Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fun questions -- two more OT themes that muddy the waters

Thank you to everyone who's participated in the comments section so far in this series of posts on atonement, grace and other biblical themes. The questions alone have given me enough material to study and write much more sometime. For now, here's a quick look at two more interesting themes that jump out as you read through the Old Testament:

1) The result of obeying God was to be blessed on earth (family wealth, national military strength, eras of peace, etc...). The afterlife is a concept completely absent from the Old Testament.
2) The relationship with God was a national thing, not a personal thing. The consequences of following or not following God (#1) brought consequences that affected everybody.

I purposely tried to phrase those things positively, but I could just as easily state them another way:

1) It wasn't about heaven
2) It wasn't about the individual

And yet in most churches today, what do we hear?

1) It's all about heaven
2) It's all about your personal relationship with Jesus/God

I'm not going to cite lots of scripture for this one, since it's almost impossible to choose. The entire OT is full of these two themes -- divine principles play out right here and now, and we all share in the results.

What do you think?


Andrew said...

The only thing that I would add is that I think those themes follow through the NT for the most part too. We tend to want to persoanlize and heavenize a lot of the NT (not that those parts don't exist). I think in doing so we get inverted priorities.

Bob said...

I am reading through the Bible this year, which includes an OT and NT reading each day. I am only at Leviticus in the OT and Mark in the New. As I stated in one of my blog posts, I have been struck by how it is so much a story and I couldn't agree more about the themes in the OT that you have stated. But as I read through the Gospels, I sense so much the compassion of Jesus and how He does in fact invite us into a relationship with Him -- indeed, the fulfillment of the Law. And there are direct references to eternal life, as well as a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." I'm not at all convinced what that means and do not necessarily advocate a literal interpretation -- but it is there.

Great info here. I appreciate your research and observations and look forward to future discussion.

Logan said...

I'm in total agreement, and for what its worth most Biblical scholars-both orthodox and heretic-seem to agree on these points. The afterlife is referenced vaguely a few times in the OT, but it clearly wasn't a major concept.

I think a lot of people don't realize how temporal the bulk of the Bible is. There is still debate as to whether or not humans have an immortal soul and experience an afterlife immediately upon death (I should as to what the Bible teaches on the subject).

Regardless I think the core teaching of the Bible is about this life-and no matter what happens after death or after-after death, this life still matters. The message Jesus gave was about a more abundant life here, with the hope that such a life would carry on into eternity. Can I get an amen? :)

Debby said...

Ah! Come on, Redlefty! I'm still processing the last batch of questions. I actually had a discussion today that I thought perhaps that a preoccupation/obsession with our own sins blocked us from a close relationship with God because of our shame and guilt. Perhaps God came to earth as Jesus to teach us that God loved us despite this sin and that he wanted a close relationship with us anyways. (I've really been thinking about that post a lot. People looked at me like I'd grown two heads.

Don said...

You are, of course, correct in your assessment of the OT. At least IMHO. I think we, as Christians, have made the OT say many things which you have found it obviously does not say. I feel that many of us are "seeing" with "new eyes". I am sure that makes a world of difference. We as "occidentals" will never view the OT correctly until we are willing to look at it from an "oriental" viewpoint as well as a Jewish mindset. That is a very difficult thing to do.

Redlefty said...


That's exactly why I had "muddy the waters" in this blog title! :)


You're going right where my next post is...

Anonymous said...

Hmmm something else to think about as I work my way through Deuteronomy and the rest of the Bible. But then I'm thinking about a lot of things Biblical these days.

Steve H. said...

The OT focus (mainly) is God calling a nation to be His people and, as C.S. Lewis would say, "Driving into their heads the kind of God he is". Through them, the world was to be blessed. In the NT, there is more of a focus on the individual because now, through Christ, the individual (who can now be a priest) has access to God.

I think the underlying issue being addressed in your post (and by the comments) is a desire to bring balance to the focus of evangelicalism which has been to put individual and afterlife issues ahead of corporate and present life ones.

This can be positive if brought into balance, but I am seeing alot of substituting of eternal issues at the expense of temporal ones. In the long run that won't do anyone any good.

Redlefty said...


You explained my intent beautifully. I have no interest in urging churches to move from one extreme to the other. It is a matter of balance, of holding multiple, seemingly-mutually-exclusive biblical concepts in our hearts and minds simultaneously.

It's an admission that neither God, nor the bible, fit neatly into any of the interpretatvie boxes I've tried to push them into.

Steve H. said...

I'm with you Michael, I'm all about balance these days on the issues that the Bible seems to care about. Since there are directives to "feed the poor" AND "preach the gospel" it might be a good idea not to embrace one and ignore the other.

Thanks for some good posts!

BTW, my wife and I are going through a free iTunes OT survey class from Concordia seminary. Its been insightful and fun to watch together. I think just about any academic discipline is now available free on iTunes :)

Tit for Tat said...

1) It wasn't about heaven
2) It wasn't about the individual

And yet in most churches today, what do we hear?

1) It's all about heaven
2) It's all about your personal relationship with Jesus/God

Well, you see, there is a simple explanation for that. The Old Testament is JEWISH, the New Testament is NOT. I am still amazed how Christians cannot see that they actually hijacked another groups spiritual books and not necessarily for the better.