Greg Boyd and the Dark Side of the Bible

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMAfter a week break while we were out of country I want to resume blogging about Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God.

After sketching the cruciform center of the Bible’s vision and its view of God, Boyd feels the reader is prepared to encounter the “dark side” of the Bible — that is, what is often called texts of terror.

But he begins on a different note altogether:

Contrary to the overly generalized and sensationalized description of the God of the OT provided by Richard Dawkins in the quote at the beginning of this chapter, people who read Scripture sympathetically generally find that the God of the OT is by-and-large a relational God of hesed (i.e., covenant-love) who continually strives to bring all people—first the Israelites, and then, through them, all the “families of the earth” (Gen 12:3; cf. Exod 19:5-6)—into relationships of shalom and covenantal righteousness/justice with himself as well as with each other (281).

God’s covenant love then is more than a treaty or political alliance; it is the language of a family. (This is has been freshly stated recently in our last year’s book of the year, by Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God. If you haven’t read it, do your self a favor.) Thus, Boyd: “It is evident that the normative conception of God in the OT is perfectly consistent with the God who is decisively revealed in the crucified Christ. And this should never be forgotten when we turn to examine the “texts of terror” that comprises [sic] “the dark side” of the Bible” (286). He collects these into a few themes, and he does this to give the strongest impression possible of the dark side.

In this light, readers should know ahead of time that in contrast to the way Evangelical apologists typically deal with the OT’s troubling material, I am going to make no attempt to “minimize the moral awfulness” of certain depictions of God by trying to “explain … away” the violence that is ascribed to God. 288

Hence, while the common Evangelical strategy of putting the best possible spin on this material is certainly carried out with the best of intentions and out of deep respect for God’s word, I have come to believe it actually hinders our ability to find the crucified Christ “wrapped” in this material precisely because it tries to remove its offensive nature. 289

I simply cannot find a more polite way of describing, with integrity, portraits of God doing things like causing fetuses to be ripped out of their mothers’ wombs (Hos 13:16), instigating parents to cannibalize their children (Lev 26:29; Jer 19:9; Lam 2:20; Ezek 5:10; cf. Deut 28:53-57), or commanding his people to merciless massacre entire populations (e.g., Deut 7:2). If portraits of God doing things like this do not qualify as “horrific,” “macabre,” or “revolting,” what would? 290-291

Is it not somewhat hypocritical to admit that an action is “horrific” or “macabre” when carried out by a deity in someone else’s sacred literature but to then insist that this same action is “good,” “just,” or “holy” when ascribed to God in our own sacred literature? 291

Here are his major themes:

  1. Divinely Sanctioned Violence

Thus, the merciless idea of Herem. Genocide is taught 37 times in the OT. Thus, Boyd: “The OT texts involving either the command or the practice of total destruction include Exod 17:13-14; Num 21:1-3, 31:1-18; Deut 2:21-22, 2:30-36, 3:1-11, 7:1-2, 7:16, 7:23-26,13:6-16, 20:13-18, 25:19, 31:3-5; Josh 6:21, 6:24, 8:22-28,10:28-40,11:8-22; Judg 1:17; 1 Sam 15:2-9,15:18-20” (294 n. 49).

Boyd objects to calling this “holy war.”

Beyond depictions of Yahweh commanding his people to engage in warfare against other people, the OT contains over a hundred passages in which Yahweh commands one particular person or group to kill another person or group. One of the most disturbing, and undoubtedly the most controversial, is the divine command for Israelites to ‘devote” firstborn sons to Yahweh, which many scholars argue means to offer them up as sacrifices. 305

Thus, Ezk 20:21-26; Judges 11:29-39.

What about Exodus 32:27-28? Deuteronomy 21:10-14?

Or this? “Adulterers (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), fornicators (Deut 22:13-21; Lev 21:9), and homosexuals (Lev 20:13), as well as people who have sex with their siblings (Lev 20:17), their daughters-in-law (Lev 20:12), or with animals (Exod 22:19; Lev 20:15-16) were to be executed. Included among the fornicators who were to be stoned to death were betrothed virgins who were raped, but who did not cry out for help (Deut 22:23-24).” 315-316

This issue aside, what are followers of Jesus to make of laws requiring capital punishment when we remember that Jesus refused to participate in the execution of an adulterer, as the OT demands (John 8.-2-11)? (318)

Greg Boyd continues marching through the OT on the following three topics.

2.Divinely Caused Violence, like the flood and sending destroying angels.

3. Violence in the Psalms, like Psalm 139:19, 21-23

4. Violence in Biblical Stories, like the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19–21.

Have we not seen enough? Have we not seen enough to say there’s a problem? or some kind of inconsistency? Is this a topic worthy of serious theological reflection?

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