New vs. Old Testament: Is God the Same?
By Hollie Roberts – BSF Executive Director
From an early age, I asked a lot of questions. “Why do beans sprout? Where does rubber go when it comes off your tires? What makes the sky so many colors? Where does the devil live? How will I know when he shows up?”
I am sure my parents were exhausted from answering so many questions, but their careful responses taught me a valuable lesson. By gently challenging my perceptions, they helped me discover new truths. I learned that God does the same. He discerns the struggles in our hearts and helps us discover a new facet of who He is. By challenging our perceptions, He changes our view.
When we ask a question like, “Why does God seem so different in the Old and New Testaments?” we can seek Him for an honest answer. As a place to begin, let us consider some common perceptions.
How do we perceive the Bible?
When we ask, “Why does God seem different?” we typically jump from one chapter to another.
In Numbers 16, God’s judgment was on full display. He caused the ground to open and swallow an entire group of rebellious people. In John 8, Jesus’ mercy was highlighted as He saved an adulterous woman and tenderly extended forgiveness.
When read together, those two chapters seem to clash. Earlier in this series, Dr. David Talley explored why God judges the people He loves. In this post, we wonder if God’s firm judgment and tender mercy can be reconciled.
To really unpack the question, we begin by expanding our perception of the Bible. As a collection of 66 books, the Bible is woven into a single narrative. Individual chapters and verses are carefully designed to work together as a whole. Single incidents like Numbers 16 and John 8 are carefully positioned to support a larger view of God.
Just imagine if someone based their entire perception of you on a single moment. Would they have a complete picture? What would they miss?
In a single day I am a wife, a mother, an executive director, a grandmother, a BSF member, a friend, and a neighbor. I am all of these at once, all of the time. But if you only saw my commute to work or listened to a single phone call, your perception would be too narrow to see the full Hollie Roberts.
We would never attempt to define a person by a single incident so why would we do this with God?
He is more than a few selected chapters or verses. We have to expand our perception.
How do we perceive God and Jesus?
Even when we expand our view to include all 66 books of the Bible, we may still be tempted to contrast God’s judgment with Jesus’ mercy. Critics of Christianity often say, “I like your Jesus, but I cannot accept your God.”
But beneath this thinking is a common misconception. We simply cannot contrast God and Jesus, because they are one and the same. Separating the two in our minds undermines the reality of one, magnificent, eternal God.
Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
The New Testament clarifies:
The Son is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:16a)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being. (Hebrews 1:3a)
For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him. (Colossians 1:19)
To remove God from Jesus or Jesus from God is to completely misunderstand both. And without considering the Holy Spirit, we miss the fullness of God. Each embodies the other’s nature. To understand one, we must look at all three.
How does this change our perception of God?
When we look beyond a single verse or chapter and consider the triune God, we begin to see something wonderful. The Bible is no longer about God or Jesus or The Holy Spirit, it is about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit – working in perfect harmony toward a single goal.
The story begins in Genesis with the creation of Adam and Eve. God required one thing: righteousness. We can define this as “right living” according to God’s law. When Adam and Eve failed in their righteousness, sin was born. But God had a plan.
The story continues in the Old Testament as humans failed again and again to be righteous. Through countless prophets, God called people back to Himself. Through promised judgment, He redirected their steps. And in His mercy, God extended grace. He “credited” righteousness to those who believed in Him.
God’s plan did not end there. As the cycle of sin and disobedience continued, Jesus entered human history. Through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, God poured out the fullness of His wrath on Jesus and extended the fullness of His grace to humanity. This time, God’s righteousness became available to all people, for all time, for those who believe in Him. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The story is still not over. God has yet to set all things right. Revelation 21 and 22 promise that one day He will. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians rest our hope in a God who keeps His promises.
Seen as a complete narrative, the Bible is no longer one Testament versus another Testament. Or one God versus another God. We see one God, with a single plan, working toward an eternal purpose.
If we look at God’s judgment in Numbers 16 coupled with Jesus’ mercy in John 8, we see both perfectly represented in the gospel. In that moment as Jesus hung on the cross, the fullness of God’s character was clear.
The more we study the Bible, our perceptions about God change. And since His character is everlasting, our journey never ends. Asking hard questions to the One with eternal answers is a great place to begin. When we honestly seek to know Him, we discover that He is greater than we ever imagined.
More in this series:
Why Does God Judge People He Loves?
Did God Choose Israel and Not the Other Nations?
BSF Executive Director
Hollie Roberts stepped into the Executive Director role in September 2021 after serving as BSF’s Chief Field Development Officer. Hollie and her husband, Kevin, have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren.
Submit a Comment
Our BSF staff approves each comment to maintain privacy and security. It may take 24-48 hours for your comment to be posted. Be sure to check back for replies from the author or other BSF members!