Greg Boyd and the Bible

Jonathan Merritt’s excellent interview with Greg Boyd is here, and you can read the whole at that link, but here’s a clip:

JM: In Benefit of the Doubt, you advise people to believe in the Bible because they believe in Jesus, not the other way around. What do you mean by this, and why do you feel it is important?

GB: The number one reason young people today are abandoning the Christian faith and why other people can’t take the Christian faith seriously has to do with problems they have with the Bible. For example, as most freshmen taking a course in “The Bible as Literature” at a secular college learn, the historical accuracy of some biblical stories are questioned by many scholars, and it’s hard to deny that the Bible contains some apparent contradictions and some material that seems to fly in the face of modern science. In Benefit of the Doubt, I argue that if we structured our faith the way the earliest Christians did, these problems with the Bible would pose no threat to our confidence in Jesus being Lord and even to our confidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

The earliest disciples didn’t believe in Jesus because their scripture (Old Testament) proved to them that he was the Son of God.  They were rather convinced by Jesus’ claims, his unique life of love, his distinctive authority, his unprecedented miracles, his self-sacrificial death, and especially his resurrection. Once they believed in Jesus, they looked for him and found him in their scripture. But they never would have been convinced that Jesus was Lord had they started with scripture alone.

Unfortunately, most evangelicals today are taught to do the opposite.  They base their faith in Jesus’ Lordship (as well as everything else) on their belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. This is “unfortunate” because this way of structuring our faith leverages everything on the perfection of this book, forcing the Bible to carry more weight than it was ever meant to carry. Every single problem people find with scripture now threatens to undermine their faith.

As I flesh out in my book, I eventually came to the conclusion that the things about Jesus that convinced the earliest disciples that he was Lord continue to be compelling enough to convince open-minded people today that Jesus is Lord, and they do not presuppose the view that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  Once I was persuaded on the basis of historical, philosophical and personal arguments that Jesus was Lord, I was motivated to also embrace the Bible as God’s Word, for (among other things) this was clearly Jesus’ own view and it’s very hard to confess Jesus to be one’s Lord while correcting his theology, especially on such a fundamental matter. But notice, my reasons for believing in Scripture are now based entirely on my faith in Jesus, which is why my faith need not be threatened any longer by any historical inaccuracies or contradictions or scientific inaccuracies I may find in it.

I’m convinced that if young people today would structure their faith this way, we’d see far fewer loosing their faith.

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  • Brad VW

    I like this a lot!

  • Amen. Scripture is an ordained witness. But it is not the only witness. Trusting Jesus will precede trusting scripture for many, many people, and this is not a bad thing.

  • Brian W

    For those who really like Mr. Boyd’s remarks, is there anything in there you don’t like or don’t agree with? While he has a right sentiment about how some hear and believe, its riddled with mistakes about Jesus’ own view and use of the scriptures. Would anyone like to make qualifications?

  • Phil Miller

    Why don’t you tell us what you think the specific mistakes are?

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that what Boyd is doing is mostly telling people that it’s OK to be intellectually honest about where we are and what we believe. I think a lot, if not most, of the loudest voices we hear around hot-button issues are people trying to convince themselves about things.

  • I do believe that a healthier faith begins with Christ at the centre and the Scriptures attesting to Christ. People will argue that we know Christ because of the Scriptures. But I think that’s only our perspective in the modern world. For the large portion of the history of God’s people (including that of the old covenant), the people did not have a printed version of the Scriptures. But Christ was known through all of God’s good gifts: through the reading/teaching/preaching of the word of God in Scripture, the testimony/tradition of the church, the work of the Spirit in the community of God’s people, etc.

  • Denny Burk

    Wow. That’s problematic.

  • Susan_G1

    There is no question in my mind (though there are many who disagree) that Christ’s life and death fulfilled all of the OT law, even the ten commandments, replacing it with The Great Commandment (not the great commission). This is a part of the sacred mystery who is Christ. All of scripture (should we start by not capitalizing the s?) is worthy to instruct, so long as it does not contradict the Great Commandment. Is this heresy? What I think should be heresy to Christians is that scripture holds the same place as Christ.

    Why do I argue with atheists (today, an atheist questioned if I was a real Christian if I did not accept all of scripture) if it is not to inform them of Christ? Not scripture, but Christ. To slide scripture in there after hooking them with Christ? May it never be!

    We cannot preach Christ and the love of God by sinking our hooks into the entire Bible and going down with it. We all know slavery is wrong, genocide is wrong, and Jubilee is good – not Jubilee the law, but the spirit of the law of Jubilee. When we start preaching Jesus and Jubilee, the spirit and not the letter of the law, maybe we won’t lose our youth, or our questioning adults.

  • Timothy

    In what way? And is it the original post that is problematic or the comments?
    As a matter or personal history, I would say that I came to believe in the Scriptures as the Inspired Word of God through faith in Christ. I am slightly surprised if anyone is any different. Was it very different for Denny?

    I do think taking the Bible seriously is common to coming to believe in Christ but very few have the spiritual discernment to see the inspiration of scripture before coming to Christ.
    I became a Christian through the Navigators. They present Christ through the Bible and when someone has become a Christian they would argue that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. As The Navigators are evangelical, I am more surprised that evangelicals are supposed to argue that belief in the Bible as the inspired Word of God is taught first and the Lordship of Christ second.

  • Timothy

    I find this more problematic than anything Bod said. Surely Denny would agree that all scripture is worthy to instruct but partly BECAUSE it does not contradict the Great Commandment.
    It seems to me that you remain to an excessively referential understanding of the Bible so that you jettison parts of the Bible as you see fit in accordance with a hermeneutic based upon the Great Commandment. But such a hermeneutic is somewhat vacuous without the rest of the Bible to enable us to understand the Great Commandment.
    You refer interestingly to the Great Commission. It is peculiar that the early church did not seem to know of the Great Commission and had to work it out for themselves; which they did. This has led Chris Wright to argue that the whole Bible is missional and we are not dependent upon Matt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8

  • AHH

    If ordering one’s faith in line with I Cor 3:11 and John 5:39-40 is problematic, may we all be problem children.

  • jim


    Why is it problematic?

  • Susan_G1

    Many scripture verses are contradicted by the Great Commandment. Stoning a disrespectful child; forcing a woman to marry her rapist; if a man doesn’t like his new wife, and accuses her of not being a virgin, if the parents cannot prove her virginity, she should be stoned; adulterers should be stoned; if a woman doesn’t scream when raped, she should be stoned; any who work on the Sabbath should be stoned; one can beat his slaves without punishment as long as they can rise after a day or two; take slaves from neighboring countries; sell one’s daughter; really, must I quote you the whole law? There is nothing vacuous regarding what I believe; the law is a yoke of slavery from which Christ has set us free. Scripture is misrepresented as being scientifically and historically accurate, and many evangelicals cherry-pick and twist NT verses to empower and abuse. Christ fulfilled the whole of the law, and scripture is not Christ. If we want to show our young a faith worth following, it needs to me Christ centered in word and especially in deed.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “this was clearly Jesus’ own view and it’s very hard to confess Jesus to be one’s Lord while correcting his theology,”

    I keep hearing this claim, and its simply not accurate. For starters, Jesus likely couldn’t read, and he didn’t walk around with OT manuscripts in Hebrew wherever he went. Through oral tradition (and possibly through training as a Rabbi) he probably knew much of what is now in the OT well, but other parts very little or not at all. To add another wrinkle there were likely non-canonical books Jesus considered on par with books now a part of the OT canon.

    Secondly, he clearly contradicts OT laws several times through his ministry, the most obvious being his command on divorce. Saying “Moses gave it b/c your hearts were hardened” is another way of saying “I disagree with it.” Ditto with the sayings found in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain.

    When Jesus does use Scripture to back up an argument, a) There are instances when its clearly the evangelists inserting the scriptural references post-facto and b) Jesus probably did cite Scripture to back up points he was making, but that doesn’t equate to him thinking the OT was inerrant. OT stories were the common cultural language of 1st century Jews; it was common to believe Scripture inspired, but not inerrant . . .it makes perfect sense they would be cited to prove a particular point. To declare othwerwise is a classic case of formatting the text to fit an agenda rather than letting the text speak for itself.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Surely Denny would agree that all scripture is worthy to instruct but
    partly BECAUSE it does not contradict the Great Commandment.”

    As Susan said, you would have to engage in some mighty creative pretzel-twisting of Scripture to attempt to make that argument (and I would say parts of the NT don’t follow the spirit of the GC either)

  • AHH

    To leap from that to declaring that Jesus adhered to biblical inerrancy
    At least in the quote given, Boyd does not make that claim. He used the phrases “God’s Word” and “inspired Word of God”. To equate those terms with “inerrancy” is a common fundamentalist mistake that we should not go along with.

  • Robin

    If you believe in Jesus because this is a natural corollary of your belief in Scripture then your faith is really on the book and not much faith at all. I think faith is leaving that boat and walking on the water to him, it is climbing up that tree to see him and paying back all you stole 3 times more, it is leaving all on the beach, your family as well as your career in addition to the boats and nets to be a learner or apprentice of Jesus.

  • David Moore

    Confidence in God and His Word is a better way to frame these matters than certainty. Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence, has much to offer in this regard.

    I find it striking that believers who I read about in Voice of the Martyrs magazine, often do not have much access to the Bible, yet have a confident faith in Christ.

    Conversely, those of us who have many Bibles along with much access to great apologetic and theological tools often struggle with doubt.

    At the very least, it seems we should learn more about confidence in Christ and His Word from those who lived prior to the onslaught of rationalism and its attendant problems.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    It’d certainly make for a better type of Christian.

  • That’s an interesting way to view things.

    I personally think we should proceed in the following way:

    1) Is the material world all there is?
    2) If not might there be a God?
    3) If so does God have to be perfect for Him to be God?
    4) If so how could have this morally perfect God acted throughout human history?
    5) What was the relation between God and Jesus of Nazareth?

    To my mind it makes sense to believe that God showed us His true face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

    However, unlike Greg Boyd I fail to see why we should view the Canonical books as being more inspired than books outside the Bible.

    That said I do believe that Greg is one of the most rational and loving defenders of the Evangelical faith out there.
    He has clearly understood (like I did) that the form of inerrancy taught in most Evangelical churches leads many clever young fool to leave the Church and become resentful atheists.

    Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Mel Lawrenz

    As I recall, this is the central point of John Wenham’s classic, Christ and the Bible.

  • John Webster’s little (but dense!) book on Scripture makes a similar point, but in a more theologically rigorous way (his purposes and audience are different than Boyd’s, of course). He basically argues that our trust in the Bible as God’s Word (and any theological constructions of inspiration and its implications flowing from that) must be grounded first in a trinitarian theology of revelation. As such, it is grounded in our faith in God — and his will and competence to communicate with us — rather than being grounded in a theory about texts. His arguement is complex and nuanced, but here’s a representative quote:

    “Faith’s certainty is grounded in God alone, not in inspiration; faith is ‘founded’ on Scripture, not because of its formal property as inspired but because Scripture is the instrument of divine teaching which proceeds from God.” (John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, p. 32)

  • Ken Abbott

    “For starters, Jesus likely couldn’t read…”

    Really? “He went up to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written…” (Luke 4:16-17)

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t consider Luke’s composition there to be historical. As a working class Nazarene Jew, it would have been unlikely that he would’ve ever been taught to read, and this idea is also backed up by the type of sayings and language Jesus used, which was not that of a well educated Jew and often spoken of in contrast to those who had been learned/educated (the Pharisee “scribes”).

  • Julian

    Jesus wasn’t a boy in Luke 4…

  • Ken Abbott

    The Lucan account recorded in chapter 4 follows the baptism and subsequent wilderness temptation of Jesus; it is commonly considered to be the occasion of the inauguration of his public ministry, not an event during his boyhood.

    I see a lot of “likely,” “unlikely,” “probably,” and other suppositional adverbs decorating your posts about the Scriptural accounts, Mr. Dowling, and no evidence to support your assertions. And mistaken attributions such as the above comment don’t give me much confidence. On what basis should I accept your rejection of the historicity of portions of Luke as anything more than personal preference?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Ah, you’re right, mixed up my Scripture references.

    Ken: I use those phrases b/c we don’t have enough evidence to make flat out declarations of fact concerning happenings 2000 years ago. What a historian can do is look at internal/external evidence and make a probability judgement. We do have examples from the 2nd temple period of literature written by learned Jews, and their language/phrasing/metaphors are different from that of Jesus, not to mention the simple fact that almost no working class people in that period could read or write. So is it a contention I’d fall on my sword for? No, but considering there is no other reference in any of the Gospels of Jesus reading anything or receiving formal education, and what I said above, I’m comfortable saying it is unlikely Jesus was literate.