God's character changes in the Bible

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The character and behavior of Yahweh changes through the Bible.

"In the Old Testement they read accounts of God directing Israel to utterly destroy its enemies, while in the New Testament Jesus and the Apostles tell us to forgive our enemies and show grace to those who persecute us. Are these two persepctives in conflict?[1]"
"There is a lot of death and killing and the earth swallowing up families in the Old Testament; and you don't read much of that in the New Testament, except for in Revelation. So you read about Jesus having an incredible open-heartedness towards tax collectors and sinners. So, yes, OK, it's there.[2]"
"The angry, violent, vindictive God of the Old Testament often seems completely at odds with the loving Father of the New Testament. It is difficult to reconcile the two and sometimes believers, along with non-believers and ex-believers, question the actions of God recorded in the Old Testament because they seem atrocious and outside the character of a good God.[3]"

This contradicts either the supposed immutability of God or the accuracy of the Bible in describing him.

Contents

Contrast between earlier and later character

In earlier books, such as the Old Testament. In later books, including the New Testament.
directly interacts with many people in an open fashion generally interacts indirectly, appearing to only a handful of humans
doles out Earthly punishments to those disappoint him (Sheol is mentioned in the Old Testament but that is not Hell as understood by Christians) doles out punishment in the afterlife (Jesus threatens people with suffering in the afterlife Luke 16:19-31 Bible-icon.png)
was a war and storm god Psalm 18:7-14 Bible-icon.png, the "Lord of hosts" [4][5] is a god of love 1 John 4:8 Bible-icon.png, peace Philippians 4:7 Bible-icon.png and forgiveness Matthew 18:22 Bible-icon.png
was one god in a pantheon of others[4][5] is monotheistic (or a Trinity, although that concept is arguably not in the Bible at all)
often commanded atrocities, not against wiping out everybody in a great flood, destroying entire cities, or killing the first born of Egypt does not genocidally kill humans (except in prophecy in the book of Revelation), is non-judgemental (given the general behaviour of Jesus John 8:1-11 Bible-icon.png Matthew 7:1 Bible-icon.png)
is keen on securing the holy land and expelling any other occupants Deuteronomy 20:16-17 Bible-icon.png not concerned with Roman occupation of the holy land
concerned with one chosen people not just concerned with one chosen people
miracles are used in may circumstances, including to demonstrate God's power to unbelievers miracles are only performed for believers Matthew 13:58 Bible-icon.png
author of good and evil, light and darkness Isaiah 45:6-7 Bible-icon.png only capable of good and lightness 1 John 1:5 Bible-icon.png 1 John 4:16 Bible-icon.png 1 Corinthians 13:5 Bible-icon.png
jealous Exodus 20:5 Bible-icon.png Exodus 34:14 Bible-icon.png not jealous 1 Corinthians 13:4 Bible-icon.png
Taught "eye for an eye" morality Exodus 21:24 Bible-icon.png Rejected "eye for an eye" morality Luke 6:29 Bible-icon.png
destroyer of men 2 Kings 1:9-10 Bible-icon.png saviour not destroyer of men Luke 9:54-55 Bible-icon.png (references 2 Kings 1:9-10 Bible-icon.png)
anti-children 2 Kings 2:23-24 Bible-icon.png Deuteronomy 21:18-21 Bible-icon.png pro-children Mark 10:13-14 Bible-icon.png
accepting of divorce Deuteronomy 24:1 Bible-icon.png forbids divorce Matthew 19:8 Bible-icon.png
receiver of tribute Psalm 68:18 Bible-icon.png giver of gifts Ephesians 4:8 Bible-icon.png (misquoting Psalm 68:18 Bible-icon.png)
God rewards Genesis 22:17-18 Bible-icon.png and punishes people's descendants based on a person's actions Exodus 20:5 Bible-icon.png Exodus 34:7 Bible-icon.png, also God punishes collective guilt/national sins. a person is judged on their own deeds, not those of their ancestors Romans 2:6 Bible-icon.png

Notable observations of changes

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The Marcionism heresy rejected the Old Testament entirely, thinking that the God it described was a tyrant (but also a creator).

"Marcion taught that the Father whom Jesus describes is the universal God of love and compassion, while the God of the Old Testament was a lesser being and the jealous tribal god of the Israelites. Marcion had many followers.[3]"

Later authors also commented on the contrast:

"When he was young, that God out of the Orient, then was he harsh and revengeful, and built himself a hell for the delight of his favourites. At last, however, he became old and soft and mellow and pitiful, more like a grandfather than a father, but most like a tottering old grandmother."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Apologists often argue that religious morality does not change. However, God's moral compass seems to have changed too, or at least makes different moral systems active in different circumstances, which is effectively the same thing:

"If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?"

— Rachael Slick, daughter of Matt Slick[6]

Counter arguments

Consistent character

"[...] when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments, it becomes evident that God is not different from one testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both testaments. [...] While we might see one aspect of His nature revealed in certain passages of Scripture more than other aspects, God Himself does not change.[7]"
"These two covenants show in two distinctive, but not contradictory, ways God's determination to being men and women into a right relationship with himself. Both covenants are in complete agreement about the attributes and character of God[8]"

Just asserting he has a consistent character does not refute the clear contrast in the text which describes God's attributes, personality and statements.

Scriptural arguments

"The Bible is very clear about the unchanging nature of God.[9]"

Laws change but the values behind them do not change

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On possible response is to say laws or commands can be set by God in particular circumstances but do not apply universally. However, the values behind the laws are universal. This supposedly allows different sets of laws or covenants to apply at different times or to different people. [10] This effectively abandons moral absolutism, which is commonly accepted by theists.

It is also difficult to know or agree on what the values behind the moral laws actually are. How does the apologist know that the values are consistent?

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 How YHWH Became God, a review of Thomas Römer’s The Invention of God
  5. 5.0 5.1 Daniel Sarlo, The Storm God Versus The Sea
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. John Blanchard, Why believe the Bible?, 2004
  9. [6]
  10. [7]

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