I suspect most Christians would agree that there are portions of the Old Testament that are so culturally foreign, disturbing and/or confusing that they resist easy incorporation into our Christian worldview. And, any person or church that demands we ignore these issues either lacks the confidence or intellectual honesty necessary to pursue a robust, deep Christian faith.
However, once we admit the existence of these difficulties the nature of the next step is critical. In some cases that next step is to diminish or even disqualify the Old Testament as God’s Word. This error can be seen in some churches who designate themselves as “New Testament,” thus implicitly disassociating themselves from the Old Testament. We also see this error in churches where they make an erroneous distinction between the New Testament of “love and grace” and the Old Testament of “violence and judgement,” thereby diminishing the authority of the Old Testament.
In both cases the apparent goal is to sever the connection between Old and New Testaments, leaving only the teaching of the New as authoritatively Christian. However, it is only by Biblical ignorance and/or theological dishonesty that these strategies prosper.
When Jesus mentioned the Scriptures He was talking about the Old Testament that had existed as God’s written Word for centuries within the Jewish community. He treated Scripture (Old Testament) as God’s authoritative Word. He quoted and accepted as true Old Testament books from Genesis to the Minor Prophets. Yes in some cases He corrected the contemporary interpretation of the Old Testament, but there is no doubt that He accepted it to be Scripture.
Although the above argument may be affirmed, there is sometimes the lingering assumption that by focusing only on Jesus’ teaching we can avoid the difficulties found in the Old Testament. In particular, it is assumed that “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” has preserved only the Old Testament’s parts that conform to the contemporary virtues of inclusiveness, non-violence and non-judgement. For starters two examples may suffice to make the point.
- Jesus affirmed Old Testament passages that teach exclusiveness (e.g., marriage is between a man and a woman, see Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6).
- Jesus used Old Testament stories about God’s past violent judgement (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:1-29; Matthew 10:15, Luke 10:12; 17:29) to illuminate His future judgement.
So, yes we can affirm that there are parts of the Old (and New) Testament that are confusing and/or disturbing. These passages must not be “written out” of the Bible nor used to discredit the Testament. In most cases we can attain reliable resolution of these issues. For those cases where explanations elude us we must yet trust that God has placed them in His Word for our good.