A discussion about God in the New & Old Testament
After discussing the premise and content of my book and reading an early draft copy, a friend posed the interesting question, “When did God change his mind?”.
The question draws upon two schools of thought related to the interactions that God has with His creation, mankind. The first and probably the most universal and widely held viewpoint is that the God of the Old Testament is angry, hostile, punishing, unforgiving, and maybe even cruel. The Old Testament seems to depict God as a very rigid, demanding entity that tolerates nothing other than perfect obedience and complete submission. God appears to be using the Law or the short version, better known as the Ten Commandments, to beat mankind into submission.
The New Testament, on the other hand, provides the framework for the second viewpoint which depicts God as loving, compassionate, forgiving, and abundant in grace toward His wayward creation. Some of the scriptures in the New Testament seem to say that everything is now OK, such as this verse in 1 Corinthians 10:23.
1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
There appears to be a conflict between these two positions, and many people cannot fully accept the apparent change in God’s dealings with mankind that is portrayed in the New Testament. Some who are steeped in traditional views have been taught that God is looking over their shoulder, and they had better not mess up because He is always looking for ways to punish them and send them to Hell. Their conditioning might not allow them to accept or understand the forgiving and loving God that is revealed through Jesus. Trying to weave this traditional understanding of God into the fabric of the New Testament presents some challenges.
Jesus is equated with God in the New Testament. Therefore, by extension, Jesus and God are the same throughout time. This is supported by the description of Jesus found in Hebrew 13:8. This would also imply that Jesus would display the same attributes God displayed in the Old Testament. Therefore, the God that is found in the Old Testament, with all of the apparent negative baggage, must still be the same in the New Testament as expressed through Jesus.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
Traditional “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching leads us to believe that God was not so nice in the Old Testament. It looks like God is going to get you for your evil ways. However, Jesus (God) offers peace, love, and salvation in the New Testament. This apparent contradiction presents an interesting conflict to the reader and student of the Bible, giving rise to the question posed in the title of this chapter, “When did God change His mind?”
What Just Happened?
The logical answer is that God changed His mind at the inception of the New Testament, coinciding with the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, the New Testament did not begin until the very end of the Gospels and the beginning of the Book of Acts. Jesus actually walked the earth under the laws of the Old Testament, not the grace of the New Testament. Jesus was the founder of the New Testament, not during His life, but following His death and resurrection.
A definition might be in order at this point to help clarify this situation. What exactly is meant by the word, testament, whether new or old? Simply stated, a testament is a covenant or the formalization of an agreement. A more detailed examination of the word covenant will help us better understand the use of the word testament. Pertinent aspects of the definition are that a testament has tangible proof and is formal and binding. It is based on performance, and there are provisions for damages due to a breach of the contract.
1a) archaic: a covenant between God and the human race, 1b) capitalized: either of two main divisions of the Bible. 2a) a tangible proof or tribute, 2b) an expression of conviction: creed.
1a) usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement: compact, 2a) a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action. 2b) the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract.
The Ten Commandments and the entire Law were offshoots from the first Covenant between God and Man that is described in the Old Testament. Some men, such as those listed above (Noah, Abraham, and Moses), were party to the covenants. The only thing that they had to offer on their side of the agreement was their faith and obedience. It is important to note that these agreements entered into by God were somewhat, if not totally, unilateral in scope. All of the commitment to perform was on His part and was only conditioned on man’s performance of faith, trust, and obedience.
The issue of man’s performance is the reason for the implementation of the Law. We are a bit on the stubborn and self-willed side, as you will certainly agree, just based on your own life and personal experience. Since we have problems figuring out what to do in many situations, we need a little bit of guidance about the truth and what is right, hence the Law. You see, the Law was not instituted to find reasons to punish us. It was established to guide us into making right and truthful decisions and acting in the appropriate manner. Making right decisions and taking right actions puts us into the position of being able to take part in the benefits that God had outlined in His agreement or Covenant with Abraham.
The results of rebellion against God have been evident throughout the existence of man. However, it was not until a law was put in place that man became fully responsible for disobedience and rebellion. The book of Romans provides that explanation in Chapter 5:13.
Romans 5:13 (ERV)
Sin was in the world before the Law of Moses. But God does not consider people guilty of sin if there is no law.
Sin has been present since the fall of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve brought the beginning of the curse of death upon themselves and their descendants. However, without a law, man was not held accountable for that sin. The Law made man personally responsible for his sinful individual and corporate actions. The actions of Adam, the first man, brought down the curse of sin upon all of mankind. However, until the Law, the breadth and scope of the requirements upon man were not completely evident. The totality of the Law plainly illustrated that man was not able to achieve the expectations of God all on his own. He needed the help that Adam rejected by following after sin.
Examination of this passage in Romans 5:12-21 provides a very clear picture of God’s plan to restore man to his original condition before the sin of Adam.
Romans 5:12-21 (CEV)
12 Adam sinned, and that sin brought death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and so everyone must die. 13 Sin was in the world before the Law came. But no record of sin was kept, because there was no Law. 14 Yet death still had power over all who lived from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. This happened, though not everyone disobeyed a direct command from God, as Adam did.
In some ways Adam is like Christ who came later. 15 But the gift that God was kind enough to give was very different from Adam’s sin. That one sin brought death to many others. Yet in an even greater way, Jesus Christ alone brought God’s gift of kindness to many people.
16 There is a lot of difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gift. That one sin led to punishment. But God’s gift made it possible for us to be acceptable to him, even though we have sinned many times. 17 Death ruled like a king because Adam had sinned. But that cannot compare with what Jesus Christ has done. God has been so kind to us, and he has accepted us because of Jesus. And so we will live and rule like kings.
18 Everyone was going to be punished because Adam sinned. But because of the good thing that Christ has done, God accepts us and gives us the gift of life. 19 Adam disobeyed God and caused many others to be sinners. But Jesus obeyed him and will make many people acceptable to God.
20 The Law came, so that the full power of sin could be seen. Yet where sin was powerful, God’s kindness was even more powerful. 21 Sin ruled by means of death. But God’s kindness now rules, and God has accepted us because of Jesus Christ our Lord. This means that we will have eternal life.
Actions that were not right and true put man into a position of breach of contract for which there were consequences. Unfortunately for Man, the remedy for a breach of contract was death. This death was not an imposed death because God wanted to punish man for his disobedience. Death was the natural course of events that man would be destined to follow if he did not observe God’s recommendations. God instituted the Covenant through Abraham to show man the possibilities of a life that was lived in obedience to God. God wanted Man to have a life that would be bursting with fulfillment and reward. The Law was put in place with Moses to show Man what was right and wrong and to provide a framework and path to follow so he would not breach the contract.
The Law was not to be worshiped. Although many people received punishment for willful disobedience, it’s purpose was not to punish. The Law was not created to be used as a weapon to control people as many use it even today. The Law was designed to show man where he was falling short so that God’s will and desire could be accomplished in each life that He created.
The Law was a stepping stone to show the totality of mankind that it needed help, help that God wanted to provide. The Law joined with the Covenant He made with Abraham to provide a path upon which the sacrifice of Jesus could be revealed. It is upon that revelation that God enacted the totality of the plan that He had for Man from the beginning. His plan was that man would desire to have a relationship with Him, his creator, and that by faith, man would trust God to provide for his every need.
A Single Focus
The truth is that God never did change His mind. He has always been on the same path, singularly focused on the success of man, His ultimate creation. He has consistently sought to deliver man from his own corrupted nature, to reveal and save him from his own destructive behaviors and to provide him with everlasting life. Armed with the understanding provided by the book of Esther we see that God cannot breach (break) His own Word or take any actions that would be illegal.
There is not much left to say on this matter in light of the following scripture in John 8:23-29.
John 8:23-32 (TLB)
23 Then he said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not. 24 That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am the Messiah, the Son of God, you will die in your sins.” 25 “Tell us who you are,” they demanded. He replied, “I am the one I have always claimed to be. 26 I could condemn you for much and teach you much, but I won’t, for I say only what I am told to by the one who sent me; and he is Truth.” 27 But they still didn’t understand that he was talking to them about God.
28 So Jesus said, “When you have killed the Messiah, then you will realize that I am he and that I have not been telling you my own ideas, but have spoken what the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me - he has not deserted me - for I always do those things that are pleasing to him.” 30-31 Then many of the Jewish leaders who heard him say these things began believing him to be the Messiah. Jesus said to them, “You are truly my disciples if you live as I tell you to, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
God altered His method of interaction with Man in the New Testament, but not His character and nature. He is still the same now as He was in the Old Testament, and Jesus is a reflection of God embodying the truth of who He is.
Since Jesus paid the ultimate price for our breach of contract, we now live in a time of Grace, not law. Through Jesus, God Himself not only made the New Covenant for our benefit, but He paid the price Himself to be certain that we could enjoy the benefits of that covenant!
God did not change His mind. He has always had your best interests in His mind. This is His character and nature.
Learn more about this subject in Chapter 24 of Ideolatry, When Did God Change His Mind?
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