Greg Boyd: What does “Breathed” in “God-Breathed” Mean?

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMIn his big book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Greg Boyd explores — finally, one might say — how he understands inspiration, or how he understands the “breathed” in “God-breathed.”

He proposes three essential features in his theory of inspiration, and because Boyd is working his ideas out in detail I want to provide again lots of quotations in his own words.

For sure, the singular problem for many will be what Boyd’s theory does to the authority of the Old Testament or to the unity of the Bible or to his understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture. So, he has to work this stuff out.

First, there is a dialectic of God, authors and other people in the revelation.

On this note, it is important that we realize that the revelation that God “breathed” on the cross involved God not only taking the initiative to act toward people but also involved God allowing people to act upon him, thereby conditioning his appearance.

At the same time, the fact that God’s plan included allowing “wicked men” as well as fallen powers “to put Qesus] to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23) means that the Father and Son did not unilaterally carry out this plan. Rather, the plan was accomplished by God allowing these wicked agents to freely act toward him. Indeed, when Christ became our sin (2 Cor 5:21) and our curse (Gal 3:13), the sin and godforsakenness of the entire human race was acting toward him. This is precisely why Christ, as he stood in our place, took on the hideous appearance of a godforsaken, guilty criminal that mirrored the sin and condemnation of the world that he bore.

Moreover, it is important for us to notice that the cross reveals God insofar as God acts toward us in this event, and the cross reveals our sin insofar as God allowed us to act toward him.

God thus revealed the unsurpassable beauty of the perfect love of his eternal nature to us through the ugliness of the sin and condemnation that he self-sacrificially allowed to act toward him.

[Thus]… a relational, and even dialectical, activity.

God does not unilaterally determine what is “breathed” through the instruments he uses, like an author using a pencil. God certainly takes the initiative as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of the human authors, but he also leaves the personhood of the human authors intact, which conditions the results of his “breathing” through them. Hence we find, to one degree or another, something of God and something of the human authors in all biblical writings.

Since the decisive revelation that God “breathed” on the cross involved God allowing not only our finitude but our sin to act on him and to thereby condition how he appeared, we should anticipate that in “breathing” Scripture, God would allow the fallen and culturally conditioned aspects of the literature he is taking up as his vehicle of revelation to act on him and thereby condition the way he appears in it.

■I submit that we should anticipate that God will at times “breathe” his beauty though the ugliness of the godforsaken sin and condemnation of those he uses to compose the written witness to his covenantal faithfulness throughout history.

Even in ‘breathing” his written witness, God refuses to undermine the personhood and freedom of people by lobotomizing them so that they perfectly conform to his will. Even in “breathing” through people, God respects the integrity of a mutually impacting relationship, which is what a relationship of love requires.

Second, he contends we have to see into the depths.

What changes when a person of faith discerns in this godforsaken criminal the supreme revelation of God?

The answer, I submit, is that this seemingly guilty crucified criminal becomes the definitive revelation of God only when the Spirit removes the “veil” over our minds (2 Cor 3:16) and we are empowered to see what the “natural” mind could never see by itself—namely, “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

And the thing that is going on behind the scenes that only the “magic eye” of faith can discern is that the Creator of heaven and earth condescended out of love to become this godforsaken criminal.

For this reason, the crucified Christ is, for the person of faith, simultaneously ugly (isa 53:3-4) and beautiful.

The revelatory content of the cross, therefore, is located not in the ugly, sin-mirroring surface appearance of this event but in God’s loving condescension to take on this ugly surface appearance. In short, on the cross the revelation is the divine condescension.

To the contrary, with the crucified Christ as our paradigm, we should rather read Scripture with the expectation that we will at least sometimes need to exercise the same depth perceiving faith we employ when we discern the crucified Nazarene to be the definitive revelation of God.

Third, we need to learn to look below the surface at times into a direct and indirect mode of revelation.

For to discern God “behind the scenes” on the cross, one must not only look with faith through the surface to behold a transcendent God whose eternal nature is other than his surface appearance as a human, as we do with the incarnation; we must, in fact, look with faith to behold a God whose eternal nature is antithetical to his surface appearance as a godforsaken, sin-bearing, guilty-appearing criminal. More specifically, to discern the revelation of God on the cross, we must by faith perceive the all-holy God through the surface appearance of the one who became our sin (2 Cor 5:21), and we must by faith behold the God who is perfectly united in his triune love through the surface appearance of the one who became our godforsaken curse (Gal 3:13; cf. Matt 27:46).

Boyd finishes this section with a look at “prosopological exegesis”:

On the one hand, the Cruciform Hermeneutic proposes that the “more suitable prosopon” for the surface meaning of sub-Christlike portraits of God are the ancient human authors of these portraits whose fallen and culturally conditioned conceptions of God conditioned the revelation God “breathed” through them. Hence, whenever God is depicted as commanding or engaging in violence, it is the fallen and culturally conditioned voice of the biblical author that we should hear. On the other hand, because our cross-informed faith looks through the surface meaning of portraits such as these, the Cruciform Hermeneutic proposes that the “more suitable prosopon’ for the “voice” beneath the human “voice” of the text is the sin-bearing God revealed on the cross, the ultimate divine author who “breathed” the text.

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