Many people wrongly assume that the God of the New Testament differs from the God of the Old Testament. They do so because they perceive the God of the Old Testament as a moody and volatile curmudgeon, while perceiving the God of the New Testament as a judge-free, grace-giving, glorified sugar daddy. So does the Bible present a clash of the Gods? The omnibenevolent God of the New Testament versus the omnimalevolent God of the Old Testament?
The short answer is no. While I can see how people arrive at such a conclusion with a simple glance at Scripture, I cannot see how the claim holds sway with a steady gaze. For the neophyte Bible student, possibly, but for the honest Bible scholar, implausible. Even a fresh devotee can see a consistent portrait of the one true God.
Upon closer inspection of Scripture, it is clear that God is gracious and just and that both of these qualities are depicted in both the Old and the New Testaments. I’ll concede that one sees the evidence of God’s grace perhaps more distinctly in the New Testament, where His grace is spiked home at the cross through Jesus’s atoning death, but that doesn’t mean that the God of the Old Testament was devoid of grace.
Not at all.
From the very first book of the Bible, God’s grace was swiftly applied in order to cover the first human sin (Genesis 3:21). Furthermore, as we work our way through the Old Testament, God’s grace continues to emerge. For example, take the prophets. These so-called “messengers of judgment” were also “messengers of mercy.” Think about it. God didn’t owe those in outright rebellion against Him a warning. A siren. A wakeup call. The very fact that they were warned over and over again is a sure symbol of God’s love and willingness to shower His people with grace.
And His grace isn’t restrictive either. No, it’s without borders. His grace has tentacles reaching wide and far. Consider the Ninevites. The prophet Jonah knew full well that God is gracious, so much so that he resented it. He even ran from God in an attempt to avoid being God’s messenger. Following God’s downpour of mercy and grace on the Ninevites, Jonah prayed, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2).
Just as God’s unconditional grace is seen in the Old Testament, so too, His holy justice is ubiquitous in the New Testament. Try reading Romans 1–3 and then saying, “God’s not just.” Or consider the story of Jesus clearing the temple (Mark 11:15-17). There you see God’s righteous wrath in the flesh. Furthermore, consider how much Jesus talked about judgment (Matthew 13:36-43,47-50; 25:41-46; Luke 12:4-5; 16:19-31). It’s stunning. And to top this all off, simply read the book of Revelation and you can quickly see that God is a just God (Revelation 20:11-15).
Upon closer inspection, it is clear that the Bible does not portray a dual-headed, bipolar god who suffers from an identity crisis, nor does the New Testament create a theological wedge between two separate gods. Rather the entire Bible unveils for us one multifaceted God who is both just and gracious.