Old Testament God vs New Testament God?

Is God real? Does God exist? Does God love me? How can I be saved? How can I go to Heaven?

Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament?

At first glance, God in the Old Testament seems harsh, and perhaps callous. God in the New Testament seems loving, and gentle. With respect, this is a simple misunderstanding. It’s also not new…this has been a common misunderstanding since at least the turn of the first century AD.

It may seem like the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament, but He’s the same. His nature and character have not changed at all. How does God describe Himself? Look at Exodus 34:6-7

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

In the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a shepherd who cares for His sheep, a faithful husband who forgives His unfaithful wife, and so on. His “New Testament character” is clearly seen in these descriptions. Yes, He created some strict rules for His people. Yes, He has always held people accountable for their actions.

On the flip side, those who see Jesus as only gentle and meek are also missing half of the picture. We all know that Jesus used very harsh words when talking to the self-righteous. Take a look at the list of “woes” that Jesus pronounced and try to picture Him as only meek and mild! We also read in the Gospels that He proclaimed a coming judgment on Israel, which happened in 70AD. Jesus talked just as much about Hell as Heaven, if not more. In Acts, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying. In Hebrews 10 we read that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and that He is a consuming fire (12:29). When we get to Revelation, we see that Jesus isn’t soft. He carries a sword, and will judge and destroy those who oppose God.

God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness have been shown from the beginning, from Genesis to Malachi. His justice – with wrath, punishment, and destruction – are there to see from Matthew to Jude and Revelation. God has not changed. He handles different situations differently, which makes sense…but His character has always been the same. Naturally, we LIKE to think of God as more loving and kind and gentle…but what would happen if that were His only attributes? The wicked and unrepentant would go unpunished. That would make Him unjust, and unloving toward those who have been victimized. Were He only harsh and demanding, He would be unjust toward those who love Him and seek to serve Him well.

The antidote to this misunderstanding is easy: just read the Bible more thoroughly. It’s hard to read the first few chapters of Hosea and not see that God is forgiving, loving, compassionate, and patient. We tend to think of God as emotionless, but Song of Solomon tells us otherwise. Reading through the Psalms will show that God cares for us deeply. At the same time, reading ALL of the Gospels – not just passages like the Beatitudes – will help us understand that neither the Son nor the Father are playing games. Lives are at stake, and there will be a reckoning.

Is Loving Yourself Bad?

Is the Bible true? Are Bible translations bad? What language is the Bible?

In a recent online discussion a friend claimed that you can love God, or you can love yourself, but not both. To support his claim he cited 2 Timothy 3. Here’s the passage in question:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Nobody should be like that, of course. If that’s the result of loving yourself, we should avoid loving ourselves.

On the other hand, the Bible clearly indicates that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). How can we love our neighbor that way without being the kind of lover of self that Paul warned Timothy about? How can we reconcile the two passages?

When trying to understand any communication (including the Bible), context matters. We have to look at more than just the words being used. We also need to look at the bigger picture. If we ask a few simple questions, we can clear up all kinds of confusion:

  • Who wrote this?
  • To whom did they write it?
  • Why did they write it?

…and so on. Let me share a real-life example of context: I can say the words “I like cheese” and “I don’t like cheese” without being contradictory. Both can be true, depending on the context.

Context 1
We’re at a pizza parlor, deciding what to order. You ask whether I’d like to share a cheese pizza, and I reply “I like cheese”.

Context 2
We’re at an ice cream parlor, deciding what to order. The clerk asks whether I’d like to try some cheese ice cream, and I reply “I don’t like cheese”.

Suggesting that I’ve contradicted myself is silly. Clearly, there are some situations in which I welcome the taste of cheese, and some where it’s kind of gross. In the same way, the Bible can say to love God RATHER THAN self and say to love your neighbor AS yourself without being contradictory. Both are true, and we can reconcile them by examining their context.

In case you were wondering, the following passages do indeed say to love your neighbor as yourself:
Matthew 5:43
Matthew 19:19
Matthew 22:39
Mark 12:31
Luke 10:27
Romans 13:9
Galatians 5:14
James 2:8
Read all of these verses on Biblegateway

The Greek word translated “as” in each passage is HOS, which means as, like, or even as. The source passage is Leviticus 19:18, where the Hebrew word KEMOW has the same meaning.

Clearly, there’s more than one way to love yourself. We can love ourselves in a way that makes us arrogant and rude and treacherous, and there’s another way that we should use as a blueprint for loving our neighbors. Loving yourself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be.

We shouldn’t even be having this conversation, really. The problem isn’t that my friend is having trouble reconciling two passages of Scripture. The problem is that he took the Timothy passage and agreed with it…and then had to reinterpret the Mark passage to mean something else. That’s not a wise way to handle the Bible. We should avoiding taking any passage as “standing alone”, but keep its greater context in mind. God would not tell the Israelites to love their neighbors as themselves if they weren’t supposed to love themselves at all. Looking at the big picture makes this clear.