The Gods of the Old and New Testaments aren’t really different in The End

The Christian Bible with its division of the Old and New Testaments presents on the surface at least what appears to be a somewhat divided picture of God. The God of the Old Testament is shown as wrathful and violent, while Jesus reveals more of the love and mercy of God in the New Testament. Even when the Old Testament law appears to have been broken in the New Testament (Mark 2:24, John 8:5-7), Jesus is described as choosing mercy over a strict adherence to the Law. By contrast, the Old Testament God often appears much harsher, and uses violence such as conquests or catastrophic judgments against entire groups of people. The question examined here is whether the Gods in the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same God, or whether the New Testament presents an image that contradicts the Old. Although there is occasionally exaggeration in regards to God’s use of violence in the Old Testament, there still remains the aspect of God’s judgment that seems to contradict the idea of God as loving and good.      Nevertheless, the aspect of God’s judgment against sin appears to be something the New Testament is fully consistent with as demonstrated especially by the eschatological passages in the New Testament. When Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 concerning judgment and the time of the end is examined, it is consistent with, and alludes to, several Old Testament themes. Historical criticism, in fact, supports the authenticity of Christ having spoken this discourse. Furthermore, when the Old Testament is examined, it also demonstrates themes of justice, compassion, and love that tie it closer to the God of the New Testament than many have realized. Thus, the argument made below is that the eschatological discourse of Christ in the Gospels demonstrates the same plan and story of God. Thus the same God, is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

Questions Concerning the Old Testament God
          It is true that the God of the Old Testament has an image problem in the modern world. Narratives and poetic references to violence, genocide, judgments, and evils ranging from slavery to murder have understandably led to questions from skeptics and Christians alike. At issue is not that such evils have occurred in history, but that the Old Testament appears to give to such actions an approving nod, which seems at odds with the God of the New Testament. Richard Dawkins, a frequent critic of the Old Testament, asked, “Do those people who hold up the Bible as an inspiration to moral rectitude have the slightest notion of what is actually written in it?”[1] Indeed, some Christians reject substantial portions of the Old Testament as a result of the violence in it. Bible scholar Eric Seibert claims that the violence of God in the Old Testament is “clearly at odds with the God Jesus reveals,” and Seibert rejects a particular Old Testament story of God’s judgment, saying, “It is safe to conclude that God, the living God, never issued such a horrible divine decree.”[2] For scholars like Seibert and many skeptics, the Old Testament simply cannot be accurate. A brief overview of problematic Old Testament descriptions is worth considering.

The Violence of God
Those portrayals center on violence. Violence in ancient narratives and writings is certainly to be expected, but in the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as directing others to commit acts of violence such as the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites in the book of Joshua. At other times, God is portrayed using violent judgments Himself such as those against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), Noah’s flood (Gen 6-7), the plagues against Egypt (Exo 7:14-12:32), destroying an Amorite army (Josh 10:11), striking people dead (Lev 10:1-2, 2 Sam 6:6-7), and many other examples. Seibert notes, “Although it would be an overstatement to say there is blood dripping from every page, the pervasiveness of divine violence in the Old Testament is undeniable.”[3]  Certainly some of the actions of God in the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with the justice and fairness that God is assumed to have. Some scholars suggest the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament may simply reflect the attitudes and prejudices of ancient Israelites who wrote the texts. Carolyn Sharp, who refers to the Canaanite conquests as butchery and horrific,[4] claims that any sins of the Canaanites are “irrelevant to the ethical issue, unless you truly believe that every one of those thousands of men, women, and children could have been so heinously immoral as to require their extermination.”[5]
Sharp’s statement exemplifies the concern that so much violence in the Old Testament affects innocents such as children, or is perpetrated against people who are not viewed by modern eyes as deserving of such actions. Atheist author and scientist Sam Harris highlights a passage from Deuteronomy that prescribes death for anyone who entices another to serve a different god. Harris describes such a law as barbaric.[6] The difficulty with these violent portrayals of God’s actions in the Old Testament are the primary reason many attempt to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Before proceeding, however, some corrective points should be made regarding this widely held view of a violent Old Testament.

Evidence that God’s Violence is Sometimes Exaggerated
Violence in the Bible can broadly be characterized in three categories: Violence due to God’s judgment for sins, violence God authorizes to be committed by His people, and violence that God allowed to happen. Of course, modern critics of the Bible such as Dawkins compare the conquests of Canaan by the Israelites as racially motivated ethnic cleansing.[7] The Bible itself , however, does not mention race at all, but places the blame on the sinfulness of the Canaanites. Paul Copan writes that God not only cited sin as the reason for the conquests of Canaan, but warned the Israelites that the same thing could happen to them if they rejected Him.[8] Copan notes, “God was concerned with sin, not ethnicity.”[9] As a result the conquests of Canaan may also be viewed as God’s judgment against sin. Indeed, as N.T. Wright observes, the God of the Old Testament not only punishes nations, but uses one nation to punish another.[10] Thus, there are arguably just two categories: God’s judgment against sin and recorded violence that God allowed to happen.
Two more aspects of God’s judgment in the Old Testament should be noted. First, the biblical and archaeological record do not appear to support the popular notion of wide-spread genocide by the Israelites. Thus, the violence of the Old Testament God is sometimes exaggerated. K. A. Kitchen says bluntly, “The book of Joshua does not describe a total Hebrew conquest and occupation of Canaan, real or imaginary.”[11] Kitchen maintains that the text of the Bible and the available archaeological evidence describe an Israelite invading force that, after destroying a few key sites and raiding hostile cities,[12] generally lived among the Canaanites until Israel was strong enough to dominate the region.[13] Copan and Matthew Flannagan explain that this is also consistent with the biblical language, which did not use terms for extermination, but instead used terms for “driving out” and “thrusting out.”[14] The same terms do not imply killing elsewhere in the Bible and thus would not imply killing in Joshua or Judges either. Copan also notes the descriptions of killing innocents and total destruction was standard hyperbole used in Ancient Near Eastern accounts.[15] John Monson agrees, and explains that mentions of miracles, the involvement of a deity, and hyperbolic language “are recognizable and unexceptional features of Near Eastern texts ancient and modern.”[16] As a result, descriptions of total destruction or the killing of women and children are features of such accounts and should not be understood to be literally true in every case. Nevertheless, it is clear there remain episodes such as Noah’s Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, various judgments against groups, including perhaps some instances of the Canaanite conquest, which do appear to include the death of innocents or questions of barbarism.

Seibert’s Solution
Eric Seibert suggests a Christ-centered solution to reconciling the harsh judgments and violence found in the Old Testament with the image of the loving and just God in the New Testament. He finds the picture of God in the Old Testament to be irreconcilable with revelation of God in Jesus. Since, however, John 1:18 explains that God is revealed through Jesus, and since Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as portraying the image of God, Seibert concludes that if an Old Testament passage contradicts what Jesus says or demonstrates, then the Old Testament passage is to be rejected. Seibert proposes that “the God Jesus reveals should be the standard, or measuring rod, by which all Old Testament portrayals of God are evaluated…Those that do not measure up should be regarded as distortions.”[17] Thus, for Bible scholars such as Seibert, certain passages in the Old Testament are simply wrong, and he believes Jesus has demonstrated this. “Violence is contrary not only to the will of God but to the very nature of God,” Seibert writes, “As God incarnate, Jesus’ nonviolent words and deeds enable us to see clearly the true nature of God.”[18]
Seibert’s solution appears to be challenged, however, by the eschatological passages of the New Testament, which describe God as using violent judgments against sin just as He did in the Old Testament. It also fails to reconcile the Old Testament with itself, and its own emphasis on justice and mercy. Jesus, in fact, warned of judgment against Jerusalem and the final judgment for the world in Matthew 24-25. His discourse demonstrates more unity with the Old Testament than is sometimes believed. An analysis of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 24-25 follows, as well as analysis of several aspects from the Old and New Testaments, the balance of which indicates that same God is in view.

Jesus, the Gospel, and Judgment in Matthew 24-25
          Two initial observations argue for a unity of God in both parts of the Christian Bible. First, in the formation of the canon, the Old Testament was included with the New Testament without any revisions. Bernd Janowski notes, that “no attempt was made to ‘Christianize’ [the Old Testament] by introducing redactional intrusions, as for example, could be the case by adding Christian commentaries.”[19] Thus, it appears the early church had no problems with the God of the Old Testament and saw Him as consistent with the God in the New. Second, as Christopher Wright observes, neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer negatively “critiqued” the God of the Old Testament, or labeled any of God’s violent actions as immoral.[20] There is no hint from any of the characters in the New Testament that God was viewed differently than how He was portrayed in the Old Testament. God certainly was the Judge, but was also viewed as righteous in His judgments as the New Testament declares (Rev 16:7). Dawkins, although he criticizes Jesus in other ways, tries to admit that “from a moral point of view, Jesus is a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament.”[21] However, as the following analysis of Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Matthew 24-25 shows, there is arguably a lot of the Old Testament in Christ.

Matthew 24-25: An Overview
In these two chapters, Matthew presents a long discourse from Jesus in response to questions about the destruction of the temple and the “end of the age” (24:1-3, NASB). The precise eschatological interpretation has been debated and space does not allow a full discussion here. Nevertheless, John Nolland’s outline of the passage captures the basics. Nolland divides it into three main sections, the first 24:4-35 containing Jesus’ answer to the two-part question that was posed to Him. The second section 24:36-25:30 emphasizes the uncertain timing of Christ’s return. The third section, 25:31-46 describes a “separation of people in the final judgment.”[22] Parallel passages can be found in Mark 13 and Luke 21, along with Luke 12 and 17, which also include elements of this discourse. Craig Blomberg notes, “Jesus will make clear that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age are two separate events, but probably the disciples do not yet recognize this (thus Mark 13:4).”[23]
That there are two events in view means Jesus’ answer contains elements that include the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D., and also include details of His coming. In 24:4-8, Jesus warns of false messiahs and describes the world scene. The next several verses (24:9-14) describe the advance of the Gospel and the persecution that would come with it. He then warns of the “Abomination of Desolation” (24:15, NASB) in a clear reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, and describes the urgency of people fleeing Jerusalem and the tribulation of those days (24:16-28). The next few verses appear to shift toward Christ’s return with Old Testament descriptions of the Day of the Lord (24:29-31). Jesus concludes (24:32-35) by speaking about the fulfillment of these prophecies and the certainty of fulfillment, before then issuing warnings concerning the need to be ready and watchful (24:36-51). He cites the suddenness of Noah’s Flood (24:37-39), the arrival of a thief (24:33), and the return of a master (24:45-51) as examples of the need to be ready. Chapter 25 includes three parables. The first two, the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13) and the parable of the Talents (25:14-30), emphasize the same theme of being ready for His return. Five of the ten virgins discover they are out of oil for their lamps when the bridegroom returns, and as they go to purchase more, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. In the parable of the talents, three servants are given a portion of their master’s funds to invest, but one servant fails to make any effort and is unprepared when the master returns.  The final parable of the sheep and the goats describes the judgment of nations (25:31-46) as Christ separates those who have shown love toward His people, from those who have not.
Wengst notes that Jesus’ “presentation does not exceed the dimensions of concrete experience. End-time history is presented very realistically.”[24] Indeed, Jesus uses few instances of apocalyptic imagery but brings up real issues and circumstances that would be familiar to His listeners. He encourages people to pray that they will not be forced to flee Jerusalem in the winter, or on the Sabbath (24:20). Wengst points out that Jewish tradition “considered one of God’s mercies that the Babylonian exile took place in summer,” and that fleeing on the Sabbath was a real issue in Jewish Midrash.[25] Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of dire judgments and the end of the age. In chapter 24, Jesus describes wars, earthquakes, famines, tribulations, and the preaching of the gospel. He quotes apocalyptic passages from the Old Testament and also mentions eternal punishment and hell (24:51, 25:30, 25:46). His predictions not only include violent elements, but are based upon Old Testament prophecies and imagery. Some examples follow.

Matthew 24-25: Old Testament Elements
Broadly speaking, the focus by Matthew 24:4-14 on the gospel, rebellion, lawlessness, persecution, and false prophets echo the spiritual battle described in the Old Testament, which pictures the world oppressing Israel and rebellion that ultimately brings God’s judgment. There is nothing in the passage of Matthew 24:4-14 that an Old Testament student would find surprising. Psalm 2, for instance, declares the opposition of the nations and the kings of the earth against God and the Messiah (2:1-6). Nolland points out the centrality of the mission that is reflected in Matthew 24:4-14 concerning the disciples and the gospel. His observation that wars and rumors of wars “do not herald the end, but the completion of the mission does,”[26] also reminds of the centrality of Christ to this eschatological picture. This is consistent with the Old Testament picture of the the Servant in Isaiah, which N.T. Wright says is “the one through whom YHWH’s purpose of justice and salvation will be carried out.”[27]
Several direct allusions are made to the Old Testament as well. Matthew 24:15 directly references Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) in a prophecy that seems to have been literally fulfilled years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanes, but here points to something that will again be a sign. Blomberg suggests the next two verses use language similar to Genesis 19:17, which describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[28] A period of “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21) echoes a time of great “distress” found in Daniel 12:1, including the mention in both passages that it will be unparalleled. Matthew 24:29-31 mirrors several Old Testament passages from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah that describe final judgment. Nolland states verse 29 “strongly echoes [Isaiah] 13:10 and stars falling goes back to [Isaiah] 34:4,” while the reference to “’shaken’ puts together [Isaiah] 34:4 and [Haggai] 2:6.”[29] Donald Hagner notes that the gathering together of God’s people in Matthew 24:31 was part of the eschatological picture found in several Old Testament passages (Deut 30:4; Isa 60:4; Jer 32:37; Ezek 34:13).[30] In Matthew 24:36-39 Jesus directly relates His predictions to judgment surrounding the Flood of Noah in Genesis. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus again alludes strongly to Old Testament images and concepts. Nolland observes, “The gathering of all the nations for judgment is most similarly represented in the OT in Joel 4:2…[Isaiah] 66:18, both of which use συναγαγειν for ‘gather’ and παντα τα εθνη for ‘all the nations’ in the LXX, as does Mt. 25:32.” Clearly, Jesus discourse contains many Old Testament allusions as it follows an Old Testament-style judgment theme. The mission or story of the Old Testament is simply described here in the New Testament as progressing to a conclusion in Christ.
Furthermore, just as the Old Testament allowed evil and rebellion to occur until finally resulting in judgment, the same dynamic occurs in Matthew 24-25. False prophets will arise and deceive (Matt 24:10, 24:24-26). Lawlessness and rebellion will increase (Matt 24:10,12), God’s people will be persecuted (Matt 24:9). Thus, the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 in which the “Son of Man” judges the nations, alludes to a scene from Daniel 7:9-14 in which the “Son of Man” is given authority over beasts which represent kings or kingdoms on the earth (Dan 7:17-18). N.T. Wright notes, “Daniel 7 is basically a court scene: God takes His seat, and judgment is given for the human against the beasts. This is what God’s justice over the unjust world will look like.”[31] Jesus’ statements regarding final judgment against a sinful world is consistent with Daniel. Jesus’ words in this passage concerning Jerusalem and His description of God’s temporary allowance of evil, also mirror the same behaviors that critics find objectionable concerning the Old Testament God. Wengst notes, “If one takes only the loving God as an alternative to the just God one has given up the concept of the biblical God.”[32] Indeed, in Matthew 24-25, Jesus demonstrates a unified concept of God consistent with the Old Testament.

Evaluating the Eschatological Evidence
          It is not surprising, therefore, that Bible scholars such as Seibert find passages such as Matthew 24-25 to be troubling. After insisting that any Old Testament passages be rejected if they contradict the non-violent picture of God presented by Jesus, Seibert must explain why Jesus would teach judgment and destruction that appears to be very consistent with the Old Testament. He is certainly aware of the problem and admits, “We cannot simply turn to the New Testament, breathe a sigh of relief, and naively assume that every portrayal accurately represents God’s character.”[33] Siebert maintains this is also true for the four Gospels, which he claims do not always accurately reflect Jesus’ words or actions.[34] Despite the apparent danger of rejecting portions of the text that do not fit his own hermeneutic, Seibert insists there are, in fact, several possible solutions. First, he notes some scholars believe passages such as Matthew 24-25 may not “actually reflect Jesus’ view of God…Jesus did not literally mean what He said about God in these instances.”[35] Another solution according to Seibert, citing several scholars as part of the “so-called ‘Third Quest’ for the historical Jesus,” is to insist that the historical Jesus did not actually say what Matthew records Him as saying, including that Jesus never taught that God would use violence to bring the age to an end.[36] Assuming, however, that Jesus did say at least some of what Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Him as saying, Seibert suggests that perhaps “God uses violence only outside the space-time continuum, only for a limited period of time, and only for the sake of final punishment.”[37] In some respects, such a temporary, limited, and final judgment aspect of God’s use of violence is precisely what many scholars argue is the real situation found in the Old Testament. In regard to the former attempts at solutions, however, there are also compelling reasons to accept Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ words as authentic.

Did Jesus Really Say It or Mean It?
One reason to consider Matthew 24-25 authentic, for instance, is the use of the historical-critical method itself. Modern Bible scholars use several tests when attempting to determine if a passage is authentic or perhaps a later addition. The use of such tests is often not applied evenly, and according to Darrell Block, critics often “claim to prove too much” through the use of such criteria.[38] However, these criteria can at least be useful in reinforcing confidence that Matthew faithfully recorded Jesus’ words. For instance, Bock notes that one criterion is dissimilarity.[39] In this case, any saying of Jesus which is dissimilar to something in Judaism or early Christianity is likely an authentic saying from Jesus. No one would expect a later writer to put words in Jesus’ mouth that he or she did not already agree with, thus a dissimilar saying is more probably authentic. There are several instances of dissimilarity in Matthew 24-25 including the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, which Judaism would have rejected. Nolland likewise notes that Jewish teaching on Noah’s flood emphasized the “certainty of judgment,” and not the unexpected arrival of judgment, yet “unexpectedness is the point here.”[40] The warnings from Jesus that it may be a long time before He returns (Matt 24:48, 25:5) would arguably not be expected from early Christian writers.
Matthew 24-25 also passes the test of multiple attestation in which a saying of Jesus appears in several “strands of tradition” or “in multiple forms.”[41] Here, too, the discourse of Jesus appears in all three Synoptic gospels. The criterion of embarrassment, which argues any saying that may reflect poorly on the Church, the speaker, or the writer is likely to be authentic since later writers would not add embarrassing fictions.[42] This appears to be present in Jesus statement that He does not know the time of His own return (Matt 24:36, Matt 13:32). Finally, Bock points out the criterion of double similarity and double dissimilarity proposed by N. T. Wright. This criterion argues that texts which are “similar to but distinct from Judaism in some respects and…similar to the early church in some respects but also distinct at other points,” are more likely to be authentic.[43] Certainly, Matthew 24-25 has similarities with Judaism as mentioned above, but to place Jesus as the Messiah, or to include the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were also dissimilar. Likewise, with the early church, there are similarities with respect to the focus on Jesus, but dissimilarities with respect to the apparent focus on works as opposed to faith in Matthew 25:14-46. Thus, using modern historical methods of evaluation, the text of Matthew 24-25 has grounds for authenticity, and thus, grounds for viewing the God of the New Testament to also be involved in judgments that mirror the God of the Old Testament.

Other Consistencies with the Old Testament
Finally, it should be noted that the God of the Old Testament has similarities with the character demonstrated by Christ in the New Testament. The impact of the eschatological passages in the New Testament is to present Jesus as the culmination of God’s work to rid the world of sin. The Seventy Week prophecy of Daniel, for instance, promised a final ending of sin, an atoning for sinfulness, and establishing righteousness (Dan 9:24), which also included the coming of the Messiah (Dan 9:25). The New Testament not only presents Jesus as the Messiah, but as the one who brings all of the predictions and promises of the Old Testament to a final fulfillment.  Thus, even regarding the violent judgments of God in the Old Testament, many scholars see a larger purpose at work. Copan argues, “God’s act of engaging in battle is not for the sake of violence or even victory as such but to establish peace and justice.”[44] More specifically, the Old Testament also highlights the goodness and justice of God. Christopher Wright notes, “The popular idea…that the so-called God of the Old Testament stands for unrelieved anger and violence ignores a massive amount of Old Testament teaching.”[45] Indeed, as several Scripture passages state, God demands His people treat others with justice. He also condemns exploitation (Prov 22:22, Isa 58:3), oppression (Isa 30:12-13, Eze 45:9), and even basic unfairness (Lev 19:36, Prov 11:1). God presents Himself as the one who rescues the needy from such conditions (Psa 72:14, Deut 10:18, 26:7, Isa 1:17). In this way, the God of the Old Testament is very much consistent with the God who judges the nations in Matthew 25:31-46, and with the God of love and compassion. As Christopher Wright notes, the story of Israel is part of “the much larger story of the love of God for the human race for all the generations of their rebellious ways.”[46]  It appears the eschatological passages of the New Testament form a conclusion of the story that began in the Old Testament, and thus argue in favor of viewing the God of the Old and New Testaments as the same God.

Conclusion
          Certainly, the God of the Old Testament is often pictured as wrathful, and sometimes executes judgments against entire groups of people. However, this is not the complete picture of either the Old Testament or the New Testament God. Occasionally, the violence of the Old Testament has been exaggerated, and the mercy and love of the Old Testament God has been downplayed or ignored. Meanwhile, when eschatological passages of the New Testament are examined, they demonstrate a fulfillment of the work and story of God that began in the Old Testament writings and finds ultimate fulfillment in Christ. New Testament eschatological passages such as Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24-25 allude to Old Testament passages to such a degree that it is clearly seen that the New Testament prophecies are based upon Old Testament themes. Furthermore, the same Old Testament descriptions of God judging sin, and also temporarily allowing rebellion, are also found in Matthew 24-25. Critical analysis of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 24-25 argue for its authenticity, and a general consistency with Old Testament prophecies concerning the messiah and final judgment strongly argue for the unity of the passage with the Old Testament. Thus, the eschatological aspect of the New Testament especially appears to indicate the same God is in view in both the Old and New Testaments.

 

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, England: Bantam Press, 2006), 248.
[2] Eric A. Seibert, “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 333, accessed December 15, 2017, doi:10.1111/teth.12238.
[3] Ibid., 325.
[4] Carolyn J. Sharp, “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 28, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 18.
[7] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 247.
[8] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 165.
[9] Ibid.
[10] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 58.
[11] K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 234.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 237.
[14] Matthew Flannagan and Paul Copan, “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 303.
[15] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? 176.
[16] John M. Monson, “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10576, Kindle.
[17] Eric A. Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 185.
[18] Ibid., 197.
[19] Bernd Janowski “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today, Vol 57, Issue 3, (October 1, 2000): 303, accessed December 13, 2017, https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.
[20] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 81.
[21] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 250.
[22] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 956.
[23] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 22 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992), 352.
[24] Klaus Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition, Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 236.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 967.
[27] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 65.
[28] Blomberg, Matthew, 358.
[29] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 983.
[30] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 33b Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. (Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995), 714.
[31] Wright, Evil…Justice of God, 67.
[32] Wengst “Aspects of the Last Judgment,” 244.
[33] Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 185.
[34] Ibid., 187.
[35] Ibid., 248.
[36] Ibid., 249-250.
[37] Ibid., 253.
[38] Darrell L. Block, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 203.
[39] Ibid., 200.
[40] Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 993 footnote 135.
[41] Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 201.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid., 202.
[44] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 167.
[45] Wright, The God I Don’t Understand, 77.
[46] Ibid., 115.

Bibliography
Block, Darrell L. Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Vol. 22. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1992.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London, England: Bantam Press, 2006.

Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Flannagan, Matthew and Paul Copan. “Does the Bible Condone Genocide,” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder eds. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 33b. Ralph P. Martin, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker eds. Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 1995.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Janowski, Bernd. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology” Theology Today. Vol 57, Issue 3. (October 1, 2000): 297-324. Accessed December 13, 2017. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1177/004057360005700302.

Monson, John M. “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary eds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Kindle.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner eds. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.

Seibert, Eric A. Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009.

________. “When God Smites: Talking with Students about the Violence of God in Scripture.” Teaching Theology & Religion 17 no. 4 (2014): 323-341. Accessed December 15, 2017. doi:10.1111/teth.12238.

Sharp, Carolyn J. “Be Strong and Resolute!”: Reading Joshua in the Contemporary Church.” Anglican Theological Review 97, no. 1 (Winter, 2015): 19-32. Accessed December 12, 2017. Har http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1652981670?accountid=12085.

Wengst, Klaus. “Aspects of the Last Judgment in the Gospel According to Matthew” in Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Henning Graf Reventlow ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 243. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006.

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Talking About Same-Sex Marriage in a Society that Disagrees

For too long the political agendas and debates have framed this question, and far too often the discourse has pushed evangelical Christians into a corner where they appear condemning and discriminatory toward LGBT people

Unfortunately, sometimes appearances aren’t deceiving.  Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s hard to find words that don’t come across without sounding… well… bigoted. The Bible calls it a sin. How can I say that nicely?

That’s a struggle for a Christian. We like to be the compassionate ones in the room, and we tend to go out of way to fight against the stereotype of a placard waving protester screaming hell fire and damnation. But the same-sex marriage issue has forced our hand. It has become the club that our culture has used to push back against Christianity in general, and it’s partly because we do sound condemning.

I’m not suggesting we change our views. The truth of Scripture and a belief handed down by Divine precept should not be tossed to and fro with every whim of a particular culture. I didn’t have the chance to sign it, but I agree with the statement signed by 100 other pastors regarding this issue.

My question is how do we talk about it and deal with it, and still love our neighbor?

After all, there’s no denying the love and heartfelt feelings between a same-sex couple. To loudly proclaim the sinfulness of that union is often hurtful. As a friend of mine, whose son is planning to marry another man told me via Facebook “my son (and my future son) respect the institution of marriage so deeply, they seek its fulfillment for themselves. I, for one, rejoice at the dignity this great country has bestowed on our fellow gay citizens.” Can I disagree with that and still be loving? Because I appreciate him, and I know the love of a father to a son, my response involved a little soul-searching and Scripture searching.

It is a weird feeling as a Christian to be “against” what others feel as “love”. It’s weird to condemn something as sin when it seems to be just the way people are made, like condemning a corn stalk for producing ears of corn.

It’s worth noting the Bible never condemns the deep friendship or closeness in spirit that two people of the same sex can have. 1 Samuel 18:1 said David and Jonathan “became one in spirit” and David loved Jonathan “as himself.” That’s a very similar description to a husband’s love for a wife in Ephesians 5:33 which tells each husband to “love his wife as he loves himself.” A bond like that CAN be between two brothers or two sisters.

It’s the sexual actions that the Bible calls a sin, and I do believe that, but the Bible calls many other actions sinful, and they are all common to humanity. I’m not immune to sin. No one is. Sin feels a part of who we are sometimes and it’s not easy to turn off or on. But Jesus is Lord and Savior, and so we turn to Him for forgiveness and help in all things. All of us do. Fortunately, God loves sinners, including me.

Therefore it seems to me to do little good to merely condemn someone’s sin and tell them to quit it. For one, who am I to say that? The message is to believe in Jesus, to make Him Lord and Savior and let Jesus work in us to lead us to righteousness.

It’s what we all have to do, because no one can follow Christ unless they are willing to give up everything. That includes all of us, whether living homosexual and heterosexual lifestyles. If there is anything we withhold from the Lordship of Jesus, we cannot be His disciple. Luke 14:33. So if someone comes to God but says “Lord, I’ll follow you but I’m not willing to give up ______” it doesn’t matter if you’re talking a same-sex relationship or an opposite sex relationship. Everything should fall under the Lordship of Christ.

And maybe, especially when we disagree, we can start and end there. Someone believes a particular activity is a sin, while someone else believes that activity is actually good. We will argue about it undoubtedly, but for each of us, Jesus must be Lord.

For years my dad suspected dancing was a sin. I don’t. We argued once or twice but we still loved each other. Many churches believe playing a piano on Sunday morning is a sin. I don’t. I think it’s a good thing! We can be honest with each other, and we can weigh each other’s warnings. Our wrangling over what is sin and what isn’t, is to be expected. After all, we care about each other. The real question is are we willing to give everything over to our Savior and King if He requires it of us?

As the Bible says “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” I Peter 3:15  Getting that part right, we can patiently leave room for Jesus to work in other people’s hearts just as He works in our own. And we can remember to let Him work in our own! Because whatever the law of the land is or or isn’t, Jesus is still King of kings and the Savior for all who come to Him. He ranks higher than all human government, and at His name every knee will bow.

Knowledge Versus Obedience

As a minister it is easy for me to critique another person by their depth of knowledge, the logic they use, and the way they present an argument. It sounds a little prideful to say that, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I have everything mastered, myself. It’s just part of my every day life to study, teach, and speak in front of people so I look closer at those things.  A basketball player will watch another basketball player with a more critical, discerning eye than the regular fan, and a welder will gauge another welder’s work more closely than I would. So while most people who attend church are listening to what the pastor has to say, when a pastor actually gets to attend another church, it’s easy for us to sit there measuring not only what is said, but how it is said. I’m sure most pastors try to be gracious and understanding, but like everyone else, it’s not always quick and easy to “turn off” the job.

That’s a big reason why it always means more to get a compliment from someone who works in the same field. Not only do they know what they are talking about, but they can judge closer, too.  The best compliment I ever received for doing radio play by play for basketball, came from another radio announcer.  And the best compliments I’ve received for preaching, came from another preacher. It just means more coming from them.

The thing is, however, sometimes in the midst of feeling… ummm… qualified to criticize… 

God steps in and humbles you.

If you haven’t read the discipleship training book T4T, you really should. (It’s reasonably priced on the Kindle, but expensive as a paperback for some reason. Regardless, it’s still worth a LOT more than the goofy $18 paperback price…)  Among the gems you find is the observation that (and I’m paraphrasing here)…

Spiritual growth is not only measured by how much you know, but  also by how much you obey.

So even if I might have my doctrine fine-tuned better than someone else, or might be able to deliver a sermon with more creativity and force, or put together a better organized system of outreach…

…Hey, a guy can dream…

Even if I could do all of that better than someone else, what does it matter if I’m not obeying Christ?

We sometimes judge each other by our doctrine, or some measure of performance. We have baptism figured out, or we understand Bible prophecy better, or we have a better grasp of the New Covenant in Jesus. Maybe our church is better at praise and worship, or our greeting ministry is ten times better than some other group. But what if instead of measuring each other by doctrine, or some outward appearance, we measured each other by our obedience to Christ in our lives?  You know, the actual “fruit’ test where we look for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control etc…?

Sounds obvious? It’s not.

Over the past month I’ve had encounters with people who were extremely opinionated over some point of doctrine and were interested in arguing with me over it.  Well, it’s probably more accurate to say they wanted to educate me because it was hard for me to say more than a sentence or two before I would be interrupted and they continued on with their points.

While I wouldn’t want to judge their specific motivations, I think it’s fair to say that from time to time all of us want to out-argue someone else, or prove our belief is right, because of a selfish desire to feed our ego.  There are also a few people, you probably call them know-it-alls, who always want to be the smartest person in the room. Or on Facebook.

I was thinking these very thoughts, judging them a bit for not letting ME speak enough, and judging their views because they disagreed with ME.  I’ll even admit I thought: hey, our church is way bigger than yours!  But that’s when God hit me with the question…

Who is obeying me in their life?

And that ladies and gentlemen, is an entirely different question than who has their doctrine correct on the New Testament or how many people attend on Sunday. It’s also an entirely more important question.

Some Scripture is vaguely coming to mind here, hmmm… something about not being hearers of the word only, but being doers…. Jesus said something about building a house on sand if you don’t do what he says… knowing a tree by it’s fruit…it’s not what goes into a man but what comes out… but hey… that’s just the Bible.

Anyway, for one of those persons especially, I had to admit they seemed to be faithful to God in how they lived. In fact, I admired their faithfulness.

So while I might still think I’m right on the doctrine part…

They win this time. 🙂

How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading “How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?”

Neuroscience and the Bible

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Or not.

When it comes to advances in science regarding the brain and our understanding of where our thoughts, emotions, consciousness, perceptions, choices, and more come from, some of our religious notions like the idea of the immaterial soul, or free-will, or sin might be shaken.  That shaking however, so far seems to involve religious traditions and a few interpretations of the Bible, but not the Bible itself.  Turns out the actual Scripture is holding up just fine.

Neuroscience, thanks to the use of brain scan technology, is a rapidly growing field of science that is in the process of revolutionizing psychology and our understanding of ourselves, but ironically Jesus and the Bible seem to have been saying similar types of things.

Some logical premise building first: If God is real, and the Bible was truly inspired by him, then it stands to reason that it would remain consistent with much of our own science.  That’s not the case with church traditions or some interpretations of the Bible. Those things change all the time. In fact, discovering the truth about most anything, means also discovering what was not true.  So while Christians may have to wait until reaching heaven before some arguments over interpretations are settled, it may be that some new scientific discoveries could actually help resolve some long standing debates.

Yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking, but at least the discoveries make the debates more interesting.

For instance, if neuroscience could prove (and some research makes a strong case) that our brain makes a decision BEFORE we are conscious of it, that seems to take away our ability to have free will over our own actions.  If we have no real choice, then what about sin? How could God judge us? Continue reading “Neuroscience and the Bible”

New Year’s Eve Post

Blogging through the New Year on Central Standard Time. Another year is going into the books tonight and where are we?  Where are you? Where am I?  Beyond a shadow of a doubt things are changing in our world, our culture, and always, always, always things change for us on a personal level. Here are some thoughts on all three. I’ll be blogging for the rest of the year, so feel free join in below.

World.  Christianity garnered some sympathy because of the increase in real persecution, especially in the Middle East.  From Egypt, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, to a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Christians have been under real attack by Islamic militants.  Shades of Revelation chapter six going on in Middle East?  Well how about those famous four horsemen of the apocalypse? A white horse that represents revolution perhaps? Check. A red horse that represents war? Check. A black horse that seems to represent shortages and high prices of basic goods? Check. A pale horse that represents Death? Check. Move on from the four horsemen to the Fifth Seal which represents persecution? Yep that one too.

Most Bible prophecy teachers believe the Seals of Revelation are world-wide problems, of course, not merely local Middle Eastern events.  Still, it’s a little spooky.

The big change for the West has been the rise of an aggressive populist atheism, and social changes including same-sex marriage and the view among almost all media that the Bible, and those who believe in it, are no longer anywhere close to the mainstream.  From movies, to books, to talk shows, traditional Christian beliefs are increasingly being viewed as morally wrong, or intellectually bankrupt. Ironically, this comes at a time when the arguments in favor of Biblical Christianity are at their strongest.

In recent times, atheism surprised Christianity with a deluge of new and old arguments, and fresh styles of attack. The culture, which today values the style of debate over the substance, is often swayed by fierceness of the attack. Christianity is not argued against as much as ridiculed, scoffed at, and laughed away.  And as we’ve seen in presidential debates that award someone the win based on how well they interrupted or talked over or laughed at their opponent, so the new atheism uses a new attitude as much as any new argument.

Nevertheless, because of evidence of design the arguments for Creation have never been stronger.  Genetics has also presented what I consider insurmountable hurdles for macro-evolution, and even paleontology has challenged, of all things, the age of the dinosaurs.  Despite these and other advances on the evidence side of defending the Bible and the existence of God, the debate is as much about style now.  In fact, I get the distinct feeling it’s a lot like a fashion show, and what is “in style” now currently isn’t the Bible.

Personal.  There are lots of things we can say have changed on a personal level. We may have gone through triumphs or tragedies or both.  Kids grow up, we grow older, new opportunities come, and sometimes we leave things behind. This being a blog about spiritual things, however, let’s talk about where our views have gone, perhaps some things we’ve learned along the way, and definitely where God has led us.

For me, a few things stand out.  A trip to Kenya opened my eyes to the role of the rich in this world. And yeah, it’s we Americans who are rich.  It was in Kenya when God showed me our role was to give it away. Someone has recently said we need to be more ruthless in giving away our material blessings.  I couldn’t agree more, but I didn’t really GET this until Kenya.

While there, we gave away clothes, we gave away our reading glasses, our shoes, our spending money, and whatever else was needed. We didn’t do it at random mind you, but like any accountant at any business, we wanted to know where, why, and if it was a good idea to give in this way or that.  As managers over a trust fund, we invested as wisely as we could, but we made sure we invested.  God opened doors for us to purchase food, Bibles, medical treatments, pay for school fees, and even, before it was over, give a family a new home.  Going back to the Bible, we realized the role of rich believers is simply this: to give it away as good stewards of God’s money.

Not only was that big for me in regards to doctrine, it was a time that opened a door for the Gospel. With the help of two on-fire local pastors, we met with people, sharing with them about Jesus. Many already attended a church but believed they were “saved” because they were a member, or because they followed a particular preacher.  We didn’t try to get them to change churches, we simply wanted to tell them about Jesus, and shared with them the basics of the Gospel.  The Bible says that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.  It didn’t say the gift of God was eternal life in Church XYZ, or Preacher So and So.  It said Jesus.  And Romans 10 says if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead we will be saved.

There’s just no getting around it, the Bible preaches salvation through Jesus, not religion or anyone else.  And through the ministry that began with our little group, 42 people who already attended a church, accepted Jesus for the first time.  Today, a church is forming, one that preaches Jesus instead of religion. That was just cool.

There’s more to say on the Personal side of things.  A new understanding of what worship is, what living by the Spirit really is all about, will impact the new year.  What about you? Hope you’ve had a good one, too.

Bill O’Reilly versus John Jay?

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One of our founding fathers, a guy by the name of John Jay, was very open with his belief in Jesus and the Bible. He also happened to be, at one time or another, the president of the Congress, a diplomat, the author of the Federalist Papers, the original Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and the governor of New York.  That’s quite a resume. He once wrote:  “The Bible will also inform (people) that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed – that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy, has opened a way for our redemption and salvation;”

You don’t hear that from the Supreme Court very often, even less from the governor of New York, but John Jay believed in a Creator, in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and in the need for everyone to be forgiven and saved from judgment.   God’s judgment.

These days, even conservatives and professing Christians like Bill O’Reilly won’t go that far.  Continue reading “Bill O’Reilly versus John Jay?”