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In 140ad, the Turkish merchant and ship owner Marcion of Sinope began proclaiming throughout the regions of Rome and Turkey that the God of the Old Testament (OT) was incompatible – no, completely contrary – to the God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament (NT). Marcion rejected the entirety of the Old Testament and even redacted the New Testament in such a way that every Old Testament reference was edited out. Ironically, Marcion also only accepted the gospel of Luke as legitimate (because of the overwhelming amount of Old Testament usage in the other gospels). Marcion was widely regarded as a heretic with all of his teachings being biblically refuted by scholars such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr (among many others). But why? Why was Marcion regarded as a heretic? Why did Marcion reject the God of the Old Testament in the first place?
As previously mentioned, Marcion believed the God of the Old Testament was completely different than the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth. Marcion saw God in the Old Testament as vengeful, angry, capricious, and altogether contradictory. A simple, literal, face-value reading of the Old Testament may appear very similar to the untrained eye; one who does not completely understand the general theme of both the Old Testament and the New. Marcion believed that God in the OT was a God of wrath, and the God in the NT was a God of grace.
Many today feel the same way. There are very few who go to the Old Testament during their devotional reading time. There are even fewer who can victoriously wrestle through a reading of the conquest in Canaan (book of Joshua), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (book of Genesis), and the command of God for Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (book of Genesis). So, many conclude, “I just won’t read the Old Testament… because it feels/reads/sounds/appears different than the God found in the New Testament.” That doesn’t sound much different from Marcion’s conclusion, now does it?
But what if the New Testament – the words of Jesus, in fact – carry the key to understanding the Old Testament? What if Jesus Himself believed that the God He spoke of was the same God that appears wrathful and angry in the Old Testament? What if the Old and New Testaments are one story with one God and one purpose?
That, truly, is the issue. Many divide the Bible up into two separate realities. However, Jesus reveals to us something incredible:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
What Jesus is saying here is that He did not come to get rid of the God of the Old Testament, or even the writings contained within the Old Testament. No, He came to fulfill, to complete, what is contained within the Old Testament. Point? God’s story didn’t stop with the end of the Old Testament. Jesus’ arrival and depiction of God was the completion of what God chose to reveal in the Old Testament. Honestly, if one removed the titles “Old Testament and New Testament” and just had one flowing story, there would be no question. So, God of wrath, or God of grace?
How about both.
You see, the Old Testament contains limited revelation about God. Yes, God chose to limit what was revealed about Him in the Old Testament. Might I propose that what God revealed about Himself, His character, in the Old Testament was primarily focused on His justice while the New Testament focuses in on God’s grace and mercy. Let me repeat that:
The Old Testament is primarily concerned with the character of God in regards to His justice while the New Testament is primarily concerned with the character of God in regards to His grace and mercy.
The God of justice (or wrath) seen in the Old Testament goes hand-in-hand with the God of grace and mercy found in the New Testament. Why? Because they are the same person. Not only that, without justice there is no grace and mercy. If God did not recompense for evil, then there is no possible way for grace and mercy to be revealed. All of the wrath (justice) of God seen in the Old Testament was poured out on Jesus Christ at the cross. Because God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, He, that is, God, can offer us grace and mercy; the forgiveness of sins (evil). Without justice, there is no grace. If evil is not made right, then there is no forgiveness of evil.
The God of the Bible is a God of justice and a God of grace. In order for us to understand what we have been forgiven through Jesus Christ on the cross, God had to illustrate His character through acts of justice. And this is illustrated for us in the Old Testament. When we read the Old Testament, we are afraid of God, and rightly so. When we read the Old Testament we see God making evil right over and over again. When we read the Old Testament, we have the tendency of becoming disillusioned with God (it’s majority about punishment of evil. However…
…when we read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, realizing that they are one complete story and that the OT is completed by the NT, we see the beauty of God’s plan to forgive sin (grace) through the punishment of the sinless savior Jesus Christ (justice).
The Old Testament illustrates for us the destructive, binding, nature of sin, and the New Testament illustrates for us the beauty of a life lived under the bondage breaking forgiveness of sins. What life is like under justice: Old Testament; what life is like under forgiveness: New Testament.
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. And He always loves you.