Strange question you think? Let me explain. One of the stumbling blocks I find coming up again and again in interfaith conversations, particularly with Atheists and Gnostics, is the difficulty they experience in reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament.
I am sympathetic to this. I had similar difficulties myself before I experienced my rebirth, but it does lead me to pose the question in this way: Is the God of the Old Testament Christian?
And you know my answer? Not necessarily so.
The Old Testament in Other Religions
You see, what I am very aware of is that there are many non-Christians who also look to the Old Testament as scripture. Most obviously there are the Jews (who call it the Tanakh), but we should also remember the Muslims and the Mormons. They all affirm the Old Testament as scripture, yet understand God very differently.
This should not surprise us. Even in ancient Jerusalem and Galilee there was disagreement over how scripture was to be interpreted. The Pharisees and Sadducees and Essenes had very different ideas, very different understandings about what God had revealed and how he called them to act. We are not being particularly original in asking questions like this.
So how can people come up which such different understandings about God from reading the same writings? Well, it is important to consider what else people read as authoritative scripture.
• Christians affirm the New Testament
• Jews affirm the Talmud commentaries
• Muslims affirm the Quran
• Mormons affirm the Book of Mormon and other texts.
Quite simply, the question of revelation needs to be explored more holistically than Atheists and Gnostics are used to doing, and therein lays much of the confusion.
I find the movie Sixth Sense provides a good analogy. If you have seen that movie, starring Bruce Willis, then you’d know that the ending of the movie has a killer twist. In the final moments Bruce Willis’ character has a revelation that reframes everything that was going on up to that moment. He realises what he thought was going on was not what was really going on. The realisation affects his identity and transforms his entire story.
The Old Testament in Christianity
For Christians the coming of Christ is, similarly, a killer twist. Jesus transforms our understanding of God, and hence, our understanding of the Old Testament and how we read it. Reading the Old Testament in isolation from the New Testament is like watching Sixth Sense but walking out fifteen minutes before the climax. You’ll never understand Christianity by viewing it that way, and you’ll never truly understand the Old Testament by reading it that way.
Jesus said if we had seen him we had seen God. That means if we read the Old Testament and don’t see him then our reading is off base. We have not understood, the deeper mysteries remain hidden. If you think I am just pulling this out of thin air I invite you to read the New Testament stories of the Road to Emmaus or Philip and the Ethiopian. Both point powerfully to how the resurrection of Jesus reveals hidden depths in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament and You
Now if you are an Atheist or Gnostic, the question I have for you is, are you open to exploring the deeper truths and hidden depths of the Old Testament? Or are you content to continue reading it at a surface level? If you can’t understand the Old Testament as a Christian would, you can’t claim to be critiquing a Christian document, for the Old Testament is not intrinsically Christian. If you truly seek truth and knowledge I invite you to know more.