Scripture proclaims that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13). Scripture establishes God as immutable (Mal 3). I believe this but have some questions and theories for which I seek critique.
From the time God chose Israel, He governed the nation with different promises or covenants. How is human development similar to God’s covenants with his people over time?
When a child is young, she needs hands-on nurturing, a very present parent. She also needs rules–lots of rules. Rebellion must be met with consistent consequences, otherwise a whole life might be derailed from childhood or adolescence. Later in life, she is more wise and is granted more grace. With this grace comes expectation of goodness.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Agreed. However, how can I defend Father God as immutable when his covenants with his people prior to sending his Son were very different from the New Covenant? Why didn’t he spill the beans (and grace) a little faster? Do we need more hope now than our Jewish predecessors had before Christ? Is the child analogy above relevant to this point (ie, well, you couldn’t handle that then)? How is his character really the same from the days of Moses to today?
Related question: Acknowledging Jesus as the promised Messiah and the NT as his inspired word means acknowledging Torah as the first Word, prophets added later, then NT added as fulfillment of prophecy. God is writing his story, a progressive revelation (much like the individual life story analogy above). This leaves the Bible arguably open-ended. The NT ends with prophecy, as does the OT. How can I defend my Christian faith against the “one-uppers” such as LDS that want to bring another prophecy into the Holy Bible. I struggle to defend the bible as not-open ended. True, Jesus’ return will be hard to mistake, but Jesus’ birth was prophesied long before Malachi, which concludes the NT.
@brschilling Great questions! Regarding your first question, God’s immutability is in reference to His character. While God has worked in different ways with mankind throughout salvation history, His character has not changed. The Old Covenant was God’s way of engaging with a particular people at a particular time and place in an effort to use them as a light in a world of terrible violence, rampant idolatry and even human sacrifice.
If you think of God as a missionary to humanity, what does a good missionary do? They study the culture to which they are going and then communicate the Gospel in a way comprehensible to that culture. God, who is sovereign over all nations and knows the hearts of all mankind, established His covenants at the right times and right places in order that people might know Him.
We might ask - why did God not spill the beans on grace earlier? Or - why has God not gotten the Gospel to every people group yet? With such questions, I believe we can rest assured that God’s judgment is just because of the character of Christ, who is the fullest revelation of God.
Now, why might have God chosen to wait until the time of the Romans to establish the New Covenant? I don’t think we can know, but let’s do a thought experiment on some possible reasons.
Jesus fulfilled the role of prophet, priest and King - He is our Passover Lamb. As Hebrews points out, the Old Covenant was a shadow of Christ - a type that helps us understand Jesus. Without the Old Covenant, we would not have all of these rich images for understanding who Jesus is… Perhaps without these events we would not have had the proper mental framework for understanding Christ.
the Pax Romana established good conditions for spreading the Gospel - a road system and a common language
Christ came prior to the industrial revolution and spread of world empires, allowing the Gospel to go forward with these events
what other reasons can you think of???
In summary, here are some points to consider and another thread to check out:
The Old Covenant was given at a different time and in a different culture, but by the same God
Jesus entered the stage of history at the appointed time
God prophesied in Daniel about the rise and fall of four empires, culminating with Rome, during which God would establish His Kingdom
God has a plan for the nations
God will judge justly
Acts 17:26-27 - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
Galatians 4:4-5 - But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
The One-Upper’s Dilemma - It is written
Any sect that seeks to add new revelation to Scripture encounters a dilemma. Simply stated, no new event or prophetic claim can change what has already been written, so no true word from God could contradict what has been written previously. When Jesus was tempted by the satan, He continually said it is written and then quoted Deuteronomy. And the words of the apostles clearly testify that no other Gospel is from God - even if delivered by an angel, which is the claim made by both Islam and Mormonism.
In fact, the one-upper’s recognize this problem, and therefore attack the Scriptures. For example, in Islam the claim is made that the New Testament has been corrupted. In the video below Nabeel Qureshi and David Wood respond to this argument.
2 Peter 1:19-21 - We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 1:6-9 - I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Other sects seek to reinterpret what has already been written. In fact, most of those who seek to replace Scripture begin by first attacking either its interpretation or its reliability or both, which is why it is critical to understand why Scripture is trustworthy.
Here is a classic book on the trustworthiness of the canon.
Here are some resources for sharing Christ with Mormon missionaries.