30 Oct 2021

A Halloween Treat: Three Totally Freaky False Theses Some Teach Regarding the “Old Testament”

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Faith, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Preaching, Spiritual Disciplines

On the eve of Halloween, in the spirit of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, I am going to share “Three Totally Freaky False Theses Some (including preachers) Teach Regarding the Old Testament.”

They are indeed freaky … scary in fact!

God of Anger, God of Wrath

I begin with the granddaddy of all the other freaky false thesis promoted about the so called “Old Testament.” The God of the “Old Testament” is angry and unloving, he is just a God of wrath. I had one elder years ago tell me (actual quote), “its like God became a Christian in the NT!” After listening to my preaching for several years this elder confessed “I have learned more about the Old Testament from you in four years than all my whole 70 years.”

This commonly held freaky false thesis is so incredibly pervasive and is tied directly to a fundamental misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of the contents of 76% of the canon of Scripture. How a people can be described as a “people of the book” when they systematically downplay over three quarters of it is beyond me. But the Hebrew Bible explicitly states just the opposite about Yahweh:

Yahweh, Yahweh,
a God merciful and gracious,
SLOW TO ANGER,
abounding in HESED [steadfast love] and faithfulness
keeping steadfast love for the thousandeth generation
forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin

This is the Golden Text of the Bible. It is repeated in the Hebrew Bible in whole or in part over a dozen times and echoed another dozen. But I confess that this statement that thunders throughout the Hebrew Scriptures I was completely unaware even existed. Over the years I have come to call this statement the “God Creed.” For more on it see my article Exodus 34: The Pulse of the Bible.

Jonah was not afraid of Yahweh’s wrath. Just the opposite, God was way to slow to get angry. He was afraid of God’s love [Hesed] and throws it back in Yahweh’s face in Jonah 4.1-2 when he quotes the very text above in order to convict God of the crime of a love too deep!

When John says that “God is love” he is actually paraphrasing Exodus 34.6-7. John 3.16 speaks of Yahweh’s love not Jesus’s love. Some are shocked beyond belief when they find out that Moses talks more about love than the Apostle Paul (some factoids on “love” for comparison: Deuteronomy 21x vs Romans 14x; Deuteronomy 21x vs Acts 0x). The entire Hebrew Bible, according to the great rabbi Abraham J. Heschel is but a long commentary on the infinite, long suffering, patience of God with Israel testified to by Yahweh himself in this amazing text. Read Psalm 103, Psalm 136, Psalm 107, etc etc. We could go all day on this freaky false thesis. May it die a quick painful death.

Salvation by Law/Works Righteousness

Another freaky false thesis commonly taught and believed regarding the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is that relationship with God was based upon “law” or “works.” This is a fairly typical Protestant thesis rooted in Martin Luther himself. This thesis, like the one above, is rooted in a deep misreading of the Hebrew Bible (sometimes no or very little reading) fueled by an equally misguided reading of Paul.

But Paul never (much less Jesus!) once said, nor implied, that Israel’s relationship with God or salvation was based on works righteousness. Paul does not even say the law was a means of salvation. The Book of Romans itself destroys this thesis, as does virtually any place you put your finger in the Hebrew Bible itself. Paul in Romans, to begin with, insists that his teaching of salvation by grace thru faith is in accordance with the “Old Testament” itself. Abraham – Old Testament – is the pattern of grace. Paul then quotes David too (Romans 4) as proof that salvation was based upon God’s grace through faith. Paul bases his argument upon the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Abraham, David and Habakkuk, 2.4). It is the OLD TESTAMENT that teaches the “righteous will live by faith!” It is a serious freaky false doctrine that is explicitly contradicted in the Law itself. Consider the following paradigmatic texts.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments … If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 7.7-9, 12)

After Yahweh your God has driven them out before you {this is grace/God did it!} never say to yourself, ‘Yahweh has brought ME {note the singular} here to take possession of this land because of MY righteousness.’ No! it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh is driving them out {God did it/grace!}. It is not because of your righteousness or even your integrity … understand then it is not because of your righteousness that Yahweh your God is giving you {gift!! Grace!!} this land for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy. 9.4-6)

Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you
.”
(Psalm 143.1-2)

Israel is saved by an act of God called the Exodus. The grace of the Exodus is the backdrop of all of “Old Testament” faith. Every part of worship, the Sabbath, the Passover, the pilgrimages, etc constantly brought the Israelite back to the basis of their salvation — GRACE! See more in Psalms 105, 106, 107 together (and dozens more texts).

Exodus comes before Sinai.
Calvary comes before Pentecost.
Grace comes before Faith.
It always has.
It always will.

No Faith Relationship with God/Devoid of Spirituality

Another of the most bizarre (the most bizarre is #1 because it lies about who God is) freaky false thesis about the “Old Testament” is that Israelites and Jews never had a “personal relationship” with God. It was ritualistic. It was “carnal” to use the old word I heard growing up (“carnal” was understood as bad, negative, anti-spiritual). Again all of these freaky, scary, false theses have their beginning in cherry picking New Testament texts out of context and misunderstanding of the Old Testament itself. There is no better place to go to witness the Spirituality of the Israelite than the Book of Psalms. In fact the Psalms are a rebuke to the shallowness of most modern (so called) personal relationships with God.

Take Psalm 51, for example, was written for/by David and expresses his anguish. It was preserved and used by ordinary Israelites for a thousand years before the coming of Jesus! It expressed not just David’s longing but every Israelite …

Create in my a clean heart,
O God and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
…”
(Psalm 51.10-11)

This portion of the Psalm is utter nonsense if the Israelite had no clue what it was like to be in God’s presence, to have awareness of the Spirit, to have previously experienced the joy of salvation. That is the Psalm is testifies to the reality that Israelites had a deeply personal Spiritual connection with God. Over and over in the Psalms we see incredible honesty and intimacy with God as the norm for Israelites. As the Israelites would sing,

I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory,
Because your HESED/steadfast/never ending love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you

(Psalm 63.3, see the whole Psalm).

One thing I asked of Yahweh,
That will I seek after:
to live in the house of Yahweh
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of Yahweh,
and to inquire in his temple …
Come, my heart says,
‘Seek his face!’
Your face, Yahweh do I seek,
Do not hide your face from me

(Psalm 27. 4, 8)

I love Yahweh,
because he has heard my voice
and supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live

(Psalm 116.1-2)

Yahweh is my portion
(Psalm 119.57)

Examples from the Book of Psalms can be multiplied until we quote all one and fifty of them.

Though not part of the Protestant Old Testament, The Prayer of Manasseh clearly reveals what a typical Jew thought along these lines in the centuries leading up to Jesus and in the Messiah’s day. The Hebrew Bible is chock full of stories of people deeply aware of their relationship with God. (See Psalm 139 as just another example). May we let this freaky false thesis die and indeed restore the same depth to our relationship with God we see in the Psalms.

Three Theses Nailed to the Church Door

The three freaky false theses commonly held in Protestant, Evangelical and Restorationist circles listed above are often stated in a myriad of ways that boil down to these three here. For instance, the freaky false doctrine that the Old Testament is basically “legalism” is destroyed by all three actual truths presented above.

If you are a minister or teacher I urge you to consider including the Hebrew Bible in your teaching on a regular basis. As 2022 is approaching it is a good time to plan, and study for, lessons coming up. We cannot get more “first century church” than when we are preaching and teaching the wonders of the Hebrew Bible to the disciples of the Lord … begin with the Holy Spirit inspired prayer,

Open my eyes, so that I may behold WONDROUS things in your instruction” (Ps 119.18).

Dear merciful Lord, deliver us from freaky false understandings of your living word that is sharper than any two edged sword that encourage us to ignore and misunderstand the vast majority of your word, that your servant Paul said equips us doctrinally, makes us wise, and is holy, good, just and Spiritual (2 Tim 3.15-16 & Rom 7.12,14,16).

We thank you for your mercy and Hesed and forgiveness when we have promoted these and similar scary theses. Open our eyes so we may see the wonders of your love, your grace, your glory.

Be exalted O Lord over our lives and in our hearts because you teach us.

Amen

6 Responses to “A Halloween Treat: Three Totally Freaky False Theses Some Teach Regarding the “Old Testament””

  1. hank Says:

    Very true and good article, thanks!

  2. Glenn Says:

    Hate to show my ignorance but what do you mean by the designations Deuteronomy 21x vs Romans 14x vs Acts 0x for comparisons? This is under the first section on God of anger/God of wrath about paragraph 5. Thanks, I enjoy your lessons and challenges to make us think and not just accept what we’ve been taught in the past.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Glenn thanks for reading my short article and commenting. I am sorry that my statement was not as clear as I intended it to be. So when I wrote “Deuteronomy 21x vs Romans 14x vs Acts …” This was in the context of comparing how many times Moses spoke about “love” and how many times it appears in those respective books. So Moses uses the word “love” in Deuteronomy 21 times while Paul uses it 14 times in Romans and the Book of Acts uses it 0 times. It is simply an attempt to dispel one of the many caricatures of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. I hope this helps make what I wrote clearer.

  3. Robert Limb Says:

    If there are, or ever have been, Christians who have taught, or even half believed that YHWH is “just a God of wrath”, that is astounding. They have probably never actually read the Tanak.
    It is also easy to dismiss those who say (actual quote) “I’m not a believer, but if I were it would not be the God of the Bible”.
    There is, however, a difficulty with the Torah – not so much with God’s wrath, but with God’s command to commit genocide.

  4. Rudy Schellekens Says:

    Why would a New Testament Christian be concerned about the Old Testament? After all, that’s not in our name!
    I spent about 40 years or so helping my fellow believers understand the importance of knowing the content of the Old Testament. We find amazing expressions of God’s love in so many different places.
    Loving our neighbors is not a “Jesus’ concept, it is part of the Law given to Moses.
    Having a circumcised heart is not invented by Paul.
    A forgiving God is found all over the Old Testament.
    A merciful God is found all over the Old Testament.
    In His description of Himself to Moses He speaks of Himself as a God “who loves to love.”
    “We” seem to have gotten to a point where “we” find it easier to agree with the idea that Jesus is the Jehovah of the Old Testament – because of this supposed lack of love in the Old Testament.
    But then, I also believe that “we” have become afraid of God – as He seems to disappear more and more from our speech, writing etc. – but that is just me…

    My favorite Old Testament description of God?
    “Of David. A maskil. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 
    Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 
    When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 
    For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 
    Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. 
    Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. 
    You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. 
    I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 
    Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. 
    Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. 
    Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! ” Psalm 32

  5. Diane Frisone Says:

    Hi how do I subscribe

Leave a Reply