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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Jesus Existed and So Did His Miracles

MangerConsider how difficult it would be to convince someone that an imaginary person existed and had been famously walking around town just two months ago. Now try to convince the same person that they themselves saw this imaginary person perform a miracle. According to the book of Acts, written in the first-century AD, the apostle Peter said this:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— (Peter in Acts 2:22, ESV).

It is sometimes claimed that Luke simply got it wrong when he wrote down these words of Peter. Ancient fake news perhaps. It is sometimes claimed the church must have rewritten the book of Acts somehow, although they would have had to do that very, very early. We do have quite a number of ancient manuscripts after all. What isn’t really up for debate, however, is that the Christian religion was a big presence in Jerusalem very soon after the time of Jesus. The people who lived at that time and in that place sure acted like people who would agree with Peter in the verse above. They had seen Jesus and the miracles for themselves. Why else would they become believers in droves?

A few thousand years later, we aren’t so sure, of course.  Last month as Christmas approached, the Washington Post published a three-year old article that questioned whether Jesus really existed. The article suggested that Jesus was nothing more than a myth. The same idea shows up around the internet but when it shows up in the Washington Post, it carries more weight.

Except it doesn’t.

The three-year old article had been previously debunked (debunked with amazing force) and even atheist historians and archaeologists believe Jesus was a real person. The disagreement is over what Jesus said and did, not whether He was real or imaginary. Ironically, the claims of Christianity are taken more seriously by scholars and experts, than by our popular media culture. Of course, there is that meme of Bart Ehrman saying:

In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references! -Bart Ehrman (at a debate in a church)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWAZvB0rCDQ

However, Ehrman wasn’t arguing Jesus didn’t exist as the memes suggest. He was arguing the only sources we have for any large amount of information about Jesus are the Gospels. Ehrman also made a similar statement in his book Jesus, Interrupted to argue that Jesus wasn’t all that important to the people in the ancient Roman world. The internet memes are twisting his words and taking them out of context. I know, shock right?

Historically speaking, Jesus was a real person. He lived and walked the earth and changed the world forever. He is mentioned a few times in some minor written records by Roman authorities like Pliny and Tacitus. Both of them missed Bart’s deadline of the first century, but just barely. Jesus also gets a brief mention or so by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus who did write in the first century. Jesus is also mentioned in writings by ancient Christians. Yes, the writings of Christians such as Paul and the Gospels do count as evidence. Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians, for instance, are mid-first century, and considered very significant by the scholarly world. Notice Ehrman did not say Jewish sources when he made his statement.

It gets better. Consider some sociological facts for a minute. Myths take hundreds of years to develop, but Christianity was growing all over the Roman empire just a few years after Jesus. The teaching of what Jesus had said or done, the miracles He had performed, and fact of His death and resurrection did not take decades or centuries to be written down or preached. Christians were saying these things from day one. The earliest Christian creed that Paul wrote down in I Corinthians 15:3-7 is believed to have been given to Paul just a year or two after Jesus.  Yes, even atheist scholars have said this. Myths don’t usually develop instantly.

Wait, actually never.

Also notice what Peter said above. The famous apostle was preaching this sermon barely two months after Jesus had died on the cross. Many of the people to whom he was speaking had been able to see Jesus with their own eyes. That’s why Peter says that Jesus did miracles “as you yourselves know.”  The people who lived in Jerusalem would have known if Jesus was imaginary, and they would have known if Jesus hadn’t really done any miracles. That’s why myths take centuries to develop. Most people are a bit skeptical of such things, especially if those same people had been there.

It’s also why it is amazing that after Peter finished speaking, 3,000 people put their faith in Jesus. The same city full of people who had seen Jesus with their own eyes, exploded with belief. Even if you reject the accuracy of the story, historical evidence from writings and archaeology shows that Christianity developed in Jerusalem far, far too early to be explained by a myth. The historical evidence implies not only that Jesus was a real person, but that something extraordinary had happened.

It’s not like supposed messiahs hadn’t been killed before. They had. Jesus was obviously different for some reason. I would argue this is the sort of historical evidence that leads toward believing there was something to those miracles and especially, the resurrection.

It’s also why, outside of the internet and the Washington Post, it is difficult to find current scholars or historians who are able to credibly argue that Jesus did not exist. Sure, you may quote one from somewhere, but everyone else can raise you a hundred. Read the link above by John Dickson that debunked the Post’s article in 2014 as just an example. There is a growing body of evidence that easily demonstrates Jesus was a real person, including everything from writings, carvings, paintings, letters, manuscripts, and the history of Christianity itself. His existence is the easy part. The real debate is on the miracles and the resurrection. There are simply too many details to explain away in order to claim Jesus was imaginary. Plus, there’s the big, obvious, glaring detail that cannot be overlooked:

Out of all the ancient writings from Jews and Romans who argued against Christianity, and there were plenty of ancient skeptics, not a single one of them ever argued that Jesus didn’t exist. No one argued Jesus was imaginary until centuries later.

Think about that. It took centuries to develop this Jesus-Is-Imaginary idea.

That’s how myths work. Thus, the actual myth here, the idea that no one believed then but people accept now thousands of years later, is the whole Jesus wasn’t real thing.

If you’re not into myths, then good news, the evidence says Jesus was, in fact, a historical reality. The best part: He is also a present reality.

THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

Continue reading “THIS is Christianity”

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?”

What Does the Universe Tell us About God?

Intelligent Design is a term used to describe a certain point of view of many scientists and academics who study the universe or some part of it.  Plus, it’s the point of view of many others who arrive at the same conclusion because of their religious beliefs.  Basically, it’s the idea that there are clues in our universe indicating that an intelligence is behind it all.

For you that may be God, and of course it is for me too. Without question.  Others like to go with the idea that aliens did it, and aliens put us here.  Intelligent aliens are more palatable to some than God.  As silly as that may sound to you or me, (understatement) don’t think for a second people aren’t willing to go there.  A few prominent people have suggested it, and one major movie was built around it.

-all because the evidence that points to an Intelligence behind the Design is substantial enough to convince a lot of people.

But let’s put God in the picture for a second, and take it a step beyond.  Besides just the remarkable facts of how our universe is constructed and how it came to be… what if we asked why?

In the Bible, Romans 1:20 said this about God and His creation:

“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”

Usually, we quote this verse and say the creation proves God exists, but really there’s more than that isn’t there?  It says that through His creation we can discover God’s “invisible attributes” and His “eternal power and divine nature.”

Which leaves us with the conclusion that not only would the creation argue for the existence of God, (and this is precisely what many believe Intelligent Design demonstrates) but the creation would give us clues ABOUT God.

So what are they? Continue reading “What Does the Universe Tell us About God?”

Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God

I have friends in Joplin, Missouri, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My friends survived. Two of them lost their home. Another was at his church on Sunday night, and the church was close to the path of the EF5 twister which ravaged a city of 50,000, but it missed them by a few blocks.  Unfortunately, one friend of mine did lose her grandfather in the storm, and some friends of friends were killed as well.  One died while heroically trying to save someone else.  Stories and memories that will live on with us.

Facebook helped many of us keep tabs on each other and when cell phones occasionally worked, we contacted each other that way, too. It’s not my first experience with feeling close to an EF5. I received my last tetanus shot on the sidewalk in Greensburg, Kansas courtesy of a friendly lady from the Red Cross. I believe Greensburg was the last EF5 to hit before this year although I might be wrong. I’ve read that generally those monsters develop and touch down about once every four years. With four EF5 tornadoes this year alone, we’re definitely above the average. The crazy weather combined with all the other disasters and unrest around the world has people talking about Bible Prophecy, but sometimes the questions are more personal.

Why would God allow a high school senior returning from a graduation ceremony to get sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV where he was riding with his father? Why didn’t God miraculously keep him from being hurt like God kept others safe? Why didn’t God at least let the family find him after it happened?  It took days to discover his body in a pond.  Another 15-month old was found at a morgue.  Many other bodies took weeks to identify and families had to wait those weeks to officially discover a loved one’s fate.  Quite often, the happy miraculous ending we would hope for, didn’t happen.
Continue reading “Tornadoes in Joplin, and a Loving God”

The Rapture: Taking it Literally?

The Christian belief in “The Rapture,” made famous by the Left Behind series and various doomsday predictions, comes from two Scriptures in the Bible which speak about the resurrection of the dead.  In neither place is it specifically called “the Rapture” although you can find the Latin word for “rapture” in there if you use the Latin Vulgate Bible.  In fact, the Latin is where we get the term, and the term simply applies to the event described in I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:15-17.   And since saying “The Rapture” is easier than saying “The-Event-Described-In-1st-Corinthians-15-51-52-and-I-Thessalonians-4-15-17”  or T.E.D.I.1.C.1.15.52.A.I.T.4.15.17 for short…

Most of us just say “the Rapture.”

Anyway, the Rapture is basically a simple concept.  In both places, the Bible (Paul was the writer) is talking about what happens to believers in Jesus who are still alive when the resurrection happens.  Obviously, God’s not going to strike them all dead so He could raise them up at that moment.  Instead of that morbid method, the Bible says we will be “caught up” to Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4) and changed “in the blink of an eye” into immortality (I Corinthians 15).  Part of the reason Paul wrote about it in I Thessalonians was to give people hope.  It is a rather exciting thought to consider. And assuming you believe in God and Jesus in the first place, it makes sense.  I mean, if Jesus returned and raised the dead into eternity, it’s only natural to ask what would happen to those who are still alive at the time. The Rapture is the answer for that question.

But we still manage to have huge arguments over it.  Those debates are generally over whether to take it seriously in the first place, or if you believe in a resurrection, the argument is over when exactly the Rapture part of it happens.

THE “WHEN” ARGUMENTS

The “Left Behind” books and movies took a very common position on the WHEN part, Continue reading “The Rapture: Taking it Literally?”