Did God Evolve?

As stated in my post “3 Reasons to Read the Bible,” the second insight I gained from reading through the whole Bible on a regular basis is that I realized the God of the Old Testament really is the same as the God of the New Testament.  I don’t know about you, but that is a profoundly comforting truth.  For, if the Old Testament God is different than the New Testament God, then one of two things must be true:

1.  There is more than one God. 
How can that be?  The whole message of the Old Testament is that there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6:4 is the most famous of the passages that teaches this, but it is just one of countless.  It is almost unfathomable to understand how anyone could read the Old Testament and not walk away convinced that the LORD alone is the only God. All other so-called gods are simply not.

Besides, by definition there can only be one God.  Show me another god and I will say, “Take me to your Superior.”  I don’t want to worship a lesser god.  I only want to worship the God of “gods.”  – Oops, sorry! I didn’t mean to go on a rant.

Jesus was very clear to communicate that he was not a different God than the one of the Old Testament.  To the monotheistic Jews, he claimed to be one with the Father (see John10:22-39).  There can be no doubt that he was stating the God of the Old Testament and he were one and the same.

2.  God evolved. 
It is easy to think this about God if you only read portions of both the Old and New Testaments.  On the surface it can be easy to characterize God in the Old Testament as angry, judgmental and vindictive.  Frankly, I think we do that because then we can contrast that with Jesus and characterize him as exclusively merciful, forgiving and loving.  Or we say the Old Testament was about the law and the New Testament is about grace.

That is neat and tidy.  However, it is not the full picture.  The more I read the whole Bible, the less contrast I see in the nature of God.  I do see an ongoing, unveiling of God’s plan to redeem his people and to establish his kingdom, but not really an evolution in the nature of God.

The characteristics of God that most people would like to keep locked in the Old Testament: wrathful, judgmental, and condemning, find their way into the New.  And guess who carries them out?  Jesus! (See Revelation 19:11-21)

And the traits of love, compassion and forgiveness that we tend to think only show up when Jesus steps onto the scene are clearly on display in the Old Testament. The patience and willingness of God to forgive and woo the Israelites back to him after they reject him over and over again is amazing.  Not only that, he has compassion of other nations also (see Jonah).

The writer of Hebrews states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The “yesterday” to which he refers extends well before the birth of Jesus.  Hebrews clearly links Jesus to the God of the Old Testament and continues to make the case that Jesus is one and the same with that God (see Hebrews 1:1-3).

There are other reasons why people steer clear of the Old Testament: it’s boring, irrelevant; hard to understand; etc.  I will address these and others in the future.

Do you have a hard time reading the Old Testament?  What is the biggest obstacle you face in that regard?

Give Me Some Context

In my last post “3 Reasons to Read the Bible,” I talked about 3 insights I have gained as a result of having a regular, systematic plan to read through the Bible on a regular basis.  I want to elaborate on the first reason: There is a context to Bible verses.  The best way I know to explain this is to demonstrate by looking at an example.  My favorite verses to demonstrate this is Jeremiah 29:11-13.  Who doesn’t like this passage?  Many have memorized all or parts of it.  What a great promise to know that God knows the plans he has for me – plans to prosper me and not to harm me!

But is that what it means?  For that matter, was Jeremiah even addressing this to me? If not, can I presume that God will extend these promises to me?  In other words, what is the context for these verses?  Who was Jeremiah addressing, what was their situation? What was he really saying to them? I am not ready to draw application for myself until I understand the application of the passage to Jeremiah’s original audience.  A bible passage cannot mean to me what it was never intended to mean for its original audience.

So I have probably already intimidated you.  You may be saying, “How could I possibly know what it was intended to mean to those Jeremiah was addressing?  I’m not a Bible scholar and I certainly didn’t live in his days.”  Well, let’s take a look at the context, using nothing but the text of the Bible.  We won’t even use the study notes in the margin of your Bible.  In fact, we won’t go anywhere else in the Bible except to the beginning of the chapter – Jeremiah 29.  Certainly it would help to have read the rest of Jeremiah and to be familiar with the historical context found in 2 Kings 23-25 or 2 Chronicles 35-36.  Nevertheless, we can still get a good handle on the meaning of our passage by just reading the verses in Jeremiah leading up to verses 11-13.

When we do that we see that Jeremiah is in Jerusalem. While there he has sent a letter to some of his fellow Jews who have already been taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  Essentially, the letter he sent was to dispel their belief that God would soon intervene, restore the Jewish king to his throne and bring them back to Jerusalem from Babylon.  On the contrary, he writes that they will be in captivity for 70 years, so they should settle down, plant crops, marry, and have kids.  They are to pray for peace and prosperity in the land in which they are exiled so that they will reap the benefits of such prosperity.

In addition they should not lose hope, for after 70 years God will fulfill his promise to bring them back to Jerusalem.  After all, “God knows the plans….” Wow! How many times have we quoted Jeremiah 29:11 with the conviction that God was about to bring about great things at any moment.  Not in 70 years? Yikes!

OK. Now that we know the context of our verses and what was being said to Jeremiah’s original audience, what can we glean as application for ourselves?  Well, frankly, I see a much richer application now that I know the context.  I see that:

  • Sometimes the Lord has to put me in a tough situation to get my attention,
  • He doesn’t always bail me out with a quick rescue,
  • Even in the tough situations I should seek him and his blessings,
  • When I seek him, he will be found, and
  • He will rescue me in his time – which is always the right time.

I could go on. The depths of God’s word are bottomless. That is why I have daily devotions and love to meditate on his word.  In future posts we will talk about how to incorporate good bible reading into your devotional practices.  Why not subscribe, if you haven’t already?

What additional insights and applications from this passage did you see as you looked at it closer with me?

3 Reasons to Read the Bible

In my previous post “Quit Studying the Bible” I did not want to leave them impression that I was against all study of the Bible.  I study the Bible.  I have a full bookcase of Bible reference books and commentaries designed to help me study the Bible.  My point is that before we can become good students of God’s Word, we need to read it: more than we study it, before we study it, and as we are studying it.

I remember my first days in seminary. There I was, being trained to be a pastor and I didn’t really even know the Bible.  How was I going to teach it to others if I didn’t know it myself?  I had read it a couple of times, but I was no expert.  So I bought the Bible on cassette tape, purchased a Walkman (yes, I’m that old), and started listening.  To provide for my family during those seminary years, I walked a paper route and delivered the daily Sioux Falls Argus Leader.  My paper route took about an hour to walk every day .  While I was walking I would listen to the Bible with my Walkman. I listened to the Bible more than 4 times during each year I was at seminary.  In addition, I was following a one-year reading plan in my daily devotions.

I could not believe how quickly I was gaining knowledge of the Bible! Even the genealogical records of Old Testament became interesting as I was beginning to recognize names of people of whom I had just heard their story from a previous section of scripture.  Here is what that experience taught me:

  1. There is a context to Bible verses.  Up to that point I had had some really great mentors who taught me to memorize and mediate on scripture verses. Too often, however, I could quote a verse, but not know a thing about the story or the context from which the verse came. Oh my stars! Jeremiah 29:11-13 took on such a richer meaning when I understood the situation in which Jeremiah spoke these words to the exiled Jews in Babylon.
  2. The God of the Old Testament really is the same as the God of the New Testament.  I often hear people say they don’t like the God of the Old Testament because is he so angry, as compared to the love of Jesus on display in the New Testament.  That’s when I smile to myself and wonder, “Have they read the Old Testament? Or the whole New Testament?” Where did they miss the mercy and forgiveness extended over and over again to the Israelites? And what about some of Jesus’ own words describing the judgment to come, such as in Matthew 24-25? Not to mention that the Revelation is in the New Testament.
  3. My theology needs to be shaped by the whole sweep of Scripture.  We all have a theology, whether well formed or not.  Like it or not, I will read the Bible through the lenses of my theology.  If all I do is engage the Bible with those verses that support my theology, then I have not really learned anything, have I?  However, if I read the whole Bible regularly and systematically, over time my theology begins to be reshaped by the scriptures.  When that happens, my definition of God reflects a little bit more the real God as he has chosen to reveal himself through the Bible.

I will develop these three thoughts in more detail in the coming posts, but I would like to know your experience in reading through the Bible.  Have you ever read through the whole Bible? How many times? What has helped you do that?

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