[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

God at War, by Gregory Boyd (part 3)

by Matthew

God at War is primarily a work of biblical theology and so after the first chapter, Boyd begins to examine the biblical material to make his case for a Warfare Worldview and a Warfare Theodicy. In chapters 2-5, he deals with the Old Testament material and in chapters 6-10 he looks at the New Testament.

In chapter 2, Boyd begins by explaining that in the worldview of the ancient Near East, the theme of spiritual warfare was fundamental. Those in the ancient Near East had a strong belief that sickness was a result of the demonic. In the light of this, Boyd points out that it is surprising how little demonic activity is mentioned in the Old Testament. However, he identifies several examples of demonic or evil angelic beings- Evil spirits from the Lord (Judges 9:22-25), the spirit of confusion (Is 37:7), the sedim or demons (Deut 32:17, Ps 106:37), Lilith (Is 34:14) and the possibility that the scapegoat from the Day of Atonement has a demonic connection.

He then makes a connection between the Old Testament and Mesompotamian myths. Mesopotamian mythology had held to a belief in a primal struggle between order and chaos before the creation of the world. It was believed that the god Marduk had slain the chaotic dragon goddess, Tiamat (remember her, you Dungeons and Dragons players?) and created the world out of her carcass. Similar myths connected the sea with its chaotic monsters with a struggle between good and evil.

Boyd argues that these myths can be found in a different form within a number of biblical texts . He points out that the ancient Hebrews believed that the earth was surrounded by a vast gulf of chaotic water. This water had originally covered the earth, yet had been pulled back by Yahweh (Gen 1:6-10, Ps 24:1-2, 104:2-9, Prov 8:27, Job 9:8, 38:6-12). Boyd argues that in Genesis the waters of chaos have been demythologised by the authors to remove the pagan idea of gods. However, in other texts in which the waters of chaos are personified. In these texts, the battle against hostile waters represents the struggle to defend the cosmos against evil forces. He cites Psalm 104 as an example of this:

5 who laid the foundations of the earth,
that it should not be removed for ever.

6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:
the waters stood above the mountains.

7 At thy rebuke they fled;
at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.

8 They go up by the mountains;
they go down by the valleys
unto the place which thou hast founded for them.

Here the hostile waters must be personally commanded by Yahweh. Boyd explains his take on these texts:

The point of these passages is clearly to stressthat Yahweh (and no other god) reigns supreme over the 'proud' chaotic waters that threaten the foundation of the earth, Indeed, unlike Baal, Tiamat, Enki or any other Near Eastern hero who is said to have controlled the chaos, Yahweh's sovereingnty is such that he can master these destructive forces by his mighty voice alone. Unlike the pagan gods, Yahweh does not even need a weapon! The voice that simply speaks the world into existence simply speaks contrl over the forces that threaten the world.
Gregory A Boyd, God at War, p.86

Nevertheless, he stresses that the waters in these texts pose a genuine threat to the world and Yahweh has engaged in a genuine conflict with them. In another text, Psalm 74, the waters of chaos are even more personalized in the form of a dragon or sea monster:

12 For God is my King of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

13 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength:
thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

14 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces,
and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

15 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood:
thou driedst up mighty rivers.

Here Yahweh is seen battling an immense cosmic opponent. In Isaiah 51:9-11 and Psalm 77:16, the deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea is seen as a re-enactment of this cosmic struggle between the Lord and the sea monster of chaos. Boyd rejects the idea that such monsters should be treated as metaphorical:

Given the cultural context within which all this is being written, one cannot take these statements as mere metaphors. We have simply no reason to assume that the biblical authors did not believe that these cosmic monsters existed. To the contrary, such expressions make sense only on the assumption that the biblical authors did believe in the existence of these anticreation cosmic forces, and did believe that Yahweh had to genuinely battle them.
God at War, p.89

Boyd argued that the struggle between order and chaos did not occur only at creation, but was continually being repeated through Israel's history. The struggles of Israel on earth were a reflection of a cosmic struggle occurring in the spiritual realms. David, for example frequently made use of the metaphor of waters and floods to represent the dangers facing him (Ps 69:14-15, 144:7).

Boyd concludes chapter 2 by pointing out the implications of the hostile waters motif:

Far from holding to any view of the world as meticulously following any divine blueprint, the Old Testament operates with the assumption that Yahweh faces real opposition, and this opposition concerns forces that are foundational to creation. While the whole cosmos was created good, at some early point something went profoundly wrong at a structural level. Only God's fighting on our behalf preserves the order of the world.
God at War, p.92

To be continued



  • Hi Matthew,

    I'm glad you started this series. I can see where the information would be useful in an apologetics scenario and as a tool in an Evangelistic outreach effort aimed at persons with atheistic leanings. Its strange how the problem of evil can be used both by atheists as well as Christians to support their respective views: did you listen to the Ahmed-Craig Debate? The audio file is available on the following site:


    Do you feel that the warfare theory helps to dispell misrepresentations about God and His ways? I can see where Open Theists and Arminians find it attractive: rather like how they find Free Will Doctrine attractive and sovereignty based predestination repulsive!

    By Blogger Anton, at Saturday, June 14, 2008 12:29:00 PM  

  • Matthew,

    What were his citations and references for his speak about chaos and waters and Hebraic belief about such?

    It seems to me that, with what little you have written, that he is making much out of very little if anything.

    If it can be well-documented that such beliefs were held universally by the Hebrews, then we a foundation for the rest, and even then at best, only a cornerstone in a great wall.

    Those scriptures you present from Psalms do not strike me as being naturally interpreted the way that Boyd does. But again I am speaking from a 21st century perspective. I am willing to entertain evidence and arguments.

    Your fg brother,


    By Blogger Antonio, at Saturday, June 14, 2008 8:11:00 PM  

  • Anton, I do think Warfare theodicy would be effective in debating atheists.

    Atheists usually cite natural disasters as an objection to more standard Free-will theodicies. Warfare theodicy entails that there is no such thing as natural evil; the very cosmos is subject to the workings of evil forces.

    "Do you feel that the warfare theory helps to dispell misrepresentations about God and His ways? I can see where Open Theists and Arminians find it attractive: rather like how they find Free Will Doctrine attractive and sovereignty based predestination repulsive!"

    It would be impossible to embrace Warfare theodicy without abandoning Calvinistic views of sovereignty and also modifying traditional Arminian views. I am having to re-think my views to an extent.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Sunday, June 15, 2008 12:33:00 AM  

  • Antonio, I am afraid I am going to have to let you read the book if you want to challenge his interpreations.

    If I cite any more of this chapter, I might get get a lawsuit from Greg Boyd.

    If you do get his book, you will find his citations are very extensive. His engagement with the scholarly discussion is extensive.

    God Bless


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Sunday, June 15, 2008 12:35:00 AM  

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