When freethinkers critique Christianity by pointing out the relentless cruelty, violence and mayhem in the Pentateuch, Christians will often respond like this: “Oh, well that’s the OLD Testament. That doesn’t apply to us any more. I base my religion on the God of the New Testament.” I’ve often heard that sentiment expressed even from people who are not particularly religious. The conventional wisdom is that God went through an anger management program in between the two testaments, and we ended up with a kinder and gentler Yahweh the latter portion of the Bible. But is that really the case?
- The concept of Hell as place of torment for the damned is pretty much absent from the Old Testament. Eternal punishment is a New Testament concept, apparently enthusiastically embraced by Jesus. (Mark 9:47-48, Matthew 28:41)
- On the issue of slavery, the New Testament shows absolutely no moral progress over the Old. Jesus assumes that the beating of slaves is a social norm and does not criticize it. (Luke 12:47-48) And Paul’s letters support the institution of slavery as well. (Ephesians 6:5-7, Colossians 3:18) In fact, one of of the shortest books of the New Testament, Philemon, is a letter sent to the owner of a runaway slave, asking him to take the slave back.
- The New Testament is not any better on the rights of women. Passages like Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15, have been used for centuries to justify denying gender equality–both inside the church and in society at large.
- In a story clearly intended to extract more contributions from members of the early church, a husband and wife both drop dead when it is exposed that they’ve been holding out on their offerings.(Acts 5)
- In the last book of the New Testament, human history comes to an end with a cataclysmic battle of cosmic proportions which makes the wars of the Old Testament seem like minor skirmishes. (Revelation 17-19)
Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but I think it suffices to make the point. The biblical text simply does not support the idea that the God of the New Testament is nicer version of Yahweh. In fact, in some ways he’s more horrific.