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The Problem of the Old Testament God

I have three polite atheists who are among my aquaintances and with whom I have respectful and enjoyable dialogue. It can actually happen. Not all atheists are like the ones I encountered last week on Twitter. 

These are the ones who sport the spirit of secular jihadism as they gallop their cyber, social media sands – furiously wielding their weary and well-worn one-liners at the slightest hint of those who express gratitude towards a kind Creator.

When feeling the verbal tone of these bombastic blows, it seems difficult to deny – here are those who simultaneously disbelieve in God and yet hate him. ‘Science has PROVEN God doesn’t exist!’; ‘There’s not even a small shred of evidence that God exists!’; ‘The God of the Bible is nothing but evil and cruel!’; ‘No rational person can believe in God!’

God's Old Testament Issues

But one of these aggressive atheists inspired me. He saw something I posted and initiated this conversation:

Mr. J: If God exists, he must be cruel.
Me: How do you arrive at that conclusion?
Mr.J: The Bible.
Me: What moral standard are you using to judge God’s actions in the Bible to be cruel?
Mr. J: The morals of Jesus – forgive, don’t judge, love your neighbours, enemies, etc.
Me: Why do you think we should take the teachings of Jesus as authoritative?
Mr. J: Well, I didn’t say we should.

Obviously, my Twitterati comrade has a dilemma. If we take God to court, who do we put in the judge’s seat? 

But his comment did bring up an important issue – the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament (OT). This is more than an atheist issue. It’s an unresolved question for many Western Christians. You may have heard things like, ‘The God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament’. Or, ‘I don’t agree with some of the things in the Old Testament, but I’m totally into Jesus’. Or finally, ‘I know God said that in the Old Testament, but I don’t think that reflects the loving, inclusive attitude of Jesus.’

Apparently the God of the Hebrew Bible has a lot of PR issues among some 21st century, Western folk - certainly more issues than Jesus seems to be having. Richard Dawkins probably sums up the view of some in at the beginning of God Delusion with his typical broad stroke manner: 

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

But this same man (Dawkins) is also the one who wore an 'Atheists for Jesus' t-shirt. This demands the question: what exactly is the relationship between Jesus and the OT?

Fortunately, this is not a difficult question to address. Answering it doesn’t demand a lot of nuance or qualification. Whether your interest is theological or just historical, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: Jesus fully aligned himself with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of Israel.

Jesus was a Jew brought up in the synagogue, memorising the Torah and loving it. To Jesus, the words of Scripture were the very words of his loving Heavenly Father. Jesus did not see – like my atheist Twitterati – some caricature of the ‘Old’ Testament God as cruel. On the contrary, Jesus saw the God of Scripture to be kind and compassionate in all he does. He saw him as bringing justice to the oppressed and executing righteousness while also being patient with the wicked and giving them time to repent.

Jesus constantly quoted the Old Testament (he never saw it as ‘old’). Those words were not outdated to him – they were his daily bread. As he was tortured and killed, he was quoting from it.

Jesus breathed and bled Scripture. His view of what we call the 'Old Testament' couldn't have been any higher.

For Christians, it’s intellectually dishonest to claim to follow Jesus but have a different attitude towards the OT than he did. He fully aligned himself with the Bible – claiming to be its prophetic fulfilment. That’s not too hard to understand - even if it’s hard to swallow.

Are we more familiar with the Scriptures than he was? Have you read some passage in the prophets he somehow missed growing up? If you say you’re a Christian but feel uneasy about God’s actions in the OT, then maybe it’s not Jesus who was naïve in his embrace of the OT – maybe your view has been affected by a shallow understanding Scripture or by your own cultural values.

Atheist or Christian, if we have a problem with the Hebrew Scriptures, then we have a problem with Jesus. 

So let's not ask 'What problem do I see in the God of the Old Testament?'. Let's rather ask, 'What problem might the God that Jesus worshipped have with me?'

I was encouraged that the atheist I encountered last week thought of Jesus as an ultimate moral standard. May he find him not only a good judge, but also as a merciful saviour.

Thoughts? Feel free to leave comments on the FB link or engage on Twitter at @Bluecheezwhisky 

bkAlso, for a look at what the Bible says about close friendship across the gender divide please check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.


  1. Doesn't answer any of the questions around God's odd OT behaviour though? Other than 'doesn't matter He's God.'


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