Q.

Please comment on the seeming difference between the God of the Old Testament and of the New Testament. In the Old Testament He seems foreboding, distant, stern, vengeful, overbearing, and intolerant. In the New, we see Him as more loving, understanding, forgiving, tender, personable, and merciful.

A.
One of God’s attributes is immutability, which means that He never changes: “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Therefore, we know that the God revealed in the Old Testament is the same God revealed in the New Testament, including His attributes. He was no different then than He is now.

So whatever conceptions or misconceptions we have concerning God in these two Testaments come from our Biblical orientation, small or vast, accurate or distorted. For example, some individuals might have had in childhood a concentration of such Old Testament incidents as the Flood, the Ten Plagues, the rigid Old Testament Mosaic law system, the destruction of heathen peoples, and so forth, while their New Testament memories focus upon Jesus, including His holding and loving children, performing healings and other miracles, and giving the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Additionally they perhaps learned and remembered the apostle Paul’s great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

It is also possible that some people obtain a distorted view of God from being exposed to religious liberalism. Many liberal theologians attempt to discredit anything in Scripture that they view as negative. They show God only as a God of love, to the exclusion of His justice, judgment, and vengeance. But as we accurately learn more of God’s Word, we see how the idea that God is somehow different in the two Testaments just doesn’t hold up.

The adjectives you mentioned in your question can be found to describe God in either Testament. By the way, the adjectives for “the God of the Old Testament” apply to Him only in a righteous, holy, just sense. God is perfect and has no sin and evil in Him. If He is vengeful, for example, it is because He is holy and deals with sin. If He is distant or foreboding, it is because people have disobeyed Him and thus view Him in these ways.

The Old Testament has countless references to God’s goodness, compassion, and love. It is the Old Testament that contains the psalms; here are key passages that show the qualities you mention as characterizing “the God of the New Testament.” It is the Old Testament that predicts the coming Savior and Redeemer. It is the Old Testament that, while recording the rebellion of God’s Chosen People, tells of their restoration through His mercy and forgiveness.

As we know Bible doctrine more, we discover great passages of Scripture such as Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” As we understand more and more how God deals with sin, we see His love even in tragedies like the fall of man into sin and the downfall of proud, haughty individuals and groups. We see how, in love, He prevents sinners from going beyond His will.

In the New Testament we often see God as loving, tender, and so forth. These characterizations come in large part because of the life of our compassionate Christ, recorded in the four Gospels. It also comes from the love expressed by Paul and the others in their letters. But God’s wrath and other “negative” aspects of His character are actually expressed just as faithfully and forcefully in the New Testament as they are in the Old Testament. John, in His Gospel, wrote that “the wrath of God abides on him” who does not believe on the Son of God (John 3:36). Romans 1:18 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Hebrews 12:29 says that “our God is a consuming fire.”

Also, much of the final book of the New Testament, the book of Revelation, depicts God as judge. Many people today try to convince us that war in and of itself is immoral, but the Lord Jesus will wage the greatest war of all time, the Battle of Armageddon. The book of Revelation should be a fearful book for the unbeliever.

As stated earlier, we have an unchanging God. Although difficult for our finite minds to grasp, we can trust that the total picture of God throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures is consistent. However, we should continually seek to grow in our knowledge of Who He is.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (November 2004).
© 2004 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.