Navigating the Conundrum of a Warrior God (1)

The Great Day of His Wrath, John Martin

I am currently working through Greg Boyd’s massive and challenging new book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2, his two-volume explanation and defense of a hermeneutical approach that Christians can take to resolve the disparities between the wrathful, violent, even genocidal God of the Hebrew Bible and God revealed through the non-violent teachings and actions of Jesus, especially the cross. I had hoped to have some material ready to share with you by now, but I’m still working through how to best capture and summarize 1400 pages of fairly intricate reasoning.

This subject has, of course, become an issue of intense interest in the 21st century. Since 9/11/2001, horrific violence in the name of religion has been in the spotlight, and Jews and Christians as well as Muslims have had to face their own legacy of killing on behalf of God.

For we Christians, our problem starts with the Bible’s portrayal of God in the Old Testament. When we compare that with the revelation of God through Jesus, Boyd finds himself dealing with serious questions.

I have come to believe that Jesus revealed an agape-centered, other-oriented, self-sacrificial God who opposes violence and who commands his people to refrain from violence (e.g., Matt 5:39-45, Luke 6:27-36). I also believe in the divine inspiration of the Old Testament, primarily because I have good reason to believe Jesus treated it as such. …Yet I and everyone else who shares these two convictions face a condundrum.

How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who chose to die for his enemies rather than crush them, with the many OT portraits of Yahweh violently smiting his enemies? How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who made swearing off violence a precondition for being considered a “child of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:45) with the portraits of Yahweh commanding his followers to slaughter every man, woman, child, and animal in certain regions of Canaan (e.g., Deut 7:2, 20:16-20)? How are we to reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who with his dying breath prayed for the forgiveness of his tormentors (Luke 23:34) and who taught his disciples to forgive “seven times seventy” (Matt 18:21-22), with the OT’s portraits of God threatening a curse on anyone who extended mercy toward enemies (Jer 48:10; cf. Debt 7:2, 16; 13:8; 19:13)? And how can we possibly reconcile the God revealed in Christ, who expressed profound love for children, promising blessings on all who treated them well and pronouncing warnings for all who might harm them (Luke 18:15-17; Matt 10:42, 18:6-14), with the OT portrait of God bringing judgment on his people by having parents cannibalize their own children (Lev 26:28-29; Jer 19, 7,9; Lam 2:20; Ezek 5:9-10)?

As I process Boyd’s book, I thought we might review what a few others have said on this subject. We start today with the  Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, whose book, Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible, takes what he calls a “developmental” view of the Bible’s presentation of God and his dealings with his people and their world. We blogged through this book a few years ago, and this is an edited re-post of one of our articles.

• • •

“Development,” chapter two of John Polkinghorne’s small book on the Bible, is, for some, one of the more controversial sections in Testing Scripture. Whether you end up agreeing with him or not, you will admire his courage in dealing with some of the toughest questions honest Bible readers face.

We all know the story of how “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,” and we delight in what it teaches us about how God gives victory to his people. However, if we have any human sensitivity, we shudder in horror when we read Joshua 6:21: “Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” This and other texts that attribute massacres and genocide to the express command of God himself are difficult for modern readers to swallow. Even more challenging is reconciling this portrayal of God with what Scripture tells us of Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies.”

How do you deal with these seemingly incompatible views of God’s nature and ways?

Here is how John Polkinghorne handles the conundrum. He writes:

I believe that response to this dilemma demands the recognition that the record of revelation contained in Scripture is one of a developing understanding of the divine will and nature, continuously growing over time but never complete, and quite primitive in its earliest stages. Only slowly and falteringly could progress be made in Israel towards gaining a fuller comprehension of the reality of God.

This solution will probably not be acceptable to evangelicals and others who hold more conservative views about the nature of the Bible. There may be development of doctrine in Scripture, they would say, but even the earliest and most so-called “primitive” depictions of God were inspired by him and are accurate portrayals of his character and actions. If the Bible records that God commanded the destruction of their enemies, it is not just telling us that this is how the Hebrews, with a less developed view of God, interpreted their mission. Rather, that is what God actually commanded his people, and the divinely inspired account accurately records his perspective, not theirs. If the Bible says that God told them to do something, that’s what happened. With such an interpretive approach, the next step is inevitably to become an apologist for God, to defend the record of “inerrant” scripture as accurate reporting, and to come up with explanations that vindicate God of wrongdoing.

However, John Polkinghorne sees this development as part of the human side of Scripture. “We can recognize within it an unfolding process of insight and understanding as God’s nature was progressively revealed,” he says. Thus, the earlier depictions reflect an incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of God and their own time-bound interpretations of the events they were experiencing. “A primitive society could conceive no better insight than the use of force against unbelievers as the expression of its faithful following of Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

Polkinghorne gives a few other examples of development in the Hebrew Bible:

  • In earlier parts of the Bible, Israel held henotheistic beliefs — they owed Yahweh exclusive allegiance but the gods of the other peoples around them were also real and a threat that must be faced. However, by the time of Second Isaiah, “henotheism has uncompromisingly become monotheism. There is no divine reality at all other than Yahweh” (Isa 42:8, 43:10).
  • Likewise, the concept of individual responsibility only arose later in Israel’s history, whereas in early narratives we read about people like Achan, whose entire family suffered for his personal sin.

John Polkinghorne suggests that this “multilayered” understanding of Scripture may help us come to grips with some of the depictions or so-called “contradictions” in Scripture. “Often passages in the canonical text, presented as if they were a unity, have in fact been formed by intermingling material drawn from a variety of sources, composed at different times and, therefore, reflecting different stages of development.”

As those who worked with the sacred texts read and edited them into their final form, they let stand conundrums, conflicts, and inconsistencies that perplex readers to this day.

Thus it is clear that before the Hebrew Bible reached its final canonical form there was a long developmental process, involving reworking of much that had been inherited from the past in the light of the understanding and experience of the present. Yet the editors who assembled the final text apparently did not find it necessary to smooth out the differences present in the sources that they used. Instead, the deposit of many generations was often allowed to stand together in the formation of Scripture. The long process of development was not obliterated in order to produce the appearance of a single consistent text. The explorations of the past were not to be totally obscured from view.

95 thoughts on “Navigating the Conundrum of a Warrior God (1)

  1. The Bible is multi vocal on this: in the book of Joshua, for example, there are repeated references to the alliances the Canaanites formed, the great armies they assembled, and a repeated emphasis on their refusal to come to terms and make peace. Given the book is written at the point Judah was being destroyed or just afterwards, I suspect that the Canaanites are supposed to an extent to represent (or at least reflect) Israel and Judah’s errors. I also suspect that one reason for the emphasis on their complete annihilation is to give hope that as the Jews did not share the same fate despite being conquered, God was still looking after them.
    Prophetic voices also declare it is failure to look after the widow and orphan and oppression of the poor that led to destruction, others directly blaming foreign alliances.
    It’s complicated.


  2. Polkinghorne’s position resonates strongly with me. As Orthodox theologian Brad Jersak put it, “Scripture is inspired, but it’s the inspired record of our journey toward understanding a God we didn’t get.”

    Having read (and reviewed) Boyd’s book, I’m looking forward to the discussion here.


  3. “What an adult reading of Scripture does, recognizing its historical context and the human hand within it, is burn the house of Systematic Theology to the ground. A loss about which there is no reason for anyone to care.”



  4. “When you interpret St. Paul’s writings, you must do it in the context of the teachings and living example of Our Lord Himself, or you do not do any service to St. Paul who stood strong witness to Our Lord even unto his martyrdom in Rome.”

    When you interpret St. Paul’s writings, particularly about women, you must do it in the context of his ancient culture and its ethics, customs, and expectations. If anything, Paul is not giving a ‘Christian’ principle (about submission of women) – he is reminding Christian women that being a Christian (where there is ‘no male or female’) doesn’t mean they can abandon the expectations and marriage models of their (Greco-Roman) culture – that could bring scandal and persecution to the church. If he were alive today I have no doubt he would take a much different position on women’s issues, including women in ministry roles.


  5. Christiane,
    I’m part of the SBC, I can guarantee you that the changes were not made in order to enable abuse. Abusers are going to abuse. They would have done it whether or not the faith and message was changed. If any incidents of abuse in Southern Baptist Churches are the fault of Southern Baptist theology, then what are the deficiencies in your own Roman Catholic beliefs that led to the decades of abuse and cover up? For what it is worth I don’t blame those incidents on the Roman Catholic catechism, but rather on people taking advantage of their positions to fulfill their sinful desires. I believe that one’s theology can certainly affect one’s behavior, but if anyone is using the SBC faith and message to justify abuse, he already has a twisted mind and is not being faithful to what it actually teaches.


  6. I don’t drink, but I do know Kung Fu, so you would be in luck if I were there during a home invasion.

    Nah, just kidding. I don’t know Kung Fu, though I did want to be Grasshopper when I was a kid, so that I could kick ass while remaining in a state of equanimity at all times. Part of me still would like to be Grasshopper.


  7. I hope I’m not drinking beer with you when you suffer a home invasion, either! I mean, who would want that?!?!? (That said, I wouldn’t mind drinking a beer with you SANS home invasion!) 😉

    I hear what you’re saying, but we’re talking what GOD’S character is, not what OUR character is. The world says “React to home invasions with force, kill if necessary.” I’m not sure Jesus would be of the same mind.


  8. “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.”

    – Dorothy Sayers


  9. “either EVERYONE deserves to drown, or none do, or God just goes about willy-nilly in determining who lives and who drowns…”

    Jesus’ words regarding the martyrs in Jerusalem and the victims of the fallen tower make the case that no one is less deserving of death than any other, and that all are called to repentance.


  10. Man, I hope you guys aren’t drinking beer with me if I suffer a home invasion. I still don’t own a gun, but I wouldn’t mind a God who would answer my prayer for clarity of eye and strength of fist. I had one of the neighborhood orcs threaten my daughter and I was in no mood to contemplate universal culosity.


  11. And who was wrong?
    And who was right?
    It didn’t matter in the middle of the fight

    Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon


  12. Except that the story line answers the question, “What went wrong?”, the following way: “You did not obey the Lord your God. You spared those he put under the ban instead of completely annihilating them. This is your sin, the one for which your entire nation is being judged.”


  13. —> “There are no innocents in matters like this…”

    Jesus: “Why do you call me good? No one is good–except God alone.”

    Dang, Jesus even throws HIMSELF under the bus when it comes to goodness and innocence.

    So either EVERYONE deserves to drown, or none do, or God just goes about willy-nilly in determining who lives and who drowns…

    No comfort to be found there. At least not for me.


  14. –> ““There is something comforting about a God who will drown an army of assholes in the Red Sea.”

    Seems to me that one pervading theme of the Bible is that we’re all assholes. If so, then God is rather random in His drowning of assholes vs. His saving of assholes. I’m not sure I find that comforting, not unless there’s something lost in translation and His true character is one of saving grace toward all assholes, not violent drowning of all assholes.


  15. It seems to me that the words and actions of Jesus in the NT need just as much interpretation as Paul, actually more. It’s not as if they interpret themselves. Add to that the fact that the Gospel narratives interpret Jesus’ life and teaching in the very telling, and things get real complicated real quick.


  16. I am one of those Christians who sees Christ as the central figure of the faith. I believe He spoke and acted in the very Person of God.

    I know what happened to people in the SBC AFTER Our Lord was removed as the ‘lens’ through which the Bible is interpreted. People used isolated scriptures to re-orient the place of women. And abuses followed that might have been prevented had people listened to Our Lord as the One ‘to Whom we go to for truth’. A game was played, a nasty brutal trick that led to the grabbing of power AND the abuse of innocent people. The story of Dr. Sherri Klouda is one of many stories. She was persecuted at a time when her husband was extremely ill and she was forced to sell her own blood to help pay his medical bills.

    Maybe the reason why the Baptist Faith & Message 2K was altered was so that these abuses COULD be ‘justified’ as ‘biblical’;
    because no way could the abuses have got past the authority of Our Lord’s Words in sacred Scripture as He spoke as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity ….. God.

    When you interpret St. Paul’s writings, you must do it in the context of the teachings and living example of Our Lord Himself,
    or you do not do any service to St. Paul who stood strong witness to Our Lord even unto his martyrdom in Rome. St. Paul would not have been used as an ‘excuse’ to abuse people by isolating a verse out of context and out of Context. All of sacred Scripture must be seen in the light of Christ Who ‘opens our eyes’ to understand and Who alone, at the end of time, will have the gravitas to ‘open the scrolls’ that are sealed.

    There is no ‘permission’ given by Our Lord to brutalize anyone. And He did not authorize His followers to order it either.


  17. No, there’s nothing comforting in a God like that; he can’t be trusted, only feared. In order for that God to arrive at a God who can be trusted, who can be trusted when he says, “Fear not”, he has to be transformed by a cruciform life and death. His own death on the cross is the price God had to pay in order to become a God who could be trusted and loved instead of feared; he brought it on himself.


  18. “Well the attempt to reconcile disparate concepts has been ongoing since the modern era.”

    Such attempts to reconcile does not mean they are wrong. It is a healthy part of the process. Scripture did not drop out of the sky like a magic book.

    “I’m afraid you can quickly find yourself trying to straddle an abyss that gets wider and wider.”
    Where you see an widening abyss, I see more clarity and understanding of the purpose of Scripture.

    “If creation is through Christ and evolution is what you would expect, then how come nobody expected it?”

    I have not read the article, but perhaps they were not expecting it because they were not asking those exact questions.

    Again, Christian theology and history is not always a black and white issue. God worked, and works, through the mess and complexities.


  19. Imagine a John Wayne movie putting him at My Lai, and you have something like the Old Testament herem.


  20. Yeah, the whole John Wayne mythos is a sanitized (from the perspective of white hegemonic cultural hermeneutics) version of how violence works, how ugly it is. The Bible is actually more candid in this regard, I mean with regard to how violence plays out in the world, mostly because the writers’ sensibilities were too barbaric to see any problem with any of it. Where they touch things up is in making it seem like they were more successful at carrying out the divine command to butcher the tribes in their path than they likely were; ironically, they consider depictions of unrestrained violence at the command of the Lord as indicators that they are righteous. If the writers and editors of the OT texts find moral fault with the Israelites in the wars of herem, it is because they didn’t obey completely enough; the history of their travails as a people and their troubles in the Promised Land are attributed to God judging them for not utterly annihilating those other tribes.


  21. I think you make an excellent point, Stuart. If the events and experiences of the OT can be demystified, dealt with and understood as highly fallible expressions of human perception of the divine, then so can the NT, including the texts that speak of Christ’s resurrection. Do we have experiences today that closely corroborate those NT expressions of the resurrection? I know that I don’t have similar experiences; I privilege those resurrection texts, and then go on to try to fit my own religious and human experiences within the interpretative framework that I assume they provide. But what if those texts are largely fictive? What if they don’t describe what actually happened? What if what actually happened cannot be conformed to the theology that I and the church and the NT have poured into it? Then we are simply chasing the wind, or our own tails, or both.


  22. I don’t necessarily disagree, Stephen. But I do wonder, if what you’re saying could have been said at any point in Jewish or Christian history (and I think there is high probability that it could), then have Judaism and Christianity been dealing with a kind of religious mirage for thousands of year, and kind ink blot/fog that could be read into to fit the needs of the current generation of interpreters? Sometimes I must say that it does seem that way to me.


  23. My fav John Wayne one is where he also kills the women, children and animals…reluctantly of course. But they had it coming. But then other times he took them as wives. Well, you get it.


  24. That “poor Egyptian soldier” likely profited from the labor of the Hebrew slaves in some fashion. There are no innocents in matters like this…


  25. I should have used the sailor-language I originally intended to use:

    “There is something comforting about a God who will drown an army of assholes in the Red Sea.

    Asshole-ization (culufication?) of the enemy is really necessary to make violence work. Remember, these are people who wanted to kill the Israelites or at best drag them back to chattel slavery. It doesn’t fit well with Jesus’ vision of universal brotherhood, but it is extremely useful and easy to do.

    I’ve lost nearly every fight I’ve ever been involved in. I’m not a warrior, but I won’t back down from one. Having a stronger, faster friend step in on my behalf has saved my chitterlings on occasion. I look at the violent rhetoric in the Bible as when you watch John Wayne in The Quiet Man. He’s sick and tired of violence, having killed a man in the ring, but there are times when he lets you know what he is capable of if you insist on pushing his buttons.


  26. I’ll give you Revelation (of which I hardly understand a word) but where does Paul start talking about bloodbaths?


  27. –> “There is something comforting about a God who will drown an army in the Red Sea.”

    Tell that to the poor Egyptian soldier just following his Pharaoh’s orders.

    –> “There is something comforting about a God who will drown an army in the Red Sea.”

    But is there something comforting about a God who would command “…and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”…?


  28. “Boyd just wasted 10 years of his life on 1,400 pages of non-issue.” – He wouldn’t be the first theologian to suffer this fate. And doubtless he won’t be the last…


  29. The last few months have set my mind thinking about violence in general, and male violence in particular. The basic problem with violence is that it works, and works very well, if all you are after is external compliance. Ask the Cathars.

    If you’re going to believe in evolution, as I do, and attempt to retrotool the Christian deposit to fit it, as I attempt to do, you have to come to the conclusion that God fitted the War Monkey with a breath-taking capacity for violence, and for a concomitant ability to pass moral judgements to rationalize it. Especially males, as it appears that violence was our [men’s] Job One on the savanna. With the advent of civilization (litigation,actually), you have a non-insignificant group of men basically spoiling for a fight, acting as nervously as a lot of declawed cats. No wonder when the mass fustercluck that was World War One broke out, the overwhelming emotion was not one of horror, but of relief.

    But God loves the War Monkey, and what’s more, He became the War Monkey. I love that in the Orthodox Church you have the Lord Jesus Christ in the center of the iconostasis, and on either side of Him you have the most holy mother of God on His right, and the holy prophet and forerunner John the Baptist, encompassing both the male and female ideal expressions of the War Monkey. When I gaze upon the icon of the Theotokos, what runs through my mind is “thou hast made her body a throne, and her womb more spacious than the heavens” When I contemplate the Forerunner, what comes to mind is “And from the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the violent ministry of John the Baptist represents a transposition in key of the ancestral male violence, as the ministry of the Most Holy Theotokos illuminates the mystery of womanhood.

    There is something comforting about a God who will drown an army in the Red Sea.


  30. “precision is needed to not talk past one another” – which is why this is pretty much the only place where I engage in conversations like this anymore. Online screaming past one’s opponents is a stupid way to kill time.


  31. “I’m not sure I would call it “violent” in the sense of Jesus causing harm to people.” – Certainly it cannot be ruled out, especially in light of the harsher actions attributed to God in the Hebrew Bible.


  32. I’m still not settled on that interpretation – or at least, it is still symbolic of the End of the Age as well as the fall of Rome.


  33. These people came dressed in full battle gear. They knew what they’re getting into.


  34. The Davidic lineage was promised it would last forever.

    Excellent example of the humanness of Scripture. Priests in David’s employ writing down essentially “praise the king may he reign forever!” and putting those words into God’s mouth. Plus, coupled with a family dynasty history with some vicious infighting, those promises would be repeated by anyone who made a claim to the throne.

    There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.

    The early Church faced with the awesome Easter events went back and reinterpreted their tradition

    Isn’t there also a lot of really early evidence that the Easter events were added or modified later on? Earliest known writings are oddly quiet about such a momentous thing.


  35. Unfortunately not a lot of straight thinking goes on before the fists start flying.


  36. I’m not sure. It’s a good question. Probably sloppy language on my part.

    Retribution, I think, implies the pleasure of the one who is doling out the retribution. “Will to harm” – if that harm is the ultimate telos and purpose – probably implies the same thing. I only qualify that “will to harm” may include an aspect of “chastening” where the ultimate good of the one who is harmed is always in view and is never irrevocably lost.

    This is pretty theologically and philosophically dense, but is thought provoking and illustrates just how much precision is needed to not talk past one another:


  37. So basically Paul > Jesus or Paul = Jesus, the two are equally weighed, but we should differ to the former over latter in most things.

    I know that’s not what you saying, but that’s how it’s taught or implied often.


  38. One interesting scholarly theory is that the REVELATION was originally a Jewish apocalypse that was taken and modified by the Johannine community. The core of it might actually go back to the time around the First revolt and was subsequently edited and modified near the end of the century. Not proven but provocative.


  39. Well the attempt to reconcile disparate concepts has been ongoing since the modern era. Much of what these folks have to say is interesting and wise. But I’m afraid you can quickly find yourself trying to straddle an abyss that gets wider and wider. Case in point: See the link to the N T Wright article at the Biologos site under Recommended Reading. If creation is through Christ and evolution is what you would expect, then how come nobody expected it? Prior to the formulation of the theory that is.


  40. Revelation, before its ending, is primarily about the judgment that would come upon the Roman empire and the vindication of the oft’ persecuted Christians in the realm. And guess what? Caesar is no more to be found and the church survives. God’s faithfulness stands.


  41. That’s a bit different though than just completely discounting something in the letters because it is not recorded as Jesus saying it.


  42. –“But is it so?”

    Yeah, it is. And it’s not just a matter of offended modern sensibilities. There wouldn’t be libraries of books on it otherwise. The post is specifically in reference to OT violence, genocide, the ban, etc. So univocality on “don’t let your neighbor starve” isn’t on my radar.

    Seriously, you can’t get anything resembling “persecute the foreigner” from the text? Please. You may disagree with a hermeneutic that arrives there. I do. But that’s what this entire thing is about.

    ”On any issue that actually matters to anyone living an actual life – Scripture is remarkably consistent.”

    If that’s the case, then a moral Systematic Theology should be completely possible in contradiction to your last statement. The idea of a cruciform reading is simply incoherent and unnecessary. Boyd just wasted 10 years of his life on 1,400 pages of non-issue.

    Saying that there are “many places any sane reading of Scripture will never take you” does not minimize the presence of ambiguity and change in other places.

    ”What an adult reading of Scripture does, recognizing its historical context and the human hand within it, is burn the house of Systematic Theology to the ground.”

    Well, I don’t know about “burning it to the ground”. It does, I think, make the text alive in such a way that “mastering” it, reaching a point where each and every proposition is reconciled and nice and tidy, is simply not possible. It’s just not the point. That, I think, is a feature not a bug.


  43. Robert it seems to me your post could have been written at any point in Jewish or Christian history (and probably was, repeatedly). I am highlighting nothing except what has already occurred. At various points groups have reinterpreted their traditions so as to respond to the unique situation they found themselves in. Situations where the old verities seemed no longer to apply. (Interestingly this reinterpretation has often been disguised as getting back to the traditions’ “original” intent.)

    Examples abound. The Davidic lineage was promised it would last forever. When it did not much ink was spilled reconciling the reality with the promise. Out of this foment the idea of the future Messiah was born. The early Church faced with the awesome Easter events went back and reinterpreted their tradition so that, yes the Messiah would be crucified and not be a victorious military/spiritual leader, which had been the consensus expectation up until that point. And this process did not stop at the close of the biblical era. The concept of the Trinity was centuries in the making. Church doctrines have been modified and expanded ever since day one. The traditions of the Church are not a monolog from above; if anything they are a conversation, even a perpetually ongoing argument.. I am suggesting nothing that hasn’t already been going on since day one.


  44. The cleansing of the Temple was a symbolic prophetic action warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It was startling and upsetting. I’m not sure I would call it “violent” in the sense of Jesus causing harm to people. It certainly doesn’t fall in any category close to the warfare and killing attributed to God in the Heb Bible.


  45. I do believe the Gospels have a priority over the epistles in the same way the Jews gave priority to the Torah over the rest of the Hebrew Bible. It is the foundational story and the primary source of our identity as Christians.


  46. I was not using precise language in my reply to CM, so I guess I deserved this. 😉 But let me ask you this – do you see any distinction between raw “will to harm” and retribution?


  47. > I understand it at least, can positively affirm virtually anything though appeals to “partial revelation”.

    That is often a charge raised against this; but is it so? The arc of Scripture – as it relates to Orthopraxy – is pretty darn firm.

    You cannot get to “persecute the foreigner” or “let the poor starve” or “neglect your community” or “pray less” from Scripture. There are many places any sane reading of Scripture will ever take you.

    On any issue or topic that actually matters to anyone living an actual life – Scripture is remarkably consistent.

    What an adult reading of Scripture does, recognizing its historical context and the human hand within it, is burn the house of Systematic Theology to the ground. A loss about which there is no reason for anyone to care.


  48. What is meant by “violence” isn’t always clear. Is it just “violating someone’s will”? Is it the will to harm with no redemptive or restorative purpose? Thinking out loud…

    How many children did Jesus kill in the temple cleansing again? Is that really getting “medieval”? Can’t there be an acknowledgment of some fundamental differences?

    Whatever wrath we are talking about, it is the wrath of the lamb.. That’s a qualitative picture that grounds everything in the cross, not an image of a lamb with a machete and a machine gun.


  49. “Boyd denies… that God himself delivers (judgment) personally through his own violent actions”

    Tell that to the moneychangers in the Temple. 😉

    Just saying, if Jesus *is* as He said, a faithful representation of the Father, then He does have the capacity to “get medieval” when appropriate.


  50. Christians who believe the entire NT has authority and faithfully passes on the teachings of Christ.


  51. “Progressive revelation” is helpful, but still very problematic for me. The “human side of Scripture” and the questions of what the Bible actually is still hover in the background.

    Progressive revelation, the way that I understand it at least, can positively affirm virtually anything though appeals to “partial revelation”. It’s always a sort of “Yes, and…” A matter of timing. Addition only. It can’t really be “No, in light of…”. At best, you get a wacky and often incoherent dispensationalism.

    And there’s also the issue of “continuity and discontinuity” between the Testaments (Pete Enns and Brueggemann talked about that on Enns podcast). The testaments are not just saying the same thing over again. There is a reworking. And I find that to be important – not a small amount of what I see going on in the NT relates to the struggle to unlearn things, to redefine them in the light of Christ.

    A “progressive illumination” that acknowledges the humanity of the Bible is a better approach. I think it’s perfectly at home with Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic.


  52. I don’t think Boyd denies judgment, just that God himself delivers it personally through his own violent actions or commands his people to do so as his agents. Judgment in his view is more God withdrawing his protection and allowing people, nations, etc. to experience the natural consequences of their own actions.


  53. “The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small– and for *destroying those who destroy the earth*.” – Rev. 11:18 (NIV)

    If that doesn’t scare you, you haven’t been paying attention. :-/


  54. Yeah. But HUG’s the only one allowed to scream. He’s our court jester. We don’t need others around here actually pronouncing eternal judgment.


  55. then how can He not have *some* anger at how we treat each other and the world He gave us?

    Which makes me wonder how furious he’ll be at his return when he sees the state of the world and how much we’ve harmed nature and his creation.

    But I guess that doesn’t matter, does it. No punishment or judgement does, not when you are Saved(tm) and Going To Heaven.


  56. …what other kinds of “Christians” are there?

    Wait, don’t answer that. I know. There’s at least 81% of them.


  57. The SBC removed the language about Jesus being the key to interpretation because people began to use it as an excuse to be so-called red letter Christians. So if something wasn’t recorded as coming directly from the mouth of Jesus they didn’t think it had authority. Thus they could ignore anything from the NT letters that they didn’t like. As for ESS, with some pushback from other reformed thinkers I believe some corrections are being made.


  58. Paul, John, and Peter too.

    I think Boyd’s theory is a bridge too far for me. If God is in any way moral and holy, then how can He not have *some* anger at how we treat each other and the world He gave us? And what is He to do with those who stubbornly refuse to give up their bloody ways?

    God as Judge and Destroyer is a part of the Biblical revelation. If we are to keep any sense that God is at least partially inspiring it, we have to keep that sense of who He is, distasteful as it is to our age’s sensibilities.


  59. Good comment.

    I was watching one of the protest videos that wen viral a couple of weeks back, the one in which a pro-Trump protester (male) cold-cocked an anti-Trump protester (female). The element of the video that saddened me almost as much as that was the guy standing beside the pro-Trump guy, wearing a “Jesus Will Judge You” t-shirt and wailing away on another person.

    All I could think was “Do you realize that your shirt might apply to you, too, buddy, and that he might just be judging you on your own actions here?!”


  60. Boyd speaks to this, and I agree with him. Actually Revelation undercuts the idea your proposing. It takes the violent symbols of the OT and transforms them; for example, the “sword” that Jesus uses to “smite” his enemies” is the Word of the gospel.

    As for eternal punishment, we’ve been through that here before, and in my opinion Jesus is warning about the destruction of Jerusalem, not eternal punishment.


  61. Hi Beau,

    You’re right there is no difference in the OT vs NT God, however the difference is in the readers. Are people reading this from a “Sola Scriptura” perspective or from a historical Christian perspective where “Holy Tradition” has a “weight” in interpreting these scriptures ?

    If you read Christian history, I think Greg Boyd has picked up on the theme of reading through a cruciform “lense”, which is something a lot of the Fathers did. He also recognises that the Fathers used allegory to explain some difficult passages. This doesn’t mean that they thought, “Jesus was all lovey-dovey, “I’m Okay Your Okay”?” Just read up on their monastic literature & you realise the Christian life is a never ending struggle.

    I suggest patristics may not have completely answered the questions regarding OT violence & people like Boyd, Paul Copan & Mathew Flanagan, ( offer some plausible solutions to explain the “disconnect” between the OT & NT.

    That “disconnect” concerns us as if God hadn’t changed from a literal reading of the OT, all Western nations should be receiving His judgements for the multiple abominations that we have committed through history. Christians should be in His favour & He should be “smashing” the pagans. He should have let us win the Crusades. As this didn’t happen, I suggest the pinnacle of what was needed is in the Life of Christ (He came down for us & our salvation) & the cross. All history gets absorbed by This, answers to This & is re-interpreted through this as the whole creation of our world was in the light of His coming & dying.

    So prior to the OT, there was already a plan that was being hidden until the right time. The only way God could do that, I suggest, is partially to condescend to a culture & its developing view / awareness of the Divine. Meaning He could only reveal Himself in forms that could be understood in the cultural context appropriate to the people at the time. As they began a journey of obedience, He would begin revealing His inner desires for them through the Prophets.

    That’s what I see so far. I’m willing for patristics to correct me if I’m wrong.



  62. Stephen-

    It does not have to be an either/or situation (Literalism/Fundamentalism v. just human perceptions). It is more complex than that, as scholars such as Peter Enns, John Walton, Scot McKnight, Larry Hurtado, etc… have shown.


  63. I am perturbed by the ‘vengeance is mine’ theme tonight. Some of our bloggers should be standing on soap boxes calling down the wrath of God as they see fit on all who dare to look sideways at their ‘righteous’ opinions.
    I am not a ‘Jesus meek, Jesus mild ‘ etc believer but I feel threatened by the strong revengeful stance taken by some of our contributors.
    We confess our sins, receive forgiveness and venture out into the world around us prepared to live better lives through God’s Grace. Apparently this isn’t enough. So why do we bother? Christ offers us a new direction, not eternal damnation if we so much as take one side step.
    We do get a second, third or 70 times 7 chance to be forgiven and step out again in his footsteps. Harsh vengeance is not part of Christ’s message.
    The Beatitudes give us such a hopeful direction to follow, and end with Matthew 5 v12, Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven.
    I live to see each day a better effort than the one just past. How do I do this? Through Christ who strengthens me.

    Oh yes, & Christ is still Risen.


  64. Godwin’s law is an Internet adage which asserts that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches —?that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or his deeds.


  65. Wiki: “Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture that states that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression of the parodied views.”


  66. Or the Koran, dictated word-for-word by God to Mohammed!

    (This guy’s gotta be a troll…)


  67. But is the God of The Handmaid’s Tale really the solution?

    (Your comment on FEMINISM(TM) is identical to the Male Supremacists getting called out by Wartburg Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, and other spiritual abuse watchblogs.)


  68. I find it interesting that the Paul and John both portray the end as having God destroying his enemies in a gigantic blood bath, rather than continuing to bear with them. Any comments on that?

    Plus the doctrine of eternal punishment fits in here as well. Yet Jesus warned of the judgement and wrath of God on rebellious sinners. But he was also the one who forgave his enemies as he was dying.


  69. Jesus said: “Those who live by the sword will die by it.”
    I not sure I buy the “Primitive bronze age myth” excuse: all the modern-day Bible scholarship has the bulk of Joshua as at least exilic. I think we frequently forget that the people who wrote the conquest narratives were a people who had already had their (God-given) land seized from them in their turn. They were a people who had conquered their land in the way that every people conquered their enemies, given themselves a king, defended it by military might and international politics like every other nation, and then lost it. I would say that to read the conquest narratives as being the right way to do things, and an unmitigated triumph, is to read them the wrong way. They are not a piece of nostalgia for the “good old days” of genocides, or a kingdom in the height of its glory boasting of its foundation myths, but a long discussion of “What went wrong?”


  70. I agree with much of what you say in your comment. The problem is that the degree of revisionism and theological and interpretative reworking necessitated by such an approach seems to many not just to change a living organism or tradition, but to kill it and for all intents and purposes start over. That then raises the question of whether, after such a reworking, we are in substantial continuity with our Christian forbears, or actually practicing a different religion while using some of the same nomenclature. I would prefer to see the god of wrath and bloody vengeance go, become obsolete; but I have yet to see an attempt to do that which didn’t involve a substantial rupture between past practice and understanding and the proposed new approach. Perhaps that is unavoidable, but I still wonder what exactly will be left of the original religion when and if it’s finally done. Not much, it appears to me.


  71. It seems very clear that development at least slowed over time. The Hebrews developed traditions for handling scripture, keeping it intact, as monotheism solidified. Look at the elaborate traditions they developed regarding reading scripture, handling and disposing of physical texts, etc…

    This makes sense to me. The very early Hebrews would have had neither the intellectual context nor the physical infrastructure for such preservationism.


  72. The Bible (not a book but a library) is not a message from God. It is the record of the human perception of God over at least a millenium. Perhaps not everyone will want to go so far but I think our current understanding of science and archeology and historical literary criticism forces us to abandon our fundamentalism. Genesis is mythology. The Exodus never happened the way it is described. The Israelites did not invade the Promised Land and take possession; they were indigenous Canaanites who separated themselves out from their fellows. Yahweh exhibits perfect Bronze Age morality – the ancients were barbarians.

    Should I stop? The earliest form of Christianity was an apocalyptic sect who thought the end of the age was coming within their lifetimes. In the earliest tradition Jesus was depicted as a human being who was adopted by God because of his righteousness and given divine status only at his Resurrection. Paul significantly altered the trajectory of the faith (and ensured its success) by divorcing it from Jewish cultural practices (which were clearly endorsed by Jesus’ closest disciples).

    Do I go too far? Well it’s 1:30ish in the a.m. and I’m laying it out as clearly as I can. This is where I am.

    Is it all over? Well the congregations are leaving in droves. The “remnant” is getting meaner and more desperate. What is to be done? Well the chief quality of a living organism or a living tradition is change. Never changing is what dead people do. And dead ideas.

    I think its up to us. We were given a lot. Did we really think nothing would be required of us?


  73. Chaplain Mike,
    would you say that Boyd explores ‘The Ban’ as imagery of God’s victory in the epic battle of ‘good’ over ‘evil’?

    I know evangelicals (some of them at least) want to stay with a ‘literal’ reading of a ‘wrathful’ God, but even the Jewish people have seen the imagery in the OT as having a deeper meaning than that of the evangelical ‘clear meaining’ of Scripture.

    I hope Boyd can make a dent in some of the ‘wrathful god’ worshipers because these guyz are producing some interesting theology that is very harmful to women and to innocent people (I speak of 9 Marks theology) and hyper-patriarchy.

    The contrasting divide between the fundamentalist ‘wrathful’ god and the orthodox comprehension of the Christ of the Holy Gospels is widening. And so now we have the SBC with it’s rejection of reading the sacred Scriptures through the lens of Jesus Christ; and we have the neo-Cal rising segment of the SBC touting ESS, placing Our Lord as a ‘lesser’ Person in the Holy Trinity claiming that He is ‘eternally subordinate’ to the Father. It’s widening, yes.

    Will Boyd’s work help put light on the subject in your opinion? Light that will be meaningful to fundamentalist-evangelicals?


  74. Boyd would say that ultimately we must view everything through the lens of the cross. This is the supreme revelation of God that casts its light on all other portrayals.


  75. Where does the ‘Development’ stop? Or does it? What does this tell us about Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels? Are there still strains of Jesus’ teaching that are less developed than more ‘fully developed’ teachings?


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