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 examples 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.



Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

5 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Greg Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic? Part 1”

  1. Well done. Christians tend to think the NT authors had christological purposes in appropriating Psalms 2 & 110–Jesus is God’s Son (2) and he is the LORD (110). But as you write here, these psalms depict a warrior Messiah, one who will make war against the nations for Israel’s sake. The NT writers understood this and apply them to Jesus because he has become God’s instrument of judgment in the world.

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  2. I’ve been wrestling with this since I waded through his two volume work. I’ve been wrestling as well with the OT presentation of God as violent, which is why I read his work in the first place. How do you make sense of the commands by God to destroy the nations by Israel, destroying every breathing thing in their conquest of the land?

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