Back when I was a Christian, it was important to me to always have the Word of God close at hand. So I would keep a “pocket Bible” on my person. No telling when a well-formed female would cross your path, exciting your animal instincts. Funny thing—those pocket Bibles were never the full Bible. They were just the New Testament and the Psalms.
Why is that?
Most Christians have learned to ignore most of the Bible—that is, the Old Testament. It’s just so bloody and harsh—over the top. Not to mention hokey and boring. Sure, they pay it lip service. For example, they may tell themselves that the Old Testament focuses on the justice of God as opposed to the love of God. (Somebody had to teach those sinners a lesson.) But not even fundamentalists try to live by the Old Testament, not really. Maybe a verse here and there that they can use to bolster some point about Jesus but, for the most part, they live to the east of Malachi.
Check out believers’ refrigerator magnets. They tell all. You’ll see lot of magnets with “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) and “God causes all things to work together for good for them that love Him” (Rom. 8:280) and, of course, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)—not so many with “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:1) or “A woman who gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. If she gives birth to a daughter, she will be unclean for two weeks.” (Lev. 12:1-5).
So the Old Testament is relegated the closet and extracted only in dire need, like that oil painting of a pony your grandmother lovingly bestowed on you.
So how do we explain how God could have a hand in anything as preposterous as the Old Testament?
The most common explanation for why the Old Testament seems so primitive, so indecent—so dissonant with the New Testament—is progressive revelation.
What people who hold to this view are saying is that God purposely limited how much of His nature/characteristics He displayed to the Israelites—probably because they weren’t “ready” for it.
That seems like a real ham-fisted way to go about things to me.
In essence, God would be implanting a distorted understanding of Himself and His designs in the Jews’ brains. This faulty perception would be amended when Jesus showed up—but the problem is that the Jews would be lost. In essence, God set up the Jews to reject Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Think about it. Why would God mislead the Israelites like that?
That’s like somebody insisting something until they’re blue in the face and then turning around saying, “Well, you just weren’t paying attention to what I meant!” Don’t you hate that?
Progressive revelation doesn’t work because by default the people on the earlier end of the revelation would take that revelation as final, so they would get all sorts of wrong-headed ideas wedged into their brains. In fact, final revelation is redundant. Why would a revelation be provisional? At least, it if was provisional, it should come with a warning, something like This revelation will lapse in 1,000 years.
Also, progressive revelation just doesn’t match the Old Testament text. The Old Testament takes itself very seriously—so the Jews did, too.
For example, there’s nothing in the Old Testament to suggest that the sacrificial system was just symbolic—a “type” of the better sacrifice of Jesus that would come later. A religious Jew in the first few centuries would have said that was nonsense—which is what a lot of them did in fact say to Christians would asserted this point of view. Still do. Read the Old Testament. It’s pretty clear. Those slaughtered animals really did take away the Israelites’ sins.
We get all tied up in our underwear because we’re trying to defend the untenable assertion of divine revelation. Progressive revelation is just something we cooked up to explain away all the stupid stuff in the Old Testament.
Isn’t the Occam’s Razor answer more satisfactory? The reason the Old Testament is ridiculous is that it was written by flat-earthers. God would really say that a woman will be unclean longer if she gives birth to a female child? Really? Doesn’t that sound more like something someone with a trouser snake would say?
Believers go to such lengths to prop up scripture, progressive revelation being just one example, ignoring the obvious truth that the Bible is just the words of men. So much is riding on scripture being God’s word to us—because we know that God’s not speaking clearly to us in any other way. If God isn’t talking to us through the Bible, does that mean He doesn’t care about communicating with us at all?
God does not reveal Himself except through the universe He has blanketed around us—and we use reason, not faith to unpack those revelations. Scientific evidence becomes our scripture. There is no supernatural realm where God lives and hordes His secrets. Whatever God is, He is utterly natural. He is the ultimate reality.
Bottom line: The Old Testament is bunk.
Well, the believer grudgingly says, I don’t really spend any time the Old Testament. I’m a New Testament Christian.
Sorry. That doesn’t work. The New Testament is every bit as unreliable as the Old Testament, just in a different way.
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