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 of 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.


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 scriptures 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.


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.”

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.

3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Greg Boyd’s Cruciform Hermeneutic? Part 2”

  1. So I guess the answer to my question at the end of part one as to how you make sense of God telling the Israelites to destroy every living thing in some cases in their conquest of Caanan would be that you don’t try to make sense of it, you just accept it?
    It’s not difficult for you to reconcile the Father of Jesus with his commands to kill women, children, unborn children, every animal, everything living in a town?


    1. Hi Greg,
      The way I see it is, we have three options:
      1. Accept the whole revelation as it stands and worship God for who he is revealed to be.
      2. Reject part of the revelation as being false and worship God accordingly.
      3. Reject the whole revelation as being false and either worship a god of your own making or become an atheist.

      Boyd tries to combine 1 & 2, but as I have shown, it doesn’t even cohere with the NT, the part of the revelation he thinks is true.
      Within #1 there is room for some apologetic work that seeks to explain some of the hard things but you are never going to do away completely with the depiction of God as using violent means to accomplish his purposes. To do that you have to just outright reject anything in the revelation that aligns with that depiction.
      So, for me personally, I go with #1 – it might not make me popular but I am used to my beliefs not being popular, that’s just the price one has to pay to follow Jesus.


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