Repost: Jesus Is NOT Nicer than the Father

I’ve not posted much here lately, or even for the last year or so. I’m hoping to come out of “semi-retirement” soon. I’ve been busy, not so much uninspired. I’m working on other writing projects, but I enjoyed the writing regularity that (good) blogging requires. So I’m hoping to get back at it.

In the meantime, a friend recently mentioned a discussion that centered on the idea that “the God of the OT” was wrathful whereas “the God of the NT” is merciful. The very idea gives me a rash. I dealt with it last year, but it’s a common enough and dangerous enough error that I’m reposting my two cents on it. Hope it’s helpful.

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There’s a common misunderstanding that is really nothing short of heresy: the idea that Jesus is somehow nicer than “the God of the Old Testament.” I’m not sure where the idea comes from—perhaps a misunderstanding of passages like John 1:17. But I’ve heard it from church members, and I recently read hints of it from no less a scholar than Philip Yancey. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew (which I’m enjoying, by the way), he suggests that Jesus is somehow kinder and gentler than the God of the OT:

“In short, Jesus moved the emphasis from God’s holiness (exclusive) to God’s mercy (inclusive)” (p. 155). [In a footnote just before this sentence, Yancey quotes Dorothy Sayers as she contrasts the attitude of Jesus toward women with that of “His prophets before Him” (p. 154). What a strange notion!]

“As Shusaku Endo sees it, Jesus brought the message of mother-love to balance the father-love of the Old Testament” (p. 158).

Jesus certainly didn’t minimize the exclusive holiness of God. He lived a perfect life to fulfill it, then died a penal death to satisfy it! He is merciful, to be sure, but His is a sanctifying mercy…as always.

There are scores of problems with the idea that Jesus is the “good cop” and the Father/OT God the “bad cop.” Here are a few that come to mind:

1. First, Jesus IS the God of the Old Testament. Evidence of this abounds. For example, John 12:41 says that when Isaiah saw the thrice-holy Jehovah lifted up, he was seeing the Son of God. To contrast Jesus with “the God of the OT” reveals a ghastly Christology.

2. Jesus reveals the Father. One of my favorite themes of the New Testament (and one of the most oft neglected, I believe) is the teaching that Jesus came to earth to reveal to us the unseen God (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-3). (I’ve written on that grand theme in the 2nd verse of this hymn.) As Christ tells Thomas in John 14:7, to see Him is to see the Father. If you want to know what “the God of the OT” is like, look at Jesus.

3. God has always been nice. Infinitely nice. Omninice. Thus, when asked to uniquely reveal Himself to Moses, here’s what He said:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7).

He’s always been merciful, as the first half of that statement makes clear. And He’s always been holy, as the second half makes clear. And that won’t change. He won’t change (Malachi 3:6).

4. Jesus isn’t as passive as people think. Those who think of “the OT God” as a God of judgment and Jesus as a God of undiluted mercy need to spend some time in the book of Revelation, which has far more blood than any OT book!

5. The three members of the Trinity are indivisible in their attributes. None is more anything than the others. Each—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect.

There are more reasons (share them!), and the ones I’ve listed could probably be expressed and illustrated more clearly. But the bottom line is this: The idea that Jesus is in any way different from “the God of the OT” is bogus. Dangerously so. Don’t believe it.

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Note: While I obviously take exception with the statements I quoted from Philip Yancey, I’m not suggesting that he’s guilty of all I’m addressing here. Not at all. We just need to be careful how we speak of Christ.

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10 Responses

  1. Chris,

    I love the picture in 1Chr 21:15 of God, presumably the Father, staying the hand of the angel of YHWH (presumably Christ) from continuing the plague sent in judgment against the sin of both David (v 7) and Israel (2Sam 24.1). In this event the stereotypical roles are very much reversed: the Son is standing in judgment, and the Father stops Him.

    DV, I’m preaching on this passage in chapel at BJU this coming Thursday.

    dpo

  2. Excellent Dan. That is a striking turnabout. Thanks for that. Will look forward to hearing the mp3!

  3. Paul’s discussion of God’s manifest righteousness in Christ in Romans 3 emphasizes that the propitiation of Christ showed the righteousness of the God of the OT precisely related to his divine forbearance (read that–mercy) in “pass[ing] over former sins.” (Romans 3:21-26)

  4. Excellent Dan. The other Dan. :) If my understanding of Romans 3:25-26 is correct, it also shows that God’s righteousness was demonstrated against both sins past (OT, in context) and present (NT and forward), so His dealings with sin in the two eras is unchanged.

  5. Good article. I appreciated the thought and understanding put into it. I know of many who view God and Jesus in the “bad cop-good cop” way. This view allows us to do away with the correct understanding of holiness and righteousness and what is required and expected of us. It has, in my opinion, lead many to believe that God is evolving and becoming more tolerant and acceptant of sin. The Cross and the book of Revelation should remove all doubt of this dangerous philosophy.

  6. I hear we’ve having a Dan-in?

    Excellent post. Some thoughts:

    1. As a cultist, I heard that contrast over and over. So I approached the OT with some trepidation on my first Christian read-through. Imagine my surprise and delight to find the exact same God in the OT as in the NT.

    2. “Omninice.” Nice.

    3. Dan #1 – pithy point.

  7. Point number two imprinted on me during my first post-conversion read of Colossians. The 4th-6th grade boys and I discussed it this past Sunday in SS.

    Also, the snowflakes are driving me nuts.

  8. Dan #3,

    You have a typo in your comment, bro. ;)

    (There’s a history here.)

  9. Anderson, I’m sure there’s a word for what you are.

  10. “He lived a perfect life to fulfill it, then died a penal death to satisfy it!”

    So says Anselm. But not all Christians, historically, adopted this doctrine.

    As for your five points:

    1. Maybe – the evidence is hardly conclusive. It feels like a good fit, but aren’t we really backing Jesus into the story?

    2. Absolutely. Which is why we need to change our idea of God, from that of Yahweh to that of Father. Same God, different takes.

    3. Agreed. It is only our misinterpretation of how and why things happen, our lack of understanding of how the universe works, that encourages paint God as a tyrant. He never sends tidal waves or hurricanes or hi-jacked passenger planes to punish sinners.

    4. Absolutely he. He was a courageous fighter. But he was not violent. He did not condone violence. Which is why the idea that the Jesus described in John’s dream (if it was a dream and not a prophetic fiction) contradicts the Gospel.

    5. Which is a great mental concept, if it works for you. But it is only a model, much like the model of an atom on the science teacher’s desk might help explain the make up of atoms, though atoms do not really look like that. We cannot perceive atoms nor can we perceive God.

    But…as I think trinitarian doctrine was constructed to help people swallow the fledgling idea of penal substitution that was being promoted in the second and third centuries, it has little meaning for me.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Cheers.

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