Is God “Schizoid”?
A confused writer poses this seeming problem for the Bible student.
“I am one of those people who has questions about the God of the Old Testament. For instance; the God of the Old Testament told people to stone sinners to death, while Jesus in the New Testament said not to do this thing. This is not God being the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
There is nothing novel about this false charge. It is at least as old as the writings of Marcion, a 2nd century heretic who abandoned orthodox Christianity and founded his own rival sect.
In addressing this supposed difficulty, one must initially observe that this writer, as with so many others, is very selective in the way he views the Scriptures. He dips into the biblical record, citing an alleged example of Old Testament brutality by God (e.g., the administering of capital punishment by stoning). At the same time, however, examples of Jehovah’s benevolence in the same document are conspicuously ignored.
He then appeals to a gracious example in Jesus’ ministry (cf. John 8:1ff), in an attempt to highlight an alleged conflict between Christ and the Old Testament. Yet he ignores some of the very strict teaching of Christ (cf. Matthew 18:5-6). Such a distorted interpretative procedure does not demonstrate a desire to examine evidence in a balanced way so as to arrive at truth.
There is no conflict between the two Testaments in terms of their respective views of God. To arrive at the truth, the following factors must be taken into consideration.
- Moses declared that God is not like a man, that he should “change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). As to his intrinsic nature, the Lord does not change (Malachi 3:6; cf. Jasmes 1:17). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul referred to God’s “honor” and “glory” as being “for ever and ever” (1:17). This reveals that Jehovah’s moral qualities do not go through stages of flux and flow. They are eternally stable. Hence there is a false dichotomy in the claim that the “God” of the Old Testament is different from the “God” of the New Testament.
These facts, however, do not negate the reality that the Lord may deal with men in different ways, in various epochs of history, depending upon their level of responsibility and spiritual status.
- The Old Testament is overflowing with affirmations of divine compassion and love. Who can read Psalm 23 and not acknowledge the benevolence of the great Shepherd? The term “lovingkindness,” as an attribute of God, is stressed no fewer than one hundred sixty-five times in the Old Testament of the English Bible (ASV). Read, for example, Psalms 136, and be deeply moved thereby.
Of course Jehovah’s “justice” is set forth as well. For instance, Moses wrote:
“Jehovah is slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).
This latter phrase concedes that subsequent generations frequently suffer the consequences of their wicked ancestors. Actually, it is the justice of God that the critic finds objectionable; and in his rage, he chooses to ignore other attributes of the Creator.
- While extolling his feigned admiration for the “love” that Jesus exhibited during his public ministry, as recorded in the Gospel records, the purveyor of the “schizoid-God” doctrine conveniently overlooks such crucial incidents and texts as the following.
The Lord Jesus on two occasions drove from the temple those hucksters who trafficked among the devout for their own financial interests (John 2:13ff; Matthew 21:12ff). His scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees is as stern as any rebuke found in the Old Testament (Matthew 23).
Christ’s dire warnings regarding the deserved tribulations associated with the impending destruction of Jerusalem certainly would not conform to liberalism’s concept of a loving Savior (see Matthew 22:7-8; 23:35-36; 24:15-34). Jesus’ teaching concerning hell fire (more prolific than from anyone else among the New Testament records) assuredly does not square with modernism’s standard of “love.” It is disingenuous, therefore, to isolate one example from Christ’s ministry, and ignore other cases.
The fact is, the case of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1ff) does not stand in contrast to the judicial requirements of the Old Testament. That account is easily explained when one considers all of the relevant data. For a study of that incident, see our article elsewhere on this web site (“The Current Perversion of John 8:1-11”).
- Finally, the testimony of Christ himself, that “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), and that he came not to seek his own will, but the will of him who sent him (John 5:30; cf. 7:16), rebuts the accusation of inconsistency between the two Testaments. Some twenty-two times in the Gospel of John alone the apostle stresses the relationship between the Father and the Son by those he “who sent me” phrases.
To force a difference in character between God the Father, and God the Son, is a demonstration of irresponsible exegesis and inexcusable theology.
Note: Professor Walter Kaiser, Jr. has authored a valuable essay titled, “Why Does God Seem So Angry in the Old Testament & Loving in the New Testament?” See: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, 43-47.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.