Back in the day, when the early Church first came to faith in Jesus as Messiah but still relied entirely on the Hebrew Scriptures as their only ‘Bible,’ gospel preaching focused on the myriad of texts fulfilled in Christ. They saw Jesus everywhere in what would become the Christian ‘Old Testament.’ Indeed, we read how Jesus himself perceived His life as woven across the whole fabric of Jewish narrative, hymnology, and prophecy (Luke 24:13-35). For decades, the continuity between the Jewish narrative and the Christian revelation was a continuous wonder of discoveries.
But by the end of the first century, believers were also noticing some disturbing discontinuities as well. They noted the disparity between the image of the Father revealed in Christ with the violent images, actions, laws and judgments associated with Yahweh on display throughout the Law, the Writings and the Prophets. It seemed impossible that the God whom Jesus called Father could be responsible for the pattern of hatred and atrocity often described in the text and ascribed to His name.
The issue was so acute that potential solutions triggered schism. Believers attempted three major contrary approaches. The Gnostics preserved the perfection of the Creator God by assigning OT destruction and retribution to lesser gods and demiurges—distortions of God’s will. They included Yahweh among this secondary, violent company. Others, like the Marcionites, could not bear the discontinuity and ultimately abandoned the OT altogether as sub-Christian and unfit for continued use as authoritative Scripture in the Church.
The Church fathers and mothers who represent orthodox Christian belief rigorously rejected these answers … but they did not ignore the question. They only came to peace with the Hebrew text by nodding to its literal origins but interpreting its meaning spiritually or allegorically. Origen systematized this hermeneutic, but he really represents the standard approach of the early scholars en masse. Spiritualizing the Bible was deemed necessary in light of the obvious (to them) discrepancy between God as “the man of war” (Exodus 15:3) and Jesus as “the Prince of Peace.” Up until the Imperial reign of the Holy Roman Empire, the great conquests texts of the Bible stood as real contradictions to the Cross of Christ unless interpreted figuratively as our spiritual battle with a spiritual enemy, a la Ephesians 6.