THE UNCHANGING GOD: AN ANALYSIS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
A common misconception about the character of God as shown in the Bible is that it differs significantly between the Old and New Testaments. For some, the character of God is often interpreted as contradictory. However, the Bible has been able to show the fundamental nature of God as being unchanging and consistent. Various scriptures of both sections reveal a God of love, forgiveness, kindness, and grace. The difference in nature of God is always portrayed within specific situations, which require Him to take action in specific ways. Therefore, the changing nature of man can often be misconstrued as that of God. This is especially so because the Bible shows several types of relationships with God concerning the characters and behaviors of men. Therefore, the nature of God can be described as multifaceted and complimentary across the two sections rather than changing and contradictory.
The God of the Old Testament
God has been repeatedly described as an executioner as shown by His actions in the Old Testament. Particularly, His nature is detailed by the manner in which punitive actions are carried out in the name of justice and facing the consequences. When God created man, He provided a guide through which people would live and behave. However, He also provided men with the freedom to make their own choices. This freedom to make choices comes with the responsibility. Therefore, it is inevitable that man will face the consequences of free will.
In Deuteronomy 30:19, God sets life and death, and asks people to choose life so that they and their descendants may live prosperously. At the same time, various verses in the Old Testament speak on the inevitability of accepting responsibility for the choices made, whether bad or good. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah provides an excellent example of how the people in the city made choices that eventually led to them being killed by God’s angels. However, because Lot and his family were righteous in God’s eyes, they were given a chance to escape before the city was destroyed. In Exodus, God brings down the people of Egypt as a way of protecting the Israelites. This action is considered as a divine act of justice that seeks to protect the people of God.
Sommer maintains that the violent characteristic of God leads to rejection of the Bible. Furthermore, the author asserts that it is because of this violent nature of God that people can accept violence in human beings. Seibert also provides an evaluation of the nature of God in the Old Testament. He focuses on God’s divine violence to reveal how his nature has been interpreted over time. Seibert maintains that the nature of God as seen in the Old Testament is highly essential to Christians today. It allows them to understand the authority of God, which is seen through the consequences that people face based on their personal decisions.
The Divine Warrior
Scriptures from the Old Testament reveal God as a Divine Warrior, who defeats the enemies of His people through violence, wars, and destruction. God is revealed as a divine being that protects the people who are righteous and worship Him by preventing them from being harmed by their enemies or by merely destroying them. When God successfully delivered the Israelites from Egypt through the Red Sea, Moses composed a song that revealed God as a warrior, defender, and savior. Moses goes as far as describing God as a “warrior” who parted the Red Sea, killing the Pharaoh and his soldiers.
Furthermore, the victorious warriors described in the Old Testament are shown to have received their power from God Himself, rather than their own. David, who was small in stature, was able to defeat Goliath because of the strength God gave him. Samson was also able to defeat his enemies through the strength of his hair, a divine gift from God. Joshua, who successfully led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, attributed his success in fighting his enemies through the strength of God. In Joshua 6:1, God provides Joshua with specific instructions that lead to the destruction of Jericho’s walls, leading to their victory.
These actions are motivated by the need to not only show God’s power, but also by the need to reveal his fundamental nature of Love. It is natural to want to protect a person who one truly loves, even if this means developing an inclination to eliminate a situation in which the individual would be harmed.
The Acts of God
According to Fretheim, the actions of God as depicted in theological analyses reveal a significantly different character between the Old and New Testament. In Genesis, God creates the earth and man. His will was to develop a kind of fellowship with man. The relationship would be characterized by love, devotion, and obedience, which soon became unachievable because man was not made perfect. Despite this, God is revealed as being compassionate in that He wished to restore His people to the right path of righteousness and grace. He leads his people out of Israel, leads them to the Promised Land, and defeats the enemies that attempt to bring harm to His chosen people.
Throughout the Old Testament, God reveals Himself as a compassionate being, who also forgives the transgressions of His chosen people. In Exodus chapter 20, God instructs people to worship Him alone, and to avoid creating idols. However, the people of Israel, who were still in the wilderness, continued to make these idols, showing a complete disregard for God’s will. God also stated that the consequence for this disobedience is death. However, Moses conciliates with God, asking Him for forgiveness on behalf of the people. God’s compassionate and merciful nature is revealed when he forgives them.
The God of the New Testament – The God of Love
The Omnipotent and the All-good
In the New Testament, God has been described as being more forgiving, compassionate, generous, and patient with people than in the Old Testament. Here, vast arrays of scriptures center on His promises, salvation, and other positive traits. One fundamental nature of God is revealed through Jesus. He is sent as a representative of God, delivering the good news of salvation and acting as a sacrifice through which people will receive eternal life. In the first four Gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Jesus embarks on a ministry of with His disciples through which He is able to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and welcome more people into Christianity. Through this, God is revealed as having mercy, love, and a desire for unity, which would eventually be manifested through eternal life in Heaven.
An inherent characteristic of love is the act of sacrifice, that is, the giving up of something valuable to obtain an item of equal or greater value. Within the New Testament, one of the greatest acts of love that God showed was allowing the death of His only son as a means of saving the souls of humankind from eternal damnation. This sacrifice is evident in John chapter 3 verses 16 that states, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whomever believeth in Him shall have eternal life” (Revised Standard Version). Through this, it is clear that God gave up His son to give people a chance to avoid perishing eternally. Furthermore, within the context of this verse, the love of God is evidenced because it is stated that people would be able to choose whether to believe in Him in order to attain eternal life.
The God of Jesus and the God of Jesus’ Followers
Throughout the Bible, various aspects of God are revealed through the manner in which He interacts with people and His son. In the Gospels, Jesus describes God as a divine being who is capable of various acts of love. Luke 11:9 describes a kind God, who can give man anything as long as they ask, seek, and knock. Furthermore, when Jesus heals the sick, He states that he can do this through the power of His father in Heaven. Mark 10:18 also reveals the character of God as described by Jesus as good. Because Jesus is revealed as a part of the Holy Trinity, He is able to reveal the character of God as powerful, all-knowing, and compassionate through His action during the time in which he lived on earth.
These descriptions are not dissimilar to those of how God is revealed to His people. Just as God expected obedience from His son, so too did He expect it from man. Both the old and New Testament reveal God as He who holds all divine authority, and that righteousness can only be achieved through adhering to His will. This is evident in many characters in the Bible including King David, Abraham, Job, Elijah, Lot, and Moses, among many others. In all these cases, we see that success is only achieved when the words and instructions of God are followed. Similarly, God expected Jesus to obey His will of having Him sacrificed to give people the chance of attaining eternal life in Heaven. Therefore, the unchanging nature of God is evidenced by His expectations of obedience from both His people and His son.
The God of the Old Testament vs. The God of the New Testament
Extensive theological literature reveals that God has two sides. While the vengeful and angry side is revealed in the Old Testament, the forgiving and compassionate side is shown in the New Testament. These sides are revealed as being contradictory to one another in fundamental ways, making people more confused about His true nature. It also leads to the creation of doubt within the Christian community, leaving many with more questions than answers. However, this dichotomy is fundamentally flawed because the aspect of being multifaceted is entirely dismissed. In a manner similar to human beings, God can reveal many aspects of Himself depending on the situation, character, and behavior of the person with whom He interacts. The approach is clearly evidenced by His response to sinfulness and unrighteousness, which differs significantly from the response to obedience.
The dichotomy of God is also revealed in such a way that one side is complementary to another. Through God’s wrath and punishments, people can understand the consequences of being sinful. However, through His love and blessings, He reveals the fruits of righteousness. In the light of this, it is clear that the existence of God’s two sides is not mutually exclusive, but complementary to form a more wholesome source of authority on man. In Romans 5:8, it is stated that the Love of God saves man from His wrath. The revelation provides man with a clear guide on how their choices will affect their consequences within the context of the Bible as an authority. Primarily, the actions of man will determine whether the wrathful or graceful side of God will be revealed.
The Unchanging Nature of God
Themes in the Old Testament scriptures differ significantly from those in the New Testament. It is therefore easy to interpret the character of God as being contradictory, which causes further enigma of His true self. However, the character of God is unchanging, as shown in the consistency of his character throughout the Bible. God is shown to be forgiving, as is evidenced by his decision not to punish the people of Israel when they worshipped idols. In the New Testament, the ultimate act of love by God is associated by His ability to forgive man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Bible, God is revealed as carrying out acts of love even when his wrathful and angry side is revealed. God acted as a warrior, who ultimately destroyed the enemies of His chosen people. A more in-depth analysis, however, reveals that these acts were fundamentally fueled by the love He had for them. He could only free the people of Israel through defeating their captors. Similarly, his acts in the New Testament, albeit different from those in the Old Testament, were also motivated by love. He offers eternal life, grace, compassion, and mercy to His people. He also allows His people to spread His word, thus expanding His Kingdom. God is also concerned about the greater good of humankind through his actions. Through destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, he was able to deliver Lot and his family from the city of sinners. In the New Testament, God sacrifices his beloved son for the greater good of humankind. Through these acts, it is revealed that the real character of God remains throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Creation to Consummation – The Continuity of Testaments
The Old Testament is not revealed as a contrast to the New Testament, but rather continuity. Varied human behavior triggers the acts of God. In some cases, man disobeys God, which leads to punishment. In other cases, man remains righteous and receives blessings and prosperity. Throughout the text, God is shown as a divine being who through His authority, allows people to face the consequences of their sinful decisions. According to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death” (Revised Standard Version). However, God also shows a side of mercy, grace, and abundant blessings to those who remain virtuous according to His instruction. Scriptures in the Bible also depict different periods between the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament revealed the relationship between God and man before Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, this relationship is renewed thanks to His son.
From Genesis to
Revelation, the character of God is revealed
regarding His fellowship with man. The
will of God remains unchanging throughout the text despite His actions of wrath
or grace. In the Old Testament, God is seen
as being violent and vengeful towards the sinful actions of man. In the New
Testament, He is often depicted as a merciful, generous, and loving God.
However, a more in-depth analysis of His
actions in both parts of the Bible shows that He is, in fact, unchanging in His
communion with man. As such, there is a need to regard God as a being who is
capable of carrying out various acts
motivated by love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and wrath. At the same time, it is also imperative to note
that both the Old and New Testament reveal God as having the attributes above.
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Barrick, William D. “The Kingdom of God in The Old Testament”. The Master’s Seminary Journal 23, no. 2 (2012): 173–192. https://www.tms.edu/m/msj23j.pdf.
Eichenwald, Kurt. “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”. Newsweek, Last modified 2014. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html.
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Liefeld, Walter L. “Unity and Diversity in the Two Testaments,” Christian Brethren Review 31, no. 32 (1982): https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/cbr/unity_liefeld.pdf.
Pelt, Miles. “The Old Testament God of Compassion and Mercy by Miles van Pelt.” Table talk Magazine. Last modified 2010. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/old-testament-god-compassion-and-mercy/.
Sandlin, Andrew P. “The Authority of the Old Testament.” Chalcedon.Edu, Last modified 1998. https://chalcedon.edu/magazine/the-authority-of-the-old-testament.
Seibert, Eric A. “Recent Research on Divine Violence in the Old Testament (With Special Attention to Christian Theological Perspectives)”. Currents in Biblical Research 15, no. 1 (2016): 8-40. Doi: 10.1177/1476993×15600588.
Sommer, Joseph C. “Some Reasons Why Humanists Reject the Bible –
American Humanist Association.” American
Humanist Association, Last modified 2018. https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/reasons-humanists-reject-bible/.
 Andrew Sandlin, “The Authority of the Old Testament,” Chalcedon.Edu, Last modified 1998. https://chalcedon.edu/magazine/the-authority-of-the-old-testament.
 Deut 30:19 (RSV).
 Joseph Sommer, “Some Reasons why Humanists Reject the Bible,” American Humanist Association, 2018, https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/reasons-humanists-reject-bible/.
 Eric Seibert, “Recent Research on Divine Violence in The Old Testament (With Special Attention to Christian Theological Perspectives”, Currents in Biblical Research, 15, no. 1 (2016): 8-40,02 July 2018.
 Joshua 6:1 (RSV).
 Terence Fretheim, “God and Violence in the Old Testament,” Word & World 24, no. 1 (2014): 18-28. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/24-1_Violence/24-1_Fretheim.pdf.
 Miles Pelt, “The Old Testament God of Compassion and Mercy,” Table talk Magazine, 2010, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/old-testament-god-compassion-and-mercy/.
 John 3:16 (RSV).
 Luke 11:9, Mark 10:18 (RSV).
 Walter Liefield, “Unity and Diversity in the Two Testaments,” Christian Brethren Review, 1982, https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/cbr/unity_liefeld.pdf.
 Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”, Newsweek, Last modified 2014. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html.
 William Barrick, “The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 23, no. 2 (2012): 173–192. https://www.tms.edu/m/msj23j.pdf.
 Rom 6:23 (RSV).