crucifixion of the warrior god

Crucifixion of the Warrior God, by Gregory A. Boyd – Review Part 4 (on Joshua)

[This is pt 4 of a 4 part review. See here for part 1, part 2, and part 3]

Crucifixion of the warrior God - CoverMy review of Crucifixion of the Warrior God focused thus far on Boyd’s overarching approach to the problem of violence in the Old Testament. The review has been selective, but identified what I consider several large-scale opportunities and problems with his approach.

In this final review post, I focus on Boyd’s approach to the book of Joshua. Often considered the crux interpretum for anyone attempting to wrestle with the problem of violence, I felt it important to see how he actually reads this portion of Scripture, and whether his ‘cruciform thesis’ provides a way forward.

Reading Joshua

After reviewing and critiquing Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? and finding it unsatisfactory (rightly, in my view, pp. 917-960), Boyd turns to his alternative cruciform approach to Joshua. To restate the problem Boyd sees: The story of divinely mandated merciless slaughter of men, women, children, and animals is incommensurate with the portrait of Jesus’ non-violent response to his enemies and his command that his followers treat enemies the same.

Boyd’s primary thesis regarding Joshua is that God originally gave a non-violent promise to Israel that he would gradually displace the Canaanites. We’ll call that ‘Plan A.’ This promise was subsequently mis-interpreted (perhaps willingly) as a command to violently exterminate the Cnaanites. We’ll call that ‘Plan B.’

Plan A: Non-Violent Displacement

There is ample biblical support for Plan A. Note the following example:

‘I will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you … little by little’ (Exod 23:20-33).

Other texts in the Pentateuch, and even Joshua, repeat the idea that Yahweh would gradually displace the Canaanite population before the Israelites (Exod 33:2; 34:11; Lev 22:23; Num 32:21-22; Deut 4:38; Josh 24:11-12). And no text suggests that the gradual displacement would be an alternative if a Blitzkrieg slaughter failed. Instead, the Pentateuch repeatedly suggests that the conquest would involve forced resettlement. Moreover, Yahweh alone would drive the Canaanites out by making the land inhospitable to them such that it ‘vomits’ them out (Lev 18:24-25).

Boyd suggests that this earlier plan was both non-violent and Yahweh’s ideal (p. 971). He considers this part of the story a ‘direct’ revelation because it coheres with the image of Jesus’ non-violent response to enemies on the cross.

Plan B: ‘Giving the Canaanites Over’ to Israelite Violence

However, as often occurs, the people didn’t hear or heed what Yahweh commanded. Instead, they adopted a ‘culturally conditioned assumption’ that Yahweh wanted them to acquire the land through violence (p. 973). Thus the claim that God told them to ‘eliminate’ the Canaanites ‘all at once’ (Deut 7:22), which appears to flatly contradict the idea of God displacing the Canaanites ‘little by little’ (Exod 20:33). This extermination plan is an indirect revelation, since it is both culturally conditioned and not what God said.

The cross, for Boyd, not only guides our choice of what constitutes a direct revelation (Plan A) vs. an indirect revelation (Plan B); it also gives us a specific indication of ‘what else is going on.’

Here we return to Boyd’s idea that when faced with a text that does not cohere with the non-violence of the cross, we must nevertheless treat such texts as revelations of ‘something else’ that the text only hints at. In other words, the interpreter is to reconstruct from Plan B-type texts a scenario that looks like the cross.

Thus with confidence Boyd hypothesizes that the Israelites distorted Yahweh’s initial word—his Plan A. Like Jesus’ disciples, Moses and the Israelites listened selectively to Yahweh’s commands, opting for violence. They then ‘conceive[d] of God along the lines of a typical ANE warrior deity’ (p. 980). Whereas God had originally planned to displace the Canaanites non-violently, now via Plan B God gives them over to Israelite violence by withdrawing his protective presence. The story of Joshua preserves traces of both plans.


In Boyd’s ‘what’s really going on’ scenario, he attempts to stick as close as possible to the biblical text. I appreciated this dimension of his work, as well as his close reading of Brueggemann on Joshua 11 (see pp. 986-1002). Several aspects of his thesis deserve attention here.

For Boyd, Plan A reflects ‘what we would expect’ a cruciform hermeneutic to yield. A non-violent displacement of Canaanites squares with Jesus’ non-violent treatment of his enemies. In this story of displacement, we discern the Spirit ‘breaking through’ and bearing witness to the way of the cross.

Displacement is Not Non-Violent

However, it is difficult to see how his displacement scenario paves a road to Calvary—especially as Boyd understands Calvary. He states that God’s plan was ‘to make this region so unpleasant with hornets that the indigenous population will voluntarily relocate themselves’ (p. 966). Rendering the land inhospitable due to insects would have inflicted widespread damage and death to the indigenous populations. Moreover, it would have thrust the Canaanites into the hands of their inhospitable neighbours, precipitating significant conflict. In short, displacement is not as non-violent as it sounds.

Embracing Enemies & Plan A

Moreover, I don’t see how displacing enemies (Plan A) fits at all with Jesus’ act of embracing his enemies on the cross. If God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19), even Plan A would need to be re-interpreted to bear witness to the cross. The inhospitable land thesis seems to fly in the face of the ‘hospitality of the cross,’ to use Hans Boersma’s phrase.[1] To this end, Boyd’s approach shows signs of stress. His hermeneutical principle of ‘conservation’ requires him to salvage as much of the text as possible, yet even the texts he salvages rarely meet the standards he sets.

I don’t think this is a problem with the biblical story, per se, but rather a problem with Boyd’s approach of squeezing each text until it submits and confesses to things that match exactly his reconstructed picture of the cross. This approach flattens the biblical text into a series of direct and indirect ‘literary crucifixes,’ such that each OT text only ever confirms what we already know from the cross. It flashes pictures of God from one moment in time.

Other Potential in Joshua

Boyd covers a wide range of material in his 1,400-page book. For a 1,400-page book on OT violence to spend only about 50 pages on Joshua is a missed opportunity. Granted, he’s dealing with quite a few texts. Indeed, the book is full of biblical references and specific examples. However, it seems to me that Joshua is the case for any theory of violence in the Old Testament, and for there to be almost no discussion of the Rahab-Achan story, very little discussion of the ways that Joshua was actually re-applied non-literally within the Old Testament itself (e.g., during Josiah’s reign), hardly any investigation of ways that the herem (ban) instructions resist easy literalization,[2] no attention to the possible post-exilic setting of Joshua in its final form, and much more. In all these ways, Joshua and the ongoing OT traditions engage in re-framing and critiquing the book’s surface violence in ways that Boyd misses. While Boyd engages in a close reading of Joshua 11, and to good effect, I expected to see a more nuanced treatment of the whole book.


In sum, Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God will likely engage interpreters for years to come, and will have significant impact via his popularized Cross Vision. I highly recommend that students of the Bible engage Boyd’s book, if for no other reason than to look the problem of violence squarely in the face. However, I doubt Boyd’s book will win the day, even for Christians willing to engage in ethical critique of the Old Testament. Boyd’s book ultimately drives readers into the same untenable position as the interpreter who says, ‘There’s no problem here.’ Both propose a total solution to an intractable problem. Both leave readers vulnerable to that one small crack in the glass that splinters a thousand ways and eventually shatters the whole.

[1] Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Baker Academic, 2004).

[2] See Moberly’s chapter ‘A Chosen People,’ in Old Testament Theology (Baker Academic, 2014), 60-62.

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crucifixion of the warrior god

Crucifixion of the Warrior God, by Gregory A. Boyd – Review Part 3 (on Crucicentric Perfection)

[This is part 3 of a 4 part review of Boyd’s book. HERE is part 1, and HERE is part 2]

Crucifixion of the warrior God - CoverIn my earlier post on The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I discussed Boyd’s insistence that the cruciform hermeneutic requires us to interpret the OT in light of the cross. We can imagine that happening in different ways. For instance, we might look at how a given text paves the way for the cross. We might explore the relationship between the sacrificial system and the language NT writers use to explain the cross. But for Boyd, Crucicentrism means that all texts must conform precisely to the non-violence of the cross. If a given portrait of God in the OT doesn’t look like Jesus’ non-violence, it must be re-read until it does.

Thus, Boyd consistently argues that when confronting an OT text of violence, the cruciform hermeneutic ‘requires us to consider Scripture’s violent divine portraits to be accommodations that conceal God’s true character on their surface while revealing his true cruciform character in their depth’ (683). So Boyd’s re-readings of OT narrative aren’t really interpretations. He already ‘knows,’ by the requirements of his hermeneutic, that anything we read in the OT will come out looking like the cross. If the surface looks violent—dig until you find non-violence. If you don’t find it, re-read, spiritualise, or allegorise until it looks like the cross.

For Boyd, the impetus for this strong brand of Crucicentrism (which some call ‘Christo-monism’, yet see pp. 134-137) is the Bible’s own claim that ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ]’ (Col 1:19), and the idea in Hebrews that Jesus is ‘the exact representation of [God’s] being’ (Heb 1:3). Moreover, Paul resolved while among the Corinthians to ‘know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor 2:2). Of course Paul did preach other things, but Boyd will point out repeatedly in his book that the cross most fully reveals God, full stop.

Boyd’s use of a Crucicentric reading of the Bible exhibits an ideological/rhetorical tendency called ‘perfection’ that is common in theology, and worth exploring briefly, since its potential impact on our theology and interpretation of Scripture is massive.


In his landmark book Paul and the Gift, John Barclay discusses the notion of ‘perfection’—a concept he drew from Kenneth Burke. ‘Perfection’ refers to a tendency ‘to draw out a concept to its endpoint or extreme, whether for definitional clarity or for rhetorical or ideological advantage’ (Barclay, Paul and the Gift, 67). So for instance, a Christian might claim that living by faith means never asking for money, not working, not going to doctors, and never making any plans so as to allow for God’s leading. In this example, faith is ‘perfected,’ or taken to its extreme—one that goes well beyond the examples and meaning of faith in the Bible. In the Bible, faith is embedded within a network of ‘other balancing and limiting concepts, which inhibit their extreme expression’ (67). The point here is not that faith is not extreme, but that it gains its meaning in relation to other important concepts. A ‘perfected’ concept (or symbol) is usually lifted out for ‘definitional clarity or polarizing rhetoric’ (68).

Because God is, in Christian theology, the most perfect entity, there exists an almost irresistible tendency to draw out concepts related to God to their ‘nth degree. In so doing, scholars and theologians extract concepts from their web of related concepts or narratives and allow other ideological systems to fill them with meaning. In Barclay’s study, he shows how theologians through the ages ‘perfected’ (and thereby distorted) grace. Thus the emergence of ideas like ‘sheer grace’ and ‘pure grace’ that are ‘totally gratuitous’ and the like (69). For instance, theologians through the ages have argued that divine grace is given without any expectation of a return favour, which as Barclay points out, is totally contrary to the biblical picture where grace is a merit-free gift that nonetheless expects a response of obedience.

Perfection in Marcion

Barclay also demonstrates how Marcion, the early church heretic who rejected the OT, ‘perfected’ the concept of divine goodness and benevolence. In Marcion’s reading of Paul, for instance, he ‘not only emphasizes Paul’s association of the Christ-event with the grace and mercy of God, but perfects this association in the direction of singularity … distancing the God who is purely and entirely good from any hint of the exercise of judgment’ (83). This is a ‘paradigm case of the rhetoric and ideology of perfection: a single notion (here the benevolence of God) is radicalized, purified, and made internally consistent, forming a polar opposite to its negative foil,’ which in his case, was the OT (and parts of the NT) and its texts portraying a God who judges (83). Thus, Marcion radicalizes the concept of goodness (influenced by Greek philosophical ideas of what actions are ‘befitting’ a god) to an extreme point, such that any non-conforming texts were excised.

Crucicentric Perfection

While I don’t think Boyd drives in the same lane as Marcion, he does clearly exhibit this urge—present in all of us—to perfect a concept or symbol that plays a key role in his theology. For Boyd, that concept is the cross—influenced by the ethical ideals of non-violence—which he perfects to its logical extreme. That perfection involves an extension of (a) the idea of Jesus as the full representation of God, (b) the emphasis on preaching the cross in Paul, and (c) the principle of non-violence. These theological ideas are combined, radicalised, and extended into a pan-biblical ‘hermeneutic’ that involves a re-interpretation of the very texts that lend the cross meaning and sense. My primary concern with Boyd’s perfected Crucicentrism is not that it prioritizes the cross, emphasizes non-violence, or that he sees the OT pointing toward the cross. My concern, instead, is that Boyd’s system does not allow the OT to function as an interpreting lens for the cross (which is precisely what we see as the dominant pattern in the NT). That lack of two-way traffic leads to a kind of hermeneutical tyranny,[1] where the perfection of non-violence in the cross becomes the benchmark for whether or not we can ‘accept’ the plain sense of a text in the OT. In the process, the story of Israel, with all of its rich (and often troubling) symbols, is fragmented into its acceptable parts.

There are several by-products of Boyd’s Crucicentric perfection. I’ll mention a two of them here.

  1. Hyper Discontinuity – Boyd’s perfected Crucicentrism leads him to the conclusion that the God of the OT does not regularly look like the God revealed on the cross. Rather than explaining away the differences, Boyd maximizes the contrast between the portrait of God in the OT and the revelation of the non-violent cross in the NT. For instance, Boyd insists that Jesus and Paul ‘repudiate’ the lex talionis (eye for an eye) principle in Matt 5:39-45 and Rom 12:14-21 (p. 725). However, as I’ve suggested in a different post, Jesus is clearly not repudiating lex talionis, but challenging a misreading of the law that would posit ‘eye for an eye’ as an ethical ideal (which it never was). Moreover, the foundations for Jesus’ ideal of love for enemies and non-retaliation are within the OT itself (e.g., Exod 23:4-5; Prov 25:21; 2 Kgs 6; cf. Rom 12:20).[2] A corollary of such hyper discontinuity is the need to demonstrate that anything that smacks of divine violence in the NT is not what it seems. Oddly, Boyd does not advocate spiritualising re-readings of the NT. He never calls NT portraits of God ‘fallen,’ ‘macabre,’ ‘beguiling,’ or ‘twisted,’ as he does the OT.[3]
  2. Selective Reinterpretation – Boyd refers regularly to the idea that while God in the OT ‘wears the mask’ of a typical Ancient Near Eastern Deity, the mask sometimes slips. In these moments, the mask slips and the spirit ‘breaks through.’ Here’s Boyd on Amos 9:7 – ‘While God stooped to wearing the mask of an ANE deity who favours and fights for one nation as opposed to others, we can nevertheless discern the Spirit breaking through in a number of passages to reveal that the true God is the impartial, universally concerned, loving Father’ (728). Elsewhere, Boyd writes, ‘Though God had for a long while accommodated his people’s unfaithful reliance on the sword, thereby leaving their “twisted” view of him as a warrior deity in place, in this passage we see the Spirit breaking through to reveal the true peace-loving character of the heavenly missionary’ (737). I don’t doubt the involvement of God’s Spirit in the formation of Scripture. My point here is that Boyd’s perfected Crucicentrism leads him to select as Spirit-endowed only those passages that conform perfectly to his ‘form,’ and to relegate the rest to cultural conditioning and divine accommodation. A consequence of Boyd’s approach is that texts are extracted from their network of narratives, themes, and ‘other balancing and limiting concepts, which inhibit their extreme expression’ and enable them to speak with their own voice (Barclay, p. 67). The cross thus acts as a coloniser of meaning.


My criticism of perfection in Boyd’s study is not meant to suggest that we moderate our talk about the cross, or consider it less radical than previously thought. Instead, I’m suggesting that the cross needs to be understood as part of a wider network of narrative symbols and Christological considerations that enable the message of Christ, and him crucified, to emerge in all of its culturally and narratively conditioned colours. It cannot function as a naked hermeneutic, as though its meaning is self-evident. The writers of the New Testament are at pains to show that Jesus’ crucifixion was consistent with, as well as the fulfilment of, Scripture’s testimony about Yhwh, even if they couldn’t see it at first. This is why Jesus chides his disciples for not seeing beforehand that the Messiah needed to suffer before his enthronement. They should have known that on the basis of the OT (Luke 24:26). This is why Peter, Paul, and the other apostles could argue from Scripture that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 17:3). To that end, I submit that the radical story of the cross was, according to the NT, the surprising yet consistent fulfilment of Israel’s scriptures. Those scriptures provided the interpretive grid for understanding the cross, and more broadly, Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and enthronement. They revealed a Jesus who was high priest, sacrificial lamb, purifying sacrifice, Davidic king, Isaiah’s Immanuel and suffering servant, Daniel’s Son of Man, the fulfilment of the law, the Temple itself, and indeed, Israel’s God.[4]

[1] A phrase I’ve borrowed from Lucy Peppiatt.

[2] For Boyd’s hyper-discontinuity regarding sacrifice, see p. 711.

[3] Though Boyd does recognise Paul’s imperfections that come through in his letters (pp. 589-91).

[4] Thanks to Steve Watts for some of the wording in this last paragraph.

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crucifixion of the warrior god

Crucifixion of the Warrior God, by Gregory A. Boyd – Review Part 2

In the previous post I noted several of Boyd’s hermeneutical starting points, as well as his expressed and tacit assumptions about Scripture. After this post, I’ll stick with his second volume, where he develops four principles for understanding the ‘cruciform’ God revealed in both the Old and New Testaments. But for now, I want to consider the cruciform thesis itself, and whether it yields enough explanatory power to solve the riddle of violence in Scripture. As a caveat, Boyd’s book does a nice job raising and responding to possible objections to his thesis, so I highly recommend that readers of this review get his book to see his responses to other parts of his argument.

The Cruciform Thesis

As noted in my last post, Boyd’s proposal is crucicentric. According to Boyd, the cross reveals most fully what God is like—even more than other aspects of Jesus’ life. He’s non-violent and self-sacrificial in his love. All other (biblical) portraits of God pale in importance to the revelation of the non-violent love of God on the cross, even if they are God-breathed portraits.

Boyd ties his cruciform thesis closely to a doctrine of inspiration. Because (a) the cross is the fullest revelation of God, and (b) all Scripture is God-breathed, (c) we should expect a cruciform God across all the pages of Scripture … if we look deeply enough. Moreover, (d) any portrait of God that seems to conflict ‘should never be allowed to undercut, compromise, or qualify in any way the portrait of God we are given in the crucified Christ’ (p. 280).

Thus, as one interprets the OT—even its ‘dark side’—the driving concern should be to discern ‘how it [the OT] bears witness to this very portrait’ of the crucified Christ (p. 280), and to reject all portraits of God that hint of violence. This task is easy for Boyd when reading of God’s covenantal love for Israel—often portrayed as a marriage—and his overwhelming commitment to show mercy and grace to his people, which Boyd beautifully details (pp. 281-285).[1] Boyd calls those texts ‘direct revelations.’[2] But it proves immensely challenging when peering into the heart of ‘damnable texts’ (p. 287).[3] In these cases, OT texts confront us with portraits of God that contradict the portrait of God in the crucified Christ.[4]

This puts the interpreter in a bind. The OT is God-breathed, but when interpreted in its literal, or even literary (i.e., in accordance with its presentation in the literature of the OT) sense, the Warrior God of the OT is not the Slain Lamb of the NT. Abiding with the literal sense of the text would require a Marcionite rejection of the OT, according to Boyd. But while he is sympathetic to Marcion, he parts ways. He writes:

To be perfectly honest, I have a certain respect for Marcion and his followers who decided it was better to “cast away the Old Testament than tarnish the image of the Father of Jesus Christ by mixing in traces of a warlike God.”[5] Given their mistaken belief that they had to choose between Jesus and the OT, I admire their bold choice. But it is this false either-or proposition that I strongly reject. (p. 344)

So what options does an interpreter have?

Literary Crucifixes

To work out of that bind without succumbing to the Marcionite temptation, Boyd sides with Origen and other church fathers who pursued more admirable images of God in the OT. For Origen, the OT was to be read allegorically to conform to the image of Christ, and often in striking agreement with Greek philosophical and moral concepts.[6] Of course Origen also sought to discern the spiritual meaning of the whole Bible, including the NT, when the literal made no sense.[7] His pursuit of meaning beneath or beyond the surface was not a specific mode of OT interpretation.[8]

While Boyd rejects the allegorical method he perceives in Origen, he embraces Origen’s effort to resist literal readings of violent texts. Boyd’s particular method is abductive. Though critical of interpreters who try to put the ‘best spin’ on the OT,[9] Boyd assumes the best of the whole OT by suggesting that God allows himself to be misrepresented, and in that allowance, we see—as a literary crucifix—the God who ‘became sin,’ and ‘bore’ humanity’s sin on the cross.

We can, in a word, discern in these violent portraits that God was bearing the sins of his people and was thereby taking on an ugly literary semblance that reflected that sin, just as he did in a historical way for all humanity on Calvary. (p. 457)

In other words, he ‘postulates a hypothetical scenario that, if true, … [renders] otherwise puzzling data intelligible’ (631). While the OT’s texts ‘conceal God’s true nature on their surface, they reveal God’s true nature in their depths’ (650). Those depths, however, are not native to OT texts. Instead, they come from elsewhere, from the NT. When adopted as an interpretive grid, finding that deeper meaning proves easy to predict, since the outcome is always the same—a cruciform image of God.

7 Questions & Critiques

In light of what I’ve just sketched, I want to offer a few reflections, critiques, and questions. I realised once writing the 7 points below that each relates to my distrust of approaches to extremely complex issues that resolve all tension. The danger, by my reckoning, is that there are always hidden costs when we do this. I’ll discuss those later, but for now, a few questions/critiques:

  1. To what extent is the cruciform hermeneutic really a hermeneutic? Boyd insists that cross can function like a ‘magic eye’ to make sense of otherwise horrific OT texts. But in practice, those violent OT texts are simply re-written so that they look like the cross. I don’t see this as a reading of the OT so much as it is a case of finding what one needs to find. I wasn’t always sure why Boyd went through all the trouble of interpreting OT stories (e.g., the conquest) when he knows what he’ll find anyway, namely, a crucifixion-like image of God. Boyd says as much. For instance, when, according to Boyd, Israel projected its own violent plan for conquest onto God (pp. 979ff.), we see that ‘the presence of these plans within the canon confirms what the cross leads us to expect—namely, that the depictions of God ordering his people to annihilate others as an act of worship to him are sin-bearing, literary crucifixes’ (p. 980).
  2. To what extent is allowing oneself to be misrepresented like ‘bearing sin’? Allowing oneself to be depicted as a malevolent bully (in Boyd’s estimation) would only be 1 of 10 steps toward actually ‘bearing sin.’ To even look like ‘bearing sin,’ wouldn’t there need to be some actual move to deal with that sin? Sin-bearing and atonement are about actually dealing with sin, removing it, and cleansing its stain. In Boyd’s rendering, the God of the OT does no such thing. He only allows himself to be misrepresented. So how does Boyd gain access to the true state of affairs to know that the misrepresentation is actually a crucifix, and part of a fully reality leading to the cross? Falling back on the idea that the cross requires us to see things this way does not work, unless you see the cross as a static and timeless (and wholly transparent) revelation of God, which I’ll address later. This leads me to my next question.
  3. Why should Boyd’s hypothetical scenario/solution commend itself more than any other? Boyd believes that God not only accommodated so as to allow violent misrepresentations of himself, but that those misrepresentations are ‘literary crucifixes’ that point the way toward the sin-bearing God revealed in Christ. If Boyd’s concern was to somehow stay with the OT as God-breathed (even though as a misrepresentation in many places), why couldn’t the OT texts of terror just be literary foils that God inspired to allow the cross to shine ever brighter? Or, why couldn’t the OT texts of terror be about how the cross enables us to put to death the deeds of the flesh? (I’m not actually suggesting those as options). Boyd’s model has no anchor holding it to the OT itself (it’s a cruciform re-interpretation), I see no text-driven reason to choose the particular benefit-of-the-doubt scenario he posits.
  4. Boyd’s thesis requires us to read decidedly against the grain of the OT. To the best of my knowledge, allegorical and/or spiritualizing interpretations of the OT always try to read along the grain of the OT. For instance, even when Origen critiqued violent passages of the OT, they always ended up being—somehow—about putting to death the passions or some such act.[10] By contrast, Boyd’s proposal requires us to read vast portions of the OT as (a) straightforward misrepresentations of God that are simultaneously (b) revelatory of a God who is willing to be misrepresented. In other words, the deeper reality runs directly cross current to the surface reality. I wonder, then, what brings together the surface and deeper realities of the text, besides some kind of yin and yang balance of opposites.
  5. Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic ends up flattening the full witness of Scripture. For Boyd, if anything in the OT does not meet the criterion of enemy-love, it requires reinterpretation (p. 475). If it looks like enemy love, then it can be left alone. As a result, the OT ends up chopped into bits, with one pile that can be read according to its surface meaning, and another pile that is read against itself. This is part of the collateral damage of solving one problem. Boyd loses the tension and difference between different acts of God in history.

The NT itself assumes difference between (or narrative development) between the cross and other acts of God. For instance, in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, Peter distinguishes between the way Jesus treated those who crucified Jesus in ignorance, and the way he would judge those who knew Jesus as exalted Lord and yet rejected him (v. 23; cf. 13:40-41; Heb 2:2-3). Paul also recognizes that God treated him differently when he was, unwittingly, a blasphemer: ‘I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy’ (1 Tim 1:13). Or take Jesus’ own imprecation against Judas in John 13:18 (cf. Ps 41:8-10), who knew him and yet betrayed, or the disciples’ treatment of the same (Acts 1:16-20; cf. Ps 69:25; 109:8). My point here is not to overplay the contrast between crucifixion and other acts of God, but to observe that God’s response to enemies is not exactly and always the same (insofar as we can tell, but I’m up for surprises!). The examples I’ve given suggest that God treats ignorant enemies different than those who possess fuller knowledge yet act against him.

  1. Boyd renders timeless the revelation of God on the cross. For Boyd, the cross shows us that God only and always deals with his enemies non-violently (hence the strong re-reading of other texts). But would this timelessness still obtain for other dimensions of the cross? E.g., does God only and always wield power through suffering?[11] Does God only and always remain (mostly) silent in the face of enemy aggression? I don’t think Boyd would say yes, but on what basis?
  2. Boyd underplays the extent to which the NT writers anchor their interpretation of the crucifixion in the OT. In other words, the NT writers are at pains to demonstrate that what God revealed in Christ is consistent with, and not in direct opposition to the revelation of God in the OT. But what, in Boyd’s analysis, gives the cross its meaning? Boyd is choosing some interpretive framework for making sense of the crucifixion. What I didn’t see in the book was a clear sense of how NT interpreters consistently looked back to the OT to make sense of the cross. At least four lament psalms, for instance, shape Mark’s passion narrative. Matthew’s passion narrative, including the very stories the narrator chooses to tell, are clearly influenced by the events of Ps 22. The Passover shapes John’s understanding of the cross. This is not to mention the way that the sacrificial system shaped Paul’s and the author of Hebrews’ understanding of the cross. How, then, can the cross function as a lens for re-interpreting the texts that give it meaning?

I am sympathetic to some of Boyd’s concerns over violence in the OT, and have made attempts myself to try to wrestle through it. But unfortunately, the way Boyd unfolds his cruciform hermeneutic pulls the OT-shaped legs out from under the NT’s presentation of the cross. To that extent, it doesn’t give adequate privilege to the entire kerygma—or core teaching about Jesus, which begins with the story of God and Israel, and moves through the incarnation to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and presupposes the unity of divine revelation.[12] Nor does he give adequate attention to the discreet witness of the OT, including its nuanced and complex wrestling with the problem of violence itself.

But more on that in the next posts.

See here for part 3.

[1] Of course the specifics of that covenant, which involve threats against disloyalty, would not meet Boyd’s cruciform standard.

[2] See my previous post for examples of this phrase in use.

[3] Boyd, Crucifixion, 287 quoting Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God, 218.

[4] E.g., p. 327.

[5] Quoting Harnack, Militia Christi, 47

[6] See Provan, The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture, 179. F

[7] Cf. p. 122 for an interesting parallel in Luther.

[8] See especially Origin’s On First Principles: Book IV, pp 178ff in Rowan A. Greer trans. Origin (Classics of Western Spirituality; Paulist Press, 1979).

[9] Cf. xxix, xxxi-xxxii, 333.

[10] Origen recognizes the problems of divine vengeance and anger in the OT that his opponents address, and claims that the problem is ‘quite simply that they understand Scripture not according to the spiritual meaning but according to the sound of the letter’ (On First Principles 2.2)

[11] My thanks to Matt Bates for that question.

[12] Matt Bates raised a question to this effect in our podcast interview with Boyd.

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Crucifixion of the Warrior God, by Gregory A. Boyd – Review Part 1

The Warrior God…

Like most kids from Christian backgrounds, I grew up hearing the stories of flood, conquest, and war that we find in the Old Testament. These flannel-graphed (fuzzy-felt for Brits) stories captivated my imagination, and formed me in important ways. As I grew older, I learned the paleological arguments for a literal global flood, and the archaeological arguments for the destruction of Jericho. Those arguments built my faith, and gave me confidence—within a literalistic framework—that the Bible was true.

It never occurred to me that the same stories that built my faith were also horrifically violent. Perhaps it was the abstraction of violence in children’s Bibles, or the ‘moral of the story’ approach to the Old Testament, which shifted the focus elsewhere, but I didn’t ever mind the violence. That didn’t happen until later. I can’t remember the first time I grew uneasy with biblical violence, but I do remember that reading Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament at the end of my undergraduate studies made a deep impression on me. Hays makes a powerful case for non-violence in the New Testament. I found it convincing at the time, and as a consequence, the radical non-violence of Jesus and the early Church caused me real problems as I read backward toward the Old Testament. The violence suddenly seemed at odds with Jesus’ teachings, and most significantly, his death for, and forgiveness of, enemies on the cross. This sent me on a challenging and difficult search through the Old Testament, looking for ways that the Old Testament might at least point toward Jesus.

Greg Boyd

In his Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Greg shares a similar story. Not all parts of his story are the same, but he describes how he became increasingly drawn toward Jesus’ radical non-violence. This experience prompted his first attempt to ‘put the best possible “spin” on the OT’s violent portraits of God’ (xxix). His hope was that this would resolve the tension Jesus ‘affirmation of the OT as divinely inspired’ and Jesus’ ‘nonviolent revelation of God’ (xxix). But unable to put a positive spin on the OT, he went back to the drawing board to propose something different. The result is a 1,445 tome. It’s a hard-hitting, astonishingly well-read, and deeply creative work.

Key Points

I don’t plan to rehash all the arguments in Greg’s book. At 1,445 pages, it’s too large for that. Greg covers a wide range of topics, to say the least. I suspect that some will fizzle out before reaching Volume 2, when Greg actually interprets OT texts, limiting the impact of some of his richer insights. This isn’t a comment on his writing, but instead on the simple challenge of reading a long book.

Here are a few key insights from Volume 1. I’ll offer some comment, but will save most evaluation for later posts:

On Scripture
  1. The Old Testament is inspired. Boyd insists that he cannot dispense with the Old Testament. His commitment to the idea that Scripture is God-breathed will not allow for him to dispense with it. The specific entailments of that claim are not determined, Boyd points out, and need to be considered along with the Church Fathers who employed allegorical methods of reading. Boyd prefers the term theopneustos (following 2 Tim 3:16) to ‘divine inspiration’ because the latter tends to place the locus of inspiration on the individual author rather than on biblical texts as such, where Boyd locates revelatory activity. I think this is a helpful distinction.
  2. Cloudy with patches of sunshine, or, direct revelation in the OT is episodic. On countless occasions Boyd says that amidst the fog and horrifying ugliness of violence in the OT, one can often witness the Spirit ‘breaking through.’ He says this too many times to count, but just to give a few examples from one section of the book: On p. 738 he says that ‘we see the Spirit of the cruciform God breaking through with remarkable clarity and beauty,’ in reference to God’s hatred for war in Ps 46, 120, and 140. On p. 745 we read about the ‘Spirit of the cruciform God breaking through’ again, within the conquest narrative (Josh 5:13-15). We ‘discern the influence of the Spirit’ (p. 752), the ‘Spirit further breaking through’ (p. 753), the ‘Spirit breaking through even further’ (p. 754), and so on. And this was just within 20 pages! Each of these ‘breakthroughs’ have to do with some move away from either violence or so-called ‘tribalistic’ religion (e.g., animals sacrifice). The way one discerns the activity of the Spirit in Scripture, in Boyd’s system, is by degree of likeness to the cruciform picture of Christ in the NT. Presumably, then, while the OT is inspired, it is not inspired in the same way as texts that portray divine love, or ultimately, the passages about the crucifixion.
  1. Misrepresentation as revelation. The correlate of those passages where the Spirit ‘breaks through’ is that countless OT passages are said to misrepresent and distort God, to present readers with a grotesque and horrific image of God. But these images are, in an odd sort of way, revelatory of a God who is willing to be misrepresented. I will discuss this more in a future post. For now, it’s important to note that for Boyd large swathes of the OT misrepresent God. They are ‘sin-stained portraits of Yahweh as a violent warrior god’ that should be ‘forever set aside’ (p. 552). 
  1. Maximal Discontinuity between OT and NT portraits of God. When read according to what some call its ‘plain sense,’ or in its literary presentation, Scripture offers wildly different portraits of God in the OT and NT. The OT offers ‘savage’ and ‘violent’ depictions of God that are, in Boyd’s estimation, directly repudiated by the NT portrait of Christ (p. 290). This is not to say that Boyd thinks the OT and NT are incompatible, but rather that one needs to re-read the OT through the lens of the cross to come up with anything other than a monster, especially in passages like we find in the book of Joshua.
  1. The OT nevertheless foreshadows Christ. Though much of the violence in the OT is ‘directly repudiated’ in the NT, ‘there is no dimension of the Old Testament message that does not in some way foreshadow Christ.’[1] This sets up a central question driving the book, namely, how can ‘macabre’ (p. 91), ‘horrific,’ and ‘revolting’ (p. 290) portraits of God testify to Christ? To what extent does his characterization of the OT stretch the bounds of Scripture’s God-breathed quality?
  1. Abductive scriptural hermeneutics. Rather than inductive reasoning (building a ground-up picture from the data), or deductive reasoning (starting from premises toward ‘necessary conclusions’), abductive reasoning asks, What state of affairs best accounts for all the data, and specifically for this case, the puzzling violent data?[2] In other words, abductive reasoning posits a scenario to account for what we have in Scripture, but is not in Scripture directly. Greg uses a helpful (fictional!) analogy of seeing his wife beat up a homeless person (puzzling data, given Greg’s knowledge of his wife), where by abductive reasoning he posits a number of scenarios that might account for this strange behavior (staged social experiment, he was harbouring a bomb, etc.).
  1. Jesus is the definitive revelation of God. Boyd makes this point forcefully on nearly every page of his book. He argues that the NT authors read the OT in this way, and that we should too. Heb 1:3 is thus central to Boyd’s project: ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Heb 1:3). To know the character of God, Boyd contends, look at Jesus! Boyd thus considers his project Christocentric. For Boyd this means that ‘the ultimate God-intended meaning of any given passage, and of the OT as a whole, [is] only found when seen in relation to Christ’ (p. 98). In this, Boyd sees himself following the lead of NT writers and later Patristic authors, and ‘preaching nothing else but Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Cor 2:2). Boyd probably means Jesus-centric, since Christocentric would encompass the universal Christ, i.e., Christ in his pre-incarnate state all the way through his ascension. Boyd doesn’t mean that.[3] 
  1. More specifically, the cross shows us what God is like. It’s important to emphasize that Boyd’s hermeneutic if crucicentric, and not just Christocentric. Boyd uses a ‘Magic Eye’ analogy to describe his hermeneutic. ‘Magic Eye’ art looks like unimpressive 2D patterns to standard observation. But if viewed correctly, a 3D picture emerges. Boyd contends that looking at the OT through the lens of the cross ‘enables us to discern the beauty of the crucified God rising out of portraits of God that on the surface appear profoundly ugly’ (xxxv). He insists that interpreters ought to give the cross the ‘unrivalled authority to reveal God that the NT gives it’ (771). Giving it that authority yields, in Boyd’s estimation, a new outlook on violent texts in Scripture.
  1. The OT revelation of God is inferior to what we see in the NT. Calling Jesus the ‘definitive revelation’ of God (a phrase he uses over 70x in the book) has a specific connotation for Boyd. He means that Jesus supersedes all previous revelations of God in the OT. His point is not just that the OT is unclear about the coming Christ, but that it is inferior in its revelation of God, at least if read according to its literal sense (pp. 38, 110). The upshot of their inferiority is that all texts that do not meet the criteria of the cross, which I’ll discuss later, need to be re-read until they meet the cruciform standard of the cross. So for instance, if an OT texts depicts God exacting vengeance on enemies, that text will need to be re-read in light of the fact that God forgives his enemies from the cross. Boyd is thus critical of approaches that treat the OT and NT as ‘two equally authoritative revelations’ (p. 115), that in the language of Hebrews privilege the ‘reality’ in favour of the ‘shadow.’ Or, as he states elsewhere, one should not privilege ‘fallen’ representations over the cross. This sets the interpreter up for a very disruptive form of re-interpretation, such that the OT needs to be read radically against its grain in many places where the Spirit doesn’t ‘break through.’
  1. We need to read the OT like NT writers. Following the lead of NT writers in how they interpret the OT has been controversial over the years,[4] but Boyd maintains that we most certainly should follow the lead of NT writers as they ‘see Jesus’ in the OT.
  1. Tension is eschewed. It should be clear that Boyd’s proposal aims to resolve tension around the problem of violence in the OT. In contrast to most other approaches I know of—which typically include some measure of … ‘I know this doesn’t resolve all the problems around violence in the Bible, but …’—Boyd moves resolutely toward a comprehensive solution to the problem of violence.

In the next posts I’ll review and evaluate several specific portions of Greg’s weighty tome.

See here for part 2. 

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (IVP, 2010), 252 qtd Boyd, Crucifixion, 91.

[2] Boyd, Crucifixion, 631.

[3] Special thanks to Lucy Peppiatt for raising this point. Lucy notes Ian McFarland’s query on this point, from his book The Divine Image: Envisioning the Invisible God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 13-14: ‘We see and know God when and as we look at Jesus as the one, true image of God. As the myriad images of Jesus that mark Christian literature and iconography show, however, there is no shortage of mutually inconsistent pictures of Jesus to choose from; and the fact that Jesus himself is now confessed to have ascended to heaven does not help matters.’ pp.13-14.

[4] Richard N. Longenecker, ‘Can We Reproduce the Exegesis of the New Testament?’ Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 3-38.

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