There’s a new book out that suggests the reason American politics is “so religious and divisive” is because our forefathers were guided more by the Old Testament than the New Testament.
The book is called “American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War” by Eran Shalev.
While it is certainly true that America’s founders were literate in the Old Testament, many of them able to read the scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, with some making a daily practice of it, I can also assure you that they were equally familiar with the New Testament.
Then there is another important question to consider with regard to this theory: What difference would it make?
There is no contradiction between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In fact, every one of Jesus’ teachings – along with those of His first-century disciples – were exclusively out of the Old Testament, for the simple reason that there was no New Testament.
On the road to Emmaus on the very day Jesus first appeared to His disciples, two of them were taught by the risen Messiah out of the Old Testament Scriptures, referred to in Hebrew as the Tanach. They were the only Scriptures Jesus ever taught from throughout His earthly ministry.
Did America’s founders take the Old Testament seriously? Indeed they did. And why not? As believers in Jesus like to say, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
One cannot truly appreciate the New Testament without an understanding of the Old Testament. It lays the groundwork for the redemption Jesus brought.
It’s hardly a revelation, as Shalev writes, that the Puritans “saw themselves as Israelites fleeing a new Egyptian captivity, crossing a sea to reach freedom and taking possession of a promised land.”
The central divide for Shalev is the slavery issue, with opponents of slavery using the Bible to make their case and proponents using it as a justification for the practice.
But nowhere in the Bible – Old Testament or New – was the kind of slavery practiced in the pre-Civil War era condoned. In fact, what is referred to as slavery in the Bible is much more akin to indentured servitude than the brutal slavery of the early U.S.
Now, I don’t like indentured servitude, either. But there are clear vestiges of it alive and well still in the U.S. today. Those of us forced to pay close to 50 percent of our earnings to the government know what I’m talking about.
The God of the Bible never asked for more than 10 percent – and even that had strict limitations on it.
Abolitionists were fond of quoting Jesus in Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” But this was hardly a new teaching by Jesus, who concluded that familiar statement with the following: “for this is the law and the prophets.”
Indeed it was:
- Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
- Jeremiah 22:3: “Thus saith the Lord; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.”
- Zechariah 7:9-10: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”
- Psalm 82:3-4: “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.”
- Leviticus 19:18: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.”
While it’s true that America is not a reincarnated version of ancient Israel, both nations were founded on the teachings of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I can think of no other in the history of the world that was.
But that is both a blessing and a curse. Israel was judged for not living up to those teachings. America will be, too.
There seems to be a disconnect among many Christians and non-Christians alike that suggests the Bible is comprised of two very different sets of teachings – one in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament. Nothing could be further from the truth. Together they represent an integrated message with no contradictions. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Shalev claims that before 1800, Christianity in America was not “a Jesus faith.” He suggests it is hard to imagine now. It certainly is. It would require quite an imagination. America was founded with a colonial slogan, “No king but King Jesus.”
The 18th-century Founding Fathers were well-acquainted with the New Testament. The only difference between them and today’s believers is they were fully immersed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament – recognizing they are inseparable and that the New Testament cannot be fully appreciated without its predecessor.