In the Old Testament God meted out his justice through people, or he himself meted out justice immediately through his own hands:

All Scripture is quoted from the King James translation.

Exodus 19:12 and 13 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: 13 There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.

Exodus 2:12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

Numbers 14:11 and 12 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? 12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

However, with the advent of Jesus another precept was initiated.

Matthew 5:21 and 22 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Here we find Jesus not only directing us not to kill, not to even berate them for what they say.

As a Southern Baptist I must wonder why the Same God, would change his Justice imposition so drastically.

Is there any explanation for this in any doctrinal belief in any denomination which addresses this?

  • 7
    The passages in the Old Testament are addressed to a nation on how to mete out justice. The Sermon on the Mount is addressed to individuals on how to relate to others. If governments never punished anything, society would be absolute chaos.
    – Narnian
    Sep 16, 2014 at 14:51
  • 1
    There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books on this topic. I'm afraid it's far too big an issue--with far too many varying opinions--to really be addressed here.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 16, 2014 at 14:53
  • @Flimzy actually if I were answering this question myself it would only need be said that it was a change from law to grace, however, Others may have a different answer, and if that is still too broad we can edit it to only one denomination, as you have apparently done by adding the Southern Baptist tag.
    – BYE
    Sep 16, 2014 at 15:34
  • I'm sure a summary statement like yours is possible, but that's still only one interpretation of many. I guess I thought you were asking for answers from the SB background, since you mentioned that, but then I now see that you also are asking for a broader answer, so perhaps I was wrong to add that tag.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 16, 2014 at 15:36
  • @Narnian while that is true it still does not explain why God went from quick justice, and having the people stoned to not even telling people that they have the wrong concept of God, which is indicated by the word Raca as opposed to the word Fool, which shows judgment.
    – BYE
    Sep 16, 2014 at 15:39

4 Answers 4


Some quick, important notes about your references before answering your question directly:

  • Moses is not clearly justified in killing the Egyptian. He fled as a guilty man because he committed murder. There are many instance of men taking justice into their own hands, but this does not mean it was good for them to do so.
  • God continues to bring judgment and punishment under the New Testament. Remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) , and Herod (Acts 12) who were killed where they stood by God for their sin.

Perhaps these two notes together answer your question sufficiently and show that God is unchanging. He alone is judge, and he alone can delegate authority to judge. When comparing the Old and the New testament, however, we mustn't forget how the Cross is now a central feature of God's judgement. When Christ suffered the wrath of God, he was taking on wrath for sin yet to come as well as sin that had already passed. We know this because it was needful for him to die once. And I think in this is the answer to your question:

...but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Heb 9:26-28 KJV

"It is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgement. With the Cross, God has changed the timing of his judgement. Christ suffered the wrath of God, and now more than ever God is long-suffering towards sin until the end, so that many will be saved. Even throughout the Old Testament, God suffers long toward sin, waiting centuries sometimes before people have to answer for their rebellion. We as Christ's disciples are to imitate Him, not bringing condemnation before the appointed time. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way. God has not changed the terms of judgement, just the timing and frequency with the Cross.

Perhaps it would be well to ask another question regarding judgment in the New Testament (like that of Herod in Acts 12) and how it relates to God's plan for judgement at the end. That would be a very related, albeit separate, discussion.


Is there any explanation for this in any doctrinal belief in any denomination which addresses this?

Jesus was explaining the limitation of the law. God's standard is holiness and perfection. Paul tells us that the law was supposed to bring us to an understanding that we needed a Savior. Instead many contemporaries of Jesus felt they had been successful in keeping the law.

What was needed was a new nature. Jesus admonishes Nicodemus for not knowing this.

This had been promised.

Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put My law within them, and on their hearts will I write it; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.


Catholic and Scriptural Perspective


The Old is the type of the New, prefiguring it, with the New revealing and fulfilling the Old.

cf. The unity of the Old and New Testaments - Catechism of the Catholic Church

128 The Church, as early as apostolic times,1 and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.

129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself.2 Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament.3 As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.4

130 Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when "God [will] be everything to everyone."5 Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God's plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.


IN BRIEF CCC 140 The unity of the two Testaments proceeds from the unity of God's plan and his Revelation. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are true Word of God.

1. Cf. 1 Cor 10:6,11; Heb 10:l; l Pet 3:21.
2. Cf. Mk 12:29-31
3. Cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 10:1-11.
4. Cf. St. Augustine, Quaest. in Hept. 2,73:PL 34,623; Cf. DV 16.
5. 1 Cor 15:28.

Illustrative example from scripture

Heb 3:7-19 (RSVCE): How to reach God's land of rest

Warning against Unbelief

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, when you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”[a]

12 Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, 15 while it is said,

“Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.


a. 3.11 Those who murmured against God in the desert were excluded from the promised land (the “rest”). Christians should beware lest, by offending God, they be excluded from heaven, the true rest, of which the promised land was a type.

The footnote is a good summary example of the foregoing.


While I think that those who emphasise continuation are correct, there is nevertheless an unavoidable issue of supersession of the Law (or at least of an interpretation of it) from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

A constant theme of Christ's ministry is that it is not enough merely to follow the Law, or merely to act correctly simply by following precepts to the letter. It can be seen in a number of parables and sayings which privilege persons who do not follow the Law, but act with love and compassion, over those who do.

There is also a de facto Christian supersession of the Old Testament in that no Christian follows the majority of the laws laid out throughout it. Rather Christianity as a whole selects only the moral laws, typically ten, as a reminder.

This is not to say that God changed his mind, but rather that the old message was never truly one that emphasised the Law above all else, and that humanity in emphasising the Law and its ability to follow the Law scrupulously was acting out of pride.

  • (Relatedly I must admit that while I generally hold the OT to be divinely inspired, I do think that it also contains misinterpretations of God, that are constantly corrected both by the Prophets and by Jesus Christ. This is part of what, I think, gives rise to ideas of inconsistency between the two testaments.)
    – theodoulos
    Sep 17, 2014 at 5:27

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