Atheist says, “Dear Christians, please stop ignoring the Old Testament”by Don Lacey on Aug. 23, 2012, under Atheism, Biblical Inerrancy, Christianity, Creationism, Critical Thinking, Education, Ethics, Faith, Freethought, Fundamentalism, God & Bible, History, Logic, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Willful Ignorance
In debates over the morality of Christianity or the character of the God of Abraham, I am always happy to bring up instances in the Bible where this God condones slavery, orders mass murder, or sets laws that are utterly immoral or nonsensical. Often these references are met with: “those passages don’t matter because they are in the Old Testament!”
It’s as if being in the Old Testament excuses the utter moral nonsense that these books contain. It’s as if Christians are convinced that the Old Testament no longer has any bearing on their theology or it’s as if they want to be able to pick and choose the parts of the Old Testament, like the Ten Commands which they think still matters while disregarding the nastier parts of those books.
First off, it is a bit arrogant of Christians to refer to this collection of Jewish scripture as “the Old Testament”. After all, the culture that produced it does not even recognize the New Testament. What’s more, Christians often play up Old Testament prohibitions against male homosexual behavior, while ignoring similar worded prohibitions against pork and shellfish consumption. Fortunately, Jews and Christians no longer follow Old Testament instructions to kill people who leave their faiths or work on “the Sabbath.”
In spite of the fact that Christians like to talk as if the Old Testament does not matter, Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus saying otherwise.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19)
That is to say, Jesus viewed the Law of the Old Testament with all it’s ridiculous and immoral aspects as binding until heaven and earth pass. I have argued in previous posts that Matthew’s Gospel was very likely produced by a Christian community that was still closely bound to the Jewish faith and went through great lengths to connect Jesus’ teachings with Jewish Scripture. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is shown to do many things specifically so that Old Testament prophecy could be fulfilled. Matthew’s gospel largely takes Mark’s more stripped-down gospel and expands on it by adding material drawn from the Old testament. This may have been in response to the fact that Christianity was becoming less and less Jewish at the time of writing and Christians were starting to completely reject the Old Testament.
Aside from Matthew, the Pauline epistles also rely on the Old Testament for their teachings on Jesus. These letters have surprisingly little to say about Jesus’ actually biography or teachings but instead draw on the Old Testament to justify the beliefs,they express about Christianity.
With that in mind, it is hard for Christians to take the New Testament at face value while showing such a complete disregard for the teachings in the Old Testament. The desire to do this though is understandable. After all, it is awfully hard to reconcile the “love thy neighbor” teachings of the New Testament, with the kill and enslave the members of every other tribe teachings of the Old Testament.
At least one group of early Christians agreed. The Marcionites, were founded by the shipping magnate Marcion. He produced one of Christianity’s earliest cannons featuring a collection of the Pauline epistles and a version of what is now known as the Gospel of Luke. Marcion and his followers explicitly rejected the God of the Old Testament as being a monster completely inconsistent with the God who fathered Jesus. He believed the Old Testament to be true but that its creator God was not the true God but a lesser being he called the Demiurge. He interpreted Genesis as describing its God as walking in human terms and lacking universal knowledge. He declared this to be inconsistent with the heavenly father Jesus spoke of. The Demiurge was a brutal, legalistic, tribal deity, while the Heavenly father was morally superior. This of course angered the early Catholic Church which declared him a heretic.
Marcion’s desire to separate the more love and peace teachings of the New Testament with the war god of the Old Testament is understandable. Of course, there is no evidence that Jesus ever said anything to lead us to that conclusion. The differences between the testaments are due to cultural developments that happened in the 500 years between them rather than different aspects of a God’s personality. Additionally, the Christian notion of hell is far worse than anything introduced in the Old Testament. The consistent Christian should stop dismissing or disregarding the Old Testament. They should read it and be more willing to own up to some of the morally questionable teachings of their holy book.
[Editor’s note: The “New” Testament isn’t all that new, is it? Perhaps the Bible should be called the Old Testament and the “not so old” Testament.]