The “God Of The Old Testament”

After celebrating a lovely Feast of Unleavened Bread that concluded this past Monday, it’s time to start counting down to Pentecost. Per Leviticus 23:15-16, this Sabbath is the first of seven in the count to Pentecost. I’ll probably talk about this more over the next few weeks, but first I want to post about a topic that has been on my mind of late.

The phrase “God of the Old Testament” just seems to keep coming up in arguments and messages in the churches. It typically goes one of two ways: either we’re trying to pin-down who the God of the Old Testament was (i.e. the Father or the One who became Christ), or we’re contrasting the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New as if they were two different beings.

In some ways, I think this comes under the category of “stupid things we say in the church.” It’s misleading and confusing. For one thing, scripture is very clear that there wasn’t just one “God of the Old Testament” — there had always been two Beings mentioned and recognized in scripture.

Two in the OT

As you’ve probably read/heard before, the word translated “God” in the opening chapters of Genesis is plural. We can see two Beings so closely related They can be refereed to by one plural name. In the same way, we use a family’s last name to encompass several individuals, e.g. the Bakers or the Martins. Even without knowing Hebrew, the fact that there are two Beings here is made clear when They say, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Throughout the Old Testament, there are examples of people who knew there were two God-beings. The most well-known is probably Psalm 110:1 — “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'” There were other writer’s besides David, though. Take Agur for example.

Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know? (Prov. 30:4)

Two God-beings appear in Daniel’s prophesies, too.

I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)

Christ referred to this scripture as part of His affirmative answer when the high priest asked him, ““Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61-62).

The Word

The fact that Old Testament writers knew about two God-beings does not answer the question of which of Them interacted directly with Their people. Though “God of the Old Testament” is an ill-fitting phrase, it is often used as short-hand for “the member of the Godhead who interacted with people throughout the Old Testament.”

We can, at least, determine from scripture the answer to that question. One of the clearest passages addressing this is in 1 Corinthians when Paul is talking about Israel’s history.

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1-4)

It really can’t get much plainer than that. Paul additionally says, “nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted,” identifying The Word, the One who came to be known as Jesus Christ, as the God who Israel tempted (1 Cor. 10:9). We can conclude, therefore, that the One who spoke with Moses about Israel tempting Him was The Word.

because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it. (Num. 14:22-23)

One of the many things Jesus said which upset the Jews of His day was that He had seen Abraham. The implication that accompanied this statement — that He was God — made them want to stone Him.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:56-58)

The Being Abraham talked to when “the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre” before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is typically interpreted as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (Gen 18:1). As The Word, Jesus has been entrusted with expressing the thoughts of the Godhead to man. That’s what logos, the Greek word used in John 1:1, means — an expression of intelligence. Since we know from Hebrews 13:8 that Christ’s character is constant, it makes sense that this role would be consistent throughout the Bible.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)

Christ repeats this, saying He is the only one who has seen the Father (John 6:46) and that no one else at that time knew the Father (John 7:28-29). There’s also 1 John 4:12 — “no one has seen God at any time.” These verses are uncomplicated and clear, leaving little room for doubt that while there have always been two Beings in the God-family, the Word who became Christ was responsible for interacting with Their creation.

Redeeming His Creation

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

The “let us” phrase in Genesis 1 shows that both the Father and Son were involved in creation. When we add John 1, we start to see a more complete image of Their roles with The Word being the One who spoke everything into existence (Ps. 33:6). Some will argue, however, that it’s a mistranslation or something of the kind. Perhaps we could say this of one verse, but what about seven?

Two of these remaining 6 verses that I found talk about God creating the universe though Jesus Christ:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:8-9)

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (Heb. 1:1-2)

Another verse that fits in here is Revelation 3:14, which describes Jesus as “the Beginning of the creation of God.” Zodhiates’ study Bible points out that the Greek word translated “beginning” is arche, which “literally refers to Him as the originator or cause of creation.” That Christ’s work was a focus in the act of creation is brought forward by three more verses that say “by Him are all things” (Heb. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8:6).

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  (Heb. 1:15-17)

As the One responsible for the act of creation, it was fitting for The Word to redeem His creation by His own sacrifice. That this was planned from the beginning, we can see from His description as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). We also see that God gave us grace ” in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9). This also fits in with the narrative arch that runs throughout the Bible of Jesus redeeming a Bride, which I talk about at greater length in chapters 2-4 of “God’s Love Story.”

The Constancy of God

The other thing I want to briefly address is the idea that God was a different person in the Old and New Testaments. We hear, and perhaps say, that God in the Old Testament was a vengeful, angry God and that God in the New Testament is all peace and forgiveness. But this does not fit with verses that say there is “no variation or shadow of turning” with the Father, and Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (James 1:17; Heb. 13:8).

“And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ … “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. … And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos. 2:16, 19-20, 23)

This kind of love, the longing for a personal relationship with His people, can be found throughout the Old Testament, just as reminders of the righteous judgement of God can be found in the New Testament.

Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:28-31)

God, both the Father and the Son, are unchanging and faithful. Both have always been here, and each has fulled a consistent role in Their dealings with Their Creation. “The God of the Old Testament” is a misleading phrase that has led to offense and confusion regarding what should be a relatively straight-forward topic. Both God-beings have always been present and active, though Jesus Christ’s role as the Word is more visible in interactions with the creation.

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