Yes, I believe they can be reconciled—but not by ignoring or dismissing their differences. The truth is, there are plenty of apparent contradictions in Scripture. To ignore them or pretend they don’t exist would be intellectually dishonest.
However, as I explained last week, one thing we shouldn’t do is use the words of Christ to somehow disprove all the potentially controversial words of God in the Old Testament. Such an act might possibly be based on good motives, but it is nonetheless misguided. In order to deal with the narrative and theological tensions that do exist, it does us no good to create tensions that don’t exist.
Yes, it is safer, easier, and more culturally acceptable to claim allegiance to Jesus while disavowing much of the Old Testament. But it is also counterproductive.
If you look closer, you find that what we value about Jesus originated in the Old Testament itself. And if it weren’t for the Old Testament, what we appreciate and admire about Jesus wouldn’t exist. Heck, Jesus Himself wouldn’t exist.
Think about it this way. What do you love most about Jesus? Is it His emphasis on neighborly goodwill (even for those who are different from us), evidenced in such parables as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? If so, are you aware that the parable was used as an application of an OT law? “[Y]ou shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
Do you love Jesus for graciously treating those who doubted, like Thomas (Jn. 20:24-29)? In the Old Testament, God also demonstrated patience to those who doubted His ways, including Gideon (Jud. 6:36-40) and Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:15-17).
Do you love Jesus for His treatment of the poor and needy? The Old Testament God always expressed His affection for the poor and needy (Ps. 10:14, 68:5, 146:9). He commanded the Israelites to make provision for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 23:22; Deut. 10:18-19, 24:17-22, 26:12-13; Psa. 82:3; Isa. 1:17) and not to abuse them (Ex. 22:22; Pr. 23:10-11; Zec. 7:10). He spoke blessings on those who considered the poor (Psa. 41:1; Isa. 58:6-10) and pronounced cursing and woe on those who did not (Deut. 27:18-19; Isa. 10:1-2).
Do you love Jesus because of His tender mercy to those weighed down by sin and shame, like the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:3-11)? In the Old Testament, God is repeatedly shown to be a God of mercy. David’s case is an excellent example. For one who committed adultery and murder, both of which were worthy of stoning, David received this gracious word: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). This sturdy promise of forgiveness later led David to claim confidence in the Lord’s protection and provision, even while faced with the dire consequences of his sin (see Psalm 3, as well as 32:1-2).
Time and space won’t allow us to investigate the further mercies of God in the Old Testament, in which He consistently brought warning through prophets, often giving people insanely long periods of time to repent. He showed such longsuffering toward persistent sins like polygamy, slavery, and divorce that many people have interpreted Him to endorse those practices (which is what typically happens when God shows prolonged mercy toward the sins of peoples and nations). God has consistently demonstrated mercy to the undeserving—in both the Old and New Testaments.
In my last blog post, I mentioned how Jesus confronted the Jewish leaders in John 5. They looked at the God of the Old Testament, put Him side by side with Jesus, and saw apparent discrepancies. In fact, they viewed the work and words of Jesus as openly contradictory to the work and words of the God of the Old Testament.
Jesus rebuked them for this mindset, saying that the Old Testament wasn’t in contradiction to Him because it was about Him. The contradiction in their mind was an illusion. If the Jewish leaders had been reading their Bibles right, they would have seen no disparity between the God of the patriarchs and the God whose sandaled feet walked into their synagogues.
From the comfort of our post-resurrection perspective, we love pointing out how idiotic and hypocritical the Pharisees were. But if we insist on rejecting portions of the Old Testament because we don’t think they jive with the person and work of Christ, we’re suffering from a malady similar to that of the Pharisees. Our problem might even be worse, what with our access to the completed NT Scriptures.
We may be genuinely converted, and we may love Jesus to the degree that we understand Him. But we’re doing our Lord a great disservice to label the Old Testament—the very legs on which Jesus Himself stood—as lame and gimpy. Brothers and sisters, Jesus doesn’t like it when you talk about His legs like that.