One of the reasons I reject Christianity is the striking inconsistencies between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Though Christian apologists often tout the supposed unity and consistency of their holy text, the reality is that the theologies of the two testaments are radically different, so much so that they appear to describe two completely different gods. In every significant aspect, the gods of the Old and New Testaments differ: in their plan for salvation, in their requirements for behavior, in their ways of relating to people, and in their explanations regarding the structure of the supernatural world. These inconsistencies are too great to be explained away as the result of progressive revelation or the same god revealing different aspects of his character, and thus there is only one other explanation: the two testaments were not inspired by the same deity, but were simply written by two different groups of people, each with their own religious beliefs.
The most obvious and important way in which the two testaments part company is on the question of God’s character and disposition. Therefore, it is this aspect that this essay will discuss first.
To illustrate this difference between the two testaments, an example will suffice. On two occasions in the Bible – once in the Old Testament and once in the New – God faces the same problem. People no longer remember or worship him; faith has become degraded, corrupt and worldly, and sinners in need of salvation abound.
The New Testament God handles this situation by coming to Earth in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ, to suffer and die, offering his blood as a redemptive sacrifice for humanity’s sins.
The Old Testament God handles this situation by drowning every person on the planet, except for eight people, in a massive, catastrophic flood.
This serves as perhaps the best example of the single most radical difference between the Old and New Testament Gods – that of temperament. The OT God is a cruel, brutal dictator, ready to send terrible punishments upon heathens or even his own chosen people for any transgression of his laws. He kills every firstborn son in all of Egypt because of the stubbornness of a single man. He commands the Israelites to slaughter every person, man, woman and child, in the cities he has given them. He decrees that a man be put to death for the crime of picking up sticks on the Sabbath, and strikes another dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant to prevent it from falling off a cart. He sentences Samaria’s pregnant women and children to be hacked to pieces. He institutes stoning and burning as de rigueur punishments for even minor sins. And finally, fed up with the Jews’ disobedience, he provokes the Assyrians and the Babylonians to destroy Israel and Judah and carry his chosen people off into slavery – and then sends successive empires to destroy both the Assyrians and the Babylonians for doing what he forced them to do. (“A Book of Blood” details more of the atrocities of the OT God.)
Then we get to the New Testament, where God comes to Earth in the person of Jesus, and what advice does he have for us? Love your enemies; treat men as you would want to be treated; those who draw the sword will perish by the sword; forgive and be merciful; be kind to others; and love your neighbor as yourself. This is certainly excellent and commendable moral advice, but a more dramatic contrast with what came before would be hard to imagine. In fact, if one believes the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, it was Jesus committing these Old Testament atrocities all along: Jesus promising happiness to those who smash children against stones, Jesus decreeing that pregnant women would be ripped open, Jesus ordering genocide and condoning slavery, Jesus punishing people with plagues, famines, infanticide and cannibalism. Are we to believe that he then comes to Earth, turns his entire philosophy around on a dime, and instructs people to be nice to each other from here on in? The contrast is as stark as night and day.
Here are some more specific examples of this change in temperament. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches a lesson on forgiveness:
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” —Matthew 18:21-2
And yet, although in the New Testament God requires us to forgive those that sin against us seventy times seven times, in the Old Testament he does not forgive those who sin against him even once. An example of this is the Fall from Eden: though he could easily have forgiven Adam and Eve for the minor transgression they had committed (eating an apple, after all, is hardly a terrible crime in and of itself), he instead reacted by expelling them from Paradise and condemning them and all their descendants to a life of toil, suffering and death. Another example of the OT God’s lack of forgiveness is his response to the census taken by David:
“And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly…. So Gad [a prophet of God] came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? …. So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.” —2 Samuel 24:10-15
Though David had committed a sin (and again, not one that was inherently harmful to anyone; it was only a sin because it displeased God), he realized his mistake, repented and pleaded for forgiveness. Did the OT God respond by showing him mercy? No. Instead, he ignored David’s pleas and sent a plague that killed 70,000 innocent people. And this is the God that commands us to forgive our brother seventy times seven times? How can this possibly be held to be consistent?
Here is another example of God’s change in temperament between the Old and New Testaments. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the following advice:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” —Matthew 5:39,44
The Old Testament breaks all these rules as completely as it is possible for any rule to be broken. Jesus teaches us not to resist evil; the OT God commands his followers to utterly destroy evil (1 Samuel 15:18, to name just one example). Jesus teaches us to bless those that curse us; the OT God says the opposite, that he will curse those who curse his chosen (Genesis 12:3). Jesus teaches us to pray for those that do wrong and persecute us; the OT God explicitly forbids his followers to pray for such people (Jeremiah 11:14, 14:11). Jesus teaches us to do good to those who hate us, but the OT God says he will do just the opposite:
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.” —Deuteronomy 7:9-10 (NIV)
And finally, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, but the Old Testament teaches something very different. In many places in the OT, but especially in the Book of Psalms, there are verses expressing the writer’s hatred of his enemies, and fervent prayers that God will curse and harm them.
“Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” —Psalms 2:9
“Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth…. let them be as cut in pieces.” —Psalms 58:6-7
“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” —Psalms 58:10
“Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.” —Psalms 69:22-25
“Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.” —Psalms 109:6-14
“Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” —Psalms 139:21-22
Are these wishes of hate compatible with the New Testament teaching to love one’s enemies? An apologist might say that they represent the personal wishes of the psalmist and are not endorsed by God, but this cannot be so: according to the NT, all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, it must be the case that these passages provide a lens through which to understand God’s nature and his motives, and the message they convey is obvious.
As a final example, consider the NT episode of the adulterous woman, recorded in John 8:3-11. The Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman caught in the act of committing adultery, and ask him whether she should be stoned to death as the OT dictates. Jesus’ famous response is, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (8:7); when no one present can meet this criterion, Jesus tells the woman to sin no more and then allows her to go free.
While this is certainly a commendable instance of mercy, it must be asked why Jesus decided to save the woman from punishment under a law that he himself had made and decreed. If this was a reason to spare people sentenced to stoning, why wasn’t it mentioned in the Old Testament when this rule was initially given? God was apparently unconcerned about the sinfulness of those who accused and stoned Achan, son of Zerah (Joshua 7:24-25) or of the people whom he told to stone the man caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:36). When he said that stoning was an appropriate punishment for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16) and disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), he did not add a proviso that only the sinless could begin the process. To believe that the Old and New Testaments describe one and the same god, one must believe that Jesus himself instructed the Israelites to stone a man who picked up sticks (thereby breaking one of the Ten Commandments), but then changed his mind and spared from stoning a woman who also broke one of the Ten Commandments! What is the reason for this capricious and arbitrary behavior? Did God change his mind about the merit of the original law?
The contradiction is complete. Where Jesus tells us to love our enemies, the Old Testament God says to hate, curse, and destroy them. Where Jesus tells us to meet sin with forgiveness and does so himself, the OT God meets it with wrath and destruction. Where Jesus tells us to pray for those who hate us, the OT God flatly forbids his followers from doing so.
Granted, some of these OT verses stop short of instructions; they are not dictates to us, but declarations of what God himself will do. For example, while Jesus tells us to love those who hate us, the OT God says he will repay those who hate him with destruction; while Jesus tells us to bless those who curse us, the OT God says he will curse those who curse his faithful. (Again, this does not apply to contradictions where the OT God gives commands to humans that conflict with those given in the NT, such as when he tells his followers to destroy evil, or forbids them from praying for those whom he has marked for wrath.) However, this is not enough to resolve the contradiction. After all, do not God’s actions define the highest standard of morality? Is it not the case that he always does and teaches what is best, or does he give us one teaching and then do something else? In short, does God not practice what he preaches?
Some apologists argue that the cruelties of the Old Testament were necessary, to make sure the struggling, besieged Jewish religion could survive long enough to give birth to Christianity. But this is not so. The NT God shows how he deals with people who persecute his followers – he converts them through miraculous manifestation of his presence (Acts 22:6-11). The OT God has no time for such niceties and merely has them killed. And even if such slaughter was absolutely necessary, a loving God would have done it only with great reluctance and then only when it was unavoidable. By contrast, the OT God is clearly fierce, warlike and wrathful, and clearly glories in death, bloodshed and vengeance, such as in Deuteronomy 7:4, Deuteronomy 28:63, Deuteronomy 32:42, Numbers 25:4, Jeremiah 16:5, or Micah 5:15. He kills innocent people for petty offenses, such as in 1 Samuel 6:19, 2 Samuel 6:6-7, or 2 Samuel 24:15. And most of these harsh laws, such as prohibitions on wearing mixed fabrics or eating certain foods, do not even have anything to do with keeping faith in God alive.
The dramatic difference in temperament between the Old and New Testaments by itself is enough to show that the two do not describe the same god. The OT says that God is a God of war (Exodus 15:3); the NT says that he is a God of peace (Romans 15:33). The OT says that God is cruel and merciless (Jeremiah 13:14); the NT says he is merciful and loving (1 John 4:16). Any human who behaved in such inconsistent ways would be diagnosed with some mental disorder – we recognize that morally good and loving people do not fly into fits of rage where they order the killing of others, and that mentally healthy people do not completely change their principles of behavior and their ways of dealing with others absent some dramatic and sweeping change in their personal beliefs. Why, then, is God held to a different standard?
Emphasis on Purity
Another important difference between the Old and New Testaments comes with regard to the view on purity. The Old Testament God is, for lack of a better term, obsessed with ideas of purity and ritual uncleanness. He demands that lepers and those with running sores be expelled from the Israelite camp (Numbers 5:1-5). He bans the Israelites from eating rabbits, pigs, most birds and shellfish, calling them all “abominations” (Leviticus 11:6-19) – this despite the fact that they were all presumably part of his original “very good” creation. He decrees that people of illegitimate birth may not enter “the congregation of the Lord”, nor may any descendants of such people down to the tenth generation, and pronounces the same fate on Ammonites and Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:2,3) – though this could hardly be considered those people’s fault. He labels menstruating women and men who have wet dreams – both entirely natural and normal processes – “unclean” (Leviticus 15:19, 15:16). He even forbids people who have been physically crippled or mutilated from approaching the altar (Leviticus 21:17-21, Deuteronomy 23:1), claiming that their presence would desecrate its holiness.
This fixation on bodily functions and physical appearance is very strange, to say the least, from an infinite God. But what is at least as strange is that, in the person of Jesus in the New Testament, he apparently undergoes a change of heart and sweeps away all his old strict purity regulations, declaring all foods clean (Mark 7:14-19), freely associating with lepers, prostitutes, and people of all kinds, and allowing even those with physical deformities to share in salvation.
The motivation for this rather dramatic about-turn is unclear. If people who were deformed or diseased or handicapped didn’t bother God so much after all, why did he make rules excluding them in the first place? If he could touch and heal them without being defiled, why was he so insistent about banning them from the sacred place in Old Testament times? If it is only the things that come out of a man’s heart that profane him, what was the point of warning them away from certain foods that apparently were never dangerous or harmful at all? In the OT, God goes so far as to declare these foods “abominations” – an epithet otherwise reserved for practices like child sacrifice and necromancy. Did the perfect and changeless deity change his mind, or was he originally lying?
Some Christian writers have said that this change represents God’s moving the emphasis from his exclusive holiness to his inclusive grace. But this does not explain why he first created and then, in the NT, lifted the restrictions on things that not only were no longer unholy, but apparently were never sins in the first place. Did God ever consider it a sin to eat pork, be handicapped, have a menstrual period, or be the child, grandchild, or great-great-great-grandchild of unmarried parents? If not, why did he make laws concerning these things? And if reasons of hygiene were the motivation for laws such as those concerning lepers, why was this no longer a concern in NT times?
Acts of the Messiah
The Jewish vision of the Messiah has always been very different from the one the Christians claim eventually came to pass. The Old Testament envisions this individual as a righteous (though still mortal) king descended from the line of David (Isaiah 11:1), who would gather all the Jewish people to the promised land (Isaiah 11:11-12, Jeremiah 23:7-8), restore them to the true faith (Ezekiel 37:23-24), subdue their enemies once and for all (Ezekiel 34:28, Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 49:22-23), rule politically (Jeremiah 23:5) over a state of Israel unified as it was in the times of David and Solomon (Ezekiel 37:22), and usher in an era of worldwide peace (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3).
Needless to say, Jesus did none of these things. He was never a political or legal ruler – in fact, he specifically said his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). He did not regather all the Jewish people – in fact, several decades after his life came the catastrophic Jewish War, in which the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, burned Jerusalem to the ground, and scattered the Jewish people across the world – a diaspora that was to last for almost two thousand years, far longer than any previous exile. He did not restore them to the faith prescribed in the Old Testament – in fact, he specifically stated those laws were finished (Luke 16:16), disregarded many of them and threw others out. He did not permanently defeat Israel’s enemies – in fact, the faith he founded persecuted the Jews perhaps more viciously than any of their previous enemies had done. He did not create a unified state of Israel. And the world now is at least as chaotic as it was in Jesus’ time, with war, bloodshed and hatred continuing to take their toll.
The continued existence of Judaism testifies to the fact that Jesus did not fulfill the Jewish people’s expectations regarding their messiah. Assuming the OT and NT Gods are one and the same, was it fair for him to do this? To disregard his own prophecies, send a messiah who was completely different from everything he had spent the last several thousand years training the Jewish people to expect, and then to demand that they all immediately recognize him and convert? Are we to believe that God went to such great lengths to mislead the Jews and then demanded they see through it? The much more sensible alternative is that the Old and New Testaments were simply written by two different groups of people, and that the writers of the latter reinterpreted the former in a way that its authors never foresaw or intended.
Had the OT authors truly believed in the coming of Jesus, it would have been easy for them to communicate that knowledge, but they do not do so even in the most obvious of places to put such a reference. Consider this verse:
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” —Jeremiah 31:33-34
As historian and scholar Earl Doherty writes about this passage in his book Challenging the Verdict, “This is one of the most prominent and direct forecasts of the future made by a biblical prophet, one involving the fundamental idea of a new covenant to replace the old. Yet it contains not a glimmer of a Messiah or a Son of God, one who would himself establish the new covenant. If God is not to be accused of being inconsistent or even of misleading his own people, how can this statement of his plans for the future not contain his Son?”
However, there are other verses which bode even more poorly for the Christian belief that Jesus’ coming was foretold in the Old Testament. Consider this one:
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent.” —Numbers 23:19
One might be forgiven for regarding this verse as a blatant red herring, if Christianity is true. Does not this firm declaration that God is neither a man nor the son of a man, because men are fallible and God is not, imply that he would never be those things? (It could have said “not yet the son of man”.) In much the same way, if I said, “I have never shopped at that store, because I do not agree with their labor practices” – is this not a strong implication that I will never shop at that store? If I did go shopping there, without them having changed their practices or I my beliefs in any way, would that not be viewed by a reasonable person as inconsistent?
There is one final OT passage worth citing in this regard, and it is the most decisive of all:
“But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” —Deuteronomy 18:20
In light of the fact that Jesus suffered the exact fate God had promised all false prophets, would it be consistent or fair for God to demand the Jews believe in him as the true messiah anyway, and punish them with hellfire if they do not? It is much more likely that the messiahhood of Jesus was a later invention.
Spreading the Faith
Another way in which the Old and New Testaments differ is their instruction on how the true faith is to be spread. Judaism has never been a missionary religion; in the Old Testament, it advanced by conquest rather than by conversion. God declared the Jews to be his chosen people, whom he loved better than every other race on Earth (Deuteronomy 7:6, Amos 3:2). He instructed them that the land he had given them was theirs alone, and when they entered into it, they were to completely exterminate the people who lived there, showing them no mercy under any circumstances (Deuteronomy 7:2) – no exception was made for any who were willing to convert. God forbade intermarriages between the Israelites and any other people (Deuteronomy 7:3), and even listed specific groups of people whom he would have perpetual war with and never allow to join his covenant (Deuteronomy 23:3, Exodus 17:16). This theme is repeated throughout the Old Testament: the Israelites as a special people, sanctified by God and set apart, and all other races as heathen inferiors that were to be eradicated, or at minimum driven out.
By contrast, Christianity is very much an evangelistic religion. In the New Testament, the idea of a specific chosen people was discarded; instead, the NT God accepts anyone, of any nation, who wants to follow him (Acts 10:34-35). Christians are commanded to actively attempt to convert everyone (Matthew 28:19). Rather than conquering the land and sweeping the unbelievers out of it, Christianity’s vision is of a conversion spreading from within their midst; and rather than establishing a physical kingdom where God’s law alone rules, as the Old Testament envisions, the NT teaches that God’s kingdom is something subjective and internal (Luke 17:21).
The reasons for this change of approach are never explained in the Bible. If the Jews were unfit to be God’s chosen people due to their continuing sin, why didn’t God just select a new race to be his chosen rather than opening the gates of salvation to everyone? Conversely, if God always intended to make his following universal, why didn’t he do that from the start rather than initially proclaiming that the Jews were his favorites whom he loved better than all other nations, and flatly forbidding others from converting or marrying into them? This seems to be a very haphazard approach, reflecting a confusion of incompatible methods rather than a single overarching plan.
Nature of the Afterlife
In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus teaches a fully orbed view of the afterlife: sin, death, judgment and salvation; a Heaven where the righteous would go to be eternally rewarded (Matthew 25:46, Luke 16:25, Luke 23:43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:15-17), and a Hell where the comparative majority would go to suffer endless torment (Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 11:23, Matthew 13:41-42, Luke 3:17, Luke 12:5, John 15:6).
However, there is nothing comparable in the OT. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, life after death is irrelevant; there are no OT verses that explicitly teach anything about the nature of the afterlife. In fact, there are verses that appear to teach the opposite: that death is final and that there is no afterlife at all.
“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” —Psalms 6:5
“All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath…. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” —Ecclesiastes 9:2-5
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” —Ecclesiastes 9:10
“For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” —Isaiah 38:18
These verses must be seen as blatantly misleading, unless we are to conclude that God only decided to create Heaven and Hell at the time of the NT (or else the writers of the NT did). If Heaven and Hell existed all along, why did God not say so? There was no reason for him not to reveal this, and in fact there was a strong reason why he should have. Sending a person to infinite torment in Hell is unjust enough, but to put someone at risk of this fate without even telling them about it? There are no words to describe how ridiculously unfair this is. Has it occurred to Christian apologists that perhaps the idolatrous Jewish people of the Old Testament would have strayed less, even if only a little less, if they had understood the full extent and magnitude of what awaited sinners?
The OT God never threatens to punish or promises to reward beyond death. Even chapters which exhaustively list the myriad of terrible punishments he will send on those who break his laws do not mention Hell, nor do those which list the many great gifts he will confer upon his faithful make any mention of a heavenly reward. See, for example, Deuteronomy chapter 28, which describes in exhaustive detail both the blessings and the curses God can dole out, yet somehow neglects to mention both the greatest blessing and the most severe curse in his power. Since any earthly punishment is literally nothing when compared with the infinite punishment of Hell, how could God possibly leave that out? The most logical explanation is that the concepts of Heaven and Hell did not exist in Judeo-Christian thought until NT times, when they were inserted into the canon by the writers of those later books.
Not only did Jesus not fulfill the OT prophecies of what the messiah would do, in nature he was also completely different from what the OT said the messiah would be. As already discussed, the Old Testament’s clear expectation is that the Jews’ savior would be a righteous and powerful, but still entirely human, ruler. There is no hint that he would be God’s own son, much less one-third of God himself. This development – the division of the formerly unified deity into Father, Son and Holy Ghost – did not come about until later, the time of formation of the New Testament canon.
The Trinity – God in three persons – is a concept completely foreign to Jewish thought. No verse in the Old Testament anticipates such a startling disclosure, and some verses even seem to deny it:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” —Deuteronomy 6:4
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me.” —Deuteronomy 32:39 (compare especially to John 1:1)
“I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” —Isaiah 46:9
Though Christian apologists may say the doctrine of the Trinity can accommodate these verses, it cannot be denied that the potential for misunderstanding is apparent. Rather than affirming his oneness for millennia and then suddenly telling his people to believe something different, why didn’t God say he was tripartite all along? Did he not want to confuse the Israelites’ strict monotheism? (But isn’t it even more confusing to neglect to tell them about it for a long time and then suddenly spring it on them? Many Jews reject Christianity because they see the Trinity as polytheism.) Far more likely is that the Trinity was invented by later Christians in response to their need for a structure for God that could accommodate their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus.
An Old Testament verse would seem to confirm this explanation:
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.” —Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (NIV)
Given that the doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere announced in the OT, Jesus certainly fits the criterion of a god the Jews had not known, and thus by the Bible’s own standard, they were obligated to reject him.
The Plan of Salvation
Like the issue of God’s temperament, the plan of salvation is one of the great gulfs that separate the two parts of the Bible. The difference between the Old and New Testaments on this topic is too great to explain them both as the inspired product of the same god, and thus one can only conclude that at least one is the work of man alone. But if one, then why not both?
The path to salvation presented in the Old Testament, in its broad details, is simple. God presents a long list of laws: laws on how to dress, what to eat and drink, what days not to work, how to ritually sacrifice animals, and so on. Those who faithfully obey these laws will receive the OT God’s blessing.
However, when Jesus arrives, he sweeps this system aside. He ignores the law about doing no work on the sabbath (Luke 13:10-14, John 5:18), states that to love God and love one’s neighbor is more important than any number of sacrifices (Mark 12:33), contradicts the law about ritual hand-washing (Mark 15:19-20), and says that kosher dietary laws are pointless, because food cannot defile a person (Mark 7:18). In place of these laws, as most Christians believe, he substitutes something very different: a system where redemption comes only through transforming inward faith, rather than strict obedience to a set of rigid rules. In Jesus’ system, “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” are the two greatest commandments, and apparently the only ones anyone needs to follow.
However, if Jesus’ system was better, why didn’t God just enact it in the first place? What was the purpose of setting up all the legalistic Jewish laws only to throw them out a few millennia later? Jesus said that his two commandments were the greatest of all – so why were they not in the Ten Commandments? Why give Moses all ten when those two would have been just as good or better?
It gets worse for the Christian system. After giving each of its injunctions, the OT repeats the mantra: “It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations” (Leviticus 7:36; 10:9; 23:14; 23:31; 23:41; also see Numbers 10:8; 18:23). Not only does the OT never even hint that its covenant would eventually be revoked or replaced with something else, it says flatly that these laws will be in effect forever.
Where Christianity focuses on changing a person from the inside out, the Old Testament stresses obedience to a set of prescribed rules. Likewise, there is no teaching in the OT as there is in the NT that God will help a person overcome their own sinfulness; on the contrary, according the OT a person must obey and be righteous before God will have anything to do with them. And never does the OT teach that its laws will eventually be annulled, but indeed teaches the opposite.
All of this confusion is leading up to the most important question. According to OT theology, God punished Adam and Eve for their sin by casting them – and by extension, all of humanity – out of Paradise and condemning them to mortal lives of toil, suffering and death. According to NT theology, Jesus came to Earth to redeem us with his blood and cleanse us of original sin. However, there is a slight problem.
According to the Bible, four thousand years passed between those events.
Why the long wait? In fact, why any wait?
What was gained by this delay? One might well ask why God didn’t send Jesus immediately after the Fall, rather than waste all this time setting up a religion called Judaism he only planned to supersede eventually anyway. Indeed, if – as many conservative Christians hold – it is impossible to please God through good works, through following the law, or through anything except faith alone – then was God not setting up the Jews for failure? Has it occurred to any Christian apologists that perhaps the Jewish people would have gone astray less often if God had granted Jesus’ life-changing powers to them, rather than leaving them to muddle through on their own? The only thing he accomplished by teaching the Jews to obey one system and then throwing it out and demanding they believe something else, rather than teaching them the real truth from the start, is to ensure that more of them ended up damned than otherwise would have been. There are enough false religions in this world already without God creating one more!
As a logical extension to the OT storyline, the NT simply does not work. There is a vast gap between the human race’s fall and God’s taking effective action to deal with it, a gap that is never explained in the text. It is far more reasonable and likely to say that the OT is written as it is because its authors intended that its laws would be all that was necessary for human salvation, and never believed that the terms of the covenant would ever change. The writers of the NT, however, force-fit the OT into a new interpretation, ignoring discrepant verses. The question of why, according to their theology, God waited for so long before granting the human race an effective path to salvation probably never even occurred to them.
The most common Christian response to these arguments is to say that the Old and New Testaments embody the idea of progressive revelation, in which God reveals different aspects of his character and salvation plan over time. However, this is untenable. As this essay has strived to show, what we have is not a progressive unfolding, but a real, dramatic difference – an abrupt shift from one mode to another, with verses in each testament that flatly contradict verses in the other. This is best exemplified by the issue of God’s temperament: How can progressive revelation explain the same deity first not forgiving and then telling people to forgive, first saying to destroy evil and then saying not to resist it, first ordering people to be stoned and then saying that sinful people should not throw the first stone? Isn’t it the same God giving the orders each time?
Some have said that the reason for this is not a change in God, but rather a change in humanity. These apologists say that people in OT times were not yet ready for some of the things God had to tell them, and that if he had laid down his entire moral code at that time, they would have rejected it. God did the best he could, we are told, revealing his law one piece at a time in order to eventually lead people to the point where they would be in full accord with his will. (A similar argument is often cited as the reason why Jesus did not, for example, unambiguously condemn slavery, or state that women were equal to men.)
In response to this, it must be asked: Is God a moral relativist? For that is exactly what this argument makes him out to be. Setting down an unchanging law for the benefit of all people at all places and all times is to have an absolute morality. Dealing with people at the moral level they have attained, and refusing to condemn that which their culture does not believe to be a crime, is moral relativism, and moral relativism is something Christians have always firmly rejected – and with good reason. To say that God could not have revealed the fullness of his law initially and have people obey it is to deny his omnipotence, and to say that he allowed evil in the past in the hope that it would eventually be abolished in the future is to deny his benevolence.
Believers in Judaism, who deny the inspiration of the New Testament, will not be threatened by this essay. However, problems arise when one attempts to claim, as Christians claim, that both testaments of the Bible were inspired by the same god. For when the Christian religion is judged by all of its scriptures, the pattern that emerges is fractured and inconsistent. The God it depicts oscillates between extremes of self-sacrificing love and planet-destroying fury. He makes detailed promises on one occasion, then changes his mind, sweeps them away and replaces them with something entirely different and unexpected. The issues that greatly concern him change suddenly, without warning. These two testaments do not merge seamlessly together, but clash and conflict in numerous places. If we are not to conclude that God suffers from some sort of multiple personality disorder, the only logical conclusion is that these two testaments were simply written by two distinct groups of people, people whose theologies, whose beliefs and whose outlooks on life were very different. (One might say that the New Testament is a retcon.) This is not to disparage the few laudable moral teachings the Bible does contain, but its schizophrenic nature leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is simply the product of its times, the product of human beings, and does not describe any entities that actually exist.