The Bible has 66 books written by different authors over about 1,500 years. Is there a common theme, a leitmotif? If so, which is it? Is there an Old Testament God and a New Testament God?
Each of the 66 books of the Bible reflects the personality, place, time, and culture in which its author lived. Depending on these factors, the books differ in terms of subject matter, writing style, and expression.
In the Bible, we find history (Genesis, Joshua, 1-2 Samuel, Acts of the Apostles), legislation (Leviticus, Deuteronomy), poetry (Job, Psalms, Song of Songs), letters (Pauline, Petrine, John), gospels, classical prophecy (Jeremiah, Hosea, Zechariah), collections of maxims and sayings (Proverbs), and apocalyptic books (Daniel, Revelation). Of course, a single book can include prose, poetry, and prophecy, as do, for example, the books of Numbers and Isaiah.
Despite the mentioned diversity, the books of the Bible can be brought together under a single thematic umbrella. They reveal God’s encounters with mankind, carried out on God’s initiative, in order to guide people towards the realisation of the divine plan. Throughout the Bible, we observe a continuous questioning of mankind regarding its position in relation to God’s expectations. This questioning entails guidance, encouragement, warning, punishment, and recovery.
Is there a break between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
In the context of the cultural and historical diversity from which the biblical text comes, it is difficult for the modern reader to accept provisions and actions that come from God Himself. The destruction of the world by flood (Genesis 7:10-23), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:12-29), the destruction of the peoples of ancient Palestine (Deuteronomy 20:6, 17) or the punishments for breaking certain commandments are not easy to understand for the reader who is accustomed to human rights and today’s protectionist legislation. Having said that, these biblical accounts have raised questions ever since Antiquity.
For example, Marcion (†154) saw such a great contrast between the Old Testament and the message of Jesus, that he postulated the existence of two Gods: “The God of the Old Testament was not the same God as that of the New Testament; the Old Testament deity was a God of wrath, the New Testament deity a God of love; the Old Testament brought bondage, the New Testament announced freedom through Christ; the Old Testament Law stood at odds with the New Testament gospel; the predicted Messiah of the Old Testament could not be the same Messiah of the New Testament.”
Consequently, Marcion removed the entire Old Testament and a good part of the books of the New Testament from the books of authority for Christians. Marcion’s drastic proposal is not an acceptable solution for understanding the Bible. Knowledge of the biblical message in its immediate literary context and the study of the history and culture in which the Bible was written are imperative in resolving many ambiguities of this kind. In addition, we must bear in mind that behind divine punitive actions, certain principles can be deduced from Scripture, such as:
- God does not act on an impulse, but only according to legislation;
- God reveals His expectations, informs, educates, and warns;
- God provides generous reconsideration time;
- Mankind continually and deliberately chooses to act contrary to divine instructions;
- God is not partisan, but has the same measure for all individuals;
- Whenever He destroys on a large scale, God saves those who accept escape (Noah, Lot, Rahab, the city of Gibeon).
Whether it is about pagan peoples or faithful people, like Moses or David, God has the same attitude towards mankind’s deviations. We should keep in mind that each of them sinned knowing well the divine laws and provisions. Even in the case of the flood (Genesis 5:5-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33) or the Canaanite peoples (Genesis 15:16), there was a time of grace and scrutiny from God and a premeditated decision on the part of people to oppose the divine will.
However, even the most vehement messages in the Old Testament have the role of warning and preventing reprehensible deeds rather than cruelly punishing transgressions. As an example, we can mention the cases of kings Ahab (1 Kings 21:27-29) and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12-13), who, although guilty of serious sins, were forgiven by God after they repented.
The Bible is not written as a manual in which we sequentially see hypotheses, evidence, and conclusions. Rather, it is a complex book, with some meanings that are immediately revealed to the reader, while others uncover their meaning in the tortuous unfolding of the narrative and the events described. The fact that, for millennia, it has been a source of knowledge for mankind, continuing to be relevant to contemporary people, proves that the Bible carries answers to questions that the individual cannot help asking himself.
Iosif Diaconu believes that the study of the Bible is fascinating, firstly, for what it teaches us and, secondly, because it helps us to give up what we erroneously believed about the Bible, its authors and its subjects.