Deprecate the Old Testament?

In my most recent post, I made a statement saying that I feel that the Old Testament should be deprecated.

Damian replied:

Although I wholeheartedly agree I’m interested to know how you would square this up with a mainstream Christian who’d see this as something akin to blasphemy. “All scripture is God-breathed”, etc, etc.

I decided to make this a post in itself, as I was getting lengthy in my comment reply and want a separate comment thread for this notion. Let me toss a little prophecy out here. When you begin to see Christians starting to adopt this view, it will mark the beginnings of a glorious reformation of Christianity itself as it transforms from a religion about Jesus into the religion of Jesus. New and improved, with a lot less woo.

So, how do I square up the idea of deprecating the Old Testament with mainstream Christian notions?

Assertion #1: As best we can accurately determine them, the things that Jesus himself talked about and the notions he personally presented are more important and/or contain a higher degree of truth than anything anybody else said, regardless of how divinely inspired they were. This can’t logically be refuted by anyone if they also believe that Jesus was a part of the Godhead and/or perfect.

Assertion #2: Jesus was repetitive and consistent across all the Gospels, including the “heretical” ones such as Thomas, in painting a portrait of God as a loving father. It is made very clear that we can imagine God as a loving father, and thereby know something about how God rolls.

Assertion #3: God’s nature is constant, the only thing that can change is our ability to understand, perceive, or visualize it. While #1 and #2 can’t be refuted by someone who calls themselves Christian, this one can. At this point, they simply claim that God changes his nature like we change our clothes, and we’re at gotta-agree-to-disagree-hey-want-another-beer time. So yeah, this is a weakness (unless you’re thirsty).

Anyway, if God can be described as having the characteristics of a loving father, as Jesus consistently did, and Jesus’ teachings take precedence over all other teachings, then the Old Testament’s portrait of a vengeful, jealous, and capricious God is denied. QEFD

Consider the laws, supposedly handed down from God, in Leviticus. When this is brought up, Christians will say something about how Jesus fulfilled the law and they don’t matter any more. For the moment, we’ll ignore the fact that there’s still a few cherry-picked laws there which fundamentalists vigorously insist continue to apply. That’s not the point. The point is that the God that Jesus described to us would have never made such laws to begin with. Sweep the temple, mix the dust with water, make your wife drink it, and if she gets sick she obviously has committed adultery. And should be stoned to death. No, screw you hippies, that’s a load of bullshit. God never said that shit. If he did, Jesus is a liar, and Jesus’ reliability was stipulated in assertion #1.

It is no coincidence that when fundamentalists wish to justify violating Jesus’ teachings or otherwise being an asshole, they quit quoting Jesus and start quoting from the Old Testament. When Christianity has committed various horrors over its history, you’ll note that the justifications have never been quotes from Jesus. At best they’re some misconception of Paul’s, but it all gets traced back to those obsoleted notions in the OT. But you never see quotes from da Man himself. In fact, in most cases, you see whatever action is being justified as being in direct and clear opposition to any relevant quotes you can scare up from Jesus.

Am I saying that the Old Testament is wholly worthless? No, that’d be stupid. There’s great stories in there, full of valuable lessons. It’s just that when selecting the lessons you take from it, you’ve gotta start skipping anything that is in conflict with the concept of God-as-a-loving-father. Trust me, they’re easy to spot. Continue to read, enjoy, and learn from it but keep in mind that it’s more a docudrama than it is a documentary. Starring Charlton Heston.

What I am saying is that people, well, Christians at least, should begin weaning themselves off of scripture that wouldn’t be printed in red in a red-letter edition of the Bible. Especially when they are trying to justify actions or opinions which demonstrably conflict with the notions that are written in red.

15 Responses to “Deprecate the Old Testament?”

  1. Lon Says:

    LOL. Me getting all high and mighty, and I typo-ed “Deprecate” in the title when I first posted. So, the Wordpress URL slug is “Depricate”, and that’s the way it went out when all the search engines got their notify.

    That there’s a lesson about prideful people being nailed in the Old Testament is a textbook definition of delicious irony.

    The question isn’t whether angels exist, it’s how many are snickering at me right now. What they don’t realize is that this time-space thing is trickier than it looks.

  2. Damian Peterson Says:

    Very good explanation - this is a version of Christianity I could come to like. It’s far less prone to, as you say, falling back on the horrors encouraged by the OT and would easily integrate into modern society. The core issues of spirituality that remain would continue to keep my from identifying myself as a Christian but I’d find it far easier to tell people I believe in many of the Christian principles.

    I’ve linked to this from a blog entry of my own where I express my contempt for the blatant cherry picking that goes on.

  3. Damian Peterson Says:

    Oh, I forgot to say: “Bring on the reformation!!!”

  4. Horace Says:

    Have you not heard of the dispensation of Grace? Ever since Jesus came, died, buried and rose from the dead we have been living in a period of Grace. God is giving man a second chance to spend eternity with Him. This is how we are saved, by Grace thru Faith. This means we should appreciate the times we are living in and thank God for this opportunity that thru His Son Jesus our sins are forgiven. Jesus’ words or actions does not discount the Old Testament. Jesus frequently quoted the Old Testament as a sign that prophecy is being fulfilled.

  5. Robert Says:

    “Anyway, if God can be described as having the characteristics of a loving father, as Jesus consistently did, and Jesus’ teachings take precedence over all other teachings, then the Old Testament’s portrait of a vengeful, jealous, and capricious God is denied.”

    That is sooo not true. Let’s see God the Father is God and Jesus is God. They cannot contradict one another or they would cease being God. Jesus clarified and corrected the religious thinking of the day. Some minor things were set aside (like what foods to eat).

    Tell me what fundamentalists are saying that would contradict Jesus? Homosexuality? Confirmed in the both the OT and NT as being bad. War? Christians are told they are under the governments they live under and to render obedience unless it contradicts the clear word or will of God. Jesus never says don’t join the Army and never go to war. So what are they contradicting?

  6. Byron Says:

    Ever since Jesus came, died, buried and rose from the dead we have been living in a period of Grace.
    Maybe George Romero should direct his own version of The Passion of the Christ.

  7. Lon Says:

    @Horace: Yes, I’ve heard of the dispensation of Grace, not that I’ve met many who truly know what it’s all about. That be what it may, I fail to see how our living in a period of Grace has to do with the topic of the post. And while I’d agree that we should indeed appreciate the time we have here, I’m going to have to take an issue with your statement that “Jesus frequently quoted from the Old Testament”. You need to justify that statement, and show where any quotes from the OT were 1) frequent, and 2) used as the basis for something he was teaching.

    @Robert: I will agree that God and Jesus don’t contradict each other when one has a proper understanding. This is my main point, actually, in that it doesn’t take a very high intelligence to see that the God that Jesus taught about does indeed contradict the picture of God presented in the Old Testament. One seriously has to do some outrageous logical contortions to attempt to justify the two. That the Bible excels at contradicting itself (assuming one believes that it is of all equal weight and interpretation) makes it clear that human error has crept into it somewhere. Choose to continue to follow the God of the Jews if you wish, but as for me, I’ll stick to the God that Jesus spoke of.

    You mention homosexuality as being confirmed both in the OT and NT as being bad. But had you understood my post, you would realize that I was arguing not from the point of view of OT vs. NT, but from the teachings of Jesus versus everything else. None of Jesus’ teachings support “fundamentalist” attitudes towards homosexuals; his teachings are clearly quite the opposite.

    And while Jesus did indeed say “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”, I’d point out that it is quite debatable that “obedience” is something that is automatically due one’s government. Your misrepresentation indicates not only bias, but is precisely the same kind of logic games the Pharisees in that very story were using to attempt to ensnare Jesus. Regardless, let us use your own definition, which included the words “…unless it contradicts the clear word or will of God”. Which is precisely what war does. Jesus taught that the will of God was that we should love each other as we loved ourselves, and that when faced with evil, we should not resort to the same thing in order to fight it.

    I do, however, agree that Jesus “clarified and corrected the religious thinking of the day”. I further state that giving full, undistracted attention to his teachings could clarify and correct religious thinking today, something that would be wholly unnecessary if so-called Christianity was actually based in his actual teachings rather than a bunch of stuff he never taught which was decided upon by majority vote of a mercenary committee convened in 325CE.

  8. Joel Says:

    What are you saying? I suppose I can understand where you are coming from… but I have no idea where you are going.

    Do you for some reason think that hundreds of years worth of Christian apologists have just been side-swiped by this novel idea of deprecating the OT? The Old Testament is really just a vestigial collection of semi-historical oral histories that have about as much application to our lives as, say, a fable of Aesop?

    It might be beneficial, then, since you believe that any ’scripture that wouldn’t be printed in red in a red-letter edition of the Bible’ is suspect, to read some of Jesus’ own words:

    “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

    You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

    Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.

    Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

    Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

    For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

    Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:13-20 (NASB)

    Now, either you believe that Jesus meant what He said there, or you believe he He didn’t. I don’t think this one was a parable. I don’t even think there ought to be an argument about this.

  9. Lon Says:

    Joel -
    Do you for some reason think that hundreds of years worth of Christian apologists have just been side-swiped by this novel idea of deprecating the OT?

    Of course not. Christian apologists will quite happily condemn me as a heretic, as they do anyone who dares proclaim that the teachings of Jesus are collectively more important than Christian doctrines which aren’t based in same. As to be expected, really, since they’d all be out of a job (or hobby) if Jesus’ teachings were the basis of Christianity. Those teachings need little or no apology or defense; it’s not until you start tossing in Christian doctrines that Jesus never mentioned that inconsistencies and the need for “apologists” make their appearance. As for who is the heretic, given that I’m insisting on the primacy of Jesus’ teachings while the apologists insist on the primacy of Christian doctrine, I feel that Mt 5:11 applies.

    The Old Testament is really just a vestigial collection of semi-historical oral histories that have about as much application to our lives as, say, a fable of Aesop?

    That sounds about right, although with a few notable exceptions, I’d say that that’s being generous. The OT finds its basis in the previously-existing, demonstrably inferior religion of the Jews, and the difficulty in its use is revealed in how few times Jesus quoted from it when making his points. The difference between the OT and Aesop’s Fables is that you don’t have to throw away a third of the fables just to avoid offending one’s God-given reason.

    As for the excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, I’ll just say this: I find it interesting that Christians use Mt 5:17 to justify abandoning parts of the Law that they don’t care for, saying “the Law has been fulfilled”, but then turn around and use Mt 5:18-19 to justify themselves when they wish to insist that some cherry-picked part of that Law still applies. I also find it interesting that so many insist on a literal interpretation of those verses start making excuses real quick as they continue to read the rest of that particular discourse, which includes things like not resisting evil, not leaving one’s wife, casting judgment upon others, and not worrying about the future.

    And of course one would need to have righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees since they were the ones who fanatically held to a literal interpretation of the scriptural Law. Holding to many of those laws is quite obviously unrighteous.

    Although, I will agree that I don’t think there should even be an argument about this. One can believe that God’s relationship to us is that of a loving father, a portrait that Jesus himself consistently painted, or you can believe in the doctrines of Christianity. The two can’t be reconciled.

  10. Brandon Hammonds Says:

    Hi, Lon! I’m always thrilled to find the ever-so-rare intelligent life form within Christianity. Bookmarked, subscribed.

    Very, very well said. As a twenty-something recovering from fundamentalism, these are the issues that I have been struggling with for a while now.

    Just found your site (via reddit), so I’m looking forward to reading some more of your stuff. You may be interested in some of my recent posts as well

    Take care, keep writing.

  11. Lon Says:

    @Brandon: Glad you’re enjoying my blog, and I’m glad to hear that you’ve escaped fundamentalism with your spiritual leanings intact. All too often, the insanity of conservative orthodox Christianity pushes the pendulum too far the other way resulting in a evangelical and fundamentalist type of atheism It’s kind of funny…as much as I say that some Christians give other believers in Jesus a bad name, most of the atheists I’ve seen on the internet and in popular media give atheism a bad name. Most Christians I actually know in real life aren’t nearly as screwed in the head as the popular conception of Christians, and the same applies with atheism. There’s a number of atheists who I number amongst my closest friends, and not a one of ‘em is as freaky as the ones I see daily on the internet. But don’t tell them that, I wouldn’t want to impair our constant arguments about God/NoGod. *grin*

    Anyway, as I said, glad you’re enjoying the blog. And congratulations on your recent marriage. Don’t know anything about her other than she’s a hottie. :) May the two of you be blessed in your life together. And if you have any issues you’re seriously struggling with, feel free to ask….all my friends will tell you that I’m not ever shy about tossing in my opinion. lol

  12. Felix Says:

    So, I’ll pose the question of what do we cut out, and what do we keep? And why do we cut out certain parts, but not others? Are we doing this to ‘cherry pick’ what we like and what we don’t? Why not deprecate the New Testament as well? Just cut out what we don’t like or think relevant here and there.

    Sorry God. Although you’re all knowing, everywhere, and all powerful–you obviously didn’t know what you were doing when you inspired people to write scripture. We know better than you.

  13. Michael Says:

    Christendom is so fractured and splintered that really it seems that many of the ultra-puritanical Christians really don’t know what to do with the old testament. There is a very pick and choose/use logic sort of mentality. Some say that this or that OT law or ideology is reinstated by this or that NT example. Really the “conservative reformers” of the church had it right. An understanding of the entire Christian doctrine is based on the proper distinction of law and gospel, which I will add is something completely different than a division of the old and new testaments. The law acts as a “curb, a rule and a mirror.” The gospel is the transforming message of grace. Both involve love and righteousness. One is the measure which we must and cannot attain. The latter is the gift which makes us worthy anyway. I don’t think there is a OT/NT discrepancy as to the nature of God. I think there is a paradoxical hint as to the “everythingness” of God. Without Jesus, we seem to have this big bad dude of a God. Jesus is the insight as to the nature of God, not the negation of a previous nature of God. There is law and gospel in both OT and NT. The NT contains the revelation of the gospel message that is necessary to fully understand the OT. The gospel message of Jesus is a lens through which we must view the OT or else really it seems that the OT offers us a nasty God.

  14. Lon Says:

    @Felix: I really have to wonder if you read the post with any degree of comprehension. I thought I was fairly clear in saying that the parts that need to be skipped are the parts which are in direct conflict with Jesus’ teachings. You know, the idea of a loving father. Loving one’s enemies. Turning the other cheek. When Elisha cursed the 42 children in the name of the Lord who then caused two bears to kill them all, was he following the same Lord that Jesus spoke of? And if he was, would the Lord that Jesus spoke of killed all those kids just for calling Elisha bald? If you believe Jesus’ teachings, there’s no possible way you can believe that Elisha was a “man of the Lord”, or that God had anything whatsoever to do with those bears killing those kids.

    @Michael: I appreciate the comment, but it doesn’t really clear anything up for me. I can buy that the Gospels are a lens through which we can view the OT and gain understanding. Unfortunately, the understanding thus gained is that the OT is full of outright lies, or, at minimum, if it was written by inspired men, those men failed pretty badly at receiving inspiration.

  15. Mickey Says:

    Quoted from

    Those who see as Christ saw and speak as He speaks, know and speak the truth. They no longer think as men.

    They discard all the views once held which conflict with the testimony of Jesus. It means that what they thought they saw God doing in the Old Testament, must be exchanged for another and different view, the new one coinciding with the revelation of God as given by His Son during His earthly ministry.

    In reality, it is to say that the life and teachings of Christ are the measure by which every notion about God must be tested. Any view of God the Father, no matter how logical or long-standing it may be, which in any way differs from the ways of Christ, is to be discarded as error.

    This must be done even though at first it is impossible to see where it actually is in error. Those who do this will assuredly have correct views of the character and ways of God. This will, in turn, bring blessing and benefit beyond estimate.