The Immortality Of the Soul – Truth Or Myth (Part 3) : The Spirit Of Man

In the first two parts of this study, we examined both the Hebrew Bible (HB) and the NT to discover the biblical concept of the soul. We concluded that the soul of man is not a distinct component of his nature which lives on in sentient consciousness after death. We saw that both the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psuche have a varied semantic range which does not include the idea of an immaterial immortal part of man as distinct from the body, which survives the death of the body. We saw that this concept of the soul is of pagan origin and found it’s way into the thinking of Christendom through the influence of Greek education upon the early Gentile church fathers.

But scripture also speaks of spirit in relation to man. Is spirit another component of man’s nature? Are human beings made up of three constituent parts – a spirit, a soul and a body? Based on some passages of scripture {1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12} this might appear to be the case. Is there a distinction between soul and spirit, and if so what is it? These are the questions we will seek to answer in this study.

Let’s first take a look at how the concept of man’s spirit is understood in differing Christian circles.

GotQuestions.Com defines the human spirit as “the incorporeal part of man.” But this is basically how they also define the human soul. In their answer to the question, “What is the difference between the soul and spirit of man” they further define the spirit as “the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.” In their answer they do maintain a distinction and separability of the soul from the spirit.

One popular belief is that the spirit is the part of man that experiences the ‘new birth’ when one receives Christ. The spirit in man is said to be dead, separated from God, until it is born again, receiving new life. It is believed then that it is the spirit of man that possesses eternal life. Some Christian teachers regard the spirit of a man as the real person, i.e. man is basically a spirit being who has a soul (which enables him to engage the world on an emotional and psychological level) and lives in a body (by which he engages the world on a physical level). These views are expressing a belief that man has a tripartite nature – a spirit, soul and body.

Others see man as consisting of only two constituent parts – soul and body. In this view there is no real distinction between spirit and soul; they are just different ways of saying the same thing. This dichotomist view typically sees the spirit/soul as the immaterial part of man that consciously survives the death of the body. This view is expressly espoused in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them; the souls of the righteous are received into the highest heaven and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell. Besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”

XXXII/i

Most of these popular views see the spirit of man as a independent, self-conscious entity in it’s own right; the soul and body, in a trichotomy, or just the body, in a dichotomy, being only necessary for proper intercourse in the natural or material world. It must be noted that the idea that the human spirit is the true self which has a kind of immortal existence has also been a prominent belief in most religious systems, such as Hinduism, Islam, various forms of Gnosticism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, Reincarnation, Wicca, Hermeticism, ancient Egyptian religion, New Age/esotericism, Vodou, and many others.

The Spirit Of Man In The Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew scriptures there are two words which are translated as ‘spirit‘ in connection with humans, and these two words are very closely related. The first is neshamah, whose primary meaning is a blast of air, and hence it’s most literal and predominate meaning in the HB is breath. The second word is ruach, which denotes the movement of air, and hence it’s most literal meaning in the HB is breath and wind. When these words are used to convey the idea of ‘spirit’ in the HB they are being used figuratively. These two words are used as synonyms as the following verses show:

Job 4:9 – “By the blast (neshamah) of God they perish and by the breath (ruach) of his anger they are consumed.”

Job 27:3 – “As long as my breath (neshamah) is in me, and the breath (ruach) from God in my nostrils . . .”

Job 32:8 – “Truly a spirit (ruach) it is in man, the breath (neshamah) from the Almighty enables him to understand.”

Job 33:4 – “The spirit (ruach) of God has made me, and the breath (neshamah) of the Almighty gives me life.”

Job 34:14-15 – “If he set his heart to do so, and gathered to himself his spirit (ruach) even his breath (neshamah), all flesh together would perish and man would return to the dust.”

Psalm 18:15 – “The valley of the seas were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Yahweh, from the blast (neshamah) of the breath (ruach) of your nostrils.”

Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and breath (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The only passage where neshamah is translated as spirit in our English versions has to do with humanity specifically:

The spirit (neshamah) of man is the lamp of Yahweh, searching all the inner places of the belly.

Prov. 20:27

This passage is highly figurative and somewhat enigmatic. The words ‘lamp’, ‘searching’ and ‘belly’ are obviously being used figuratively, but what about neshamah; is it to be taken figuratively as ‘spirit’ or more literal as ‘breath’. Is this verse teaching something about a particular part of man’s nature? I propose that ‘the lamp of YHWH‘ should probably be understood as an ablative genitive i.e. ‘a lamp from (i.e. given by) YHWH‘. Hence the neshamah of man is a lamp given to man by YHWH. This coincides with the first mention of neshamah in the HB:

Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life, and the man became a living being.

Gen. 2:7

But how does the breath of life given to man by God act as a lamp which searches all the inward parts of the belly? Again, the whole passage must be regarded as figurative. The inner places of the belly is figurative of the motives, intentions, purposes, etc. that are hidden within a person’s heart, unseen by others and often not fully known to the person themself. But there is in man the ability to discern his own inner workings, a self-awareness by which he can know himself. This is what neshamah is figurative of in this verse. So this passage really lends no support to the idea that man has a spirit entity in his body that is the true self, which will consciously survive the death of the body.

We now move to the word ruach, which is the word that is chiefly translated as ‘spirit‘ in our English versions. We will look only at passages in which ruach relates to humans.

Ruach as Breath

Many times when ruach is used of human beings it simply refers to the breath of life which God gave to the original man and which has been transmitted to all humans through the man’s seed. This is one of it’s literal meanings. These verses are Gen. 6:17; 7:22; Num. 16:22; 27:16; Job 12:10; 27:3; 32:8; Ps. 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 3:19-21; 12:7; Is. 38:16 (maybe figurative); 42:5; 57:16 (maybe figurative); Ezek. 37: 5,6,8,9,10. Of course, there are many verses where ruach is used also in connection with God and ‘breath‘ is the probable meaning. In all of these passages the idea of a spirit entity in man that consciously survives death is most improbable. For example, the Genesis passages speak of the “ruach of life”, which could be taken as ‘the spirit of life’, but two thing are against it. First, in 7:22 it is specifically stated that this ‘ruach of life’ is in the nostrils, hence it refers to breath. Second, in this same verse, as well as in 7:15, the phrase is applied to animals. But those who hold to the dichotomist or the trichotomist views of man would not typically say that animals have a spirit entity in them that is their real self and which survives the death of the body. But animals do share with humans the breath of life in their nostrils. This is also apparent in the Eccl. 3:19-21 passage.

Ruach as Disposition/Inclination/ State of Mind/ Temperament

Often in the HB ruach is used figuratively to denote a dominate disposition or frame of mind, or even a temporary state of mind of a person. Here are passages which reflect this meaning: Gen. 26:35; 41:8; Ex. 6:9; Num. 5:14, 30; 14:24; Deut. 2:30; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judg. 8:3; 9:23; 1 Kings 21:5; 1 Chron. 5:26; Job 7:11; 15:13; 21:4; 32:18; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; 77:3; 142:3; 143:4; Prov. 11:3; 14:29; 15:4, 13; 16:18, 19, 32; 17:22, 27; 18:14; 25:28; 29:23; Eccl. 7:8-9; 10:4; Is. 19:14; 28:6; 29:24; 37:7; 54:6; 57:15; 61:3; 65:14; 66:2; Jer. 51:11; Ezek. 3:14; Dan. 2:1, 3; Hosea 4:12; 5:4; Haggai 1:14; Zech. 13:2; Mal. 2:15-16.

Ruach as Mind/Will/Resolve/Motives

Another figurative use of ruach is to denote a persons thoughts, their will or an inner resolve. Here are passages with this meaning: Ex. 35:21; 1 Sam. 1:15; 1 Chron. 28:12; 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1, 5; Job 6:4; 20:3; Ps. 32:2; 51:10, 12; 77:6; 78:8; Prov. 1:23; 16:2; 29:11; Is. 29:24; Jer. 51:1, 11; Ezek. 11:5; 19; 13:3; 18:31; 20:32; 36:26; Dan. 2:1.

Ruach as Vigor/Inner Strength/Courage

Verses which demonstrate this figurative use of ruach are: Gen. 45:27; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judges 15:19; 1 Sam. 30:12; Ps. 76:12; 143:7; Is. 19:3; Ezek. 21:7.

Ruach as Divine Enablement/Prophetic Inspiration/Supernatural Ability

This figurative use of ruach signifies an ability or enablement from God. Here are the verses: Gen. 41:38; Ex. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Num. 11:17, 25, 26, 29; 24:2; 27:18; Deut. 34:9; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sam. 11:6; 19:20, 23; 2 Kings 2:9, 15; 2 Chron. 15:1; 20:14; 24:20; Neh. 9:20, 30; Job 32:18; Ps. 106:33; 143:10; Is. 11:2; 42:1; Hosea 9:7.

Ruach as Synonymous with Leb (Heart)

The following verses establish the use of ruach and leb as synonyms through the device of synonymous parallelism: Ex. 35:21; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 2;11; 5:1; Ps. 34:18; 51:10, 17; 77:6; 143:4; Is. 57:15; 65:14; Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 21:7; Mal. 2:15, 16. This category of usage helps to further clarify the figurative use of ruach as ‘spirit‘ and shows that it does not refer to a supposed immaterial entity within human nature that is the real self and which can exist apart from the body. These passages show that ruach and leb (spirit and heart) are used interchangeably and so it is necessary to understand what is being conveyed by ‘heart’ in the HB.

When the HB speaks of a man’s heart it speaks of the inner activity of man in contrast to that which is outer; of that which is unseen in contrast to what is seen. The concept of leb can denote a person’s mind, will, motives, emotions, affections, desires, devotion, commitments, loyalties, etc., as the following verses show: Gen. 6:5; 8:21; 17:17; 27:41; 50:21; Ex. 4:14; 7:23; 25:2; 35:5, 22; Num. 16:28; Deut. 28:65; 29:19; Josh. 14:8; Judg. 5:15; 16:15; 18:20; 1 Sam. 1:13; 9:20; 10:26; 2 Sam. 6:16; 7:27; 15:6; 1 Kings 8:23; 11:3; 1 Chron. 28:9; Neh. 2:12; 6:8; Job 31:27; 36:13; Ps. 10:17; 21:2; 26:2; 37:31; 44:21; 57:7; 64:6; 78:37; 84:2; 119:11; Prov. 4:23; 6:18; 12:20; 16:1; 23:12; Eccl. 1:17; 9:1; Is. 35:4; 41:22; 65:14; Jer. 3:16; 12:3; 20:12; Lam. 1:20; 3:21; Ezek. 33:31; 40:4; Dan. 1:8; 10:12; Hosea 10:2; Mal. 2:2. There are literally hundreds more verses showing the meaning of leb in the HB.

Now for those who hold that man can be divided up into two or three constituent parts i.e. spirit, soul and body, I ask, “What is the heart of man?” If you say that the heart corresponds to the human spirit, which I agree with, we find that the popular notions of man’s spirit do not coincide well with how leb is used in the HB. One popular belief regarding the spirit of man is that it is the part of man that relates to God, while the soul is the part that relates to other humans. But we have seen that leb many times describes the inner activity of a person toward other people. Not only that but leb and nephesh (i.e. soul) are also used in synonymous parallelism in the HB: Ps. 84:2; Prov. 2:10; 23:7; 24:12. To complicate things even further nephesh and ruach are also used in synonymous parallelism in Job 7:11; 12:10; Is. 26:9. It appears that when these words are used in their figurative sense they are practically interchangeable terms. The error made by many Bible teachers is to regard these words as technical terms for distinct parts of human nature, but a careful examination of how these words are used does not bear this out.

A Closer Look At Specific Passages

We will now look at some specific passages in which ruach could be taken in the sense of ‘spirit’ i.e. that the spirit of man is an immaterial entity within a man which is a distinct and independent part of his nature, surviving the death of his body in conscious existence.

Numbers 16:22 {see also 27:16} – “But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, ‘O God, God of the spirits of all flesh . . . ‘ “

This would be an odd expression if ‘spirits’ here refers to a distinct part of man’s nature; is God the God only of the spirits of men and not of their souls and bodies also. This should be understood in the sense of the following passages:

  • Job 12:10 – “In his hand is the life (nephesh) of every living thing and the breath (ruach) of all the flesh of man.”
  • Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and spirit (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The statement is simply expressing the truth that God is the source of the life of all mankind. That life comes from the breath which he breathed into man at the beginning. The fact that ruach is plural i.e. ‘breaths’, rather than the typical singular ‘breath’, could be viewed as a superlative plural. In this view the ‘flesh’ that Moses speaks of is specifically that of all mankind and not of animals. Since animals also share the breath of life with man {see Gen. 1:30; 6:17; 7:15, 22} Moses uses a superlative plural to signify the breath of all mankind and not of the animals.

Psalm 31:5 “Into your hand I entrust my spirit; You have redeemed me Yahweh, God of truth.”

Is David entrusting to God the immaterial entity that dwells in his body? No, he is entrusting his breath i.e. his life to God.

Psalm 146:4“When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that day their plans come to nothing.”

Is this referring to the idea that when men die the spirit entity in them departs and goes to either heaven or hell where it is consciously alive? No, it is simply referring to the breath of life that departs from one at death.

Prov. 18:14 “The spirit of a man sustains him in sickness, but a broken spirit who can endure?”

Here spirit denotes an inner attitude or state of mind. If one’s state of mind is joyful or cheerful it will sustain him through sickness, yet if one’s state of mind is that of dejection how can he endure. Prov. 17:22 gives the same idea: “A cheerful heart brings about a good healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

2 Kings 2:9 & 15“. . . Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I may do for you before I am taken away from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be to me’ . . . And when the company of prophets saw him . . . they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’

It should be obvious that the “spirit of Elijah” does not refer to Elijah’s ghost i.e. an immaterial entity within him, but rather to the prophetic and supernatural ability by which he carried out his ministry.

Job 32:8“Truly a spirit it is in men, a breath from the Almighty gives them understanding.”

Since ‘a spirit’ is synonymous with ‘the breath from the Almighty’ and based on the context {vv. 6-9}, ruach here probably denotes inspiration from God in the form of understanding and wisdom.

Psalm 76:12“He restrains the spirit of rulers; he inspires fear in the kings of the earth.”

Here ‘spirit of rulers’ probably denotes either the proud will or the wrath of rulers.

Psalm 88:10“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up to praise you?” (NIV)

Here it appears that the spirits of the dead may refer to what is typically called ghosts, giving the impression that man has a spirit that lives on after death. But this translation is misleading. The word translated ‘spirits‘ here is raphaim, which some understand to refer to the departed spirits of the dead. Now this may have been how the word was used among pagan peoples in the Semitic world, but in the Hebrew Bible it is simply a synonym for the dead. This can be clearly seen in it’s other seven uses: Job 26:5; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14, 19. In each of these passages raphaim is set in synonymous parallelism to death or the dead (Heb. muth). There is no reason to take raphaim as a reference to departed spirits. A better translation of the above phrase is simply, “Do the dead rise up to praise you?” Of course, the answer is NO!

Psalm 146:4“His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans vanish.”

Some mistakenly take this to say that when a man dies his still living and conscious spirit departs and his body goes back to the earth. But all that it is actually saying is that when a person dies his breath departs from him and he returns to the earth. It is the man who returns to the earth, hence there is no spirit that is the real person distinct from the body. This same concept is seen in Eccl. 3:19- 21 which speaks of the death of both men and animals as their breath departing from them and they returning to the earth.

Conclusion

What we can conclude from this survey is that the concept of man as an immaterial entity or spirit (a.k.a. a ghost) living in a body, which is able to survive the death of the body in conscious existence, is not a necessary deduction drawn from any passage in the Hebrew Bible. This was the same conclusion we reached in the survey of the soul, in parts 1 and 2 of this study. It is equally as clear from this study that the Hebrew Bible knows no distinction between soul and spirit, i.e. as if these were two constituent parts of man. While the words nephesh (soul) and ruach (spirit) are, in there literal meanings, two distinct concepts, in their figurative meaning there is overlap between them. But again, neither of these concepts denotes an immaterial part of man which is immortal, living on consciously after death. In part 4 we will survey the New Testament for it’s concept of ‘spirit’ in relation to man.

Jesus, The Archegos Of Life

In a recent live video discussion with a Trinitarian Christian, it was brought up by this person that Jesus is the author or originator of life, based on Acts 3:15. This person understood this to mean that Jesus is the creator, the source from which all life comes. Having looked into this passage before, I immediately knew that this person had wrongly apprehended the passage. Wanting to reassure myself that I understood what the true meaning of this passage was, I looked deeper into the meaning of the Greek word archegos, which is translated as author, prince, or originator in most English versions. What I found confirmed what I already knew, but also gave me a deeper appreciation for this passage. In this article, I share with you my research in the hope that you too will gain a greater appreciation for this passage and what it means for you.

Acts 3:15 In Translation

Acts 3:15 – “You killed the archegos of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

NET – “Originator of life”
ESV – “Author of life”
NASB – “Prince of life”
HCSV – “source of life”
CEV – “the one who leads people to life”
GNT – “the one who leads to life”
NCV – “the One who gives life”
NLV – “the very One Who made all life”

We can see from the varied ways that archegos is translated, that it is not just a simple matter. Why are there so many options? Some of these translations (NET,ESV,HCSV,NCV,NLV) could certainly imply that Jesus is the Creator of life, while others (NASB,CEV,GNT) would not imply that at all. Since the English versions present an ambiguity as to exactly what kind of relationship between Jesus and life is being asserted here, we must look to the lexicons to see if we can obtain a clearer definition of archegos.

Archegos – The Lexical Data

Thayers Greek Lexicon:
ἀρχηγός, ἀρχηγόν, adjective, leading, furnishing the first cause or occasion . . . chiefly used as a substantive . . .
1. the chief leader, prince
2. one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter
3. the author

BDAG:
1. one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince
2. one who begins something, that is first in a series, thereby providing impetus for further developments
3. one who begins or originates, hence the recipient of special esteem in the Gr-Rom. world, originator, founder

Lidell-Scott Greek Dictionary:
I. beginning, originating . . . primary, leading , chief
II. 1. as substantive, a founder, first father . . . the founder of a family
2. a prince, chief . . .
3. a first cause, originator

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
a. The ―hero of a city, its founder or guardian; b. the ―originator or ―author (e.g., Zeus of nature or Apollo of piety); c. ―captain. Philo uses the term for Abraham, and once for God, while the LXX mostly has it for ―military leader. In the NT Christ is archēgós in Acts 5:31: we bear his name and he both looks after us and gives us a share of his glory, especially his life (3:15) and salvation (Heb. 2:10); he is also the archēgós of our faith both as its founder and as the first example when in his death he practiced his faith in God‘s love and its overcoming of the barrier of human sin (Heb. 12:2).

Discovery Bible HELPS Word Study:
properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow. (arxēgós) does not strictly mean “author,” but rather “a person who is originator or founder of a movement and continues as the leader – i.e. ‘pioneer leader, founding leader’ ” (L & N, 1, 36.6).

NET Bible Commentary:
The Greek word . . . is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. 
“Founder” (of a movement), founding leader.

So now, let’s boil this down. The three basic meanings of the word are:
1. a chief leader, ruler, prince
2. the originator or founder or beginner of something, hence the first in
a series, one who pioneers a way for others
3. a first cause, author, in the sense of a source or cause of something

OT & NT Usage

The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible some 24 times. The majority of times it refers to a ruler, leader, head of a family, or a captain. One deviation from this is Micah 1:13 where the city of Lachish is spoken of as “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion.” This probably refers to the fact that Lachish was the first city in the southern kingdom of Judah where the idolatry of the northern kingdom had taken root, and subsequently, over time, spread to the rest of Judah. In that regard it could correspond to definitions 2 or 3 above.

In the NT the word appears three other times, all in reference to Jesus, in Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2. Let’s look at these passages to see if we can gain a better understanding of what archegos means.

Acts 5:31 – “God exalted him to his right hand as Archegos and Savior . . .”

The English versions translate this in three main ways:
“Prince and Savior” – KJV, ASV, NIV, NASV, YLT
“Leader and Savior” – ESV, ISV, NET, NRSV, RSV, TLV
“Ruler and Savior” – MEV, HCSB, CJB, CSB

It seems clear that in this passage archegos is best taken in the sense of leader or ruler, for the fact that it is paired with Savior (Gr. soter) seems to be drawing from usage in the book of Judges, where the judges were referred to by both terms, archegos (leader) in 5:2 and soter (savior) in 3:9, 15. The usage in Judges precludes any necessary divine connotation to the word. Also, this statement was made by Peter before the Sanhedrin, the body of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who would have been well acquainted with the Scriptures and would have known exactly what Peter was referring to.

Heb. 2:10 – “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the archegos of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author of their salvation” – ASV, DRA, EHV, MEV, NASB1995, NCB, WEB, YLT
“captain of their salvation” – KJV, NKJV, BRG
“founder of their salvation” – ESV
“leader of their salvation” – Darby, Phillips, NABRE
“pioneer of their salvation” – NET, ISV, RSV, NRSVUE, NIV, CEB, CSB, AMPC
“source of their salvation” – GW, HCSB, NOG
“originator of their salvation” – NASB, LEB

As with Acts 3:15, we find a wide array of possible meanings of “archegos of salvation.” How can we know the best way to understand the text? We get a clue from Heb.5:9, where the author says that Jesus, after he had suffered death and was made perfect, i.e. immortal, “he became the source (Gr. aitos)of everlasting salvation . . . “ If we assume that the author is using archegos and aitios as synonyms, then we can take archegos as source, or perhaps cause. When you look up the definition of source on Google (provided by Oxford Languages) it gives as synonyms author, cause, originator and origin. When you look up the word originator, two of the synonyms it gives are founder and pioneer. So all of these English words have a similar meaning. That Jesus is the source of salvation would denote that salvation comes because of him or is obtained through him. This need not imply that Jesus is the ultimate source but only the secondary source. Just as the judges were the secondary source of salvation from the enemies of Israel, but God was the ultimate cause, calling and empowering and backing up his chosen agents, so the same can be predicated of Jesus in his role as savior. God saves us through or by means of Messiah {2 Cor. 5:18-19}.

We could also understand “archegos of salvation” in the sense that Jesus was the first to attain everlasting salvation, i.e. immortality and exaltation. This is what I believe the author of Hebrews means when he speaks of Jesus being perfected. Because he is the first, he becomes the source of this salvation to all those who follow him; he becomes the pattern to which all others will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20-21}.

Heb. 12:2 – “. . . fixing our attention on Jesus, the archegos and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author and finisher (or perfecter) of [our] faith” – KJV, ASV,BRG, DLNT, GNV,
NASB1995, JUB, MEV, YLT
“pioneer and perfecter of our [the] faith” – CSB, ISV, Mounce, NET, NIV, NRSV
“founder and perfecter of our faith” – ESV

This is a difficult one. “Author and finisher of our faith” could imply that our personal faith is something that is begun and finished by Jesus, but this, I believe, would be inaccurate. The Greek actually has “the faith” not “our faith”. This, in the context, would be referring back to chapter 11, where the personal faith of many OT believers is highlighted. We might say that “the faith” means the life of faith, as exhibited in these OT notables. Jesus is then being portrayed as the archegos and perfecter of the life of faith. But this cannot mean he was the first one to live the faith life as a pioneer, or the first in a series, for all of the people mentioned in chapter 11 preceded Jesus. It could be that archegos here is being used as an adjectival noun in the sense that Jesus is the leading or chief example of the life of faith. The words “fixing our attention on” in Greek is the word aphorao, which more precisely means to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something. So after pointing out the faith of the OT examples, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to focus all of their attention on the ultimate example of faith – Jesus, who remained faithful to God till the end and then actually entered into the reward of faith, i.e. exaltation, in contrast to those who came before {see 11:39}.

Jesus could, perhaps, be understood as the pioneer of faith in the sense that he is the first, upon completing the race, to receive the reward of immortality, opening the way for those who will follow. Jesus would not be the first to finish the race, but the first to complete the life of faith by entering into the experience of the reward.

Exegesis of Acts 3:15

So having collated the lexical and biblical usage data, let’s apply it to our text. In what sense can Jesus be said to be the archegos of life? To rightly answer this question we first have to answer the question as to what is meant by life. Did Peter mean life in the sense of the life that all living things possess? Is Jesus the archegos of all life? This is what my trinitarian interlocutor understood it to mean, and then postulated that Jesus is the Creator of the life of all living things. Now, of course, it could be saying that, but nothing in the text itself necessitates that meaning. In fact, only someone who already presupposes that Jesus is the Creator would interpret it that way. But imagine Peter standing before the crowd of Jews in the temple courtyard and telling them that the man they were recently complicit in putting to death is actually the Creator of all life. The Jews knew the Creator of all life to be Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Would these Jews have understood that Peter, by calling Jesus the archegos of life, was declaring him to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This is most untenable, especially in light of the context of Peter’s message:

“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you.” Acts 3:13-14 NET 

Clearly, no one in that crowd hearing Peter would have thought he was equating this man Jesus with the Creator, for he explicitly differentiates between Jesus and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling him the servant of Him. We can, therefore, rule out that Peter’s meaning is that Jesus is the Creator of all life.

A more plausible way to understand life in this context is that it refers to everlasting life i.e. immortality. This would mean that Peter was calling Jesus the “archegos of immortality“. So the life being spoken of here is the life of the age to come {see Lk. 20:34-36} not the the common life that all possess now in this age. So then what does it mean that Jesus is the archegos of immortality?

Looking at the lexical data and the usage in the other three occurrences of archegos in the NT, it seems reasonable to understand Acts 3:15 in the same sense as Heb. 2:10, and in fact, the two passages are saying the same thing. So one option is to take it as saying Jesus is the source of immortality, understanding it in the sense that he is the secondary source, not the ultimate source. This would mean that life in the age to come is necessarily obtained from, through, or by means of Jesus. That this would not require Jesus to be divine is clearly confirmed in such passages as 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 17:31; John 5:28-30 and Heb. 2:6-14.

A second option is to see Jesus as the beginning of immortality for the human race, the first in a series. This would fit well with a number of other statements in the NT, such as Acts 26:23; 1 Cor. 15 20-23; Col. 1:18; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 1:5, 17-18. But an even better option is to understand both of these ideas as being conveyed, i.e. having become the first human being to possess immortality, he becomes the source of this immortality for all others, and, in fact, this seems to be exactly what Heb. 5:8-9 is saying, but in different words.

Now someone might object that Peter said to the crowd, “You killed the archegos of life,” implying that he was already this when they killed him, instead of becoming such by his resurrection from the dead. But this is simply answered by assuming that Peter was speaking anachronistically. At the time Peter was speaking, Jesus had already been raised from the dead and was, therefore, indeed the archegos of life. If I were to say to my wife, “There is the highschool my father attended,” I would not mean by this that he was my father at the time he attended the school. Later he became my father and that is how I speak of him even when referring to that period of time of his life prior to becoming my father. So the language of Peter does not require Jesus to have already been the archegos of life at the time he was killed. Peter spoke anachronistically to heighten the irony of their situation i.e. they killed the one, who by means of his death, became the firstborn from the dead and the means by which immortality must be obtained by all others.

That Jesus is the “archegos of immortality” should have significant meaning for those who follow him. The promise of immortality is no longer simply a vague hope or fancy or dream. One of our own race has already entered into this glorious state, this participation in the divine nature, and has thus confirmed the promise to those who love God. As a result we have now entered into a living hope, a confident expectation of sharing in this immortality with Jesus, who has gone before us, making possible our own future participation in the divine nature.

Peace and hope to all who are in Messiah Jesus our Lord!


A Refutation of Dr. Al Garza’s Opening Statement in the Xavier – Garza Debate On ‘Is Jesus God In Psalm 110:1’

This debate took place on April 15 between Carlos Xavier, a biblical unitarian, and Dr. Al Garza, a trinitarian scholar. Dr. Garza is the author of over 20 books and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies and is an Associate Scholar in Biblical Linguistics from Hebrew University’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Israel. Dr. Garza was answering the debate question in the affirmative.

I was expecting a vigorous presentation by Dr. Garza, but instead was surprised to hear him offer such a weak case. In fact, it seemed as if Dr. Garza was unenthusiastic or half-hearted about the debate, using only half of his allotted ten minutes for his opening. His opening consisted of four main points and a conclusion, all of which were weak and unconvincing. In this article I want to go through each point and show it’s flaw. I will also engage with some of what he said in the cross-examination section. Finally, I will give an explanation of what Jesus was getting at in Matt 22:41-45 {see also Mk. 12:35-37; Lk. 20:41-44}. Here is a link to the debate video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o3c0pPpkHo&t=497s

Garza’s Case Refuted

Garza’s main argument in this debate was that the original reading of Ps. 110:1 did not say: “YHWH said to my lord (Heb. ladoni – which could refer to a man), as we have it in the Masoretic text, but rather, “YHWH said to the Lord (Heb. ladonai – which must refer to God). His first line of defense for this assertion (3:45-4:22) is the fact that in Matt. 22:43-45 Jesus is recorded as saying that David, in the psalm, called the messiah “lord” rather than “my lord”. To Dr. Garza’s mind this means that the text that Jesus knew in his day did not contain ladoni (to my lord) but ladonai (to the Lord), for if the text had said ladoni then Jesus would have said that David called him “my lord”. But since Matthew records Jesus as saying that David called the Messiah “lord” then this is proof that the text of Jesus’ day read ladonai instead of ladoni.

Well, I must say that this is not a very strong argument. Why should we assume that, if David called the Messiah “my lord”, Jesus would have to say that David called him “my lord” and that it would be inaccurate for Jesus to simply say that David called him “lord” if in fact David called him “my lord”. Jesus’ point is that David called the Messiah by the title lord, not that he specifically said either “my lord” or simply “lord”. In fact, there is another passage in the NT which parallels this passage in Matthew and shows Dr. Garza’s argument to be irrelevant – 1 Peter 3:6:

. . . like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.

Here are the two passages in Greek :

Matt. 22:45 – καλεῖ (calls) αὐτὸν (him) Κύριον (lord)
1 Pet. 3:6 – κύριον (lord) αὐτὸν (him) καλοῦσα (calling)

So we see that the two passages are identical except for the different forms of kaleo. Now here is the thing I want you to see. The only place in the Hebrew bible that Peter could have been referring to is Gen. 18:12, which reads:

After I am worn out, and my lord (Heb. adoni) is old, shall I have pleasure?

Here we have an exact parallel case. In both Ps. 110:1 and Gen 18:12 we have someone calling someone else “my lord”. And in both cases, when someone in the NT is referring to these passages, they relate them as if they said merely “lord” instead of “my lord”. Is Dr. Garza going to claim, based on 1 Pet. 3:6, that the original Hebrew of Gen. 18:12 must have read adon instead of adoni? I think not! This point by Dr. Garza is, therefore, invalidated.

His next point (4:30-5:28) is that there are no rabbinic commentaries that ascribe Ps. 110 to the Messiah. He states that the rabbinic interpretation is that the “lord” whom YHWH invites to sit at his right hand is Abraham, and he quotes Rashi to that effect. He then makes the claim that it was based on this traditional understanding of the psalm as referring to Abraham that the scribes added the vowel points to make the word adoni rather than adonai, which is supposedly used exclusively for God. For those who may not know, the original Hebrew text consisted of only consonants. The proper vocalization of the scriptures was passed down by tradition and vowel pointings were added to the text by the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries, based on that tradition. In the original, without vowels pointings, there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai, except by the traditional vocalization. What Dr. Garza is claiming is that when they added the vowel points at Ps. 110:1 they did so purposely based on the tradition that the psalm referred to Abraham, hence adoni, a word that can refer to men, rather than adonai, a word that refers to God.

This is indeed a bold assertion, but what proof does he offer for it? Well, the only supposed proof that he kept referring to throughout the debate is the fact that rabbinic tradition applied the psalm to Abraham. But this is simply begging the question. How can the fact that a rabbinic tradition that Abraham is the referent of Ps. 110:1 prove that the original text read adonai instead of adoni? Dr. Garza simply assumes it because that’s how he wants it to be. Are there any rabbinic sources admitting that the scribes pointed the vowels for the express purpose of aligning the text with their tradition of interpretation of the text? He doesn’t provide any because they don’t exist. It is much more rational to reason that, based on the tradition of vocalization, which read Ps.110:1 as adoni rather than adonai, that they interpreted it as referring to Abraham (and David and Saul), because they believed, based on that traditional vocalization, that it referred to a man, not to God. Dr. Garza’s claim is simply preposterous. Not only that, but his claim that there is no rabbinic tradition which refers the psalm to Messiah is false. Here are some sources:

  • Yalkut Shimoni on Tehilim 110:
    “Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
  • T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai:
    “And the Holy one, blessed be he, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’. And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord’.”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Genesis LXXXV, 9:
    “… AND THY STAFF alludes to the royal Messiah. as in the verse The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XVIII, 23:
    “…That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Artscroll Tenach Commentary Tehillim:
    “Sforno says that this Psalm is dedicated to the future king Messiah. He is on God’s right hand and the ministering angels are on the left. The armies of Gog and Magog will attack, but HaShem will subdue them until they come crawling to the feet of the Messiah.”

The fact that rabbis could refer the psalm to Messiah, knowing that the traditional vocalization read adoni, shows us that they regarded the Messiah who was to come, strictly as a human being, not as God. On top of the rabbinic sources, the very fact that Jesus uses Ps. 110 as recorded in Matt 22:41-45, proves that the Jewish leaders of that day must have considered the psalm messianic. Jesus’ purpose in applying the psalm to Messiah would have been completely moot if those to whom he was speaking did not regard the psalm as messianic. Mr. Xavier pointed this out to Dr. Garza later in the debate, but he had no response.

Dr. Garza’s next point (5:28-6:01) is where we start to see some sleight of hand. He asserts that we can know that Ps. 110:1 originally said ladonai, i.e. to the Lord, instead of ladoni, i.e. to my lord, because in all of the psalms ladoni appears no where else, but ladonai does. As if to strengthen this claim he makes the following statements: “David wrote ladonai in every other place in the psalms . . . When we look at all of the places in the book of Psalms where ladonai appears, we can see what David intended to write. David did not intend to write ladoni in any other place in all 150 psalms.” Note the underlined sections of this quote. Don’t you get the impression that there must be many places in the psalms where ladonai occurs. Well, if so, you would be wrong. In fact, the word occurs only twice in the psalms, in 22:30 and 130:6. So Garza’s argument seems to be that because ladonai is used by David in two other psalms then 110:1 must read ladonai instead of ladoni. No, really, that is his argument. Not only is this a weak argument, but it borders on ridiculous. I’m stunned that someone would not see the silliness of such an argument. By what logic does the fact that David intended to write ladonai in two places in the psalms mean that he didn’t intend to write ladoni in another psalm? What a text reads is not to be determined by how many other times the same word is used, either in the same book or in other books of the Bible. The fact of the matter is this, that in every Hebrew text, in every Greek text, and in the OT Peshitta, Ps. 110:1 reads to my lord. To postulate that it should read “to the Lord” based on such weak arguments as Dr. Garza presented in this debate is to leave the realm of reality for the world of fantasy.

Next (6:02- 6:19), he attempts to strengthen his case by appealing to v. 5 of the psalm, which reads, The Lord (Heb. adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. Dr. Garza says that, “David describes Adonai at the right hand of Yahweh, referencing back to v.1.” He then states that in the NT only Jesus is depicted as at the right hand of God, implying that Jesus must be Adonai. He also states that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the right hand of the Messiah. The problem that Dr. Garza is going to have is that vv.5-7 are somewhat ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. Such passages are not at all conducive for use as proofs. One interpretation, given by the NET Bible commentary, takes adonai as a reference to Yahweh, who is being addressed, hence “O Lord, at your right hand he (the king) strikes down kings in the day of his wrath.” Vv. 6-7 then would be referring to the king who sits at Yahweh’s right hand. Another possible explanation is to see adonai i.e. Yahweh as being at the right hand of the king. Dr. Garza claims that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the Messiah’s right hand. Well, yes and no. There is no passage specifically about the Messiah which mentions Yahweh being at his right hand, but in Ps. 16:8 David, as Israel’s king and Yahweh’s anointed (i.e. messiah), stated that Yahweh is at his right hand. Therefore, there is no reason why Ps. 110:5 could not be understood in this way. The NET Bible commentary gives a third option – to revocalize adonai as adoni to match v.1. This would make v.5, as well as vv. 6-7, addressed to Yahweh but about the king. In any case, Dr. Garza’s understanding of the text is not at all certain and is therefore a weak proof of the debate thesis.

His next point (6:29-6:46) is another case of sleight of hand by Dr. Garza. He quotes from the Targum on Psalm 110 and states that it “refers to adoni as the Word.” He quotes it as saying, “Yahweh said at him or with him the word . . . “ In quoting it like this he gives the impression that the “my lord” in the Hebrew text is replaced with “the word” (Aram. memra) in the Targum. He then goes on to show how Jesus is referred to as “the word” in the NT. But this is completely false. The Aramaic text of the Targum actually has the word ribbon or ribbona, not memra, as the translation for adoni. Here is how one English translation of the Aramaic text reads:

1.     Composed by David, a psalm. The Lord said in his decree to make me lord of all Israel, but he said to me, “Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord spoke by his decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. “Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, “Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.”

Targum Psalms – An English Translation by Edward M. Cook 2001

Note the underlined word “decree”. This is the word memra, i.e. “the word” that Dr. Garza wants us to believe is replacing the adoni of the Hebrew text. Now note the underlined word “lord”, which is ribbon or ribbona in Aramaic, and which is the translation of the Hebrew adoni. Dr. Garza has either completely misunderstood the Targum text or he was being less than candid in what it says. This point by Garza fails to show what he wants it to.

In conclusion(7:38 – 7:44) he states, “We can safely conclude that adoni in Ps. 110:1 is based on rabbinic tradition.” I’m sorry, but he did not even come close to proving any such thing. I hope you can see just how flawed and deficient Dr. Garza’s opening presentation was in proving his case. So much for his opener.

Further Fallacies

I now want to show other fallacious arguments used by Dr. Garza in the rest of the debate. At timestamp 26:14-26:48 Dr. Garza states emphatically that in the NT Jesus is never once called kurios mou (i.e. my lord), the Greek rendering of adoni. But this is manifestly false. Jesus is called kurios mou in Lk. 1:43; Jn. 20:13, 28; Phil. 3:8. When I pointed this out to Dr. Garza in the comment section on the debate video page, instead of admitting his mistake he obfuscated the issue with these responses:
I already stated that in those verses you read ‘THE Lord of me’ with the article in a different tense in Greek and you have other places where Jesus is called just Lord like God the Father. Kurios is a generic word for Lord and can go either way based on your belief. The Hebrew and Peshitta are more exact to YHVH and Adonai to Jesus which I pointed out and Carlos did not refute.”

“In other words, you would not translate Luke and John has to say “to my lord.” It would be translated as ‘the Lord of me.’ That is the difference grammatically.”

The underlined section of his response is hard to make sense of. He says “different tense” but I think he meant different cases. But the meaning of a word does not change because the case is different. Kurios mou (nominative), kuriou mou (genitive), kurion mou (accusative), all mean the same thing, my lord.

But even more than this, Jesus is called dozens of times in the NT kurios (or kurion, kuriou) hemon, which means “our lord”. Mou is the 1st person singular genitive of the Greek word ego. Hemon is the 1st person plural genitive of ego. So Jesus is called “my lord” in the singular and “our lord” in the plural many times in the NT. Dr. Garza is simply wrong!

At stampmark 27:52-29:17 Dr. Garza appeals to the Peshitta NT, claiming that in Matt. 22:43-45 the Peshitta calls Jesus by the divine name Yahweh. Is this true? I had never heard this claim before this debate, so I did some checking to see if his claim is true. What he is referring to is that in the Peshitta the Aramaic word for “lord” in Matt 22:43 & 45 is marya. It seems that there are a few scholars in the field of Peshitta studies who have put forward the theory that marya, a form of mara, meaning ‘lord’, is meant to designate the name Yahweh. Hence the “lord” in Matt. 22:43 & 45, which is referring to the Messiah, is supposed to be calling him Yahweh. The claim is that marya = mar+yah = Lord Yahweh1. From what I could gather, only some scholars take this position while others deny it, seeing marya simply as the emphatic form of mara. It is true that marya is used throughout the Peshitta OT and NT for the tetragrammaton (YHWH), but this appears to be a substitution for the divine name, like kurios in Greek. Marya is most likely an equivalent of the Hebrew adonai, which was used by the Jews as a substitute for YHWH when reading or reciting the scriptures out loud, and like adonai is an emphatic form of adon, so marya is the emphatic form of mara. Kurios is an equivalent of adonai in Greek, and it seems to me the best way to understand marya is as an equivalent to adonai in Aramaic.

That marya occurs a few times with reference to Jesus in the NT is extrapolated by the proponents of this view to mean that Jesus is being called Yahweh. But Dr. Rocco A. Errico, a former student of Dr. George Lamsa, takes a more sensible approach:

“When the Aramaic word Mariah is used it may refer to either the LORD God or to the highest ranking Lord of lords. For instance Jesus was called by the people “my Lord”, Mar- from the word Mara, lord, master, sir…The term Mariah-LORD was substituted for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to the LORD God only, but on a few occasions the Messiah is called Mariah (as in [Matthew] verse [22]:45) because he is the highest Lord among men. (GOD is the LORD of the Messiah.)”

The validity of Dr. Errico’s perspective can be seen in the absurdities that would result if marya, when used of Jesus, meant to signify him as Yahweh. Take for example Acts 2:38: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” The Peshitta has marya for the word “Lord”, which if we would take it to mean Yahweh would result in this: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Yahweh and Messiah!” God made the man Jesus {see v.22} Yahweh? What kind of nonsense is that? Another example is Rom. 14:9, which would read like this: “For this reason the Messiah died and returned to life, so that he might become Yahweh of both the dead and the living.” Does anybody really find this plausible?

Dr. Garza’s perspective is that just as he thinks that Jesus being called kurios in the Greek NT means he is Yahweh, because kurios is used as a substitute for the divine name in both the LXX and the NT, so likewise, that Jesus being called marya in the Peshitta means he is Yahweh, because marya is used as a substitute for the divine name in the Peshitta OT and NT. But he is mistaken on both counts. The words kurios and marya have meaning beyond their use as a substitute for the divine name. In Acts 25:26 the Emperor of Rome is called kurios by the Roman governor of Judea. Are we to assume that this Roman governor was calling Caesar Yahweh? If kurios, when used of Jesus, was meant to designate him as Yahweh, then the oft used phrase in the NT, “our Lord Jesus Christ” would amount to “our Yahweh Jesus Christ.” I’m sorry, but this is simply ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus is called “lord” (kurios in Greek and marya in Aramaic), not because the NT authors are designating him Yahweh, but because they are designating him as the one Lord out of all created beings, whom God has appointed and exalted to that position, and to whom all others must submit.

Matthew 22:41-45

41 While the Pharisees were still gathered, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They told him, “David’s.” 43 He asked them, “Then how can David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord’ when he says, 44 ‘The Lord told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘? 45 If David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?

Orthodox Trinitarian Christians are nearly universal in the belief that the only way to make sense of this passage is to see Jesus as affirming that the Messiah is himself God and that this is why David could call him Lord. In other words, the Messiah must be more than just David’s son or descendant if David calls him ‘Lord.’ He must also be David’s God.

The first thing that needs to be said in response to this is that the text does not explicitly say this. No where in this passage, or in it’s parallels in Luke and Mark, does the text have Jesus or the author explaining that what Jesus meant is that the Messiah must be God. This is merely an assumption on the part of those who already presuppose that Jesus is God in accordance with orthodox creedal dogma. To be sure, if one holds this presupposition then the passage can be made to correspond, making the passage appear to be support for the presupposition. But what if one does not approach this text with the presupposition that Jesus is God? Can the text be made to make sense if it is approached with the presupposition that the Messiah is strictly a man? Well, let’s see.

The first point I want to look at is that the words of Jesus in this passage give the impression that he is challenging the popular belief of the Jews that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But I don’t think we should even entertain such a thought too long. Why would Matthew start off his gospel with the words, “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then include a statement of Jesus denying this very thing. The Jews were certainly correct to hold that the Messiah would be a son of David, since their scriptures declared as much {1 Chron. 17:11-14; Is. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6}. That Jesus is a descendant of David is affirmed in other NT documents {see Lk. 1:32-33, 69; Acts 13:22-23; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16}. So then what is Jesus driving at by this questioning of the Jews. Again, some say that he is challenging their belief that the Messiah is simply a man. This is, of course, Dr. Garza’s position, but it is not the necessary conclusion that must be drawn from the passage.

Jesus’ question can be put like this, “If the Messiah is David’s son, then how is it that David calls him ‘Lord’?” The relevance of the question is to be found in the Semitic culture, in which a man’s son or descendant would not be considered greater than himself. This would be even more so if the man were a great patriarch or, as was David, the originator of a royal dynasty. Take Abraham, for example. It is doubtful that Jews would have thought that any descendant of Abraham, the father of their nation, would ever hold a place of greater honor than Abraham, not even the Messiah. They would have envisioned the Messiah, no matter how great he would be, as bowing down before Abraham to pay him honor. This can be seen in the rabbinic quote cited earlier in this article:
“Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
Here Abraham takes offence at the Messiah being given a greater honor than him. But God placates him by reminding him that the Messiah and ,indeed, God himself is sitting at Abraham’s right hand, thus putting Abraham in a place of greater honor. In the same way, David, the great king of Israel, would likely be viewed as bowing before Abraham and addressing him as ‘my lord’ after the resurrection, in the age to come, rather than the reverse.

I have to disagree with Carlos Xavier when he said (55:00 – 56:02) that Jews would not have a problem with a son becoming greater than his father and uses the story of Joseph’s dream in Gen 37:9-11 as evidence. But the reaction of Jacob in v. 10 shows that he was not comfortable with the thought. Mr. Xavier says that Jacob accepted it, believing God had a plan, but the text doesn’t say this, it merely says that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Later in the story, when Joseph and Jacob are reunited, there is no indication in the text that Jacob bowed down to Joseph and called him ‘my lord’ as Joseph’s brothers had done.

So it seems to me that Jesus is challenging the Pharisee’s understanding of the extent of Messiah’s authority and position in comparison to the patriarchs. The Jews, though they would have held Messiah to be a figure of great importance and authority and worthy of great honor in his own day, in the resurrection it seems they would have regarded Messiah as subject to the patriarchs. By quoting Ps. 110:1 Jesus was showing an inconsistency in the thinking of these Jews. If the Messiah would be subject to the patriarchs after the resurrection then why does David call him ‘my lord’, an address that a subordinate bestows on a superior?

What the Jews of that day did not know, in that it was hidden from them, was the fact that the Messiah would be rejected by the people, be put to death, and then be raised from the dead, not along with all of the righteous of all time in the resurrection event at the end of the age, but in a separate and singular event, prior to the event known by the Jews as the resurrection. Hence the Messiah would be the first man to receive immortality and so become the source of resurrection for all others, including the patriarchs themselves, establishing him as preeminent over all others {Heb. 5:7-9; Jn. 5:26-30; Rom. 14:9; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:17-182}. So in the resurrection at the end of the age it is the Messiah who will call forth from their graves the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, who will then bow down before Messiah and acknowledge his preeminence. This is what was faulty in the Jew’s understanding of Messiah, not that he would be God come in human flesh.

Endnotes
1. Here is an article that explains the problem : https://logoi0.blogspot.com/2011/11/marya-miryam.html?fbclid=IwAR3EGxSlfZB7muTA8F0F0xlAInJJ_Li-BngZDYWoRf9bhLYuzgtiTzgGi-I
2. The appellation “the First and the Last” need not be understood as denoting deity simply because Yahweh is so designated {Is. 44:6; 48:12-13}. The appellation can be understood as a declaration of being unique in one’s class. Yahweh is the First and the Last in that among all the gods of the nations he alone is the true and living God, the Creator. Jesus the Messiah is the First and the Last in that among all humanity he is the only one to have died and been raised from the dead immortal, prior to the resurrection event at the end of the age.

Why Daniel 7:14 Is Not A Proof-Text For The Deity Of Christ

Daniel chapter seven is often used by trinitarian and oneness apologists as evidence that the OT scriptures do indeed present a portrait of the Messiah as God, in some sense. Two elements of the chapter that are the focus of these apologists are 1. the fact that the ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is said to be “coming on the clouds of heaven” and 2. that he receives ‘worship’ from “all peoples, nations and men of every language” in v. 14. I have already addressed the first issue in a previous article1, so in this article I want to address the second point.

The Assertion

Here is the assertion of the apologists and the reason why they think Daniel 7:14 is a proof-text for the deity of Christ. The ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is assumed to be a prophetic picture of Jesus, who is said to be ‘worshipped’ by all nations. Now, while some words in the Hebrew Bible which denote worship can be used to signify the kind of homage that can be legitimately given to humans, such as to kings, like the word shachah (Str. # 7812), the word used in Dan. 7:14 is the Aramaic word pelach (Str. # 6399), which, according to the apologists, is used exclusively for the worship given to a deity, whether to Yahweh or to false gods. From this it is deduced that the ‘son of man’ figure is indeed a deity figure, and if this figure is indeed Jesus, then we must conclude that Dan. 7:14 is affirming the deity of Christ.

To further bolster this claim it is often pointed out that in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (LXX) the word latreuo (Str. #3000) is used to translate pelach. Latreuo, like pelach, is said to refer exclusively to worship given to a deity. So again, based on these facts, it is asserted that the ‘son of man’ must be regarded as a deity figure, and so when Jesus is depicted in the gospels as applying this epithet to himself, he is, in fact, making a claim to deity.

The Rebuttal

The Meaning of Pelach
First, I want to address whether or not pelach is rightly translated as ‘worship’. Usually, when this passage is presented by apologists it is quoted with the word ‘worship’ as the translation of pelach, but actually, I could find only three versions that rendered pelach as worship, the NIV, AMP, and EHV (Evangelical Heritage Version). All other versions I checked rendered pelach as serve. The AMP has both serve and worship, but the classic version of the AMP has only serve. The NET has serve but in their note on this verse they say, “Some take ‘serving’ here in the sense of ‘worshiping.’ So it seems that the support for pelach meaning worship is rather slim in the English versions, for the vast majority translate it as serve. So if pelach is a specialized word used only in reference to a deity, then it should be understood as service rendered to a deity, not worship rendered to a deity. The idea that the word means worship is probably a consequence of the fact that, from the apologists’ perspective, in it’s ten appearances in the Hebrew Bible it is used only with reference to a deity, and so, therefore, must refer to worship. But, as we will see, this is merely superficial.

So would the fact that, in all of it’s appearances in the OT2, excluding Dan. 7:14, pelach is used only with reference to a deity, prove that the ‘son of man’ figure in Dan. 7:14 is a deity figure? Not at all, simply because the limited use of the word in the OT must not be what determines the meaning of the word. We must examine all of the data concerning the word pelach to see if the assertion made by the apologists holds true.

First, it must be understood that pelach is an Aramaic word and appears only in those sections of the Hebrew Bible which are written in Aramaic. The Aramaic sections are Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan. 2:4-7:28 and Jer. 10:11, for a total of 268 verses. It is within this very limited setting that pelach appears ten times, once in Ezra and nine times in Daniel. But this is hardly sufficient to determine the meaning of the word. We must look beyond the limited use of the word in the OT and the best place to look is in the Targums, which are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.

When we look at the Targums we find that pelach is used many times to translate the Hebrew word abad (Str. # 5647) throughout the Pentateuch. In this regard, it is used many times with reference to serving men, as well as serving God. Here are a few passages in which pelach refers to serving men in the Targums: Genesis 14:4; 15:14; 27:29; 29:18, 25; 31:41; Exodus 1:13; 14:12; 21:2; Leviticus 25:40; Deuteronomy 15:12; 20:11; 28:48. There are many more but this should suffice to prove the point. This evidence clearly shows that the meaning of pelach is not limited to service rendered to a deity, but includes service rendered to men.

Now someone is sure to respond to this data by saying that the Targumic usage of pelach is irrelevant to the discussion because in the inspired Scriptures it has a specialized meaning, and we know this because in all of it’s occurrences in the OT it refers to a deity. But this is simply special pleading. Why should we believe that pelach acquired a special limited meaning within Scripture that it didn’t have in everyday usage within the culture and time in which it was written? If God chose to communicate his word within a certain culture and language, why would He change the meaning of a specific word in that language? Is He trying to confuse us? Also, the assertion that pelach is used exclusively in reference to deity in the Scripture reveals the circular reasoning of the apologists. Of the ten occurrences of pelach in the OT, only eight of them are clearly in reference to a deity, while the remaining two, Dan. 7:14 and 7:27, are ambiguous, and could be using pelach with reference to serving men. But the apologists, already holding the presupposition that Christ is deity, simply assume that 7:14 fits this supposed limitation of the meaning of pelach. 7:27 is probably even more ambiguous, in that pelach could refer to either the “Most High” or the “people of the Most High.” The second option is reflected in the following versions: CEV, CJB, ERV, ESVUK, EXB, GNT, ICB, TLB, MSG, NOG, NCV, NRSV, OJB, RSV. So if we don’t just assume that the ‘son of man’ figure is a deity figure and if we take v. 27 to be referring to the “people” of the Most High, then there is no reason to assume that pelach has a specialized meaning in the OT, but that it carries the same meaning found in common usage.

So we see the apologists’ case begin to come apart at the seams. The reason why it seems to the apologists that pelach is a specialized word which refers exclusively to deity is simply because 1. the apologists’ presuppositions cause them to see Dan. 7:14 and 27 as referring to deity, and 2. because if one examines the entirety of the Aramaic sections of the OT, it becomes obvious that within that limited section there never arises a context in which pelach could have been used in reference to serving men, unless Dan. 7:14 and 27 are the only two instances. But when we look at the wider use of the word in the Targums, we do see many contexts in which it is used of serving men, completely refuting their assertion3.

What About the Greek?
What about the LXX use of latreuo for pelach? Doesn’t this support the apologists’ assertion? I will admit that latreuo does seem to have attained a specialized meaning of service rendered to God. All 21 occurrences of the word in the NT are in reference to God, and in the LXX, all but one of the 89 uses of latreuo seem to be in reference to deity, unless, of course, Dan 7:14 be excepted. The one unambiguous exception in the LXX is Deut. 28:48, which reads:

“And you shalt serve (latreuo) your enemies, which the Lord will send forth against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in the want of all things; and you shall wear upon your neck a yoke of iron until he shall have destroyed you.”

This one undeniable exception, within the biblical data, to the seeming rule, should not be discounted; if there is one exception why couldn’t there be another? Add to this the fact that Greek lexicons list service to men as one of the meanings of latreuo:

LSJ Lexicon – work for hire or pay; to be in servitude, serve; to
be subject or enslaved to.
Thayer – to serve for hire; to serve, minister to, either to the Gods or men and
used alike of slaves and freemen.
TDNT – the word is used literally for bodily service (e.g. workers on the land or
slaves).

Furthermore, the LXX uses a different Greek word for pelach in v. 27, the verb hupotage (Str. # 5292) which means to be in submission to, to obey. This shows that latreuo is not necessarily the equivalent to pelach. Not only this, but in Theodotion’s Greek translation of Daniel, he translates pelach in both v. 14 and v. 27 with the Greek verb douleuo (Str. # 1398) meaning to serve, to be in subjection to. This verb is used with reference to serving both God and men. The noun form doulos (Str. # 1401) refers to a slave or a servant, one who is in subjection to the will of another. This means that the better way to understand Dan. 7:14 (as well as v. 27) is not that the nations are rendering religious worship to the ‘son of man’ figure, but that they are made subservient to him, which fits well with what the OT says elsewhere of the Messsiah {see Gen. 49:10; Ps. 2:8-9}.

Conclusion

What all of this means is that the assertion made by the apologists regarding Dan. 7:14 is another example of them overstating their case. The assertion is sullied by circular reasoning, eisegesis and the lack of pertinent data, either purposely or through poor study skills. Whatever the reason, the apologists should, for the sake of integrity, desist from using Daniel 7:14 as a proof-text for the deity of Christ.

Endnotes
1. The Rider On The Clouds – A Critique Of Dr. Michael Heiser’s View Of Daniel 7
2. Ezra 7:24; Daniel 3:12, 13, 17, 18, 28; 6:16, 20; 7:14, 27
3. The same holds true for the Aramaic Peshitta OT. Even the Peshitta NT uses pelach at least twice in reference to serving men, Matt. 6:24 and Acts 7:7.

Does Genesis 1:26 Prove A Multiplicity Of Persons In God?

Gen. 1:26 – “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ “

The assertion that the plural pronouns in the phrase “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . .,’” are a reference to multiple persons within God, i.e. the Father speaking to the Son, and hence a reference to the Trinity, is typical of many Christian apologists, bible commentators and lay people, as well as many of the early church fathers from the 2nd century on. And certainly, for anyone who already accepts the Trinity doctrine, this could be a confirmation of that belief. But it must be said right from the start that the Trinity doctrine is not taught by this passage. Of course it may accommodate that belief for the one who already holds that doctrine; but it could also accommodate the belief in poly-theism and Arianism. And why would the  plural pronouns suggest ‘three’ persons in God? Why not two or ten? The only reason it would suggest ‘three’ is because the Trinity concept, which came along at a much later time, is being read back into this text. The simple or plain reading of the text is that God, a singular person, is speaking to someone else, whether one or more persons.

So is this verse a slam dunk for Trinitarians? While many popular commentators and apologists think so, and many church fathers thought so, modern scholarship is decidedly against the notion that Gen.1:26 implies a multiplicity of persons within God. This is true even among Trinitarian scholars. Gordon J. Wenham comments on this verse in the World Biblical Commentary on Genesis, saying:

Christians have traditionally seen [Gen. 1:26] as adumbrating the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.

Charles Ryrie, in the Ryrie Study Bible gave this brief comment on Gen. 1:26:

Us…Our. Plurals of majesty.

The Liberty Annotated Study Bible, published by Liberty University states regarding this verse:

The plural pronoun “Us” is most likely a majestic plural from the standpoint of Hebrew grammar and syntax.

The staunchly Trinitarian NIV Study Bible has this in it’s commentary note on this passage:

us… our…our. God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court …

H. L. Ellison, in The International Bible Commentary, edited by F. F. Bruce, says regarding the traditional Christian view that the plural refers to the Trinity:

This should not be completely rejected, but in it’s setting it does not carry conviction. The rabbinic interpretation that God is speaking to the angels is more attractive, for mans creation affects them … But there is no suggestion of angelic cooperation. Probably the plural is intended above all to draw attention to the importance and solemnity of God’s decision.

The Cambridge Bible Commentary states on the passage:

i. Until recently, the traditional Christian interpretation has seen in the 1st pers. plur. a reference to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The requirements of a sound historical exegesis render this view untenable: for it would read into the book of Genesis the religious teaching which is based upon the Revelation of the New Testament.

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, while not commenting on Gen. 1:26, does comment on Gen. 3:22, where again God speaks in the plural ‘us’:

Who, then, constitutes the “us” referred to in verse 22? Conceivably the three persons of the Trinity might be involved here (as in Gen. 1:26), but more likely “us” refers to the angels surrounding God’s throne in heaven …

I want to note again that the above quotes are from Trinity-believing, traditional, orthodox scholars, honest ones I might add. At this point, it becomes difficult to see how Gen. 1:26 can be considered a proof-text for a multi-person God, and hence, a proof-text for the Trinity, when so many OT scholars, themselves trinitairans, deny that it proves such a idea. Even some popular level scholars like Dr. Michael Heiser and Dr. Michael Brown deny that this text proves the Trinity. Of course, this does not prevent less thoughtful trinitarian apologists from repeatedly using Gen 1:26 with great confidence in debates with unitarians.

As we can see, from most of the quotes above, the most prominent alternative interpretation is that God is speaking to his heavenly court, the angelic beings surrounding his throne.1 Some object to this on the basis that angels could not have been active participants in the creation of man – this was God’s work alone. Isaiah 44:24 is often cited as proof of this –  “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone.” In response, it should be observed that Is. 44: 24 specifically mentions the creation of the heavens and the earth, which had already been accomplished before day 6 of the creation week, when man was created. And as far as I am aware, there is no passage which states emphatically that God alone was involved in the creation of man. We do see, in the text of Genesis 1, a distinction in the way that God created everything else leading up to the creation of man. In every other case the text says that God simply spoke “and it was so.” Yet when it comes to man’s creation God does not just speak and it happens, but he involves others in the act. Why could we not surmise that God involved the angels in some way, perhaps as the ones who gathered the dust of the ground and formed the shape of the man. From that point God would have taken over to actually transform the lifeless man-shaped dirt into a body of flesh and blood. In this scenario the angels are simply agents of God who are doing his bidding, but it is God who provides the power necessary for the completion of the process.

Now someone might object that Gen. 2:7 states that “Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground . . . ,” and that this precludes that the angels were involved. But such an objection simply fails to understand the concept of agency in scripture. God is often credited with the actions of his agents. Moses was sent by God, as his agent, to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and he did so. Yet, God is credited as the one who brought them out {see Ex. 3:9-10; Num. 20:14-16; Joshua 24:5; 1 Sam. 12:6-8; Acts 7:34-36}. Likewise, though the prophet Samuel anointed David with oil, God speaks of himself as doing it {see 1 Sam. 16:13; Ps. 89:20}. In Is. 29:3 God says to Jerusalem, “I will encamp against you on all sides; I will encircle you with towers and set up my siege works against you,” yet it is the army of Babylon led by Nebuchadezzar that fullfills it. Who delivered the Israelites from their enemies in the book of Judges, God or the judges {see Judg. 2:16-18}? I could go on with many more examples but this should suffice to show that the objection is without merit. That God is ultimately the one who created man, even if the angels assisted in some way, is seen by verse 27 which reads literally, “So God, he created man in his own image . . . ” Here the verb is singular and so is the pronoun, showing that God alone is credited with the act of man’s creation. 

Another possible way to understand it is that if God was speaking to the angels it was not necessarily to include them in the act of man’s creation, but perhaps to invite them to be observers of his crowning achievement. This was also the predominant rabbinic interpretation. It may also be that angels are also created in the image of God, and so the “us” and “our” is intended to include them in that regard only. As far as I  am aware, there is no verse in Scripture which says that man alone is created in the image of God. We should also note that if verse 26 is referring to multiple persons in God, then why does verse 27 not read, “So God, they created man in their own image?” The fact is, that the text does not give us enough information to be absolutely certain, but what I have presented here is certainly plausible, and is, in fact, a better interpretation than the one that imports a concept into the text which would not come into existence until many centuries later.

So I conclude that the best or most plausible way to interpret Gen. 1:26 is that God is speaking to his angels. This interpretation would likewise apply to the three other “us” texts, found at Gen. 3:22; 11:7 and Is. 6:8.

Endnotes
1. Gordon Wenham, in volume 1 of his Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis, lists six possible ways to understand the “us” in Gen. 1:26 and concludes that the angel view is the most probable, even briefly answering two main objections to this view.

2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:13 And The Granville Sharp Rule – A New Approach

In the arsenal of orthodox Trinitarian apologists is something known as the Granville Sharp Rule and its specific application to certain NT texts bearing on Christology, in particular 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13. These two verses are often employed as proof-texts for the deity of Jesus based solely on the Granville Sharp Rule (GSR). In the online NET Bible commentary notes on both of these passages it is asserted that they are “the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ,” and this is attributed to the GSR.

Granville Sharp was an amateur British theologian and staunch defender of trintarianism, who, in response to the growing unitarian (Socinian) movement of his day, taught himself Greek in order to better debate the issue. That he was motivated by theological concerns is evident from the full title of his book published in 1798, Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament, Containing Many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages Which Are Wrongly Translated in the Common English Version. In this work Sharp set forth six principles regarding the use of the definite article in Greek, one of which has become famously known as the Granville Sharp Rule. Sharp stated the rule in this way – “When the copulative και connects two nouns of the same case, [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connexion, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill], if the article ὁ, or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle: i.e. it denotes a farther description of the first-named person . . .” In short the rule states that when you have two nouns joined by “and” (kai in Greek), and the definite article appears before the first noun but not the second, then both nouns have the same referent. In the remainder of this article this construction will be referred to by the acronym TSKS (the + substantive + kai + substantive).

In order for this rule to be absolute Sharp had to eliminate from its scope certain categories of nouns: 1. impersonal nouns 2. plural nouns 3. proper nouns. So then, for the rule to apply the nouns have to be personal, singular and common. How this relates to the two passages of concern is as follows:

1 Pet. 1:1 – ( τοῦof the θεοῦGod ἡμῶνof us καὶand σωτῆροςof Savior )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN

Titus 2:13 – ( τοῦof the μεγάλουgreat θεοῦGod καὶand σωτῆροςof Savior )
ARTICLE + NOUN + “and” (καὶ) + NOUN

Because these two passages follow the pattern that Sharp laid out he concluded that there is only one referent in view to which the titles ‘God’ and ‘Savior’ apply, and that referent is Jesus Christ. This became for Sharp a strong proof that the NT does indeed apply to Jesus the designation the God. Now, at first glance, this does appear to be a solid case for the deity of Jesus, but is the matter really that simple?

Objections To Sharp’s Rule

While many scholars, both in Sharp’s time and today, have jumped on the bandwagon, there have also been many who have not. But why should this be if Sharp’s rule just is an observable fact of Greek grammar? Many who have opposed the rule, both then and now, have been orthodox trinitarian Christians, and so, not motivated by an anti-trinitarian bias. Dr. Calvin Winstanley, a contemporary of Sharp and a trinitarian scholar, wrote a treatise1 opposing Sharp’s rule, in which he cited many exceptions to the rule he found in the writings of the church fathers and in secular Greek writings.

Moulton and Turner, in discussing these two passages in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, stated: “In Hellenistic, and indeed for practical purposes in classical Greek, the repetition of the article was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered separately.” Dr. Turner further stated in Grammatical Insights into the New Testament: “Unfortunately, at this period of Greek we cannot be sure that such a rule [regarding the article] is really decisive. Sometimes the definite article is not repeated even where there is clearly a separation in idea.”

It is also worthy to note that Sharp advocated for an alteration of eight verses in the NT, touching on christology, based on his rule, which would explicitly designate Jesus as our God. Yet in the intervening years, subsequent English versions have largely not followed Sharp’s suggestions in these passages, with the exception of Titus 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:1. Edward D. Andrews, CEO and President of Christian Publishing House and Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version, himself a confessed trinitarian, has written an article on the Christian Publishing House Blog demonstrating why Sharp’s rule should not be the deciding factor in how these passages are translated.2

Further Modifications to the GSR

One of the most avid and influential defenders of the GSR today is Dr. Daniel Wallace.  He is the senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible and the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. On the Bilbe.org website he has published an article titled Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule, in which he presents a formidable defense of the GSR. In this article Wallace addresses four categories of exceptions to Sharp’s rule found by Dr. Winstanley in ancient Greek writings outside of the NT. For each of these exceptions Wallace then modifies the rule to exclude them from its scope. For instance, one category is that of nouns that, though singular, are generic. Wallace’s solution:

 “We might, however, in light of Winstanley’s exceptions, modify Sharp’s rule to say both that nouns which are plural syntactically and those which are plural semantically (i.e., generic nouns) are not within the purview of the rule.  Another way to put this is that Sharp’s rule applies only to nouns which have an individual referent, as opposed to a class or group.”

Winstanley also pointed out an example from the LXX of Prov. 24:21, which reads, “Fear God . . . and the king.” In the Greek there is no article before ‘king’ and so it follows Sharp’s rule of a TSKS construction, yet involves two referents. Wallace does acknowledge this as a true exception but exempts it on the basis that the LXX is “translation Greek”:

 “Thus, we might modify Sharp’s rule still further by saying that sometimes (once—so far) translation Greek will violate the rule, if the base language has a contrary construction.”

Another exception found by Winstanley was from Herodotus’ Histories which reads, “the cup-bearer and cook and groom and servant and messenger.” Here the first personal noun has the article but the subsequent ones do not. Wallace simply modifies the rule further:

“We might therefore, in refining Sharp’s rule still further, add that where several nouns are involved in the construction it may or may not follow the rule.”

So it seems that whenever exceptions to the GSR are found, Wallace’s mode of dealing with them is to fit them into a category which can be exempted from the rule. Now I am not saying that this is totally without warrant but it does seem just a bit contrived.

In his article, Wallace next deals with the eight christologically significant passages for which Sharp proposed a revision. Here’s what he said:

“Sharp invoked dubious textual variants in four of the eight texts to support his rule (Acts 8:28; 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 4:1; Jude 1). As well, in 1 Tim 5:21 and 2 Tim 4:1, if the almost certainly authentic reading of τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ  ᾿Ιησοῦ (for τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Χριστοῦ  ᾿Ιησοῦ) is accepted, then the text can also be dispensed with, for “Christ Jesus” is surely a proper name, and thus does not fall within the limitations of Sharp’s rule.  Further, two other passages seem to involve proper names. Second Thessalonians 1:12 does not have merely “Lord” in the equation, but “Lord Jesus Christ.” Only by detaching κυρίου from  Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ  could one apply Sharp’s rule to this construction. Ephesians 5:5 has the name “Christ” in the equation, though one would be hard-pressed to view this as less than a proper name in the epistles.” This leaves two passages, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, which have escaped the difficulties of textual uncertainty and the charge of disqualification via proper names.

So Wallace excludes six of the eight passages as not falling under Sharp’s rule because they are either dependent upon textual variants or they include proper nouns. This leaves us with our two passages, which he thinks fits the GSR. He then goes on to show the validity of the rule in the case of these passages. But wait a minute! Am I missing something here? How can Wallace say that 2 Thess. 1:12 is beyond the scope of Sharp’s rule because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord but then admit Titus 2:13 and 1 Pet. 1:1 where the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Savior. In fact, 2 Thess. 1:12 and 2 Pet. 1:1 are grammatically identical except for the different titles attached to the name Jesus Christ:

2 Thess. 1:12 – τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
2 Pet. 1:1 – τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·

So why does Wallace see a difference between these two verses? He doesn’t even touch on it in the article, as if he was unaware of the contradiction. But Wallace is certainly correct in the case of 2 Thess. 1:12, that because the name Jesus Christ is attached to the title Lord, a single referent cannot be maintained. Indeed, most reputable English versions translate the verse as implying two referents, including the NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, HCSB, NET, ASV, ERV. So then why cannot the same be said of 2 Pet.1:1? Yet every one of these same versions, with the exception of the KJV and ASV, translate 2 Pet. 1:1 as if only one referent were in view. This is certainly an inconsistency in these translations. I can only guess that the reasoning behind this lies in the presupposition that the word Savior in 1 Pet. 1:1, rather than being attached to the name Jesus Christ, is instead to be joined to our God.

What I now propose is a further modification of the GSR, another category that should be considered exempt from it’s scope. Here is the new category:

Any TSKS construction found in the NT where the first noun is God and the second noun is a title, with or without a 1st person possessive pronoun, followed immediately by the name Jesus Christ.

So then 2 Thess. 1:12, Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1 would all be exempt from Sharp’s so called rule. Now surely someone is bound to object on the grounds that such a limitation to Sharp’s rule is certainly arbitrary and biased. But I don’t think that is the case. The fact of the matter is that in these types of passages, where there seems to be some ambiguity in the Greek construction as to whether or not Jesus is being equated with the God, it is not grammar alone which is the deciding factor. Dr Winstanley put it this way:

“If the sacred writers have expressed themselves ambiguously in
some instances, and on the same subject clearly in others, and still more in a great plurality of others, we are bound, in exclusion of every extraneous authority, to consult them as their own best interpreters . . .”

With this in view, I state unequivocally that the universal and unanimous mode of expression in the NT documents is to identify the God as the Father and to distinguish between the God and Jesus Christ.3 This is acknowledged by most, if not all, NT scholars. Brian James Wright, in a paper titled Jesus as Theos: Scriptural Fact or Scribal Fantasy?, which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting in 2007, stated, “No one contests that the NT usually reserves the title Theos for God the Father.” Similarly, Murray Harris in his 1992 book Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, concluded his chapter on the use of Theos in the NT with this assessment of the data:

“No attempt has been made in the preceding survey to be exhaustive. But we have seen that throughout the NT [(theGod] is so often associated with and yet differentiated from [lord Jesus Christ] that the reader is forced to assume that there must be both a hypostatic distinction and an interpersonal relationship between the two . . . God is the Father (in the trinitarian sense)4, Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor. 8:6). When [(theGod] is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have [the Father] in mind unless the context makes this sense of [(theGod] impossible.”

pg 47 (the words in brackets are in Greek characters in the original)

Therefore, any NT passage that has an ambiguous grammatical construction which could be attributing the title the God to either the Father or to Jesus Christ, must be decided in favor of the Father, unless factors other than grammatical can establish Jesus as the referent. When I speak of the ambiguity of the grammar in these passages I do not mean to imply that there would have been any such ambiguity in the minds of the original authors or the original readers. It is, in fact, the imposition of the presupposition of trinitarianism upon these texts that has produced the ambiguity.

Further Problems For The GSR

These considerations expose the circular reasoning involved in applying the GSR to Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1. Because these passages fit the pattern for Sharp’s rule it is assumed that the rule has no exceptions in the NT. But as Dr. Winstanley wrote in response to Sharp:

“There are, you say, no exceptions, in the New Testament, to your rule; that is, I suppose, unless these particular texts [i.e., the ones Sharp used to adduce Christ’s deity] be such, which you think utterly improbable. You would argue, then, that if these texts were exceptions, there would be more. I do not perceive any great weight in this hypothetical reasoning. But, however plausible it may appear, the reply is at hand. There are no other words, between which the insertion of the copulative would effect so remarkable a deviation from the established form of constructing them to express one person, and of course would so pointedly suggest a difference of signification . . . it is nothing surprising to find all these particular texts in question appearing as exceptions to your rule, and the sole exceptions . . . in the New Testament . . .” 

So if we accept the new limitation to Sharp’s rule that I have suggested, and this limitation being based upon the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data, these being 1) the God is invariably identified as the Father and 2) the God is consistently distinguished from Jesus Christ, then the verses that fall under this limitation are indeed NT exceptions to the GSR, including Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet. 1:1, as well as 2 Thess. 1:12.

The validity of this approach can be seen even in the immediate context of 2 Pet. 1:1. For immediately after writing ,“To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the author wrote, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Almost every modern version translates v.1 as if Jesus is being designated as the God and v. 2 as if he is distinguished from the God. The trinitarian may respond that this is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, that Jesus is God but is distinguished from God the Father. But if the God is distinguished from Jesus in v. 2 because he is the Father, then how can the God in v.1 be identical to the Son? Are we dealing with modalism here?

Sharp and other proponents of his rule have assumed that the rule applies to these passages and that, therefore, there are no exceptions to the rule in the NT. But they have ignored the other factors which I have noted, which should be determinate in deciding whether one or two referents are in view in these passages. A good example of this faulty reasoning is seen in the chapter on 2 Peter 1:1 in Murray Harris’ book. Under the heading B. Arguments for a Reference to One Person and the sub-heading 1. The Single Article, Harris acknowledges:

“Now it is true that (1) the article is not required with the second noun if the distinction between the two nouns is regarded as obvious or is assumed; (2) Savior is shown to be definite by the Jesus Christ that follows, so that an article is not required; and (3) the single article may be accounted for by the writer’s conceptual association of two separate items.”

pg. 233

Here Harris recognizes that there are other factors which may determine the number of referents in 2 Pet. 1:1. The first one he mentions coincides with the two incontrovertible facts regarding the NT data that I mentioned above. In the second point he is conceding that Savior is to be regarded as definite because of it’s attachment to the name Jesus Christ, a point that I made earlier in this article. Finally, in point three he allows that the absence of the article before the second noun could be because the author perceived an association between two distinct referents, a point that other grammarians have noted. But instead of allowing these considerations to guide his determination of how the passage should be understood he simply by-passes them and looks for other reasons to maintain a single referent, no doubt, so that the verse can be adduced as a proof text for the deity of Jesus.

Because of the significance of the other factors upon which I have proposed a new limitation of the GSR, it becomes necessary to look for other viable grammatical options in these passages. Both of our passages are in the genitive case with an implied definite article for the second nouns based on their attachment to the proper name Jesus. Hence, the following translations are permissible, even preferable.

Titus 2:13 – “. . . waiting for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:1 – “. . . To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and of the Savior Jesus Christ.”

While most English versions translate these passages as if Jesus Christ is the sole referent of the titles the God and Savior, not all have followed suit with Sharp’s rule. Here are some English versions which translate both or either of these verses as if two referents are in view, i.e. the God and Jesus Christ : Weymouth NT, The Webster Bible, The Third Millennium Bible, KJV, The Complete Jewish Bible, ASV, Hebrew Names Version, Douay Rheims, Tyndale Bible, World English Bible, Wycliffe Bible, A Faithful Version, Darby Bible, ERV, J.B. Philips NT, NAB, Moffatt NT, New Matthew Bible.

Endnotes

  1. vdocument.in_calvin-winstanley-a-vindication-of-certain-passages-in-
  2. TITUS 2:13 and 2 PETER 1:1: What Is the Long-Debated Controversial Granville Sharp Rule?
  3. See my article: Who Is God According To The Authors Of The NT?
  4. The words in parentheses are original and betray Harris’ presupposition, which colors his assessment. Nothing in the NT requires us to understand that when it presents God as the Father it is in “the trinitarian sense”. The simple truth of the NT is that the Father is the God, and the son is the man Jesus of Nazareth.

An Interpretive Key to Hebrews Chapter 1 (Part 2)



V. 6 – I have already noted, in part 1, that the reference to God’s ‘firstborn’ here is likely an allusion to Ps. 89:27, and fits well into the author’s theme that the ‘son’ is the Davidic king, and not an eternal second person in the Godhead. This notwithstanding, some trinitarian apologists see in this verse elements that support the interpretation of this chapter as proving the deity of the son. The first point they make is that this ‘firstborn’ is said to be brought into the world. They deduce from this that the son was existing outside of this world and then had to be brought into this world, hence they read the doctrine of the incarnation of the pre-existent son into the passage. They then point to the fact that the son is worshipped by angels as further proof that the author of Hebrews is presenting this son in terms of deity. On top of this, the quotation the author gives appears to be from Deut. 32:43, which, in it’s original context, refers to worshipping Yahweh. Based on these elements in the verse trinitarians believe they have a sound proof-text for the deity of the son. So let’s look at each of these aspsects of the passage.

First, it is merely an assumption that the son’s being brought into the world implies the incarnation. A more reasonable assumption would be that it refers to Messiah’s return to establish the kingdom of God upon the earth. The Greek says literally, “When then again he brings the firstborn into the world.” While some expositors see the ‘again’ here as simply introducing another quotation about the ‘son,’ the word order seems to favor the connection of palin (again) with the verb eisagage (bring in), which would give us the sense of “When he brings again the firstborn into the world.” Also, eisagage is an aorist subjunctive verb which would indicate an event that has not yet happened. If the supposed incarnation were in view the aorist indicative would have been used. So then, this ‘bringing in again’ of the son is a future event. This would be in keeping with one of the prominent themes of the book – the coming again of Messiah {see 2:5; 9:28; 10:37-39}. That the second coming of Messiah would be described as God once again bringing the firstborn into the world should not be controversial. If trinitarians insist that the language implies he be brought from somewhere then the second coming answers this – he is brought into the world from where he is now. But really the language does not have to imply this at all. Even if it were referring to his first coming it would simply be speaking of his birth. All men are brought into the world in the same manner, i.e. by birth.

Now, as to the fact that the angels are enjoined to worship the son, trinitarians are incredulous as to how Jesus could be a mere human and receive such worship. This is due to their mistaken presupposition that worship can only rightly be given to God. The word for ‘worship’ is proskuneo which may mean nothing more than to show homage to a superior by prostrating oneself before him. The word does not denote only the worship of a deity but also the paying of homage to one who is a superior and is used of such homage being given to men throughout both testaments. One such passage which is of special note is 1 Chron. 29:20:

So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and paid homage to Yahweh and the king.

Seeing that Yahweh’s anointed one, the king, legitimately received shachah, the Hebrew equivalent of proskuneo, along with Yahweh, it is not unreasonable to conclude or difficult to understand how the son can be simply human and yet receive such worship as this verse envisions.

Finally, regarding the quotation of Deut. 32:43 being applied to the son, and that by this, the author is equating the son with Yahweh, let me say that this is simply untenable. Let’s remember that the author’s purpose in this chapter is to show the superior nature of Messiah’s role in God’s plan compared with that of angels. He does this in the first two quotations, in v.5, by showing that he is the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom. He does this in v. 6 by showing that angels are commanded to pay him homage, thereby signifying a superior status to theirs. The whole exercise of the author would be superfluous if Messiah just was Yahweh. If the author and recipients of the letter both believed Messiah was Yahweh why would the author spend the time to show his superiority to angels? Wouldn’t that be obvious? And if it is assumed that he is using this quotation of Deut. 32:43 to prove to his readers that Messiah is Yahweh, then I have two questions. First, wouldn’t his readers have already believed he was Yahweh if they were Christians, i.e. from a trinitarian perspective? Second, exactly how does Deut. 32:43 prove Messiah is Yahweh? The verse says absolutely nothing about the Messiah or the son or the firstborn. How does a passage which enjoins angels to worship Yahweh prove that Messiah is Yahweh? Obviously something else is in play here.

This is perhaps an example of this author’s penchant for midrashic interpretation. Other examples are found in 2:13; 9:8; 10:19-20; 13:10-12. Though Deut. 32 in the LXX does not mention the Messiah it is not unlikely that ancient Jews saw the passage, especially vv. 40-43, as messianic, as do modern Jews. Here is the passage:

40 For I will lift up my hand to heaven, and swear by my right hand, and I will say, I live for ever. 41 For I will sharpen my sword like lightning, and my hand shall take hold of judgment; and I will render judgment to my enemies, and will recompense them that hate me. 42 I will make my weapons drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh, [it shall glut itself] with the blood of the wounded, and from the captivity of the heads of [their] enemies that rule over them. 43 Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.


It is possible that the author is following a tradition which saw in this passage the coming of Messiah as the agent who executes Yahweh’s vengeance upon Israel’s enemies at the end of this age. They could have seen in either the words “my hand” or “my sword” a reference to the Messiah, who would be the agent through whom Yahweh executes his vengeance on the nations in the last days. From the author’s perspective this would take place when God again brings his firstborn i.e. the Messianic king, into the world {Cf. Rev. 19:11-16}. In this understanding of the passage, the call for the angels to pay homage to him, would be referring to the Messiah rather than to Yahweh. This is perfectly in keeping with Jewish methods of interpretation, especially of passages they regarded as messianic. This interpretation of the passage does not entail that the son be divine in nature.

V. 7 – The quote from Psalm 104:4 seems to suggest a minor role for angels in God’s plan as compared to that of the ‘son’; they are sometimes ‘winds’, sometimes ‘fire’, whatever suits the need of God.

V. 8-9 – As I pointed out in part 1, this quotation from Psalm 45 once again confirms that the son of which he is speaking is not an eternally begotten (whatever that means) son who is of the same substance as the Father (that is Gnostic mythology), but that the son is the reigning Davidic king. Psalm 45 is an idealized depiction of the Davidic king, not a description of a pre-existent divine being. The son is God’s vicegerent, ruling over God’s kingdom in God’s power. The Davidic ruler is addressed by the honorific ‘God’ in the Psalm not because he is ontologically so, but because he functions as the visible representative of God’s rule. Now the point of our author’s quoting of this passage from Psalm 45 is not that the ‘son‘ is called God, and so his readers are supposed to think the son is synonymous with God, but the point is that the Davidic throne is an everlasting throne. He says this in contrast to the role of angelic beings, which as we shall see, our author sees as temporary.

V. 10-12 – Once again we come across a passage cited by the author that trinitarian expositors interpret as the author presenting the son as Yahweh himself. The reasoning goes like this: At the beginning of v. 8 the author says,“But of the son . . . “ and then cites Ps. 45:6-7. Then at the beginning of v. 10 we have the word “and” and then the quotation from Ps. 102:25-27, which begins, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands . . .” So it appears that the second citation is being said about the son just as the first one is. From this is drawn the rather overly simplistic and superficial conclusion that the author is telling his readers that the son is the creator of the heavens and the earth.

Now this absurd notion suffers from the same problem that we saw with v. 6, where the quotation of Deut. 32:43 is also superficially taken to be equating the son with Yahweh. Just as in that case, Ps. 102 says nothing about the Messiah, whereas all of the other passages he cites regarding the son refer specifically to the Davidic king. Is it reasonable to suppose that in a section where the author is trying to establish for his readers the fact of the son’s superior status compared to angels, that he would pull a passage out of the OT that speaks of God creating the the heavens and the earth and simply apply it to the son, even though it makes no mention of the son? How would this be convincing to the readers? It seems to me that this would only be effective if the readers already believed that the son was Yahweh, the creator. But if they already believed this then the whole exercise of the author in this chapter is superfluous; you would not have to prove to Jews that the Creator is superior to angels. The fact is that Ps.102:25-27 does not in any sense prove that the son is Yahweh. We must consider the possibility that perhaps the author cited this passage for some other reason than to say that the son is Yahweh, in the making of his case for the superiority of the son.

This is precisely what I will propose, but before I do I want to first show that the typical biblical unitarian (BU) interpretations of this passage are also inadequate. There are two predominate BU interpretations: 1.The author does intend that Ps. 102:25-27 refers to the son, but that the creation of the heavens and earth refer to the new creation not the original one. Hence, the son is the creator of the new heavens and earth. 2.The author does not intend the verse to refer to the son but to the Father, and he employs it to show the everlasting nature of God’s kingdom in the words, “But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Neither of these interpretations is satisfying for the following reasons: #1 is untenable because it would involve the perishing of the new heavens and earth. Attempts have been made to alleviate this problem but they are not convincing. Plus this understanding has the same problem that the trinitarian interpretation has, i.e. the passage does not mention the son at all. #2 doesn’t seem right because it breaks the flow of thought of the whole passage, in which the author is switching back and forth between citing verses about the son and verses about angels. Why would the author interrupt this flow to simply show that Yahweh created the heavens and the earth? Also, this passage was not needed to show the everlasting nature of the kingdom because his prior quote from Ps 45: 6-7 already established that fact in the words, “Your throne O god, is for ever and ever.”

So if the trinitarian and the typical BU interpretations are inadequate to account for the authors use of Ps 102:25-27, then what was his purpose for employing it in his argument? The answer is simply this – he cites this passage because it says something about the angels that is in contrast to his previous citation regarding the son. His previous citation showed the everlasting nature of the throne, and hence kingdom, of the son; this citation shows the temporary nature of the role of angels in whatever ruling capacity they may have. This proposal fits well with the flow of the argument. In v. 5 the author cites passages about the son; in vv. 6-7 about angels; in vv. 8-9 about the son; in vv. 10-12 about angels; in v. 13 about the son; v. 14 speaks of the angels. If the passage was cited in reference to either the son or the Father it would interrupt this flow.

So just what exactly does Ps. 102:25-27 have to do with angels? Well, at first glance it doesn’t appear to say anything about angels, at least not to 21st century non-Jewish readers. But the question we must ask is how would a 1st century Jew have understood the authors citation of this passage. My contention is that the mere mention of ‘the heavens’ in this passage would have connoted more to the Jewish readers of this letter than just the physical heavens. It would have implied also the things in the heavens, which included the host a spiritual beings which were believed to inhabit the heavens. That the mention of ‘the heavens’ would have evoked the thought of angels in the mind of 1st century Jews would not be controversial to anyone who has studied the development of angelology in the 2nd Temple period. Taking their cue from the book of Daniel, Jewish writers in the intertestamental period penned a number of writings which can only be labeled as apocalyptic fiction, in which they elaborated and expanded upon what the biblical text itself said about angels. By the time of the writing of the NT it was common among Jews to speak of the rulers and authorities in the heavens {see Eph. 3:10; 6:12}. It may very well be the case that a Jewish sect that had become overly preoccupied with the mediatorial role of angels had exerted an influence over some of the members of the congregation to which the author of Hebrews was writing, to the point that some of them were giving greater weight to the mediatorial role of angels than to that of the chosen descendant of David, which spurred the author to remind them again of the superior status of the son.

Now the biblical text itself was the foundation upon which this development took place. The fact that ‘the heavens’ could denote the beings who inhabit them can be seen in the following passages:

Deut. 32:43 (LXX) – “Rejoice you heavens with him, and let all the angels of God worship him.”
Here the ‘heavens’ and the ‘angels’ are synonymous thoughts, thus the heavens implies the angels.

Ps. 89:5 – “The heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh, also your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.”
To say that the heavens praise Yahweh is to say that those in the heavens praise Yahweh.

Neh. 9:6 – “You alone are Yahweh. You created the heavens, the highest heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the heavenly host worships You.”

Deut. 32:1 – “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear O earth, the words of my mouth.”
To call upon the heavens to listen is to call upon those who inhabit them to listen, just as to call upon the earth to hear is to call upon those who are upon the earth to hear.

Is. 24:21 – “In that day Yahweh will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.”

Joel 3:16 – “Yahweh will roar from Zion, and from Jerusalem will utter his voice, and the heavens and earth will quake. But Yahweh will be a refuge for his people and a place of safety for the sons of Israel.”
That the heavens and earth will quake simply means that those in the heavens and those in the earth will quake.

So it is both reasonable to conclude and probable that the author of Hebrews quoted Ps. 102:25-27 specifically because of the clause which states that the heavens will be rolled up like a robe and like a garment be changed, and that his readers would have understood this. His point would be that while the throne of the son will last for ever, whatever function angels presently have is only temporary and will come to an end. In order to get the flow of the author’s thought I will combine the two citations but only with the pertinent clauses, according to what I think the author’s purpose was in citing each passage.

But to the son [it says], “Your throne, O god, will last for ever and ever . . .
and [it also says] . . . the heavens (and by implication those who rule in the heavens) . . . will wear out like a garment. You will role them up like robe; like a garment they will be changed . . .”

So then, this view of the passage solves all of the problems that are inherent in the other views, both the trinitarian and BU views. It also maintains the original context of Psalm 102 and the flow of thought of the author’s argument. It also takes into account the Jewish mindset of the author and recipients of the letter. I can think of only one objection that might be raised to this proposal and to my mind it is not formidable.

Someone may object on the basis that the two citations i.e. Ps 45 and Ps 102, are connected simply by the Greek word kai, which typically means and. This might imply that both citations refer to the son. It is true that in the Greek language kai is not typically used contrastively, unlike the Hebrew waw, which is often so used in the Hebrew bible, but there are a number of instances. Most of these may be regarded as Hebraisms i.e. a typical feature of the Hebrew language expressed through the Greek. This happens when one writes in a second language and is probably done more sub-consciously rather than on purpose. It is possible that the author of Hebrews sub-consciously used the kai contrastively, in imitation of the Hebrew waw, which would give the meaning of but or however. I know that this is impossible to prove or disprove, but to my mind a simple kai cannot turn the human son of God into the creator of the heavens and earth.

V. 13 – As we saw in part 1, the one from David’s line whom God chooses is called to share God’s rule over his people and to have the full backing of God. This is a call to co-rulership of His kingdom. This right was given, by covenant, only to the descendants of David {Cf. 2 Chron. 13:8; Ps. 89: 28-37}. For this reason no angel ever was or could be called to this position.

V. 14 – Here the author states that all angels are servant spirits sent forth on behalf of those who will inherit salvation. Since those who will inherit salvation are humans, this means that the son, who is the pioneer of that salvation {Cf. 2:10-11}, is also a human, one who is superior in status to these servant spirits.

I will now touch briefly on some relevant portions of chapter two to show that the son is considered by the author to be one from the human family.

The author of Hebrews is still, in chapter 2, starting at v. 5, showing a comparison between the son and angels, specifically that the son has a greater role in God’s plan than do angels. From what the author says in this chapter though, it can be inferred that some of the recipients of the letter may have come to view Jesus as an angel who had taken human form, but the author will have none of it.  Chapter 2 specifically seems to be combatting this idea. He starts off stating that God has not subjected the world to come to angels.  He then quotes from Ps. 8:4-6, which speaks of how God has given dominion over his creation to man. This seems to imply that the son, to whom all authority is given in the age to come, must be a man and cannot therefore be an angel. This identifies Jesus with humanity, not with the heavenly beings.  In v. 9 he says that Jesus was for a little while made lower than the angels.” This is what Ps. 8:5 says about man, thus again equating Jesus with humanity. In v. 10 he says that it was fitting for God to perfect the founder or pioneer of Israel’s salvation by the suffering of death. The point being made is not that a divine being had to become human so that he could die, but that it was fitting that this divinely appointed king should first suffer death on behalf of his people before being crowned with the glory and honor that was his due as the firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” {Ps. 89:27}. 

It was necessary that the founder of their salvation should die on their behalf, which an angel could not do {see Lk. 20:36}. It had to be a human being just like them. The author states plainly in v. 11 that the founder of salvation is of the same family as those he saves, once again asserting his full-fledged humanity. After quoting three passages of Scripture in vv. 12-13, in which the Messiah is identifying himself with the people of Israel, as being one of them, he says:

14 Therefore, because the children have shared in flesh and blood, he (i.e. the founder of their salvation) also, in the same way, shared in the same, so that by death he might destroy him who holds the power of death . . . 16 For certainly nowhere (in scripture) is he laying claim to angels (as his family), but Abraham’s seed he lays claim to (as his family). 17 On account of this (i.e. what Scripture says) it was necessary for him (i.e. the founder of their salvation) to be like his brothers in every way . . .  

The Greek of verse 16 reads like this: “Ou (not) gar (for) de (certainly) pou (somewhere) angelon (angels) epilambanetai  (he lays hold of), alla (but) spermatos (seed) Abraam (of Abraham)  epilambanetai (he lays hold of).”
If you check most English versions you will see that they have nothing in their translations of this verse that corresponds to the word pou.  The only version I found that does is the Douay-Rheims, which reads: “For no where does he take hold of angels . . .” It is as if the translators didn’t know what to do with this word in this context, so they left it untranslated. But the word is key to rightly understanding the author’s point. The word pou is used two other times in Hebrews to denote somewhere in Scripture, at 2:6 and 4:4. The author had just quoted three passages from OT Scripture in vv. 12-13 to show the son’s identification with the people of Israel. His point in v. 16 is that nowhere in scripture is the Messiah identified with angels, but only with Abraham’s seed. As for the meaning of epilambanetai = to lay hold of, to take to oneself, the author could be using it in the figurative sense of identification, i.e. in OT Scripture the Messiah is depicted as claiming for himself the Israelite people as his people and never claiming for himself angels as his ontological identification. But it is also possible to take it in this sense: “For surely nowhere (in scripture) is he (depicted as) laying hold of angels (i.e. to deliver them from death) . . .”  The meaning would be the same – the founder of salvation had to be of the same family as those he saves, hence he must be of the human family not the angelic family.

The word homoioo in v. 17 can simply mean to be like and not necessarily to be made like. There is nothing in this passage that demands the reader understand Jesus to have been a divine being who then became a human being; there is no incarnation in this passage. The focus from v. 10 to v. 17 is not the supposed eternal Son, who had to become human to save us, but the founder of salvation {v.10}. Whoever this founder of salvation would be, he had to be a member of the human race and in particular of the seed of Abraham. The author’s point is that the Messiah, i.e. the founder of salvation, had to be one from the same family as those he saves, thus eliminating the possibility of the son being an angel or even God himself.

Please feel free to comment, whether you agree or disagree with this post.

An Interpretive Key To Hebrews Chapter 1 (Part 1)

The first chapter of the book of Hebrews is often employed by modern day Christian apologists in their effort to defend the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. In their minds, this chapter offers convincing proofs of these doctrines and so is often appealed to as evidence of the same. What I will present in this article is an alternative interpretation to this chapter, which will show the tenuousness of the traditional interpretation. Much of what I will present here has been presented in a few other articles on this blog. Here, I want to bring together what I had previously written with additional material into a single place for easier reference.

Background

Before we look at specific verses I want to give a brief overview of the background of Hebrews. The author of the letter is clearly a Jewish follower of Messiah, but is unnamed. There is plenty of conjecture as to who he was, such as Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, etc. Since the precise identification of the author is not important to this study I will not go there. He is writing to a specific community of Hebrew believers in Jesus with whom he is personally acquainted, probably living outside of Israel. That both the author and the recipients are Jews is established in v. 1, in which the author states,  “God spoke to the fathers … .” Had he said “my fathers”, that would have designated him a Jew, but not necessarily his readers. Had he said “your fathers”, that would have designated the recipients as Jews, but not necessarily the author. By saying “the fathers” and not giving any further indication, the most natural way to understand it is “our fathers”, and it is so translated in the NIV, ESV, ISV, and the NET. “Fathers” here means ancestors and “the” denotes some specific ancestors. If the ancestors he spoke of were not those of the author or recipients, it seems reasonable to suppose he would have designated them as the “ancestors of the Jews” since God spoke long ago to the ancestors by means of the prophets,” can only be referring to the Israelites, to whom the prophets of old were sent. Since the letter was written in Greek and relies upon the Greek version of the OT, it is likely that the recipients were Jews of the dispersion i.e. living outside of the land of Israel.

Now these Hebrew believers were under great pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, partly because of persecution (probably from their fellow Jews), partly because of a demotion in their minds of the role of Messiah in the purpose of God for Israel (probably from persuasion by some Jewish sect) and partly because of the delay in the return of Jesus to bring in the manifestation of the kingdom of God. The authors purpose is to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus, to endure until he returns. His method is to show the superiority of Messiah’s mission and role in God’s plan as compared to the mediatorial role of angels, the role of Moses and the Law,  and the role of the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrifices offered in that system.

Two Interpretive Options

In this passage the author speaks of one who he refers to as ‘the son’ in relation to God. The question before us is this: What does the author mean when he uses this appellation? We have two main options in the interpretation of the designation ‘son of God’ in Hebrews chapter 1 – the Greek metaphysical view and the Hebraic view. Now I know that I harp on this often, but it just is a fact that if we have the wrong presupposition when we approach a text, we will draw the wrong conclusions from the text. Every popular, evangelical commentary that I checked, approaches this text from the presupposition of the metaphysical Christology of the conciliar creeds. These commentaries are rather flagrant in their back-reading into this text the ‘son of God’ set forth in the creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries. These creeds present a metaphysical conception of the son of God and of his relationship to the God whose son he is, based on philosophical categories of ontology and essence. The Gentile church fathers leading up to that time had consciously abandoned the Hebraic foundations of the faith and recast the whole Jesus event in terms of Platonic and Gnostic ideologies, which were then pervasive. These speculative  philosophies produced the ‘son of God’ of the creeds. And so the whole of Christiandom today is heir to this unbiblical, non-Hebraic concept of the Christ, the son of God.

So-called ‘early church fathers’ (ECFs), from the late second century on, began to move increasingly away from the Hebraic roots of the faith and to view the Christ event more and more through the lens of Greek metaphysics. These ECFs had imbibed the spirit of the different Greek philosophical schools in which they had formerly been educated. Having become Christians it was only natural for them to interpret their newfound faith through these systems of thought, which were so ingrained in their minds. The nature of the ‘son of God’ and his relationship to God became the focal point of much philosophical speculation, producing conflicting schools of thought (e.g. Logos, Arian and gnostic christologies), which led eventually to the son of God of the conciliar creeds. These developments were clearly a deviation from the earlier Hebraic understanding of the first generation of Jewish and Greek believers.

One way that the difference between the Hebraic and the Greek mindsest can be seen is in the categories of thought in which the relationship between God and the son of God might be delineated. The Greek metaphysically trained mind thought in categories of essence and nature, while the Hebrew mind thought in categories of status and function. So the ECFs, trained in Greek metaphysics, naturally came to view the relationship between God and his son as one of ontological equivalence, a oneness of substance and essence. Greek metaphysics had already postulated a God who emanates out of his divine substance other divine beings who thus share in his divinity. The earlier Jewish believers understood the relationship to be one of status and function, where the appellation ‘son’ was taken as an analogy. The Greek mind reasoned that if God begets a son then the son must be of the same nature as God i.e the Father to son relationship is literal. But the Jewish mind perceived the Father to son relationship as a metaphor. This is seen in the fact that the nation of Israel itself was designated to be God’s son {Ex. 422-23; Is. 1:2; Deut. 32:6; Mal. 1:6; 2:10}. This father/son relationship was not based on nature or substance but on the fact that the nation was created i.e. brought into existence by God, hence by analogy, God gave birth to the nation. Even individual Israelites could be designated ‘sons of God’ {Hosea 1:10} as well as believers in Jesus in the NT {Gal. 3:26}. Also, in the Hebrew scriptures, other created non-human beings (typically called angels) could be called sons of God {Job 1:6; 38:6-7; Ps. 89:5-7}. In all of these cases there is no connotation of a metaphysical relationship. In fact, there is not any use of the appellation ‘son of God’ in the OT that has a metaphysical association to it. But even more pertinent to Hebrews 1 is another individual in the Hebrew Bible, who is designated to be God’s son – the Davidic king, Yahweh’s anointed one.

The Interpretive Key

The aforementioned early church fathers, so-called, brought their education in Greek metaphysics to bear on the NT scriptures, and simply read into them the categories of substance and nature. This was particularly true of Hebrews chapter 1. It is understandable how they were so easily able to see these Greek concepts in certain passages, since they were, for the most part, ignorant of the Hebraic perspective, and the Greek perspective just was what they were familiar with. But what I am proposing in this article is that the Hebraic perspective should be presumed when reading the NT. We should presume that the authors of the NT, all being Jews who were highly familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and all being, most likely, unappreciative of Greek metaphysics, would have been setting forth the relationship between God and his son in the same categories of status and function as we saw in the Hebrew Bible’s use of the appellation ‘son of God’. This would mean that the author of Hebrews speaks of the ‘son’ in a metaphorical sense, rather than a literal sense. Why should it be presumed that this Hebrew author was using categories of Greek metaphysics? Well we know why it has been and still is presumed – because that is how the ECFs understood it, and these ECFs have been endowed with a sort of sacrosanct status. But the reason these ECFs understood it the way they did had more to do with their former education in the Greek philosophical schools than it did with their proficiency in biblical exegesis. But what if we take off the glasses of the ECFs metaphysical model and read this passage from the Hebraic viewpoint? Does the passage cohere in this case? I believe it does and even better than the traditional interpretation.

The interpretive key that I am proposing for this passage is that we should understand the appellation ‘son’ as a status which is bestowed upon a person, specifically a descendant of David, to function as the ruler over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf, according to the OT precedent.

Son of God = Son of David

The main thrust of Hebrews 1 is that this one who is designated as son is superior in rank and assumed function than any angel1. The author shows this by presenting a series of OT passages where the status of this son is shown to be greater than that of angels. He also notes what scripture does not say with regard to angels. Before I do a verse by verse exegesis of the passage I want to show how the OT passages the author uses to establish his point, in their original context, all refer to Yahwheh’s anointed one, the Davidic king. The passages are Ps. 2:7 and 1 Chron. 17:13 (quoted in v. 5); Ps. 45:6-7 (quoted in vv. 8-9) and Ps 110:1 (quoted in v. 13). Also in v. 6 there is an allusion to Ps. 89:27.

Psalm 2:7

“I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have brought you forth.’

This is an oft quoted passage by the ECFs, who saw in it the Greek metaphysical concept of emanation. They applied this verse to their theory that the son was generated or emanated out from the Father’s substance before the worlds were made, despite the fact that the verse says nothing of the sort. Let’s see what some orthodox trinitarian sources say about this passage. First, in the introductory comments to Ps. 2 and in the comment on v. 7, the 1985 NIV Study Bible says:

A royal psalm, it was originally composed for the coronation of Davidic kings, in light of God’s covenant with David.

2:7 Son . . . Father. In the ancient Near East the relationship between a great king and one of his subject kings, who ruled by his authority and owed him allegiance, was expressed not only by the words “lord” and “servant” but also by “father’ and “son.” The Davidic king was the Lord’s “servant” and his “son” (2 Sa 7:5, 14)

NIV Study Bible

Here is another reputable source:

You are My Son. A parent-child relationship between the gods and the king was common imagery in the ancient world. Such imagery supported the authority of the king and portrayed his role as mediator between the divine realm and the world in which he was to maintain order . . . Kings in David’s genealogical line also held their kingship by divine adoption, celebrated on the coronation day in Ps. 2. The adoption metaphor in Israel was rooted in the special covenant relationship between Yahweh and the Davidic kings . . . [I]n other ancient Near East treaties . . . [t]he great king was designated as “father,” and the vassal king was his “son.” In this way of thinking, the Davidic king was the “son” of the great King, Yahweh, who was the “father”. . .

Zondervan’s Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
Comment on Ps. 2:7

And still another:

Jahve has declared to Him: בּני אתּה, and that on the definite day on which He has begotten or born him into this relationship of son. The verb ילד unites in itself, like γεννᾶν, the ideas of begetting and bearing; what is intended is an operation of divine power exalted above both, and indeed, since it refers to a setting up (נסך) in the kingship, the begetting into a royal existence, which takes place in and by the act of anointing (משׁח). Whether it be David, or a son of David, or the other David, that is intended, in any case 2 Samuel 7 is to be accounted as the first and oldest proclamation of this decree; for there David, with reference to his own anointing, and at the same time with the promise of everlasting dominion, receives the witness of the eternal sonship to which Jahve has appointed the seed of David in relation to Himself as Father, so that David and his seed can say to Jahve: אבי אתּה, Thou art my Father, Psalm 89:27, as Jahve can to him: בּני אתּה, Thou art My son.

Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on Ps. 2:7


The psalm refers to this son in three ways: as the son in vv. 7 and 12; as Yahweh’s anointed one, a common designation for the king in the OT, in v. 2; and as Yahweh’s king in v. 6. From this we can deduce that these titles are interchangeable – the king was the anointed one (Heb. mashiach = messiah) and the son. This relationship was established by God in his covenant promise to David and brings us to the second passage which the author of Hebrews uses to establish his point.

1 Chron. 17:13 (2 Sam. 7:14)

“I will be his father and he will be my son.”

In the context of this passage God sends the prophet Nathan to king David to declare to him the Lord’s promise to establish David’s line to be the only line from which kings would be chosen to rule, in Jerusalem, over God’s kingdom. He promises David that he will raise up from David’s own seed a king to succeed him, which was initially fulfilled in Solomon. It is then that God gives the decree mentioned in Ps. 2, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” We know that Solomon was the first to fulfill the promise based on 1 Chron. 22:9-10 and 28:5-7. These verses clearly mark out Solomon as God’s son, once he is anointed and takes the throne. Let’s see what one of our Trinitarian commentators has to say about this passage.

his father . . . my son. This familial language expresses the relationship God promises to maintain with the descendant(s) of David whom he will establish on David’s throne. It marks him as the one God has chosen and enthroned to rule in his name as the official representative of God’s rule over his people.

1985 NIV Study Bible comment on 2 Sam. 7:14


Now let’s go to the next passage quoted by the author of Hebrews.

Psalm 45:6-7

“Your throne, O God , is forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

That this psalm is addressed to the king is firmly established in vv. 1-2 which read, “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king . . . You are the most excellent of men . . . “ The title to the psalm refers to it as “a wedding song,” and indeed vv. 10-14 describe the bride. This psalm was probably used on more than one royal wedding occasion. In the psalm, in vv. 2-7, the psalmist paints an idealized portrait of the Davidic king in his majesty. The king, as God’s ultimate representative, is addressed as “God,” but it must be understood as an honorific given to the king in light of his exalted position and not as a statement of the kings ontological nature. This would be similar to when God said to Moses, “See, I have appointed you god (Heb. elohim)to Pharaoh.” There Yahweh designated Moses as elohim in relation to Pharaoh, for Moses was representing God. Therefore, it cannot be objected that the Davidic king could be so designated in relation to the people over whom he reigned as God’s representative. We have a similar case in Ps. 82:6, where human kings2 are designated as elohim“I said, ‘You are gods, you are sons of the Most High.'” Here is what the 1985 NIV Study Bible says about Ps. 45:6:

O God. Possibly the king’s throne is called God’s throne because he is God’s appointed regent. But it is also possible that the king himself is addressed as “god.” The Davidic king, because of his special relationship with God,was called at his enthronement the “son” of God. In this psalm, which praises the king and especially his “splendor and majesty” (v.3), it is not unthinkable that he was called “god” as a title of honor.

Comment on Ps. 45:6


The final passage quoted by the author of Hebrews is Ps. 110:1.

Psalm 110:1

“The declaration of Yahweh to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'”

This is another coronation psalm, which would have been spoken over the newly anointed king. It is the utterance of Yahweh himself (Heb. neum) in which the newly appointed king is invited to share Yahweh’s rule over his kingdom, Israel. To ‘sit at the right hand’ of a great king signified to rule on behalf of that king, so here the Davidic king is given authority to rule on Yahweh’s behalf, with Yahweh’s full support. This was tantamount to the king sharing God’s own throne over His kingdom {see 1 Chron. 29:23}. This language is also seen in Ps. 80:17: “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have secured for yourself.” Here is what one reputable ‘orthodox’ source says:

1The Lord said unto my Lord] Jehovah’s oracle unto [or touching] my lord! The rendering said (R.V. saith) does not represent the full force of the word ne’um, which is commonly used of solemn Divine utterances (Genesis 2:16, and frequently in the prophets . . .). The Psalmist speaks with the authority of a prophet who is conscious of having received a message from God . . . The message is addressed through the Psalmist to the king, and the king is the subject of it. Strictly speaking the ‘oracle’ is the remainder of the verse ‘sit thou … footstool,’ Psalm 110:2-3 being the Psalmist’s expansion of it; but the whole Psalm is a Divine message of encouragement for the king.

my Lord] The R.V. has rightly dropped the capital letter, as being of the nature of an interpretation. ‘My lord’ (adônî) is the title of respect and reverence used in the O.T. in addressing or speaking of a person of rank and dignity, especially a king.

sit thou at my right hand] The seat at the king’s right hand was the place of honour . . .  But more than mere honour is implied here. This king is to share Jehovah’s throne, to be next to Him in dignity, to be supported by all the force of His authority and power. The idea corresponds to the recognition of the king as Jehovah’s son in Psalm 2:7. Somewhat similarly the king was said to ‘sit on the throne of Jehovah’ (1 Chron. 29:23 . . . )

Cambridge Bible commentary on Ps. 110:1


Finally, let’s look at the allusion to Ps. 89:27 in v. 6.

“I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”

The reference here is to King David, as vv. 19-20 show, but also to David’s descendants, as vv. 28-36 establish, whom Yahweh has appointed as his firstborn son, i.e. the heir of his kingdom.

So we have seen that the passages quoted by the author of Hebrews all point to the ‘son’ being equivalent to the Davidic king. He does bring up one more passage, Ps. 102:25-27, in vv. 10-13, but I do not believe this passage is meant to say anything about the ‘son’ but about the angels, as I will show in my exegesis of the chapter.

Exegesis of Hebrews 1

We come now to the interpretation of Hebrews 1. Based on the information that we saw above, where in seeking to establish for his readers that the son is superior to angels, the author points to four passages directly and one indirectly which all focus on the status and function of the Davidic king. I will be using this as my hermeneutic for this chapter. It must also be noted that these OT passages cited by our author are, in their original context, not specifically or exclusively about the man Jesus. In other words, they are not prophecies about the coming Messiah, but rather are idealized depictions of Yahweh’s anointed one, the Davidic king. So we might say that the man Jesus, being the final and ultimate anointed son of David, who will rule over the kingdom of God forever {see Lk. 1:32-33}, is the only one to fulfill the ideal. I will show how this understanding of Hebrews 1 is completely consistent with a purely human Messiah, i.e. that nothing that the author says about the son in this chapter necessitates that he be divine.

V. 1 – As I stated above in the Background section, this verse establishes for us that both the author and the recipients of the letter were Jews. The adverb polumeros seems to mean many portions, which may refer to time, hence “at various times,” or the like, found in numerous versions. The adverb polutropos means many or various ways and probably refers to the various ways in which God communicated his word, e.g. legal code for religious and civil matters, historical narrative, prophetic utterance, psalms and wisdom literature.

V.2 – Most translations have “His Son” but there is no ‘His’ in the Greek, so this is incorrect. There is also no definite article, so “the Son” would not be correct either. The ISV, NET, and YLT are correct in rendering the Greek as “a son.” Knowing the authors mindset, based on the foregoing analysis, it would be appropriate to think “a chosen son of David,” for as we saw, son of David is equivalent to son of God {ref. Is. 9:6-7}. So the author is saying that in the past God spoke to their forefathers by the prophets but that in these last days he has spoken to them by a chosen son of David. This was ,of course, what the Jews had been waiting and longing for, the messianic hope, that God would raise up from the seed of David a redeemer {see Lk. 1:63-75; Acts 13:22-23}.

This son of David/ son of God has been “appointed heir of all things.” Just as the firstborn son of a family in ancient Israel was the heir to the fathers estate, so the reigning Davidic king was God’s heir to the kingdom. {Ps. 2:8; 89:27; Matt. 21:37-39} The “all things” here refers not to the entire universe but all things that pertain to the kingdom of God. That this son has been “appointed” heir shows that his heirship is not by natural birth, for a natural born son does not need to be appointed heir of his fathers estate, he just is the heir. This shows that his sonship is also by appointment {ref. Ps. 89:27}. This is in keeping with what the author is about to show in citing those four OT passages.

” . . .  through whom He constituted the ages … ” – Most translations say “through whom he made the world” or even “through whom he created the universe.” These are then used to bolster the claim that the ‘son’ was the creator of the material universe. But these translations are unwarranted. There is no reason why the Greek word aion should not be translated, according to the normal usage of the word, as ‘ages.’ The word denotes time not material substance. The word appears 14 other times in Hebrews and always denotes a period of time or ongoing time, with one ambiguous use at 11:3 where ‘ages’ is still probably the best translation. Also the ‘He‘ in this verse refers to God not the ‘son.’ So the verse is not saying that the son created the universe, but that God, through the son, constituted or ordained or established the ages (of time).

Another misconception is that the Father created the universe through the agency (Gr. dia) of the son, which would be more in line with ancient Gnosticism than with biblical theology. Trinitarian apologists are quick to point out that the use of dia  (through) with the genitive pronoun (whom) denotes agency, i.e. it reflects an instrumental connotation. Thus ‘the son’ would be pictured here as the instrument or agent through whom God made the ages, which would imply this son’s existence at the time of the said action. But is this the only way dia used with a genitive can be understood? The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament lists five senses in which we can understand the use of dia with a genitive: spatial, temporal, modal, instrumental and causal. The causal sense denotes the reason why or for which something is done. With this causal sense, possible substitutions for “through” would be ‘in consequence of,’  ‘on account of,’  ‘on the basis of,’  ‘in view of,’ and ‘for the sake of.’  Now what reason would we have to take Heb. 1:2 in a causal, rather than an instrumental sense? Or the better question might be “Why should the instrumental sense be preferred over the causal sense?” Well, the evident reason why a trinitarian or modalist or arian would prefer the instrumental sense is that they already hold as a presupposition that Jesus was a divine person who existed before the creation. But since the author is speaking of a son who is a son of David and therefore purely human and so could not have existed before the creation, but had his beginning in the womb of his mother, we should not assume this son to have personally been an agent in the creation of the world. Therefore, the causal sense makes more sense to me.

The final point pertains to the word “made” or as some versions say “created.” The word is poieo and has a wide semantic range: make, produce, construct, create, prepare, appoint, ordain, to do, accomplish, perform, institute. Now if the trinitarian wants to insist that the word should be taken in the sense of create or make then I will point them to Heb. 3:2, which says, “He (Jesus) was faithful to the one who poiesanti him.” Do they want to say that the word here means made or created? I don’t think so. Some versions translate it here as appointed. Possible renderings for our verse could be appointed, established, ordained, arranged, set up or constituted.

With this understanding the verse could be translated in the following ways:

  • “for whose sake he (God) established the ages”
  • “on account of whom he (God) arranged the ages”
  • “because of whom he (God) set up the ages.”

The idea would be that God, in view of his plan to bring the Messiah (the son) into the world, so arranged the ages of time to best accommodate that plan. This would make Messiah the central focus of history.

V.3 – The author here is not speaking of the eternally begotten Son of the creeds, simply because he is speaking of the ‘son’ as a status or a position, based on the understanding of ‘son of God’ in the Hebrew Bible. This verse then is describing the function which this ‘son’ has in relation to God and God’s people. This status of ‘son’ entails a representative function. The ‘son’, a descendent of David, sitting on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8}, given authority to rule over the kingdom of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6; 2 Chron. 13:5, 8}, is, in effect, the visible representation of Yahweh’s invisible rule. Yahweh is the true King of Israel {Ps.24:7-10; 48:1-3; Is.33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6; Zeph.3:15} and as such stands in a unique relationship to Israel, that is, Israel is God’s kingdom. The descriptions of God in the Hebrew Scriptures are not ontological or metaphysical or abstract, but concrete and functional. Yahweh is Israel’s King, their Rock, their Fortress, their Redeemer, their Father, their Lord, their Strength, their Shepherd, their Savior, their Mighty One, their Judge, their Comfort, etc. All of these (and more) are descriptions of God’s covenant functions in relation to his people. The ‘son’, who is the visible representation of Yahweh to His people, will also carry out many of these same functions. It is, in fact, God carrying out these functions through His human agent, the son of David.

Now I realize that this interpretation is probably different than anything you have heard, but stay with me as I work through it.

” . . . the one who is the radiance of His (Yahweh’s) majesty . . .” – The Greek for radiance is apaugasma which literally means ‘a shining out from’, that which radiates from a source, e.g. the rays of light from the sun. This is the only occurrence of this word in the NT. The mistake of the ECFs was to take this literally. Some scholars propose that the author of Hebrews is drawing on the personified wisdom motif of the Wisdom of Solomon (WOS) 7:26, where Wisdom is said to be the “apaugasma of eternal light.” They deduce from this that our author is setting forth the ‘son’ in terms of ‘wisdom christology’. But the mere occurrence of the same word is a rather weak argument for deducing a connection of thought. Now it could be that the author was familiar with the verse from WOS and lifted the word apaugasma to use it, but in a completely different context. In the WOS it relates to God’s attribute of wisdom, whereas in Hebrews it relates to the Davidic ‘son’. Now the glory and majesty of the Davidic king, Yahweh’s human agent, is only a shining out from the original source, Yahweh’s majesty as Israel’s king; the glory and majesty of the Davidic king is derivative {ref. Ps. 21:5 and Ps. 96:6}.

” . . . and the representation [or guarantee] of His (Yahweh’s) reality (as Israel’s King) . . . ” – The Greek for representation is charakter which referred to the impression made in clay or wax or metal by a stamping tool, e.g. the image impressed on a coin or a wax seal; hence an image, likeness or representation. Another way we can understand this word is in reference to the signet ring of a king, which bore his mark or signature, as it were. The king would press the engraving on the ring into wax or clay to make his mark on it, thus sealing a document of some type and thus guaranteeing whatever the document says. The ‘son’ i.e. the Davidic king, would be God’s signet ring, the guarantee of His covenantal support of His people {see Haggai 2:23}. This is the only occurrence of this word also in the NT. The Greek for reality is hupostasis  which has as its primary meaning ‘a standing under, a foundation or base, a support.’ But this word does have a varied semantic range. It is used 19 times in the LXX with various meanings, such as foundation, pillars (support), solid ground, building design (blueprints), and hope (ground for confidence). Hupostasis appears two other times in Hebrews, at 3:14 and 11:1, translated as ‘assurance‘ or ‘confidence’. In Heb. 11:1 it is set in synonymous parallelism to elegchos which denotes a ‘firm conviction’ of unseen realities. It appears twice in 2 Corinthians, at 9:4 and 11:17, where it seems to mean ‘a ground for boasting.’ The word did have among the classic Greek philosophers the meaning of ‘substance’ or ‘existence’ or ‘reality’, but I reiterate that I do not believe the author to be speaking of God in Greek metaphysical terms but rather, in Hebraic fashion, in terms of how God functions in relation to His people.

One idea behind hupostasis seems to be that of a confidence or assurance that one has from standing on a firm and sure foundation, hence it was used to denote a promise or guarantee which engendered such confidence. In this sense God’s hupostasis would be his covenant. It was also used as the title on ancient documents which showed ownership of property. Such a document gave the one whose name it bore assurance that they could take possession of the property, i.e. it was the owner’s ground of assurance and confidence, and his guarantee.

If we were to take hupostasis in the sense of reality it would denote the unseen reality that stands under (and hence supports) that which is seen. In the context of Hebrews 1 it would be speaking of the fact that Yahweh is the reality that stands underneath the Davidic throne. Yahweh is the ultimate King of his kingdom, though unseen, while the ‘son’ is the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule.

With all of the foregoing in mind I offer the following possible interpretive translations of the first part of v. 3:

1.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the imprint of Yahweh’s guaranteed support . . .”

In this sense, the son i.e. the Davidic king, is Yahweh’s signature, as it were, guaranteeing his covenant support of his people

2.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the guarantee of Yahweh’s covenant promises . . .”

This would give the same sense as the first one – the son is the guarantee that Yahweh will fulfill his covenant functions toward his people {see Rom. 15:8}.

3.” . . . who is the radiance of Yahweh’s majesty, the (visible) representation of the (unseen) reality of Yahweh (as Israel’s true King).

In this sense, the son , sitting on the throne of David, is the visible representation of the rule of Yahweh as Israel’s ultimate King. Yahweh ‘stands under’ the Davidic throne as it’s strength and support.


I think the author uses the concepts of God’s ‘majesty’  and His ‘covenant support’ because these ideas epitomize or sum up the many things said in the OT about God’s relationship to Israel. His ‘majesty’ speaks of His righteousness, justice and salvation in connection with His kingship, as in Isaiah 5:16; 30:18; 33:5; 44:23; 46:13; Psalm 89:14-18; 97:1-6. His ‘support‘ sums up many aspects of God’s covenant responsibilities as Israel’ King, such as to be their Rock, Protector, and Defender; their Fortress, Shield, and Refuge. It also speaks of God as Israel’s hope and confidence. Biblical passages which portray God in these terms are too numerous to list, but a few examples are Deut. 33:29; Psalm 18:1-3,16-18,30-36,46-50; 20:1-2; 28:7-9; 46:7; 48:1-3; 115:9; Jer. 14:8; 17:13.

So Yahweh is the true King of Israel and as such performs all these various functions on their behalf. But how does He do this? Through his anointed one, the son of David, the one chosen to rule on His behalf over His kingdom. But this should not be a surprise. All throughout Israel’s history God has performed these functions through his human agents {see Judges 2:16-18; Acts 7:35}. Once God established the line of David to rule over his kingdom it was primarily through the reigning king, this one He called his ‘son‘, that He manifested His theocratic rule over, as well as His protection and care for, His people.

So what the author of Hebrews is telling his readers in this verse is that the ‘son‘ i.e. the one in the line of David, chosen to rule forever over God’s kingdom, is the visible representation of God’s theocratic rule and the agent through whom God performs His covenant responsibilities toward His people.

” . . . bearing the burden of all things by the word of His power . . . ” – The traditional translation of “upholding all things” and the consequent interpretation of the Son holding the material universe together by his word is entirely unwarranted. The Greek word is phero, of which the primary meaning is ‘to carry or bear’ . The idea of ‘upholding’ as in ‘holding together’ does not fit any of the 66 occurrences of this word. I believe the idea here is of the ‘son’ bearing the responsibility laid upon him by God as His representative. This concept is seen in the following passages:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father.”  Matt. 11:27

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  Isaiah 9:6

“The Father . . . has entrusted all judgment to the son.”  John 5:22

“The Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand.”  John 3:35

The “all things” that the son is bearing refers to all that God has committed to him to carry out, all that He has laid on his shoulders. The orthodox commentators imagine here, based on the orthodox creeds, that the ‘son’ is holding all of the created order together, sustaining and preserving it. This is sheer nonsense and not in accord with the OT portrait of the ‘son.’ The son  carries out his assigned task by the word of God’s power, not his own.

” . . .  having made purification for sin . . . ” – One of the responsibilities laid upon this ‘son’; a burden he gladly bore on our behalf. This purification was made by the sacrifice of himself to God {see Heb. 10:10-14}.

” . . .  he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Having become obedient to God even unto death, he was highly exalted and given authority to rule on God’s behalf over His kingdom. This is what it means for this ‘son’ to sit at the right hand of God. This is plain from the use of the expression in the OT:

“Let your hand (of power) be upon the man at your right hand, the son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself.”  Psalm 80:17

“Yahweh says to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Yahweh will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies.”  Psalm 110:1-2

To sit at God’s right hand is equal to sitting on God’s throne, as said of Solomon in 1 Chron. 29:23 and 2 Chron. 9:8. Jesus himself said that he sat down with [his] Father on his throne,” {Rev.3:21}.These are metaphors, not a literal location where Jesus literally sits. These metaphors express the truth that the ‘son’ was given all authority to rule over God’s kingdom with and on behalf of God. Of course this implies the son’s subordination to the one who gave him that authority {see 1 Cor. 15:27}.

V.4 – Here we are told that this ‘son’, this offspring of David chosen to rule for God, became  (could also be translated was made) so much better than the angels . . . “ Now if the ‘son’ was the ‘eternally begotten Son’, co-equal with the Father and creator of the angels, would he not have always been, by nature, better than the angels. Yet the text says that he became such which surely implies there was a time when he was not such.  This is explained further at 2:9 where the author says ” … Jesus, who was made for a little while inferior to angels … “ But if Jesus was eternal Deity walking around in human flesh could he have ever been inferior to angels? The man Jesus, the final and ideal son of David, the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever, was for a time inferior to the angels in that he was mortal, whereas angels are immortal. But after he suffered death for the human race he was crowned with glory and honor and exalted “above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” {Eph. 1:21}

Why does the author feel the need to tell his readers that this ‘son’ is better than the angels? Perhaps it is because they had diminished the role of the Davidic ruler in God’s plan and were giving angelic mediators more prominence. Or perhaps they were even thinking of Jesus not as a real man, but as an incarnate angel. The author does lay much stress on the humanity of Jesus in chapter two. If it were the case, as we are made to believe, that all Christians from the very beginning understood Jesus to be God in human flesh, so that the author and recipients of this letter would have held that to be true, why would our author have to tell his readers these things? Would not they have already believed he was greater than angels by virtue of his being God? The whole argument of the author here shows the fallacy of that position. It only makes sense if the author and recipients believe the son to be simply a man. In that case the author might have to convince some of his readers that the son is now been made superior to angels.

The ‘son’ has inherited or obtained a more superior name when compared to the angels. I used to think that the ‘name‘ here was that of ‘son’, but I don’t think that is right. Even angels, in the Hebrew Scriptures, are called ‘sons of God.‘ I have come to see ‘name’ here as signifying fame, renown, or reputation based on one’s rank or authority. As the author says at 3:3Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than Moses . . . ,” so here he is basically saying that Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater distinction than any angel. This reveals one of the errors that the author is writing to combat – that the mediatorial role of angels was more significant than that of the Messiah. If this is true, it shows that these early believers did not hold the belief that Jesus was God incarnate, for if they did they could never have regarded him as inferior in status to angels.

V.5 – Here the author begins his series of OT citations, all focusing on the role and function of the Davidic king, as we saw above. For this reason I categorically reject the interpretation of ECFs who saw in these passages some sort of metaphysical relationship between God and the son. The father/son relationship pictured in these statements is not ontological, i.e. by an actual birth of the son from the Father, nor metaphysical i.e. by an emanation of the son out of the Father’s substance. This relationship is symbolic, i.e. the son of David has the status of sonship bestowed upon him by God, because he is chosen to rule on behalf of God. This privilege was never given to any angel.

This ends part 1; please come back for part 2.

Endnotes

  1. Though the Greek word angelos can refer to either human or non-human supernatural agents, I think it is clear that the author of Hebrews is referring to non-human agents in Chapters 1 and 2 of the book.
  2. Here is an article that presents the case for the ‘gods’ of Ps. 82 being human kings.







What’s Wrong With Greg Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic? Part 2


We will now continue with the scriptural case against Boyd’s thesis.

3. Does the Depiction of God in the NT Cohere With That in the OT?
A. Paul’s Letters
Since Boyd uses Paul’s understanding of the cross as a basis for his premise that the cross reveals the cruciform character of God, it is necessary to determine whether Paul’s understanding of the cross actually brought him to the same conclusions about God as Boyd. If not, then Boyd’s use of Paul to validate his own understanding of the cross is not justified. We have already seen in Part 1 some indication that Paul did not hold to a ‘cruciform’ view of God, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Boyd denounces the depiction of God in the OT as one who executes vengeance upon his enemies {see Deut. 7:10; 32:35, 40-42; Ps. 94:20-23; Is. 34:8; 35:4; 59:18; Jer. 51:6, 24, 56}. Vengeance in this sense denotes retributive justice, i.e. a recompense or repayment for wrongs done. Now Boyd does not outright deny that God exercises retributive justice on the wicked, he denies only that He does so directly by His own hand. Boyd views God’s vengeance as simply the withdrawal of His protection and the allowing of the natural consequences of one’s sins to play out. We will discuss this idea later, but for now we need to examine the evidence for Paul’s own view of God in regard to vengeance.

A key passage from Paul is Romans 12:17-21:

17. Do not repay anyone evil for evil . . . 19. Do not take vengeance, beloved, but rather give place to the wrath (of God), for it is written, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink. In so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Boyd references this passage about four times but only focuses on vv. 17, 20 -21 and the first part of v. 19. He never really addresses Paul’s quote from Deut. 32:35. Like I said above, he doesn’t deny God’s retributive justice but frames it in such a way as to fit his pacifistic presupposition. The main point Boyd makes about this passage is that in carrying out these directives one is being like God. He bases this on passages like Matt. 5:43-48 and Lk. 6:27-36. In these passages Jesus instructs his disciples to love their enemies and do good to them because this is how the Father acts toward his enemies. So, if we do likewise, we will be “perfect (or merciful) as [our] Father in heaven is perfect (or merciful).” But is this what Paul had in mind? If Boyd’s exegesis were correct Paul would be saying, “Be like God by not repaying evil for evil. Be like God by not taking vengeance on your enemies, for it is written, ‘It is mine to take vengeance, I will repay’, says the Lord.” This, of course, makes absolutely no sense. Instead, it seems quite clear that Paul gives the reason why believers need not take vengeance themselves – because God himself will do it. So are Jesus and Paul in conflict? No, since they both are teaching that we should love our enemies by doing good to them. It is obvious that the imitation of God is not in the not taking vengeance, for God certainly does so, but in the doing good to our enemies. But even this must be understood in a limited sense. Observe how in Matthew’s account Jesus puts the Father’s love for his enemies in the most general terms – “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In other words, the most basic features of God’s providential care for humanity are experienced by all people, whether good or evil. This fact does not negate the truth that ultimately the wicked will be repaid for the evil they have done, if they do not repent. We know from other things that Jesus taught, that he is not here teaching that when all is said and done the wicked will enjoy the same blessings reserved for the righteous, because God loves them {Matt. 13:40-43; 47-50}. Luke’s account has Jesus saying “the [Most High] . . . is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” This should be understood in the same general sense of God’s providential care of all. Certainly, we know it does not preclude God’s ultimate meting out of vengeance on his enemies and the rewarding of the righteous {see Rom. 2:6-11}.

Let us also note that when Paul speaks of God’s vengeance in Rom. 12:19 he is quoting from Deut. 32:35. Deut. 32 is an inspired song which Moses recited to the Israelites just prior to his death. Within this song are the very kind of depictions of God which Boyd denounces as false {see esp. vv.39-43}. Yet when Paul quoted this passage he did not feel the need, like Boyd does, to qualify it in some way so as to lessen the force of it. Paul did not tell his readers to remember that God is an unreserved pacifist or that they should understand God’s vengeance in light of the cross, or any other such suggestion. It should be plain to any unbiased reader that Paul had no problem with the depiction of God as a God of vengeance.

Further evidence of this, and on a much more personal note, is what Paul said concerning one of his enemies:

2 Tim. 4:14-15 – Alexander the metalsmith did me a great deal of evil. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he has set himself in opposition to our message.

Did Paul not follow his own advice in Rom. 12:17-21? Did he wish to see the vengeance of God fall upon his enemy? It may seem so at first glance, but I don’t think it is necessary to take it that way. Couldn’t Paul just be reiterating what the Hebrew scriptures have stated more than once {Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 25:14; Hosea 12:2} and what he himself had stated previously {Rom. 2:6}. This shows that Paul just accepted the OT ‘s depiction of God without trying to temper it, and this in spite of the fact that he had a revelation of the cross and of God’s mercy expressed in it. The desire for retributive justice to be meted out upon the enemies of God and his people is never characterized in scripture as a sinful desire. In the Book of Revelation, John, in the vision, sees under the altar in heaven many of those who had been martyred for their testimony and he hears them call out to God:

Rev. 6:10 – How long Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?

Far from these martyred saints being rebuked for their unloving attitude, they are given white robes and told to rest a little while longer. In fact, the vengeance of God on behalf of his mistreated people is a recurring theme in Revelation {6:10; 16:6; 18:20; 19:2}.

We can take Paul as saying that he doesn’t need to engage in repaying Alexander himself simply because he knows that God will do that very thing, according to scripture. As for whether Paul was ignoring his own instructions in Rom. 12:17-21, I don’t think we need to conclude that at all. I can imagine that if Paul would have ever come upon Alexander beaten and bloodied on the side of the road, the victim of bandits, he would have done exactly what the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable did {see Lk. 10:30-37}. Paul would have resisted the urge to repay his enemy in that moment and instead would have loved him. But this would not negate the fact that Alexander was still his enemy and still a danger to the those proclaiming the message and that, unless he repented and turned to God, God will one day repay him for the evil he had done.

We saw in Part 1 how Paul’s understanding of the parousia involves the idea that our Lord Jesus is the agent of God who executes God’s vengeance upon the wicked {see 2 Thess. 1:6-10}. The only way I can see for Boyd to escape the clear implications of this is to say that even Paul, in spite of the place that the cross held in his thinking, still had a clouded vision of God, obscured by his own fallen and culturally conditioned mind.

2 Cor. 5:10-11 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. So then, understanding the terror of the Lord we try to persuade men.

This passage raises the obvious question: Why would Paul speak of the terror of the Lord if he believed, based on the cross, in the so-called cruciform character of God? Once again, we see, that despite Paul’s profound revelation of the cross and the centrality of the cross in his thinking, he still held in his mind the picture of God found in the Hebrew scriptures {see Is. 2:10, 19, 21}.

Rom. 11:22 – Observe, therefore, the kindness and the severity of God: severity to those who fell, but to you the kindness of God, provided that you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

This once again shows that Paul held the same view of God that we find in Moses and the Hebrew prophets {Ex. 20:6; Deut. 32:39; Ps. 145:8-9,13b-20; Jer. 9:23-26; Lam. 3:19-33; Hosea 6:1}. This view recognizes in God two counter -balancing aspects – kindness, mercy, grace, etc. and severity, harshness, wrath, etc. While Paul, and the NT as a whole, emphasizes the kindness aspect, they do not deny the severity aspect of God. According to Boyd’s thesis all depictions of God in the OT that show God as severe, wrathful, or employing violent means in judging, are merely the projections of the authors’ own fallenness and cultural conditioning. Boyd describes this as a “clouded vision” of God. On the contrary, he believes all depictions of God in the OT that show God as loving, merciful, good, or kind, are the times in which the true light of revelation was able to break through the clouds and reveal God as he really is. But it is evident that Paul did not hold this view of the OT or of God, for here he exhorts the believers in Jesus to consider (Gr. ide = see, understand, know, recognize, perceive) both aspects of God’s character.

Rom. 2:5-6 – But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”

2Cor. 11:13-15 – For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ . . . It is not surprising, then, if [Satan’s] servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Gal. 6:7-8 – Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked. For a person will reap what he sows. The person who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap destruction and the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

Phil. 3:18-19 – For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.

Col. 3:25 – For the one who acts wickedly will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions.

All of these passages demonstrate that Paul did not believe that the revelation of God which came through Jesus superseded the revelation of God in the OT. What’s more, in at least two of these passages God is seen as personally involved in bringing about retribution. It is not merely as Boyd asserts, that retributive justice is some kind of law built into the universe, like karma, so that “God need not do anything” except let the organic consequences of sin just happen.

1 Cor. 10:21-22 – You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In this passage Paul is making a direct allusion to Deut. 32:16-21, the relevant parts of which reads:

16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not gods . . . 21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols.

This shows that Paul’s view of God was quite in keeping with the OT depiction of God as a Jealous God {see also Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24}, even if this is the only time Paul mentions this aspect of God in his letters. If Paul had the same mindset as Boyd does, based on the revelation of God in Christ, then he would not have affirmed this false view of God at all; a view which, according to Boyd, would have been derived from the clouded vision of God which Moses possessed.

B. The Book of Hebrews
Boyd makes much use of the book of Hebrews, quoting many passages to prove that the old revelation has been superseded by the revelation of God in Christ. Yet we find something strange – the author of Hebrews seems to have the same view of God from the OT that Boyd thinks is false. It is telling that Boyd neglects to even mention the following passages I will present from Hebrews in his nearly 1500 page book, much less give an explanation of them.

In chapter 11 the author speaks of many of the characters from the OT scriptures and sets them forth as examples of faith. He starts with Abel in v. 4 and takes us all the way to Rahab the prostitute in v. 31, commending all of those mentioned for the things they did out of faith in God. He then says:

32. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. 33. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 34. quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight35. and women received back their dead raised to life. 

We note first that the six named men in v. 32 were all men of violence. The first four are known solely for their exploits in war, particularly in taking vengeance on Israel’s enemies. David’s claim to fame was as a psalmist and for his kingship over Israel, but he was known as a mighty warrior and committed much violence against the enemies of Israel. David was even denied the privilege of building the temple of God because of the blood he had shed {see 1 Chron. 22:6-10}. Samuel was not a warrior but a prophet, but he certainly had blood on his hands {see 1 Sam. 15:32-33}. To further show that the author of Hebrews has no qualms about commending these men of violence for their faith, the faith by which they performed acts of violence, he goes on to speak of these men conquering kingdoms, administering justice, becoming mighty in battle and putting the enemy armies to flight.

Now I can see why Boyd avoided this passage in his book, for it seems to me that he would only have two possible ways to escape the obvious implications of this passage. First he could say that the author of Hebrews, like the OT prophets, had a clouded vision of God due to his own fallenness and cultural conditioning, even though this author is on the other side of the cross, which revealed the cruciform character of God. But Boyd has already relied heavily upon the book of Hebrews in establishing his premises, so how could he then deny that the author has a clear revelation. Second, he can simply deny that the author is condoning the violent actions of these men and only intends to highlight the positive things these men did in faith. But this is untenable in light of what the author actually wrote. As noted above four of these men are known for nothing else except executing vengeance on Israel’s enemies. It is clear that part of what the author believes these men should be commended for is that by faith they conquered kingdoms and fought battles valiantly, putting the armies of the enemy nations to flight.

10:26-31 – 26. For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27. but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. 28. Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29. How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? 30. For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mineI will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

12:25- 29 – 25. Take care not to refuse the one who is speaking! For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less shall we, if we reject the one who warns from heaven? 26. Then his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven too.” 27. Now this phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken, that is, of created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. 28. So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and fear. 29. For our God is a consuming fire.

These two passages are drawn right out of the kind of imagery of God in the OT that Boyd denounces as “monstrous” and “horrendous.” Why would the author of Hebrews say such things about God, seeing that he is writing after the true revelation of God has been made known through Jesus. Boyd thinks the death penalty pronounced in the law of Moses for certain crimes was not a true expression of God’s will, yet here the author of Hebrews tells us that there is a worse punishment for those who have contempt for the son of God. It would seem that from this author’s perspective the cross has not revealed a less severe God at all. It is clear that this author, no matter what he understood about the revelation of God in Christ or what insights he had concerning the cross, he did not arrive at the same drastic conclusions that Boyd has. I could never imagine Boyd addressing his congregation on a Sunday morning and warning them that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for our God is a consuming fire.” Yet the author of Hebrews does so without reservation.

C. The Book of Acts
5:1-11 – 1. Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. 2. He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. 3. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? 4. Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!” 5. When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it . . .
7. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. 8. Peter said to her, “Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?” Sapphira said, “Yes, that much.” 9. Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” 10. At once she collapsed at his feet and died . . .

I could not find where Boyd addressed this passage in his book but I did find a 2017 podcast where he did so, just prior to the release of CWG. Boyd’s solution to the problem presented by this passage is weak and unimpressive. First, he offers the possibility that Satan killed the couple, since it was Satan who filled their hearts to lie and Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and “if anyone would want them dead it would be Satan.” But this is not his best answer, for he then takes nine minutes on his real solution – Peter killed them. He bases this on what he calls “semiautonomous power” (SAP). In chapter 25 of CWG Boyd explains:

“More specifically, I shall in this chapter argue that when God gives someone power, he genuinely gives it to them. To one degree or another, he places his divine power under the control of their power. I refer to this as semiautonomous power because, while the power itself does not exist independently of God, the way it is used is, to one degree or another, up to the agent it is given to, not God.”

He goes on to give some biblical examples of SAP, the first of which is Moses and his staff. Boyd believes that Moses “had some control over how he would use the supernatural power God had given him by means of this staff.” He bases this on Exodus 4:21:

The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power.”

This need not mean that Moses had the freedom to do whatever he wanted with God’s power, but that when he did the things God had told him to do that God’s power would be there to back him up. Of course, Moses could have chosen not to perform the signs that God instructed him to, and that would have been disobedience.

Boyd goes on to Numbers 20: 2-12 to show Moses’ misuse of the power God had given him. In v. 7-8 God instructs Moses to speak to the rock and it would pour out water for the people to drink. But Moses, in anger, strikes the rock with his staff and the water comes gushing out. But Boyd makes way to much out this; it doesn’t really fit his SAP concept. First, God instructed Moses in exactly what to do, which doesn’t suggest that Moses could just do whatever he wanted to do or perform a miraculous sign at will. In fact, when the people complained that there was no water, Moses didn’t just perform a miracle to solve the problem, but he went to the Tent of Meeting to seek God {vv.2-6}. It was then that he received instruction from God. Next, when Moses disobeys God’s instruction to speak to the rock, by striking it instead, he is rebuked by God and punished by not being allowed to enter the promised land {v. 12]. Yes, God did still bring the water from the rock, but this was in spite of what Moses had done and for the sake of the people. To suggest that God was bound to release his power no matter what Moses did is to read to much into the text. We should also consider that Moses was the first individual recorded in scripture to have such power put at his disposal and therefore his experience should set a precedent for subsequent miracle working prophets. In this Numbers passage we see that when a prophet does not follow the instructions he was given by God, but instead strikes out on his own, he is rebuked and punished by God. This should caution us against blaming biblical notables with wrong doing when scripture itself does not.

Now back to Acts 5. Boyd wants us to believe that Peter was free to wield God’s power to kill people at will and against God’s will, and that without rebuke. Does Boyd actually believe that the cruciform charactered God is just letting his servants run around using his power to indiscriminately kill people? This is an absurd notion and should be rejected by all rationally thinking Christians. We should note, that in the passage it no where states that Peter pronounced a curse upon them or commanded that they fall over dead. The text simply presents Peter as rebuking Ananias, who then fell down dead. It is likely that Peter was more surprised at this than anyone else. Boyd makes a point of the fact that the text no where says that it was God who struck the couple down, but for that matter neither does it say that Peter or Satan struck them down. The implication is clear – God judged this couple for their deception, like it or not.

12:21-23 – On a day determined in advance, Herod put on his royal robes, sat down on the judgment seat, and made a speech to them. But the crowd began to shout, “This is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck Herod down because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.

This is another passage that Boyd failed to address in CWG, but he did deal with it briefly on his podcast back in July of 2017. His solution to this troublesome passage was to suggest that angels are not always necessarily carrying out what is God’s will in what they do. He then points the listeners to Psalm 82 as evidence of this and gives a terse explanation of it. Boyd sees the “gods/sons of the Most High” there as angels, but this is by no means conclusive (for another view of Ps. 82 see this article). So he sees the ‘angels’ in Ps. 82 being rebuked for not carrying out God’s will, as support for his contention. First off, his solution depends upon his interpretation of Ps. 82 being correct, which I deny. But even if it could be shown that Ps. 82 was, without doubt, speaking of angels, it would still be quite a stretch to interpret Acts 12 as angelic disobedience. There is absolutely nothing in the text itself to suggest such a notion, it is only Boyd’s imagination, prompted by his presuppositions, that suggested it to him. The passage reads like similar ones in the OT {see 1 Chron. 21: 14-16; Is. 37:36} and there is no hint that the angel is charged with any wrongdoing. Now, whether one accepts this account as historical or not, it shows that the authors of the NT did not hesitate to see the hand of God at work in such events.

I don’t think Boyd would attempt to explain the passage by saying that what happened to Herod was simply the organic consequences of his sin, but I could see him try to relieve God of any guilt of violence by arguing that God did not kill Herod himself. But this would be like saying that the Godfather of a crime syndicate who orders a hit on his enemy is free from any guilt because he did not pull the trigger himself. The truth of the matter is this – God can judicially will that Herod be put to death and then send an agent to do the job and God is free from any blame of injustice or wrong because “all his ways are just, [he is] a faithful God who does no wrong; upright and just is he” {Deut. 32:4}.

13:8-11 – But the sorcerer Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness – will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand.

I was unable to find any response to this passage from Boyd, in either his books or his podcast. My assumption would be that he would use the same argument as he did concerning the Acts 5 passage, i.e. that this is a case of the misuse of God’s power by one of his servants. But again, this would amount to suggesting that God is a God who just stands by and does nothing while his servants misuse his power to bring harm to others contrary to his will. But is this image of God any better than that which Boyd denounces?


The author of Acts does not give any hint that what Paul did was contrary to God’s will, but rather, by saying that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” he is showing that what Paul did was under the direction of God and therefore within His will.

D. James, Peter and Jude
James 2:12-13 – Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. For judgment without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy boasts over judgment.

James 4:12 – But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge – the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 5:1-6 – Come now, you rich, weep, wailing over the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their rust will be for a testimony against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have treasured up in the last days. Behold, the wage of the workmen having harvested your fields, having been kept back by you, cries out, and the cries of those having harvested have entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You lived in luxury and lived in self-indulgence upon the earth. You have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and have put to death the righteous; he does not resist you.

These passages show that James, probably the brother of Jesus, held to the same view of God presented in the Hebrew scriptures – a God of retributive justice, who will both reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

1 Peter 4:17-18 – For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And “if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? “

2 Peter 2:1-3 – But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:12-13 – But these men, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed – do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed, suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways.

The apostle Peter shows the same orientation in his view of God’s justice – the wicked will be repaid for the evil they have done.

E. The Book of Revelation
I will not list passages from the Revelation for they are to numerous. Any cursory reading of the book will confirm that the view of God presented therein is consistent with that of the OT. In the book there are more than one series of judgments from God poured out upon the people of earth because of their wickedness (seven trumpet judgments and seven bowl judgments). Of the seven bowl judgments we read:

15:1 – I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.

16:1, 8-9 – Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had jurisdiction over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

Boyd goes into a long and tedious, and often one-sided, explication of the violent imagery of the judgments in Revelation in an attempt to distance God from these violent actions. His main argument is that although these are in some sense judgments from God, God himself is not involved in bringing them about. God is simply removing his hand of protection, thereby granting permission to the real culprits, Satan, whom he refers to as the “all but Almighty bringer of woe”, and his demons. In Appendix IV at the end of volume one of CWG Boyd writes:

 “Even if we bear in mind that these violent images are highly symbolic, this way of interpreting Revelation nevertheless produces a stunningly violent portrait of God. While such a portrait is quite at home with the violent strand of the OT we are addressing in this book, it is completely out of sync with the nonviolent revelation of God in Christ and, more significantly for our present purposes, with the lamb-like character of God revealed on the throne (Rev 5:6) that constitutes the centerpiece of John’s revelation, as we will see below. However, if we bear in mind John’s “all but almighty” understanding of Satan as we interpret his depictions of divine judgment, we get a much more nuanced—and, I believe, much more lamb-like—understanding of God’s involvement in them. To begin, while it is clear that all divine judgments in Revelation are in some sense reflective of God’s will, it is surely significant that God is never depicted as the agent who carries them out.”

There are a number of problems with this statement. First, Boyd is begging the question. He admits, that if taken at face value, with the genre and it’s symbolism taken into account, Revelation presents the same portrait of God as found in the OT. But that portrait of God should be rejected becauseit is completely out of sync with the nonviolent revelation of God in Christ and, more significantly for our present purposes, with the lamb-like character of God revealed on the throne.” But Boyd hasn’t proven that premise, despite his labored efforts. In fact, wouldn’t the book of Revelation itself be part of the revelation of God in Christ? Yet we see this book affirming the OT picture of God. Boyd’s “nonviolent revelation of God in Christ” appears to be a figment of his own imagination. Second, Boyd is mistaken that Rev. 5:6 reveals “the lamb-like character of God revealed on the throne,” for the Lamb is not depicted as on the throne in chapter five, or any other chapter for that matter. “Him who sits on the throne” in the Revelation is never the Lamb, but always someone distinct from the Lamb – the Lord God Almighty {see 4:8-11; 5:1, 6-7, 13; 6:16; 7:15}. As noted in Part 1, because Boyd sees Jesus as God, he thinks that God is altogether like Jesus and has always been. Since Jesus was nonviolent in his earthly life this must be how God is and has always been. Boyd’s presuppositions are simply wrong and so then is his thesis.

He tries to validate his assertion that the judgments in Revelation are merely acts of Satan by pointing to those incidents in the book where demons are indeed involved, such as the 6th bowl judgment in 16:12-14. This is actually the only judgment that specifically mentions demons. Boyd’s other example is less explicit {9:1-11} and so he simply interprets them to be demons. But these couple of examples cannot overturn the clear, unambiguous and ample statements which show that it is God who is controlling the release of these judgments. As we see in the passages cited above these judgments are referred to as God’s wrath, not Satan’s wrath. 16:9 explicitly states that God has jurisdiction over the plagues. The agents who are given the seven trumpets are said to be “the seven angels who stand before God,” and the seven angels who pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath are said to come out of the temple in heaven {8:2; 15:5-6}. None of these agents are depicted as acting autonomously; they are commanded when to act. Even when the text is explicit that the agents God uses are unholy it still depicts God as in control and as using them to accomplish his will {see 9:3-4; 16:14; 17:16-17}. Boyd has also tried to extricate God from the guilt of violence by the fact that it is agents, whether good or bad, who actually do the dirty work. But this argument fails, for as noted earlier, a mafia boss is not free of the guilt of murder by ordering a hit on his enemy rather than doing the job himself. In the same way, the violent acts of judgment in Revelation are God ordained and directed and so the buck stops with him. Boyd’s argument is unconvincing, to say the least. What is obvious is that he simply interprets the Revelation in accord with his pacifist predilections.

4. NT Recountings of OT Historical Events

Another line of reasoning to show the coherence of the view of God between the two testaments, i.e. before the cross and after the cross, is how NT authors relate the stories of events in biblical history, such as the flood, the destruction of Sodom, the wilderness wandering and the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Let’s look at the passages:

Acts 13:18-19 – . . . for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance.

1 Cor. 10:1-10 – 1. For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea . . . 5. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died9. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes10. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

Heb. 3:16-19 – Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Heb. 11:29-31 – By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

2 Peter 2:5-9 – . . . if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.

2 Peter 3:5-6 – But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.

Jude 5 & 7 – Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord c at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe . . . In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

We observe in these passages that the authors relate these events in a matter of fact way, without any apparent consternation, as if they presented a conflict between the perception of God related in these stories and the revelation of God they received in Christ. None of these authors, upon relating these events, ever feels the need to defend God against wrongdoing. None of them instruct their readers to use a special hermeneutic in order to understand what was really going on in these accounts or warn them to not accept the depiction of God related in these biblical stories. Make no mistake, these are some the very accounts in the OT which Boyd decries for their depictions of divine violence. But there is not a clue from these authors that the revelation of God they had received from Jesus was in any sense substantially different than what was revealed in these accounts. This is really the nail in the coffin of Boyd’s thesis – no NT author employs the cruciform hermeneutic when recounting OT passages which depict God as using violent means to accomplish his ends.

God-Breathed

The apostle Paul wrote that “all scripture is God breathed” and Greg Boyd affirms that statement. Yet in order to fit his paradigm, Boyd has had to reframe the way in which the scripture are God-breathed. Let’s hear Boyd for himself:

“As morally revolting as these portraits of God are, if we confess Jesus to be Lord, I believe we are obliged to confess all of them, together with the entire canon, are God-breathed. But at the same time, if we confess Jesus to be Lord, we should also be obliged to insist that something else is going on when God’s breathing results in biblical authors ascribing such atrocities to God, for these depictions of God contradict what we learn about God in Jesus’ cross-centered life and ministry.”

“This is why God allowed the sin of humanity to act upon him and to condition the way he appeared when he breathed his supreme revelation on the cross. And this is why God has always been willing to allow the sin of his people – including their sinful conceptions of him – to condition how he appears whenever he breathes revelations of himself. His breathing always reflects the reciprocal give-and-take of a non-coercive, authentic relationship . . . And for this reason, the loving relational God has always acted toward his people to reveal his true self as much as possible. But he also has always been willing to humbly allow his people to act upon him as he bears their sin as much as necessary . . . To the degree that any portrait reflects the cruciform character of God, we can consider it a reflection of God acting toward his people . . . I label these direct revelations, for they directly reflect the cruciform character of God that is supremely revealed on the cross. Conversely, to the degree that the surface appearance of a biblical portrait fails to reflect the cruciform character of God, we can consider it to be a literary testament to God’s willingness to humbly stoop to allow the sin and cultural conditioning of his people to act upon him as he bears the sin of his people. I label these indirect revelations, for to see how these portraits reflect the cruciform character of God we must exercise our cross-informed faith to see through their sin-mirroring surface to discern ‘what else is going on’ behind the scenes.”

“But we can be thankful that this twisted and culturally conditioned portrait of God is retained in the written record of our heavenly missionary’s activities, for it testifies to just how low God had to be willing to stoop to continue to further his purposes for history through this people. This is how God’s stiff-necked and spiritually twisted people were inclined to view him! And since God refuses to lobotomize people into possessing accurate mental images of him, he had to be willing to leave these twisted images in place when he stooped to breath the biblical narrative through them . . . God had to be willing to bear the sin of these twisted conceptions of him and to therefore take on a twisted appearance in the inspired written witness to his missionary activity.”

So Boyd believes that much of what is recorded in the OT is a twisted conception of God, which God allowed to be ‘breathed’ into his written record, because by doing so he was bearing the sin of his people. God humbly allowed his people to act upon him while he was acting upon them to breath his word through them. Although the apostle Peter said that scripture came about as “men spoke from God, being carried along (or led) by the Holy Spirit,” Boyd wants us to accept his theory that the men who wrote scripture, at least much of the time, were the ones carrying the Spirit along. He knows this to be fact because what they wrote, he says, doesn’t line up with what we learn about God in the cross. Note the circular argument Boyd makes. Based on the faulty premise that the cross unveils the revelation of the cruciform character of God, he judges any OT depiction of God that does not match up, to be a product of fallen human imagination.

Boyd also talks about the authors of scripture having a clouded vision of God, so that much of what they wrote about God was simply the projection of their own fallen and culturally conditioned minds. But this is in direct contradiction to what Peter wrote:

2 Peter 1:20- 21 – Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever came about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. NET

Boyd gives only a brief mention of this verse in a footnote, in which he attempts to lessen the force of it by implying that the meaning is limited only to prophecy in the sense of predictions of future events. But this is unlikely since the word prophecy would have been applied to any utterance of a prophet in the name of the Lord {see 2 Chron. 9:29; 15:8}. Hence, biblically speaking, prophecy can refer to a prophets denunciation of idolatry or other sins, warnings of impending judgment, declarations of God’s actions and ways, etc. Peter is saying that no utterance of a prophet, recorded in scripture, came about by the prophets own interpretation of things. It is clear that Peter believed that nothing that the prophets spoke, came from their own fallen and culturally conditioned minds but from the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

In light of the biblical data which I presented – the ministry, teachings, parables and eschatological forecast of Jesus; the attitude and mindset of the NT authors toward the OT and their continuance of the same depictions of God as wrathful, vengeful, austere, etc. – Boyd’s proposal is simply unconvincing. Boyd’s pacifistic predilections have led him to a dangerous denial of the truthfulness of much of God’s word, all the while affirming the full inspiration of what he rejects. So, in answer to the question, “What’s wrong with Greg Boyd’s cruciform hermeneutic?” I would say “Everything!” His conclusion is reached by weak, circular arguments built upon unsubstantiated premises. His case is built on cherry picking passages from the NT while ignoring those that are detrimental to his thesis. I have also shown that if Boyd’s thesis were true it would lead to some rather obvious absurdities. The worst of what’s wrong with it though, is that it is dangerous. I listened to a sermon of Boyd’s on the Cross Vision and was stunned to actually hear him tell the congregation that they should not listen to or trust what Moses said (and I have to assume this goes for much of what the prophets wrote). Though it was unstated, the clear implication in this was that we should trust in what Greg Boyd says. Does Boyd think that this attitude honors our Lord Jesus – whom Boyd believes is the greatest revelation of what God is like – who unreservedly held to the truthfulness of the writings of Moses and the prophets, referring to them as the word of God. In fact, Boyd’s thesis dishonors our Lord and the God who sent him. In the final analysis, every believer in Jesus must decide for themselves who they will listen to and thus who they will honor.

On A Personal Note

That Boyd’s thesis has been even modestly well received shows that there is a perturbation in the minds of many in Christianity today. It is not just Boyd’s book, but the plethora of apologetic works and online resources, over the past decade, attempting to respond to the angst of many Christians concerning the depiction of God in the OT. It appears that much of this was initiated by online atheists who were all too happy to point out what they deem to be an horrendous picture of God found in the Hebrew scriptures, which apparently most Christians, until then, were unaware of. This has led to a profusion of attempts by Christian scholars, pastors and apologists to find a way to reconcile the God of the OT with the God of the NT. I am, by no means, discounting all of these efforts, but I do find it disturbing that Christians are now taking their cues from unbelievers, even from the atheists.

This does show that many Christians have been, for the most part, unfamiliar with the OT. I myself fell into this category for many years of my life as a Christian, when I had focused most of my study efforts on the NT. Sure, I had some idea of how God seemed to be somewhat different in the OT than in the NT, but I was unaware of the extent of it. But when I began to do serious study of the OT, about ten years ago, and saw to a greater extent the depiction of God as using violent means to accomplish his purposes or as condoning the use of violence by his servants, I have to honestly say that I was not greatly bothered by it. I would probably attribute this to the fact that I had already come to see and appreciate this aspect of God even from the NT. I was never one to overemphasize one aspect of God over another, or to favor one aspect at the expense of another, but readily accepted whatever descriptions of God the scriptures revealed. So this phenomenon of God executing and condoning violent means just never disturbed me. I have come to a settled conviction of both the kindness of God and the severity of God.

Personally, I do not feel the need to explain away these hard passages in the OT, or to try to make excuses for God’s actions. God is who and what he is, and it is not for me to change him into something that I can feel unashamed to love and worship. Instead, I acknowledge God as he has revealed himself to be, and love and worship him accordingly. If anyone, whether believer or unbeliever, has an honest difficulty with how all of scripture presents God, and you are seeking some way to do away with the so-called ugly aspects of God, I am sorry, but I cannot help you. I can only encourage you to accept God in the fullness of his being, as he has revealed himself to be, and bow before his majesty. Hear the words of King Nebuchadnezzar, after God humbled him with a bout of insanity and then restored him to his right mind and to the throne:

Dan. 4:37 – “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. Those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”



What’s Wrong With Greg Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic? Part 1

Greg Boyd is the senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul Minnesota. He is a degreed theologian and former Professor of Theology at Bethel University. Boyd is also a prolific author with some twenty-two books to his credit. One of these books, which has caused quite a stir, is The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, a two volume work totaling around 1500 pages. This is a scholarly work written for academics, so, for the non-scholar, he has put out a shorter version (292 pp.) titled Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion Of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence. This work came out of Boyd’s many years of struggling with the depictions of God in the Hebrew Bible, which he regards as extremely violent.

Boyd is a pacifist, and of course he believes that Jesus was and still is a pacifist, and despite the abundant scriptural attestations to the contrary, he thinks that God himself is a pacifist. I am not sure which came first; whether his personal pacifism led him to view God this way or if after coming to see God in this way he became a pacifist himself. As a pacifist he believes that violence is never, under any circumstances, an appropriate form of action. This article is not an assessment of the pros and cons of pacifism but is rather a critique of Boyd’s solution to the problem of the OT’s depictions of God engaging in acts of violence, as well as commanding or condoning acts of violence committed by his people. While I have read only portions of Boyd’s 1500 page academic work, I have read much of Cross Vision and have listened to many episodes of his podcast Apologies and Explanations.

Overview Of Boyd’s Thesis

In Christianity there is the belief that God himself became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Since Jesus is God in human flesh then he is the greatest and clearest revelation of what God is like. God looks like Jesus. Boyd approvingly quotes Michael Ramsey from his book God, Christ and the World: “God is Christ-like, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” So then when we look at Jesus we see what God is truly like, and according to Boyd this means God is non-violent, enemy loving, gentle and meek, non-coercive, non-vengeful, would never harm a fly much less put a human being to death. Now for anyone who knows the OT you can see the problem, for God is often depicted in the OT as being quite inconsistent with this picture. To add to this dilemma, Jesus himself seems to confirm the validity of all OT scripture, so one cannot just throw out the passages that are inconsistent with the revelation of God in Jesus, if one holds to the divine inspiration of the OT, as Jesus himself did. Boyd proposes a novel way of reading the OT, which he calls the Cruciform Hermeneutic.

Boyd sees the crucifixion of Jesus as the greatest display of God’s character. On the cross, Jesus, God in the flesh, condescended to allow men to view him as a sinner and a criminal. He could have called down twelve legions of angels to defend him and thus show them all who he really was, but instead he let them think of him as if he were altogether just like they are. This is what it means, in Boyd’s mind, that he bore our sin. This is what Boyd calls God’s cruciform character. But God did not acquire this cruciform character for the first time when Jesus was crucified; he has always had the cruciform character, from the very beginning. Hence, when we read the OT, especially those awful depictions of God acting out in ways contrary to what Christ displayed, we must do so through the “looking-glass cross.” Every ugly depiction of God in the OT reveals God’s cruciform character because in these passages we see a God who condescends to allow his people to view him and present him in ways that are contrary to his true character. In this way God was bearing the sin of his people. He could have used force and coercion to make his people see the truth about himself, but instead he chose to bear the indignity of being misunderstood and even maligned. Therefore, every OT depiction of God acting out in violence, vengefulness, anger, etc., actually reveals his supreme love, the same love he displayed on the cross. This is the Cruciform Hermeneutic.

Boyd’s Premises

Boyd approaches the problem of God’s violence in the OT with a number of presuppositions in mind, which he asserts are grounded in scripture. But his exegesis seems questionable at best. Let’s examine some of these premises and their supposed scriptural basis.

Premise 1
The revelation of God given in and through Jesus Christ is superior to all prior revelation of God and therefore supersedes all prior revelation. Therefore, all OT scriptures are to be understood only through the lens of the NT revelation of God through Jesus. Boyd reasons:

 If all Scripture is divinely inspired, they think, it must all carry the same level of divine authority. In this view, which some refer to as “the flat view of the Bible,” Jesus’ revelation of God is placed on the same level as all other biblical depictions of God, creating a montage mental conception of God. That is, part of the God these Christians envision is Christlike but other parts are vengeful and jealous and capable of doing horrible things like commanding genocide and causing parents to cannibalize their children.

But I’m now convinced that this approach is fundamentally and tragically misguided. While I continue to affirm that the whole Bible is inspired by God, I’m now persuaded that the Bible itself instructs us to base our mental representation of God solely on Jesus Christ. Other biblical portraits of God may nuance our Christ-centered picture, but only to the degree that they cohere with what we learn about God in Christ. As Jesus himself taught, everything else in Scripture is to be interpreted in a way that points to him. Thus nothing in Scripture should ever be interpreted  in a way that qualifies or competes with his revelation of God. And as we’ll now see this all-important conviction permeates the NT.

Cross Vision ch. 2

Now Boyd does believe that the revelation of God which we see in Jesus is on the same level as the former revelation of God through the Hebrew prophets in the sense that they are both inspired by God, but not in the sense that they are both true depictions of God. According to Boyd, the only true revelation of God (i.e. of his actions and ways) is found in Jesus, and, of course, anything in the OT that corresponds to the revelation of God in Jesus. Everything else is an inspired misrepresentation of God.

Jesus is not part of what the Father has to say or even the main thing the Father has to say. As the one and only Word of God (John 1:1),  Jesus is the total content of the Father’s revelation to us. For this  reason, Jesus must be our sole criterion to assess the degree to which previous prophets were catching genuine glimpses of truth and the degree to which they were seeing clouds. Please note: I’m not suggesting that Jesus is the criterion for assessing the degree to which previous prophets were and were not divinely inspired, for their writings are completely inspired. But as we’ll explain later on, to say that a passage is divinely inspired is not to say that it necessarily reflects an unclouded vision of God. . . [Christ] is rather the revelation that culminates and surpasses all previous revelations.

ibid.

Boyd’s assessment of the revelatory role of Jesus is based on a faulty interpretation of certain NT passages, in particular Hebrews 1:1:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers in the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us in a son . . .”

Here is what Boyd said concerning this verse:

 . . . the author says that previous revelations came in “various ways.” The Greek word for this is polymeros, which can be translated as “diverse portions” (ASV) or as “glimpses of truth” (J. B. Phillips).

Not only this, but while people in the past got “glimpses of truth,” the Son is the truth itself. Jesus claimed to be “the way and the truth and the life” . . .  So, in contrast to the “glimpses of truth” that people in the OT were given, in the Son we have the full unveiling of the true God. Jesus is what God looks like when there are no clouds in the way.

. . .we are misguided to think we need to supplement what we find in Christ with what we find in the OT or in any other source. Everything we need to know and can know about God is found in Christ.

ibid.

There are some real problems with Boyd’s reasoning here. First, he is just wrong about the phrase “various ways” translating the Greek polymeros. In fact that phrase translates the Greek word polutropos, while the phrase “many times” (or many portions) translates the word polumeros. Next, he wants his readers to think that “glimpses of truth” is an accurate translation of polumeros. This is meant to confirm his assertion that the Hebrew prophets did not always get it right in their revelation of God; they only got glimpses of truth. But this meaning of the word polumeros is questionable at best and quite misleading at worst. I could find nothing to confirm this meaning, notwithstanding J. B. Phillips rendering. The word seems to mean consisting of many parts or portions and can even refer to portions of time, hence the rendering “at many times” or the like, found in numerous versions. Most likely, it refers to the diverse forms in which God communicated his word, e.g. legal code for religious and civil matters, historical narrative, prophetic utterance, psalms and wisdom literature.

But even if Boyd’s dubious claim that polymeros means glimpses of truth could be verified, this does not help his case. In Boyd’s view only those portraits of God in the OT that look like Jesus (i.e. meek, gentle, non-violent, loving, compassionate, etc.) would be considered ‘glimpses of truth’, anything else is the result of the prophets own fallen and culturally conditioned worldview. But it is clear that what the author of Hebrews is referring to is all of the OT and it is simply eisegesis to read into his words that he is referring only to those OT depictions of God that look like Jesus. Now if the author meant that all of the revelation of God in the OT was only a glimpse of the truth and that the full revelation is found in Jesus, then okay, but that is different than what Boyd is saying. Boyd wants us to believe that the revelation of God in Jesus supplants all OT revelations of God, that, in his mind, don’t look like Jesus. But Hebrews 1:1 is not saying that what God spoke in the prophets was inadequate or only clouded glimpses of truth, but that the revelation of God in the son is the culmination and consummation of God’s revelation to his people.

The proof that the author of Hebrews does not hold Boyd’s view is seen in the way that he affirmingly quotes passages from the OT which depict God in ways that Boyd thinks is inconsistent with the picture of God we get through Jesus. For example, in Hebrews 10:30-31 the author cites Deut. 32:35-36 and adds his own comment:

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

If you look at this OT passage in it’s context, especially vv. 21-27 and 39-43, you see a depiction of God that, while consistent throughout scripture (we will see later that this view of God carries over into the NT), Boyd decries. Clearly, the author of Hebrews did not behold the revelation of God in Christ and come to the same conclusions as Boyd. Another example is Heb. 12: 29- “for our God is a consuming fire,” which is taken from Deut. 4:24- “For Yahweh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” But this is the very kind of depiction of God that Boyd thinks came from Moses’ own fallen and culturally conditioned mind. Yet this does not stop Boyd from asserting that the author of Hebrews, at 1:1, is affirming his own view of OT scripture. Now if Boyd or anyone else would attempt to recast the ‘consuming fire’ of God as something positive, such that to be consumed by God’s fire is to be filled with passion or some other such nonsense, then let these verses put that to rest – Ps. 18:7-15; 50:3; 97:3; Is. 30:27-33; Zeph.1:18; 3:8; Mal. 4:1.

Boyd marshals other passages in his attempt to ground his premise in scripture, citing John 5:39-40, 46-47 and Luke 24:25-27, 44-45. But once again we find him claiming more for these verses than what they actually say.

Not only does Jesus ascribe more authority to himself than the OT, but he had the audacity to present himself as the one whom all previous revelations are about and the one who gives life to them!  In a debate with some Pharisees, Jesus said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  And a moment later  he added: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (5:39–40, 45–46).

ibid.

Is Jesus really saying that all previous revelations are about him? Apparently Boyd thinks so. To say that the Scriptures, meaning the OT, testifies about Jesus and that Moses wrote about him does not mean that everything Moses wrote was about Jesus or that everything in the OT testifies about him. It need not mean anything more than that some of the things Moses wrote and that some of the things written in the OT are about the Messiah. The same can be said of Boyd’s other proof texts, Luke 24:25-27, 44-45:

[Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones and slow in heart in believing all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and from all the prophets he explained to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: All things must be fulfilled which have been written about me in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Boyd interprets these passages as saying that “the whole Old Testament speaks of Christ” and “all of it is about Jesus,” but again, this is saying more than the text demands. All it need mean is that in all of the OT scriptures i.e., in Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms there are things written about the coming Messiah. There is no necessity in the language to take it as declaring that every single thing written in the OT is about Jesus. In fact, this kind of thinking has led to some rather fanciful and even ridiculous exposition of OT scriptures through the centuries, as people have tried to find Jesus in passages where he is no where to be found. The irony of Boyd’s use of Luke 24:25 is glaring. Jesus rebukes his disciples for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” But this is exactly Boyd’s attitude towards the OT. In his view, we should only accept as true those words spoken by the prophets that align with the revelation of God in Jesus; all else, though inspired, is false.

Premise 2

The crucifixion of Jesus (i.e. the cross) is the “definitive revelation  of  God’s  cross-like, or cruciform, character.” Boyd further elaborates:

So, if Jesus is the center to which all Scripture points, then the cruciform character of God that was supremely revealed on the cross must be regarded as the epicenter of this center.  And if all  Scripture is about  Christ, then all Scripture is more specifically about  Christ crucified.

Cross Vision ch. 3

Boyd attempts to establish this premise by appeals to various NT passages which focus on the cross as being central to Jesus’ incarnation, life and ministry. Now I certainly have no problem with the idea that the cross was the supreme event in the life of Jesus and with the fact that he lived a life of sacrificial love toward others and enjoined his followers to do the same. What I do have a problem with is how Boyd thinks that this means that God could not possibly be as he is depicted in much of the OT. Based on the centrality of the cross in the NT, Boyd extrapolates backwards onto God a ‘cruciform character’.

Time will not permit me to address every argument that Boyd employs to prove his case, but a couple of cases will show how Boyd’s tendency is to overstate what the sources he is drawing from state. For example, he states that the apostle Paul “equates the ‘gospel’ with ‘the message of the cross,’ using the two phrases interchangeably.” He gives a number of verses in a footnote which indeed show Paul speaking of “Christ crucified” as intrinsic to the gospel. But what Boyd cannot produce are verses where Paul draws the same conclusions from the cross as Boyd himself does. Can anyone read Paul and seriously come to the conclusion that Paul believed that because of the cross “there is no aspect of God that is not characterized by the non-violent, self-sacrificial, enemy embracing love.” Where are the verses in which Paul repudiates the misguided and even defamatory depictions of God given by Moses and the Hebrew prophets? Boyd doesn’t produce any. Whatever Paul thought about the cross of Christ as being central to the gospel, it is clear that this did not, in his mind, preclude that God could have ever or would ever inflict vengeance on someone or put someone to death {see Rom. 1:32; 2:5-11; 11:22; 12:19; 16:20; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 10:5-10; 11:30-32; 1 Thess. 2:15-16; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; 2:10-12; 2 Tim. 4:14}. Nowhere in his letters does Paul ever instruct believers to read the Hebrew scriptures with suspicion and caution lest they come to believe that God is really like the way he is depicted there.

Another case is drawn from Christian history, in which Boyd praises the German reformer Martin Luther for his cross-centered theology. He gives several quotes from Luther showing that he held the cross to be central to all true theology. He even goes so far as to claim that “Luther’s method of interpreting the Bible—his hermeneutics . . .  most closely anticipates my proposal.” But what is clear is that Luther’s cross-centered approach to scripture did not lead him to the same conclusions that Boyd has come to, as even Boyd admits. Luther had no problem with God exacting vengeance on his enemies and even thought that the state was God’s agent for doing so, even as Paul taught in Rom. 13:1-5. This led Luther to call for the state to violently crush the peasant uprising in Germany in 1525, leading to the slaughter of as many as 100,000 peasants and farmers. Luther is also known for his vitriol toward the Jews, whom he considered the enemies of God and Christ, calling for the destruction of their synagogues and their homes, the confiscation of their writings, the confiscation of their silver and gold, and corporeal punishment for rabbis who persisted in teaching publicly. Boyd never mentions these facts about Luther but does admit that:

Luther was far from consistent in the way he applied his cross- centered hermeneutic. For example, despite his claim to see nothing in Scripture except Christ crucified, Luther held that everything any evil agent does, including everything that Satan does, was directly caused by God. He even refers to Satan and  other evil agents as “masks” of God!  How this belief  is related  to Luther’s claim to derive his whole theology from the cross is not clear to me.
Related to this, Luther never demonstrated how he saw “nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” in portraits of Yahweh commanding Israelites to mercilessly slaughter women, children and infants.

Cross Vision ch. 5

Boyd chalks it up to an inconsistency in Luther, but I think it is better explained by simply recognizing that Luther did not take the meaning of the ‘cross’ to the extremes that Boyd does. I mean could someone possibly be that inconsistent between his theology and his practice? I find it hard to believe. Luther simply did not take his view of the cross to the radical conclusions that Boyd has.

Premise 3

Now here is where I may lose some of my trinitarian and oneness readers. One of Boyd’s overarching presuppositions is the belief that Jesus is God incarnate. The reason I point this out is because it plays a big role in his thesis. Listen to Boyd’s reasoning:

. . . that in Christ, God was stooping to bear the sin of the world to reconcile the world to himself (1 Cor 1:18).

. . . God who, out of love, was willing to stoop an infinite distance to bear our sin, suffer our curse, and thereby take on this revoltingly ugly, sin-mirroring, surface appearance.

Along the same lines, we should expect that the something else that is  going on behind the scenes of these sin-mirroring portraits is precisely what is going on behind the sin-mirroring cross: God, out of his love, is humbly stooping to bear the sin of his people, thereby taking on an ugly appearance that reflects this sin. This is how I propose we interpret all portraits of God in the Bible that on the surface reflect a character that is inconsistent with the cruciform character of God revealed on the  cross, including  especially  the OT’s violent depictions of God.

Cross Vision ch.4

So Boyd’s belief that Jesus is God leads him to conclude that God has a cruciform character. In other words, because Jesus was willing to be abused and rejected and maligned on the cross, while keeping his true nature veiled out of respect for the free will of those who were doing these things to him, then the same is true of God, because Jesus is God. Now Boyd can just cast this image of the cruciform-character incarnate God back into biblical history. If God was willing to stoop to bear our sin on the cross then it isn’t hard to believe that he has always been stooping to bear the sin of his people. The only problem with this is that the NT never once says that God sacrificed himself on the cross, or that God bore our sin on the cross, or that God suffered on our behalf. The NT authors are careful to always ascribe these actions to Jesus the Messiah and to differentiate between Jesus and God. Therefore, it is possible for the man Jesus to have manifested God’s love and mercy to the world by giving up his life as a sacrifice to God and yet God still be a God of vengeance (i.e. retributive justice), who must at times put certain people to death. Jesus himself recognized the validity of vengeance both against and on behalf of his chosen people Israel {see Lk. 18:6-7; 21:20-24}. And as we will see later, Jesus even has a role to play in the execution of God’s vengeance. Boyd is simply wrong; this is where his commitment to pacifism is dictating how he understands scripture, or even how he understands God.

Of course, when Jesus came the first time it was not to be the executioner of God’s vengeance but rather to be the means by which God would reconcile the world to himself. Jesus was the demonstration of God’s love and mercy in desiring and providing redemption for all. But when he returns to bring to full salvation those who have acknowledged him as Lord, he will then be the agent through whom God metes out his vengeance upon those who have rejected the truth, the enemies of both God and His people {2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 11:15-18; 19:11-16}.

The belief that Jesus just is God also feeds into Boyd’s presupposition (Premise 1) that the revelation of God through Jesus is superior to all previous revelation, for if Jesus is God how could the revelation that came through him not be superior to that which came through fallen and culturally conditioned human beings. As God, Jesus would not have had a clouded vision of God like the Hebrew prophets of old. To a Biblical Unitarian like myself, this is untenable. There is no reason, biblically, unless one holds the same assumptions as Boyd, to think that Jesus, in the performance of his prophetic ministry, would have had some advantage over the former prophets, except that he had greater insight into God’s plan of redemption and the restoration of the kingdom.

As the unique son of God what Jesus brought to the people that was new was the understanding of personal sonship, the ability to perceive God as Father on a personal level. Jews of Jesus’ day would have understood the Fatherhood of God on a national level {see Ex. 4:22; Is. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 31:9; Hosea 11:1; Mal. 2:10}, but not many would have been so bold as to speak of God on personal terms as ‘my Father’. Jesus brought the revelation of God as Father on a personal level for those who, like him, seek to live out a faithful, obedient relationship to God from the heart. But this revelation would in no way negate the former revelation of God as a God of retributive justice and as one who will ultimately destroy the enemies of God and of his people. Certainly no NT author thought so.

The Biblical Case Against Boyd’s Thesis
  1. Jesus and Violence
    A. Violence In His Ministry

Because Jesus’ first coming, i.e. his humiliation and rejection, was about the kindness and mercy of God providing redemption for his people, we should not expect to find Jesus engaging in acts of violence during the days of his ministry in Galilee and Judea. Yet we do find some examples of actions of Jesus which may seem inconsistent with what we typically see of him in the gospels. The most obvious of these is the incident where he drove out of the temple area those who were buying and selling. This is recorded in all the gospels {Matt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-17; Lk. 19:45; Jn. 2:13-17} and may have even occurred twice, since John’s account has it happening before Jesus even began his Galilean ministry, while the synoptic accounts have it occurring just six days before the crucifixion. There are also some striking differences in John’s account from the synoptic accounts, which lends credence to the idea that these are two separate incidences. In The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG) Boyd makes a rather weak and circular argument against those who claim that this incident shows Jesus acting in at least a mild form of violence. First he states: ” . . . it is important that we understand that this episode was not an expression of unpremeditated anger on Jesus’s part . . .” Well that may be true, but how does that mitigate the fact that this doesn’t look like the meek and gentle Jesus. In John’s account Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives out from the temple area the sheep and oxen. This could have presented a danger to people, especially children, who could have been knocked to the ground and trampled by the animals. Boyd even proposes that “Jesus created an animal stampede.” Also, it is hard to imagine Jesus commanding the merchants to get the animals out of the temple with a polite and gentle demeanor. We are told that he turned over the tables of the money changers, but Boyd doesn’t explain how this is not an act of violence, even if just a mild one. In Marks account we read that, “[Jesus] would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” Did he accomplish this by politely asking them to not do so? I don’t think so; he had to have used some kind of force or at least threats. Boyd boils the incident down to “street theater” done “out of love for his ‘Father’s house’ as well as for the poor who were being oppressed by the corrupt leaders who  ran the temple’s  ‘buying and selling’  system.” I’m confused! Is Boyd advocating that it is acceptable to act in an unloving way to one group of people on behalf of loving another group? But isn’t this exactly what much of God’s retributive justice is all about? Boyd’s argument amounts to this: This event cannot be an example of Jesus acting in a non-loving way because Jesus never acts in a non-loving way.

B. Violence in His Parables

The only parable I was able to find a response to in Boyd’s CWG is the parable in Matt. 18:23-35. In this parable a king forgives an astronomical debt of one of his servants, who then goes out and demands from another servant the payment of a small debt. The second servant is unable to pay and begs for mercy, which the first servant refuses to give. Instead he has the man thrown in prison until he could pay the debt. When the king finds out how the first servant, who was shown mercy, treated his fellow servant, he is enraged and reinstates the formerly forgiven debt and hands him over to the jailer to be tortured. Now Boyd is correct that the import of this parable is “to function as an illustration of the need for disciples not to forgive merely ‘seven times,’ but ‘seventy times seven’ .”  He then goes on to note three observations about the nature of parables which in his mind mitigates the severity of this parable. First, parables have an “is” and “is not” quality, e.g. the king in the parable represents God, but not really. Second, parables are built on familiarities, e.g. sin is presented as a debt. And third, parables often incorporate “absurd elements intended to shock  the audience,” e.g. the punishment inflicted upon the first servant at the end is an almost comical over exaggeration. He then says:

To be sure, part of the lesson of this parable is that there are dire consequences for those who refuse to extend to others the forgiveness they themselves have received, but we are misreading this parable if we think it is intended to provide clues as to how  people  will  actually experience these dire consequences.

CWG ch. 5

The only problem with this is that Jesus’ punch line to the parable doesn’t seem like a joke: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” Boyd mentions the difficulty of this statement but never addresses it or offers an interpretation of it that is consistent with his view. However one wants to take this statement, it at least shows that Jesus held the belief that the Father is a God who repays men according to their deeds, just like the OT prophets declared.

Now let’s look at some parables that Boyd didn’t mention. Three parables in Luke illustrate how Jesus used violent portraits of characters in parables, who are representative of God or himself. Luke 12:42-48 contains the parable of the wise and faithful steward whose master puts him in charge until he returns. Jesus tells what will happen to this steward should he begin mistreating the servants in his charge and to get drunk:

“The master of the house will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he is not aware. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

In Luke 19:12-27 we find the parable of the nobleman who went to a distant country to be appointed king and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave each of them the same sum of money and charged them to put the money to use till he returns. But the subjects of this nobleman hated him and sent a delegation to complain, “We don’t want this man to reign over us.” The man returns, having been made king, and calls the ten servants to him to give an account. The ones who earned more money for the king were rewarded. One servant returns the original amount to the king, having gained nothing with it. He is harshly rebuked and humiliated. But the final line of the parable is revealing, for the king says:

“But those enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

Now it is clear that the king in the parable is meant to represent Jesus himself. So why would Jesus, if he were a complete pacifist and enemy-lover, portray himself in such a way as this? In light of this parable how can Boyd maintain the belief that Jesus’ command to his disciples to love their enemies is an absolute to which even Jesus and God himself are bound?

Luke 20:9-19 records the parable of the vineyard owner who rented his vineyard to some farmers. When the harvest time came he sent servants to collect some of the fruit, but the tenants beat each of them and threw them out of the vineyard. Finally the vineyard owner sends his son, expecting that they will respect him, but instead they plot to kill him and take his inheritance, which they do. Jesus then asks the question:

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

The implication is clear – the vineyard owner represents God, the tenants are the Jewish leaders and the son is the Messiah, Jesus himself. Jesus, in this parable, unambiguously portrays God, his Father, as slaying his enemies in vengeance. But how can this be so from Boyd’s perspective? If Jesus is the clearest and fullest revelation of God why is he depicting God in the same ‘clouded’ way that the Hebrew prophets of old did?

This third parable was played out in the first century when the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus as the Messiah and had him killed. Within 40 yrs. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the inhabitants were either killed or sent into exile. The first two parables, which portray Jesus himself as acting violently toward his enemies, are probably to be regarded as eschatological. While it is true that in his first coming Jesus was, for the most part, meek and mild, when he returns to reign as king over God’s kingdom, he will be the agent of God’s vengeance.

Let’s look at one final parable which illustrates that Jesus had a view of God consistent with the OT depiction of God as one who avenges, i.e. pays back retribution on behalf of, those who are his people. In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells the parable of the widow who persistently sought retribution against one who wronged her from an unjust judge. The judge finally gave her what she wanted not because he was just but because the woman persisted. Then Jesus taught his disciples this:

Lk. 18:6-8 – Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God execute vengeance for his own elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will execute vengeance for them speedily.

Many English versions translate this as “give them justice” but the Greek word ekdikesis means to avenge one of wrongs or to bring vengeance upon one. It is the same word used in Rom. 12:19 and Heb. 10:30 where it translates the Hebrew naqam which means vengeance.

C. Violence At His Return

Boyd would have us believe that it is only the OT which depicts God as vengeful and full of wrath. But how anyone who reads the NT scriptures could ever come to that conclusion is beyond me. But not only does the NT convey the same picture of God that is found in the OT, albeit in fewer instances, but even Jesus himself, in his eschatological return, is depicted as the agent of God’s wrath:

2 Thess. 1:6-10 – If it be so, it is a righteous thing for God to repay with affliction those who are oppressing you and to give relief to you, the oppressed ones, along with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels, in a fiery blaze, rendering vengeance on those who have not known God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay the just penalty of everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power, whenever he shall come to be glorified in his holy ones and to be marveled at by all those who have believed . . .

2 Thess. 2:8 – And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus kill with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the manifestation of his presence.

Rev. 6:16-17 – They call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.” For the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand.

Rev. 19:11-16 – Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Regarding the first two passages in 2 Thess., it is regrettable that Boyd failed to adequately address them in CWG. In Appendix III: Violence in the Pauline Epistles, at the end of Part 3, Boyd references the 2 Thess. 1:6-10 passage but never explains what it could possibly mean from his perspective. All he says is this, regarding verse 6:

. . . I wonder what the point was of Paul reminding the Thessalonians that God “will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” by punishing them “with everlasting destruction” (2 Thess 1:6, 9). Paul is not in this context issuing a loving warning to the Thessalonians or to the people that are troubling them. He rather seems to be satisfying the Thessalonians’ and/or his own fallen thirst for vengeance to come upon their enemies, and nothing about his socio-religious context seems to alter this impression.

CWG Part 3 Appendix III

What rubbish! This is merely the biased opinion of Greg Boyd, a pacifist who views God and Jesus as pacifists. He goes on to tell us what Paul should have said in order to have been loving and Christ-like. But what he never does is explain how Paul, a hand picked apostle of the risen Jesus, who, in Boyd’s own mind, had a true revelation of what the cross was all about and for whom the cross was central, could write such a thing about God and Jesus. I suppose Boyd would just chalk it up to an inconsistency in Paul. But the real reason is obvious – whatever revelation Paul had of the cross, and whatever profound effect the cross had upon his life, it is clear that this did not lead Paul to the same extreme conclusions about God that it has led Boyd to. Paul had no cruciform hermeneutic. He still viewed God just as he did before he came to know Christ crucified, just as he is portrayed in the Hebrew prophets – a God of vengeance, as well as a God of love and mercy {see Rom. 11:22; 12:19; 13:1-5}.

Now regarding the Revelation passages, especially 19:11-16, Boyd has plenty to say, so much so that I cannot here respond to every detail of his long and twisted exegesis. I do encourage everyone who is interested to try to find an online source where you can read this part of his book The Crucifixion Of the Warrior God. It is found in Appendix IV at the end of Part 3. If you have a Scribd account you can read it there.

In this section Boyd goes through an elaborate, yet absurd, attempt to turn all of the violent images in the vision of John into a revelation of the cruciform character of God. Indeed, Boyd makes a valiant though unsuccessful effort to make the book of Revelation, and 19:11-16 in particular, fit into his paradigm. As an example here is a quote from his conclusion:

 Revelation 19:15 provides yet another stunning example of how John turns violent imagery on its head by radically reinterpreting it through the lens of the self-sacrificial Lamb. It constitutes yet another illustration of the remarkable way in which John makes “lavish use of militaristic language”  while infusing  it with “a non-militaristic sense.” It again demonstrates how “apocalyptic terror is transformed through John’s Christology,” for we once  again see that  “Christ conquers by being a lamb , not by being  a  lion.” It provides yet one more confirmation of a theme we have seen is woven throughout this inspired and inspiring work: followers of the Lamb are called to participate in the war and the victory of the Lamb, and we are called to do it the way the Lamb himself did it—namely, by choosing to love our enemies and suffer at their hands rather  than to take up arms against them.

CWG Appendix IV

I’m sorry, but this is a nonsensical and forced interpretation that seems to have eluded the vast majority of Bible readers for centuries. It would be better for Boyd to do what many scholars in our day have done – simply deny that the scriptures are inspired by God and hence deny the validity of such depictions of God and Christ contained therein. I am surprised that Boyd was not embarrassed to put such farcical exegesis in print.

The four passages I cited above unambiguously depict Jesus as the executor of God’s vengeance in the day of God’s wrath at the end of this age.

D. Violence In His Teachings and Public Utterances

Though the public ministry of Jesus was focused primarily on God’s mercy toward his people, there are occasions in his teaching and public utterances where we see that he still held to the concept of God as one who punishes the wicked and unbelieving, and where even he himself is seen in this same light.

Luke 19:41-44 – Now when Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. They will demolish you – you and your children within your walls – and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Here Jesus foretells the impending judgment to come upon Israel, which he directly relates to the fact that they did not recognize the time of their visitation. Now Boyd does acknowledge this as warning of divine judgment, but Boyd sees divine judgment merely as God’s abandonment, i.e. God is never actively or directly involved in bringing destruction, suffering, sickness, death, or anything else that would be hurtful to people, but simply withdraws his hand which is restraining these things from coming. I will deal with this wrong-headed idea in Part 2.

Luke 21 :20-24 – But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great calamity against the land and wrath toward this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away as captives among all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Matt. 7:19-23 – Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by your name, and by your name cast out devils, and by your name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

John 15:1-2, 5-6 – I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit . . . I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.

Even in his resurrected and glorified state we see Jesus giving a warning of violent judgment which he will be directly involved in bringing about.

Rev. 2:21-23 – I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.

I could not find a response to this passage by Boyd in either CWG or Cross Vision, and I can see why he avoided it. Here we have the words of the “son of God”, the risen Jesus himself, who declares that he personally will execute a horrible judgment upon the false prophetess Jezebel and her followers. We also note that Jesus executes vengeance, which is the import of the last phrase.

2. Messianic Psalms and Violence

There are a number of Messianic Psalms that are quoted in the NT in application to Jesus. Among these are Ps. 2, 45, 69 and 110. Various verses from these psalms are quoted throughout the NT writings. But what may not be known by many is that the parts of these psalms that are not quoted contain portraits of violence and vengefulness on the part of the subject of these psalms, whom the NT authors think is Jesus.

Psalm 2 – Verses 1-2 are quoted in Acts 4:25-26; v. 7 is quoted in Acts 13:33 and Heb. 1:5; v. 9 is quoted in Rev. 2:27. But let’s look at other verses in the psalm not quoted in the NT:

vv.4-6 – The One enthroned in heaven laughs; Yahweh scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
vv. 10-12 – Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve Yahweh with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

The son in v. 12 is the son in v.7, which is applied to Jesus in the NT quotes. So why would the NT authors attribute this psalm to Jesus, with this depiction of him becoming wrathful and destroying those who refuse to honor him, if they believed that Jesus was an unreserved pacifist?

Psalm 45 – Verses 6-7 are quoted in Heb. 1:8-9. Here are some other verses of the psalm:

vv. 3-5 – Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet.

If this psalm is about Jesus, then it depicts him as a warrior, the very image which Boyd repudiates. Of course, one could simply allegorize the language to make it refer to spiritual warfare or take Boyd’s approach that the author’s vision was clouded by his own fallen and culturally conditioned mind. But the more passages of this type add up, one upon the other, the less reasonable or plausible such objections appear.

Psalm 69 – Verse 4 is quoted in Jn. 15:25; v. 9 is quoted in Jn. 2:17 and Rom. 15:3; v. 21 is alluded to in Jn. 19:28-30; v. 23 is quoted in Rom.11:9-10. Let’s see what else the psalm says:

vv.24, 27-28 – Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them . . . Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.

Is this what Boyd’s cruciform character looks like? Does this sound like one who is a committed, unconditional pacifist?

Psalm 110 – Verse 1 is quoted in Matt. 22:24; Mk.12:36; Lk. 20:42; Acts 2:34; Heb. 1:13; v. 4 is quoted in Heb. 5:6 and 7:21. Now let’s look at vv. 5-6:

vv.5-6 – The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

So again, the question must be asked: Why would the NT authors associate Jesus with such violent depictions of Messianic prophecy if their view of him was as an absolute pacifist?

Conclusion to Part 1

So far we have seen that Boyd’s premises are based on faulty interpretations of certain passages of scripture in the NT, and therefore his premises are fallacious. Because his premises are fallacious so is the thesis which is built upon them.

We have seen enough from the gospels regarding Jesus acting out in at least a mildly violent way and teaching things about God that coincide with the depiction of God in the OT which Boyd repudiates, to see that Boyd’s thesis is false. We have seen that the depictions from the NT of Jesus in his eschatological return depict a violent carrying out of God’s vengeance. We have also seen how Messianic psalms from the OT which are applied to Jesus by NT authors depict violence in the messianic figure.

Part 2.