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I really have a problem at times explaining to the unbelievers the fact that God wants all people to be saved. The problem is the difference between the morality seen in the OT and the morality seen in the NT.

In the OT God easily commanded a human to kill 3000 other humans (Exodus 32:27), seemed to be fine to go along with a prophet in his way of proving his genuineness by burning alive 102 other humans, many of which were in fact innocent (2 Kings 1:9-15), and helped some other humans in the way of killing other human beings by stoning them (Joshua 10:11).

In the NT, however, we see that He forbids humans to perform such acts against other humans (Luke 9:52-56, Matthew 5:39, 44).

The unbelievers firstly question such a drastic change in His teachings, thus, doubting either about His unchangeable nature or the credibility of Christian faith proclaiming that He is unchangeable, and, secondly, they express a kind of fear ("What if God commands you to kill, will you do that?").

How does Christianity deal with such questions?

Can anyone, please, provide an overview here? (Answers on behalf of only one tradition are also welcome)

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let us continue this discussion in chat –  brilliant Jun 13 '12 at 23:57
    
Mod Notice: <comments removed> Please keep the theological discussion out of comments. Comments can request clarification or give feedback on a post but they are not for discussing the issues that posts are about. Keep that for chat or other sites. Thanks for understanding. –  Caleb Apr 1 at 8:54
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3 Answers

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Although God never changes, He specifically changed in the way in which He dealt with mankind. One way is called the Old Covenant under Law and the other is called the New Covenant under Grace. The Old covenant kills, that was its ministry.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! (2 Corinthians 3:7-9)

Notice the Old Covenant brought 'death' but the New Covenant brings righteousness. There was always grace in the Old Testament and there is Law in the new, however, it’s simply a fact that God first more fully manifested His wrath for sin under law and then revealed His infinite grace and love in His Son on the cross. God want to terrify all men in their sin, so that they run to Christ for forgiveness and find his everlasting love. We are all born into the Old Covenant and God want us to enter His love by faith. Furthermore, God became a literal citizen of Israel in the old order of things, so that Israel personally executed his wrath for sin on sinners. God’s kingdom was visible, so when the Hebrew sword cut down the sinner, this was nothing less then a violent entrance into hell under God’s wrath and law. In the new covenant his grace has been revealed to save men from that very wrath.

If you work this idea outward, the result is that the very different moral impressions that one might in their confusion draw, when looking at the Bible on its surface, faith finds as a source of joy. This difference in the covenants is a confirmation of faith for it explains both death under sin and life under grace.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

Hebrews 12 also compares the two periods, confirming the same. The old covenant is characterize by “fire; to darkness, gloom and storm” in the new covenant you “have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly”.

Even the different miracles between the two illustrate the contrast in color. Under Moses there were many miracles bringing death, as a representation of the ‘curse’ under Law. In the new, Jesus healed every sinner who came to him with faith and need, representing the reversal of that curse.

This is all harmonious and faith building to him that ‘has an ear to hear’.

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Couple things... It's not necessarily correct to say that God "changed" the way he deals with man. Some traditions will argue that God treats us the same way He always has, but in the fullness of time, Christ satisfied God's justice for those under the New Covenant. This isn't so much a "change" as it is the fulfillment of a plan and promise. –  San Jacinto Jun 11 '12 at 14:38
    
I don't disagree with your statement. Yet I still like changed. Sometimes it's just semantics and I understand what you are saying. I could have mentioned those in the OT could be saved the same way we are by having faith in the Abrahamic promise, but eventually it gets wordy, cheers. –  Mike Jun 11 '12 at 16:00
    
..........Fair enough :) –  San Jacinto Jun 11 '12 at 16:33
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Perhaps a Catholic perspective will help.

God created the world in a state of journeying towards perfection. Therefore, the morality of the people had to be improved in stages. So, for example, we see that things such as divorce were permitted (Deut 24:1-4) by Moses (not directly by God, as Jesus clarified in Matthew 19:8). This was done because of the "hardness of hearts" (Matthew 19:8) of the people.

When Jesus came, he uplifted the morality of the people and said that divorce was no longer accepted (Matthew 19:9). He also gave stricter rules of morality, equating "mere" lust to "adultery in the heart" (Matthew 5:28), choosing mercy instead of revenge (Matthew 5:38-40) and so on.

Even now in the church, the morality of the people has progressively improved. For instance, we allow men and women to sit together in church, whereas in the early days it was unthinkable because men were so prone to lust.

So God has not changed, but people have changed. Therefore, what was morally permissible in the olden times might not be morally permissible now, because our morality has matured.

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I don't think human nature changes (in the early days it was unthinkable because men were so prone to lust) -- social mores do, though, and issues of modesty and propriety are very closely linked to cultural/social factors. –  Ben Dunlap Jun 12 '12 at 14:01
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Although I strongly disagree with your answer, I did find it very interesting. Is this actually an official Catholic stance, or are you just saying that you, as a Catholic, see it this way? I would love to see a reference to catechism if possible. –  Jas 3.1 Jun 12 '12 at 17:57
    
@Jas3.1 I do believe this is what the Catholic Church teaches because I heard it from Father Barron, who is one of the most influential speakers in the Catholic Church. I'll try to find references if possible. –  LoveTheFaith Jun 13 '12 at 0:26
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The answer is actually pretty straightforward, but it is very difficult for people to accept.

1) God's values, desires, teachings, commandments and interactions with man were exactly the same in the Old Testament as the New Testament.

  • In the New Testament, we learn that God is love. Jesus' "new commandment" is that we love one another. But this really wasn't a "new" idea...

  • In the Old Testament we have this big, confusing Levitical Law. But with a little study we can understand it. One of the commandments is to love God, and another is to love your neighbor. The rest of the commandments were actually based on these two, and love was the fulfillment of all of them. Experts in the Old Testament law understood this. The impossible commandments were intended to hammer it into our thick heads that we are "broken"; we are not loving people! For instance, adultery is a very unloving action, and if our consciences were working right, that would be obvious. As it is, we need a commandment to tell us not to treat people like that.

  • The idea that the Law was "just an Old Testament thing" is false. The Law that was given in the Old Testament is just as important to understand today as it was back then. It still teaches us about love, it is still impossible to live up to, we will still be judged by it (unless we are in Christ), and it is still a crucial element in teaching people about God. (For example, see Matthew 5:17-19.)

2) This is very difficult for people to accept, but we are much more concerned about physical well-being than God is! From God's perspective, the physical realm is kind of a lost cause. God wants our focus to be on our spiritual well-being. Everyone is going to die, because we all have sin! God can use the timing of our death for His purposes, but death (in some form) is inevitable. And yet, for some weird reason, when God decides a person's time on this wretched, broken planet is up, we accuse Him of evil for "taking their life." I assure you - death was never part of God's perfect will. Man is responsible for death. But God can use the timing for His loving purposes.

Summary: So, often times we read the stories of the Old Testament and think God is a horrible, ruthless being who could not possibly be in agreement with the teachings of Jesus. But the reality is, God is love, and everything He does comes from His loving nature. We are just hopelessly ignorant and corrupt in our understanding of God, so we see the opposite of what is actually true.

Q&A: "What if God commanded you to kill someone?" If God commands you to do something, it's probably a good idea to do it. But the real question is, "Would God command you to kill someone?" and the answer is, "No." We need to discern the voice of God by a proper understanding of Scripture, and it is clear from Scripture that this is not the way Christians are called to walk today. So why were people in the Old Testament called to do these kinds of things? Because the things that happened in the Old Testament were visual examples to help us understand spiritual realities. Now that we have the examples, our job is to use those examples to teach people about spiritual realities.

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Thanks for the answer, but I am a feeling a bit uneasy to agree that "values, desires, teachings, commandments and interactions with man were exactly the same in the OТ as the NT". The fact that they are not exactly the same is quite obvious from how the Lord contrasts the commandments of OT with His new commandments in sermon on the mount. For example, in OT God commanded to hate your enemy, but Jesus said love your enemies. –  brilliant Jun 12 '12 at 0:57
    
"why were people in the OT called to do these kinds of things? Because the things that happened in the OT were visual examples to help us understand" - Well, they can easily paraphrase it this way "If God starts giving you new visual examples, in which you will be ordered to kill, will you do that?" You see, when the unbelievers approach Christian faith and Christians, they are very little concerned about whether it is some example-giving period of time or not - what they are concerned about is that the morality that is put forth here would remain the same throughout all periods of time. –  brilliant Jun 12 '12 at 1:06
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@brilliant I don't think you will find "love your neighbor and hate your enemy" anywhere in the Old Testament -- presumably in Matthew 5:43 Jesus is quoting something else. Also I'm wondering if you have ever read the Old Testament straight through. I have and could not escape the overwhelming impression of a God who, dare I say it, desperately loves his people and is singularly intent on their salvation. One can always cherry-pick disturbing passages but those passages remain situated in the overall context I've just described. –  Ben Dunlap Jun 12 '12 at 14:09
    
... which I suppose is another way of saying that it's kind of impossible to "get" the Bible without engaging it full-on. Thus unbelievers who critique it on the basis of hearsay are in a difficult spot. –  Ben Dunlap Jun 12 '12 at 14:58
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