Religious Tolerance in the Old and the New Testaments

© Domenic Marbaniang, January 10, 2008.

The Old Testament idea of religious nationalism is deeply based on God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel. The nation of Israel is seen as existing because of God’s covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. Instances of religious intolerance find explanation in God’s relation to Israel as a husband’s to his wife. As infidelity in marriage is intolerable, so is infidelity in religion. The covenant relationship, however, required wilful commitment.

The New Testament, however, sees this in a different light. Religion is more an individual issue than a social one. The religious individual world is separated from the political world. Jesus differentiated between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God (Jn. 18: 36). The kingdom of this world is influenced by the god of this world, who is Satan (2 Cor. 4: 4). The world, therefore, is blind towards the gospel and is unable to recognize the lordship of Christ (1 Jn. 3:1). At the same time, political authority is to be understood as given by God Himself (Rom. 13:1, 2). This reiterates the revelation in Daniel that ‘the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.’ (Dan. 4: 17). There seems to be a paradox here. If God controls world politics then how does the devil bear the sceptre? The answer will be evident once the right meaning of ‘world’ is understood as sinful humanity (except in cases where it refers to the natural world). The devil rules over sinful humanity (Eph. 2:2) and wherever politics is pervaded by unjust laws or law enforcers, the sceptre of the devil is visible. However, the devil cannot supercede God in wisdom and power. Thus, the rule of devil is visible wherever falsehood and lawlessness exist. However, the rule of God as terror to evil works (Rom. 13: 3) is what makes justice possible in this world. Obviously, God’s use of rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus against evil-infested kingdoms shows the overarching power of God over all political world. In the New Testament, the kingdom of Israel as a theocratic kingdom in this world is replaced by the more comprehensive concept of the kingdom of God. The obsession with national politics is consumed by the passion for the spiritual kingdom. The church of Christ is seen as transcending all national, ethnic, and linguistic barriers. As such, religious intolerance as a carnal and political practice is not admitted.

Further, the Bible makes it very clear that true spirituality is what God seeks (Jn. 4:23). This can only come from ones grasp of truth and wilful allegiance to it. This respects the freedom of conscience.

© Domenic Marbaniang, January 10, 2008.


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