“Oh you mean when God was super angry and violent?”
That was how one of my coworkers had described God’s behavior in the Old Testament.
During my sophomore year at Biola, I worked part-time at Disneyland with people from all sorts of backgrounds. One night, while riding the shuttle back to the employee lot, I struck up a conversation with Ronny, one of my fellow sailors (we worked on the Nemo ride as submarine drivers). Somehow, I had mentioned an assignment I was having to work on in my Old Testament class when I got home. His response to my mention of the Old Testament sparked his above comment about God’s character before Jesus walked on Earth.
I think most of us would share Ronny’s sentiment toward certain episodes in Old Testament in contrast to the gracious, non-violent, enemy-loving Jesus of the New Testament. Maybe you have read the commands for brutally violent warfare against the Canaanites from the book of Joshua and wondered how that works alongside the dying-on-the-cross-for-enemies Jesus. Or the words of Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies but then read the numerous stories of God’s people slaughtering their enemies in the name of Yahweh. Or maybe you’ve read the epic stories of guys like David, taking up the sword against nations, believing to be doing the work of God but then see Jesus telling his disciples to put away their swords, warning that, “those who use the sword will die by the sword.”
If you have ever felt even a smidgen of discomfort between the OT and the NT then you are not alone!
This apparent dichotomy has always frustrated me, especially when trying to give an answer to a student about my shared wonderment, and it has felt like no such answer, no such book or lecture has ever been satisfying.
How does the God who solves evil through giving his own life mesh with the God who seems to solve evil by taking lives?
But then I read a new book.
It certainly has not answered everything for me and may have left me with more questions, but I feel more equipped to read and interpret the violent portrayals of God in the OT. I want to use this post to give an incredibly broad overview of a work I think every church leader, heck any Christian, should read (if you are intimidated by a book that is almost 1,500 pages long, there is a shorter, popular-level edition I will link later). The contrast between the OT and the NT, one that even a non-believer could recognize, should bother us and force us to reconsider how we interpret the OT.
And that is the exact conviction shared by Dr. Greg Boyd in his magnum opus work: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Boyd was tasked to write a book about the Yahweh/Jesus tension and, as he says, “to put the best spin on it”. To essentially put a little bow on top of the violence. But after constant attempts in which he was not even convinced by his own argument, Boyd scrapped the project and then spent ten years and over 1,400 pages writing on why we must reread the OT in light of the cross.
In the first volume (don’t let two volumes of a work intimidate you from reading it!), Boyd works out his thesis that Jesus dying on the cross becomes the fulcrum to which we interpret our Bible. God fully reveals his loving, gracious, forgiving, enemy-loving character in Christ as he dies on the cross for all humanity. This jives well when we read different NT authors’ view of the revelation found in Jesus:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” – Colossians 1:15
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” – Hebrews 1:3
Boyd argues that the descriptions of God in the OT are not on par with the revelation of God in Jesus. They tell us truth but often we must search beyond the surface for them. Meaning, that in the OT, the authors did not have the full picture of God, only a “shadow” as Colossians and Hebrews say. Therefore, according to Boyd, we must take our greater knowledge found in Jesus and reexamine the OT to see how we might find Jesus within the portrayals that do not seem like him.
Boyd’s argument is not that crazy when you consider the way NT authors reread their Scriptures in light of Christ. Often times, the NT authors could be accused of ripping OT passages out of context to speak about Christ. Heck, Paul even changes the words of a Psalm (see Ephesians 4:8 compared to Psalm 68:18) when reflecting on Christ’s victory!
Not only that, but Jesus himself said ALL Scripture points to himself (John 5:39 and Luke 24:27). Not just the handful of obvious prophecies we often focus on but the whole of the OT Scripture can be seen as a post sign pointing to Christ.
So, if Jesus said that all of Scripture points to him, then the issue is not just reconciling violent portrayals of God in the OT, not just tidying them up, but actually demonstrating how these point to Jesus.
This is the goal of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. With Christ at the center, Boyd meticulously goes through the violent and seemingly counter-Jesus portrayals of God in the OT to show God’s true character underneath. His method moves from rather obvious reinterpretations to rather creative moves to show the loving Christ amidst the violence.
I admire the persistence of Boyd to reveal Christ in some of the most murky places of the OT and to show that God has always been the same as we see in Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for us.
I hope this short introduction to a massive and incredible work has given you a desire to read and engage in the conversation sparked by Dr. Greg Boyd. Obviously I have not attempted to answer the dichotomy but simply have attempted to peak your interest in seeking well thought-out studies to the friction between the OT and the NT. This book is, and already has been, making impact on the scholarly world. I imagine Christians will be wrestling with this work for years to come. I encourage you to join the match.