Essay originally written for a freshman-level Bible class in February 2019; slightly re-formatted
The God of the Old Testament (OT) is a God of brimstone and fire; the God of the New Testament (NT), of doves and olive branches. That is the impression that some readers may have when reading the Bible. The idea, of course, contradicts the eternal and unchanging nature of God; the God of Old and New must be the same. Karkainnen’s argument in The Doctrine of God illuminates the seeming paradox by pressing readers toward greater understanding about God’s self-revelation and story which humans, being finite, can never fully grasp.
The confusion stems from the modern tendency to contrast the turmoil and paganism of the OT with the hope and community of the NT, forgetting that the One who sent the Flood also set a rainbow in the sky or that the One who sacrificed His Son also smote Ananias and Sapphira. Misplaced expectation began earlier than the modern age; in Doctrine, Karkkainen touches on the ancient Israelites’ struggle between their perception of God and His “unpredictable behavior” (31). This highlights not divine caprice, but mortal limitation; the Israelites could not see the full story. The same holds true in the present discussion: the “New Testament God” is not more loving or less wrathful than the “Old Testament God”, but He shows His love and wrath in differing degrees according to the covenant and sin involved. Karkainnen quotes theologian A. W. Argyle when he describes this as “gradual and partial Divine self-disclosure” (38).
Undoubtedly, OT followers personally related with God, but not fully because of the barricade of sin that Jesus had not yet destroyed. God’s disclosure in the NT makes His Fatherly relationship more prominent because His Son’s ministry animates such an intimate relationship (Karkainnen 39). As Karkainnen put it, the NT God is the OT God “reinterpreted and more fully revealed” (37). The point is that seeing a fuller side of God is not the same as seeing a new God.
The foundation of Christianity is knowledge of and communion with God, which requires an acknowledgement, but not necessarily understanding, of His unified nature. As finite creatures, humans cannot fathom the infinite. By attributing God with beauty and majesty, Christians declare His perfect truth, goodness, and authority. Questioning the consistency of God’s nature between the Old and New Testament challenges this theological bedrock. If readers call the OT God violence and the NT God peace, they strike at His claim to truth, which never changes, and doubt His goodness and authority, as though His self-revelation in the OT contradicts them. By recognizing that the same God operates and exercises justice and mercy – destruction and redemption – in both, Christians uphold the doctrine that God is unchanging beauty and majesty; not a capricious God switching between anger and love, but occupying the seats of righteous justice and amazing grace simultaneously.
Because God reveals Himself gradually and alongside the progression of His redemption plan, finite people who can neither comprehend His entirety nor see eternity might split His person or conjecture character evolution. Scripture, however, affirms the unity and unchangeability of the Creator, and a careful reading of God’s action through the testaments confirms this. While the OT God may appear more wrathful than the NT God, the “difference” lies in changes of history, not changes of character, for in the OT His people lived unavoidably linked to their sin and incapable of reaching His standard, while in the NT they live under the freeing faith of the Son who bears their sins.