The God of the Old Testament: An Analysis of Wrath, Justice, Mercy, and Love

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The “unpopular” part of the Bible.

A lot of people today don’t seem to like the Old Testament. Even among Catholics, a pretty hostile attitude seems to hang around this sizable part of the Bible. In this course, Professor Paul V. Niskanen takes a closer look at the Old Testament and the God it reveals, clearing away a lot of the darkness and false rumors to find out what the text is actually saying, and why it’s so highly regarded in the Catholic tradition.

The Bible is not just a history book.

It’s important to remember that the Bible is not a history book. It contains history, but the Old Testament is not only concerned with relating literal historical events. Truth is conveyed in a lot of different ways. For example, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, you could ask if it really happened in that exact way—but is that really the point of the story? Of course not. Many genres exist in the Old Testament, including poetry, that are designed to make a point and teach a specific lesson. Truth—including transcendent truth—is not limited to the historical.
A much more important part of the Bible than we may think.

It might come as a bit of a surprise to us today, but the first Christian Bibles did not include the New Testament, and Paul wrote its first books as late as 50 AD. It goes to show you how important the Old Testament is, since the Church has never existed without it. The Church has always kept these ancient books in the official canon of Scriptures. Against popular belief, the Old Testament God and the New Testament God are not two different deities—many people today think that the Old God is full of anger, wrath, and vengeance, while the New God is all about love and warm feelings. It’s a common misconception, and one that Professor Niskanen addresses in this course.

Discontinuity or Continuity?

There are two main ways of looking at the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, which are discontinuity and continuity.

- Discontinuity: The two Testaments have nothing to do with each other. 
- Continuity: The two works are compatible. This is the position that the Catholic Church holds. 

Jesus himself emphasized the continuity of the two parts of the Bible in the Sermon on the Mount, when he affirmed that his mission was to fulfill the law and the prophets—not to abolish them. In fact, the phrase “God of the Old Testament” is a bit misleading, since the same God has revealed himself through both Testaments. Salvation history—the big picture—is only complete when you have all the pieces, and that’s why the Church has the Old and New Testaments together in one Bible.

Develop a proper understanding of the Old Testament.

Professor Niskanen will help you understand the Old Testament in the light of the Christian faith. In doing so, you will not only gain better knowledge of the Bible, from both historical and literary perspectives, but also grow deeper in your spiritual life as you come to know the truths that the Old Testament holds.


  1. Ancient Wisdom within the Old Testament
  2. Study a brief overview of how Catholics should read the Bible. What are some of the most common errors in reading Sacred Scripture among evangelicals and Catholics alike?
  3. A Guide to Reading The Word of God
  4. Discuss the three most common ways to read Sacred Scripture: literalist, liberal, and the "Catholic" way. Like most things, the truth lies in moderation between the two extremes. Learn how essential it is to take attributes from both the literalist and the liberal ways of biblical interpretation to discover the fullest truth of the Catholic interpretation.
  5. The Rich Theology in the Book of Genesis
  6. Study some of the most relevant texts of the Old Testament. Consider the saints' interpretations of the Old Testament through viewing their works and the works of the Old Testament itself. Which Old Testament views were worthy of sanctity?
  7. The Name of God
  8. In the Old Testament, there is a history of emphasis on names. Names would express a person's essence or who they were. With this in mind, God's name should be considered no less than the height of importance.
  9. Understanding the Covenant Concept
  10. How does God relate to, have relationships, and communicate with His people in the Old Testament? Consider the strong presence of covenants and how they are the foundation for our ongoing relationship with Christ in the New Testament.
  11. God’s Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant
  12. The Old Testament portrays various aspects of God's love for His people. Dr. Niskanen illuminates examples of God's faithful love for His people as exemplified by the Davidic Covenant.
  13. The Love of God within the Old Testament
  14. Discuss relevant examples of God's passionate love for His people in the Old Testament through study and contemplation of the prolific writings. Rediscover Christ's burning love for the Church and His people.
  15. The Compassion of God within the Old Testament
  16. Symbolism and liturgy are often and rightly used in the Catholic interpretation of Sacred Scripture. After this in-depth study of the Old Testament, reconsider our first lecture, in which we discussed frequent mistakes in biblical interpretation and how faithful Catholics should consider Sacred Scripture, especially the Old Testament.

Lecture Sample



Meet Your Professor

Your professor for this course is Paul Niskanen.  Professor Niskanen received his Bachelor of Arts in French and Religious Studies from Seattle University, his S.T.B. from the Pontifical University Teresianum in Rome, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California.  He is currently an assistant professor of Theology for the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Professor Niskanen’s publications include, “The Human and the Divine in History: Herodotus and the Book of Daniel,” “Ezekiel, Daniel,” “Yhwh as Father, Redeemer, and Potter in Isaiah 63:7—64:11,” “Kingdoms, Dominions, and the Reign of God in the Book of Daniel,” “Daniel’s Portrait of Antiochus IV: Echoes of a Persian King” and “The Last Words of Jesus.”

He has given many presentations, of which some include, “Agents of God’s Kingdom,” “The Kingdom of God in the Book of Daniel,” “Historical and Literary Reflections on Daniel 11,” “The Death of Antiochus IV in the Book of Daniel,” and “Daniel and Herodotus.”

Professor Niskanen is also a professional member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America as well as the Society of Biblical Literature.


Homeschooling Products

The Homeschooling Set includes the Streaming Video and Homeschooling Course Guide. Each Course Guide contains everything needed for a student to complete the course, including:

  1. Lesson Plan
  2. Quizzes
  3. Final Essay
  4. Lecture Notes
  5. Answer Key


Paul V. Niskanen, PhD
TAN Courses
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