False Dichotomy: God of the Old and New Testaments

The God of the Old and New Testaments is frequently thought to not be one in the same, as critics have argued. But God of the entire Bible is the same, therefore the goal of the post will be to show how God established Himself in the Old Testament and is revealed in Christ in the New Testament. Regarding the perceived issue of the God of the Old Testament being vengeful and immoral compared to the God of the New Testament, in the eyes of some critics, a link to a previous blog of mine can be found here. Now, a number of important items will be discussed: the God of Abraham, Jesus Christ, faith, prophecies, and God’s judgment. An exegetical analysis of Genesis 12:1-7 will provide a foundation for the role of faith in the Old Testament and it will be tied to the measures of faith proclaimed by Jesus Christ in the new Testament  The key will be to properly extract the information that provides a full, albeit not entirely comprehensive, view of God through the promises made by Him, as fulfilled in Christ, and the role of faith for Abraham and for believers who call on His name today. The final touch will tie-in God and Jesus Christ as One, effectively declaring the righteous God of the Old Testament as the same God in Jesus Christ.

God of the Old and New Testaments

The God of Abraham

When the God of Abraham is discussed, the typical identification that comes to light quickly is Abraham’s unwavering faith to God. The nature of Abraham’s faith is shown through a good deal of Genesis. God asked Abraham to follow Him, that He would make great nations from His seed, and Abraham obeyed (Genesis 22:18).[1] Abraham’s trust in the Lord was evident, not only in his journey to a new land for his people, promised by God, but especially in the following verse, when God said, “‘take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22: 6-7). The faith of Abraham was indeed unwavering. Of course, God did not intend for Abraham’s son to be sacrificed, but this was proof of the trust that Abraham placed in the Lord. God also gave Abraham a son, bore by his barren wife, Sarah, and Abraham again trusted in God to do so (Genesis 15:6), and again God delivered on His promise (Genesis 21:2).

The ever-important prophecy that God fulfilled that He gave Abraham comes from the following, “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 22:18-20). This was fulfilled through the events in the book of Joshua. This provides a good foundation for allowing God to be seen as a God that performs those things that He says He will. Therefore, God is faithful to those who are also faithful to Him–those who believe in the Word of God.

When discussing faith. We might also be tempted to discuss the Holy Spirit, Hamilton believes that “under the old covenant. God’s Spirit caused people to experience spiritual life. God supernaturally opened the spiritual ears and eyes of people who were spiritually dead in the trespasses and sins, enabling them to believe.”[2] This makes sense, if there was no indwelling without the Helper that Jesus Christ refers to in the New Testament Scriptures. Some would like to discount the historicity and actual accounts of most of the events of the Bible as part folklore, myth, and partial historical significance. However, Muddiman writes, “the character and intention of Genesis as a completed book cannot be deduced from the wide miscellany of materials which constitute its sources.”[3] Critics instead must believe that a single author(s) strung together bits of sources to create something new. This would seem to take a great “faith” as the evidence for this is not abounding, in the least; a hypothesis without positive support. Since this (historicity) is not the focus of the paper, there will be no further mention of it; in regards to faith, we shall see that the evidence for faith in the Old Testament, regarding Abraham, is abounding.

Jesus Christ

Although there is so much that could be said of our Lord Jesus, we will instead focus on the commands of Jesus to others to stand in faith, paralleling the importance of faith in the Old Testament. A fine example of this is in the book of Mark, Jesus says to His disciples, after Peter discovered the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them’” (Mark 11:22-24).

Jesus exuded faith in everything He did. He performed many acts in accordance with the will of the Father: He gave Himself up to the cross; cast out demons; healed the sick; raised the dead; prayed to the Father; spoke prophecy; and more. Jesus’ faith was tested through temptation, but He fended it off, using Scripture as the powerful Word of God against the evil one (Luke 4:1-13). The command by Jesus to love God is yet another instance for all to have faith; to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul is to trust fully and completely in God. In the matter of sight versus sound, Thompson writes, “as the miracle is a concession to the weakness of man, so is the appearance of the Risen Jesus a concession to the weakness of the disciples.  Fundamentally it ought not to be the sight of the Risen Lord that first moves the disciples to believe “the word that Jesus spoke,” for this word alone should have the power to convince them.”[4] This is an example that makes sense if we deduce what the disciples had already seen: Jesus performing many healing miracles, casting out demons, walking on water, etc. But, this was also before the Spirit came those who believe; it wasn’t until Jesus was ready to ascend to heaven before He could leave the Holy Spirit with His disciples (John 16:7). The exact timing of the arrival of the Holy Spirit is debatable, but nonetheless.

God in the Old Testament: Exegesis of Genesis 12:1-7

Historical-Cultural Analysis

The time which Abraham lived and dwelled before and during the course of his tribe’s travels is part of the Patriarchal, pre-Mosaic period of the Old Testament. From a strictly biblical account, it is said that Abraham had lived in Harran, where he had lived via Terah’s travels, from Ur.[5] Life was reliant on having crops and animals as food sources, therefore it was not very often that movement occurred (in Mesopotamia) that was permanent. Kitchen writes that Oppenheim remarks, “there seem to have been very few periods in the history of the region [= Mesopotamia] when … (as in the Old Babylonian period) … a private person could move around freely.”[6] It was typical for families to have children for the very reason of having heirs to their belongings. Those who could not have children naturally would instead adopt[7], thus the importance of having an heir to an inheritance is easily seen. This concept had theological implications: God Himself could recognize this as a motivator for those God called to do His will.

The monotheistic origin of religion is shown to be favored highly from a biblical perspective—there is no mention of Baal, as Kitchen writes, “from the patriarchal tradition indicates its antiquity (…).”[8] The practice of building altars to gods was frequent and not indistinct to the God of the Abraham (evidenced in Egyptian archeology).[9] Finally, when it comes to travel, camels themselves were used sparingly, used more for travels of a person or smaller group. Many travels were performed on foot, which would also allow the slower, but more efficient, travel of animals such as sheep and cattle on more permanent journeys.

Grammatical Analysis

v.1 “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you.

Here, God Himself speaks to Abraham (Abram), at the time when it is ready for Abraham and his family and people to leave his home. His father’s house refers to the area / land and home of dwelling. God is now going to show Abraham the land of promise; providing evidence of His faithfulness for Abraham’s trust.

v.2 I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

God will make a great nation for Abraham and increase the value of his name. God intends to bless this nation on behalf of Abraham. Thus, the increase that Abraham will gain will be a blessing for not only Abraham, but for others as well.

v.3 I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

He will give Abraham and his descendants, blessing those who do good to him, and cursing those who do wrong. God finally tells Abraham that blessings will come and last for many who come after him, yet it does not say that the “families of the earth” will or must all be descendants (of bloodline) relation to Abraham.

v.4 “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Here we see tat Abraham is now obeying the words spoken to him by God. Abraham now leaves Haran, his home, in search of the place that God has promised him. He is aged at seventy-five at the beginning of the journey; an old age for travel.

v.5 “Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.”

Abraham has taken his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, among other belonging and the people of Haran to embark on the journey. They then reach the land of Canaan.

v.6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

This verse recounts the lands that Abraham and his people passed through on their way to Canaan, through Shechem and Moreh.

v.7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

They reach the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised Abraham. Then, Abraham builds an altar to God, of which was used for worshipping the Lord.

Authorial Intent

            The author here is explicitly describing the commands by God to a man (Abraham) who is embarking on an ever-important journey of faith, even greater than the physical journey, but for the resultant promises of God to Abraham and his descendants. The intent is to explain the trust necessary for Abraham to leave and embark on God’s mission, forgoing the land that was already had, the security that the land provided, for nothing more than the promises of God—of which is ultimately much more important than the desire of any man.

The Importance for Today

The main theological point that arises from this passage is the trust, the faith, that one must have in God in trusting Him to guide. Abraham’s example of faith here shows that he was willing to leave what he knew to receive the promises of God. Abraham, although aged, endures the journey for God. The takeaway is that faith, trust in God, should be the ultimate guiding factor in all that is done. Ultimate purpose for God is always more important than what people desire. The journey for God may not be easy, nor may it be desirable, but is of utmost importance if believers are to follow God’s will and commands, as did Abraham. The passage is a display of the faithfulness of God for those who trust and obey Him.

God in the New Testament: Prophesies Fulfilled in Christ

His Birth

The prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ are numerous! However, the few that are focused on here are more specifically tied to the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. But, who is Jesus Christ? Is he God incarnate? Jenson writes, “the concept of ‘incarnation’ may not appear in Israel’s Scriptures, but we need only ask what a God would be like who would not incarnate himself, a God of ‘pure spirit,’ to see that it would be the precise antagonist of Israel’s God.”[10] Let’s keep this in mind as the Scriptures are searched further.

Looking to Isaiah for the foretelling of Christ’s birth, Scripture tells us, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Christ’s birth is fulfilled and Joseph speaks with the angel of the Lord: “but while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20) and further discussion about the fulfillment follows in verses 21-23.

His Ministry (Parables)

Jesus famously spoke in parables, those such as the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), etc. But, this was also foretold in Psalm 78:1-2: “Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.” The fulfillment follows in the passage of Matthew 13:34-35: “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’”

His Death and Resurrection

Isaiah 53 is perhaps the most telling prophecy about the Lord Jesus as a minister and sinless man, born to take away the sins of the world. Isaiah 53:7 tells us, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” And so this verse is entirely telling of His death without defense for His actions that the Pharisees accused Him of, blasphemy against God. In the New Testament Jesus is captured by the pharisees and as He is martialed: “And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing” (Matthew 27:12). Thus, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in this manner, although the entire book of Isaiah contains many more prophesies that Jesus fulfilled.

Considering His resurrection, Jesus foretold this Himself when He was confronted by those in the temple after He had turned it upside-down in anger for their sin: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 2:19). This was fulfilled when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (mother of James) went to the tomb on the third day. They found two men gleaming instead and the rock moved, and when they inquired about Jesus, they responded saying, “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” (Luke 24:6-7).

Now, these things that were prophesied and that were fulfilled all give testimony to the faithfulness of God fulfilling those things that were foretold. Faith is a central component to the Christian religion. Through faith, the Holy Spirit abides in a believer. Gabriel says that, “in the Christ event, the Spirit touches Jesus as the Spirit affects the incarnation, anoints Jesus at his baptism, and empowers Him for ministry. Beyond this, Christ sends the Spirit from the Father and the Spirit comes and empowers the church.”[11] Although we have touched on faith a good deal in this paper, Jesus must be tied to God firmly through further evidence, and so we will move on to the trinity, but with focus on Jesus as God.

Jesus as God

Because Jesus was firm in His commands and convictions and acted justly as would the God of the Old Testament, the need to defend the fact of Jesus Christ as God incarnate is also necessary if we are to display the truth of Christ correctly. We are told that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 12:1) and further, “‘He was in the beginning with God’ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These verses seemingly tell how Jesus is part of the trinitarian God, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, some have argued against Jesus as God until later on, such as once He was baptized or after his resurrection.

Geddert argues, “Bird’s book reads at points as though the burden of proof must self-evidently lie with those who claim there was an early adoptionism.”[12] Geddert explains how the comparison between Father and Son is used by Bird strengthens his (Bird’s) argument. Lacking, though, is the very distinction of God as Jesus Christ in the beginning, as I have already referenced. Adoptionist Christianity simply has no place in early of late theology as a possibility unless we are ready to cut and chop the words of John, reducing them to meaning less than (and something different from) what was written.

Jenson writes, “The Resurrection concentrated God’s identification with Israel in this one Israelite; primal Christianity’s habits of discourse enforced that identification—the singularity of the Spirit needed no such special enforcement,”[13] When Paul speaks of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the equality expressed is easily seen, using the terms as interchangeable in authority and divine relation (“gospel of God” as the gospel of Christ); see Romans 1:1-4. Silva writes that from Koperski’s “very introduction she claims that there are ‘only two possible interpretations’ of v. 8: ‘Either Paul is willing to give up God for Christ, in which case he would be guilty of blasphemy, or Paul believes Christ to be divine, and Philippians is thus one of the strongest Christological statements in Christian Scripture’”[14] This specific verse reads, Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philemon 3:8). Indeed, this verse speaks to Paul’s high Christology; if Christ not be God Himself, then this is high blasphemy, rendering many theological issues that cannot be reconciled or trusted.

Finally, the just judgement of Christ is one that He spoke of often yet did not judge while on earth. However, Jesus as God, can be confirmed in His ability to judge justly, as God has in the Old Testament. Taking a look at Revelation, we read, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”
(Revelation 19:13-19).

            It is through verses such as this that we know the Word of God (Jesus Christ) will return to judge the nations as Almighty God. The terms “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” do not leave any room for a greater “King” or “Lord” to take His place. He is, in fact, the God of the Old Testament and new New Testaments. Koester remarks, “the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire, and their allies are slain with the sword from Christ’s mouth (19:11-21). Instead of the festive “wedding banquet of the Lamb” (19:9), readers find “the great banquet of God,” in which the birds feast on the corpses on the battlefield (19:7).”[15] Thus, the God of Abraham is revealed in Christ Jesus; taking on the sins of world, rescuing those who believe from their transgressions, and justly judging all who do not. A final note of ending: He (Jesus) says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Conclusion

In this post I sought to show how the God of the Old Testament was the same God found in Christ Jesus. This was done by reflecting on an exegetical analysis for the role of faith in the Old Testament, showing the faith commanded by Jesus, and referencing other theological positions on prophecy and judgment. The Scriptural evidence in support of the thesis was displayed as concisely as possible. The resultant evidence supports the fact that God, who established His covenant with Abraham, became the One known as Christ Jesus, revealing Himself as God.

 

References

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages are referenced in the New King James Version.

[2] Hamilton Jr., James M.. God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2006.

[3] Muddiman, John and John Barton. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

[4] Segal, Alan F., Larry W. Furtado and David B. Capes. Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

[5] – [9] Kitchen, K. A.. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003.

[10] Jenson, Robert W.. Systematic Theology: Volume 1, The Triune God. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[11] Gabriel, Andrew K.. The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Divine Attributes. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2011.

[12] Geddert, Timothy J.. “Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 61, no 1. (03, 2018): 203-5.

[13] Jenson, Robert W.. Systematic Theology: Volume 2, The Works of God. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[14] Silva, Moisés. “The Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The High Christology of Phillipians 3:7-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature, no. 1 (04, 1998): 155-6.

[15] Koester, Craig R.. Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014.

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