
The gradual revelation of God to mankind was necessary because God was preparing the people of Israel for His Messiah that would one Day come to the world when everything was ready (or “in the fullness of time” Galatians 4:4).
“So Christopher Hitchens’s reaction to Mosaic laws (“ we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human animals”) actually points us in the right direction in two ways. First, the Mosaic law was temporary and, as a whole, isn’t universal and binding upon all humans or all cultures. Second, Mosaic times were indeed “crude” and “uncultured” in many ways. So Sinai legislation makes a number of moral improvements without completely overhauling ancient Near Eastern social structures and assumptions. God “works with” Israel as he finds her. He meets his people where they are while seeking to show them a higher ideal in the context of ancient Near Eastern life. As one writer puts it, “If human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the ‘better way’ must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand.” 4 Given certain fixed assumptions in the ancient Near East, God didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for. He moved incrementally. As stated repeatedly in the Old Testament and reinforced in the New Testament, the law of Moses was far from ideal. Being the practical God he is, Yahweh (the Old Testament title for the covenant-making God) met his people where they were, but he didn’t want to leave them there. God didn’t banish all fallen, flawed, ingrained social structures when Israel wasn’t ready to handle the ideals. Taking into account the actual, God encoded more feasible laws, though he directed his people toward moral improvement. He condescended by giving Israel a jumping-off place, pointing them to a better path. As we move through the Scriptures, we witness a moral advance—or, in many ways, a movement toward restoring the Genesis ideals. In fact, Israel’s laws reveal dramatic moral improvements over the practices of the other ancient Near Eastern peoples. God’s act of incrementally “humanizing” ancient Near Eastern structures for Israel meant diminished harshness and an elevated status of debt-servants, even if certain negative customs weren’t fully eliminated.” (Paul Copan, Is God A Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God, 60-61 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Fourth, God made it clear throughout the Old Testament Scriptures that there would one day be a new and lasting eternal covenant with mankind. It would be in this perfect covenant that God’s Word to mankind would be completed. Notice some of the Scriptures which document this New Covenant prophesied throughout the Old Testament:
Jeremiah 31:31-34- “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—. 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Ezekiel 16:60- “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.
Ezekiel 34:25-“I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
Ezekiel 37:26-Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore.
Fifth, we must understand that with each new stage of mankind’s development, the Lord revealed new truth gradually.
“One way to solve the tension is to recognize that the old and new covenants are different. Please note: I didn’t say that the God of the old and the God of the new are different. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But sometimes His rules change because His relationship to humanity is taken to a new level. The same is true for us. I don’t let my five-year-old drive my car, but when she’s sixteen, I just might let her. And I don’t let my nine-year-old daughter date boys, but when she turns … thirty-five, I might entertain the thought. You get the point…..In short, the law was not God’s ideal moral code for all people of all time. Rather, God met the Israelites where they were and began to take “incremental steps” toward His moral ideal….“Not everything in the law was intended to embody God’s ideal ethic—His perfect way of doing things for all people of every age. The law, rather, was intended to meet the Israelites where they were and set them on the right path toward the ideal. Many laws given in Exodus through Deuteronomy, in fact, were not God’s ideal moral code—His Edenic ethic, if you will. Rather, they were glimpses of God’s ideal that would be revealed fully in Christ. In other words, the law of Moses was designed to guide a particular nation, living in a particular land, for a specific time and in a specific culture. 14 What we have in the law of Moses is a moral code that both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations. Here’s what I mean. 15 The law of Moses accommodates to some of the moral norms of the ancient Near East (i.e., the cultures and nations that existed during Israel’s time). Some of these moral norms include polygamy, slavery, and divorce, as we’ll discuss. This is the world Israel lived in. To exist, they had to take part in these structures while at the same time critiquing them. And this is what the law of Moses did. It didn’t outlaw every less-than-perfect cultural practice; rather, the law took the practice as it was and improved it….“These three examples (polygamy, slavery, and divorce) show that God both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations.” (Preston M. Sprinkle, Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, 31-34 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook)
Thus, we may conclude that what has not changed from the Old to the New Testaments is God; but rather, man’s relationship with God has changed (resulting in God’s perfect revelation of Himself to mankind).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.