GOD and GENOCIDE in the BIBLE: What Do We Do with the “Texts of Terror”?

GOD and GENOCIDE in the BIBLE: What Do We Do with the “Texts of Terror”?

What do we do with the passages about genocide in the Bible? There are quite a few of them. We can’t just ignore them. They are difficult passages to say the least with God directly killing people, or ordering His people to commit genocide and obliterate entire cities. What do you think: did God really kill people (or order people to be killed) in the Bible?

Enter popular author Greg Boyd who says that God did not really order people to be killed. Boyd is the founding Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is in the same denomination as John Piper. He is also one of the foremost defenders of a view called open theism, which argues that God does not know the future decisions of people, thereby (to keep this simple) getting Him off the hook for the evil we commit. I have read several of Boyd’s books.

In brief, Boyd argues that we need to read all of Scripture through the lens of what we know about Jesus and the Cross, namely that He is a loving Messiah who refused to be violent. Boyd develops an interpretation of Scripture that he calls a “cruciform hermeneutic.” He wants to show us how the Bible’s violent images of God are reframed and defused when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. In short, Boyd refuses to take God at His Word. For example, just because Moses or Joshua “thought” God commanded genocide, doesn’t mean that God really did.

Consider Boyd’s comments from his book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (2017), in a chapter entitled “Defending Divine Genocide.” Boyd writes:

I would argue that Moses’s claim that Yahweh told him to command the Israelites to mercilessly annihilate entire people groups is antithetical to the message of the cross…in this light, I do not see how we can avoid the conclusion that the “show them no mercy” command that Moses allegedly received from Yahweh, was not, in fact, a bona fide command from Yahweh. (p 926)

This is a very disturbing paragraph to say the least. Boyd refuses to take God at His Word. Make no mistake, Greg Boyd is a false prophet.

In Joshua we read of Joshua’s own destruction of Lachish, “He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded” (Joshua 10:4). Or consider this verse: “For it was the LORD Himself who hardened their hearts…so that He might exterminate them without mercy” (Joshua 11:20). While these passages may be difficult to for us to emotionally digest, the texts are remarkably clear in both Hebrew and English. We can’t just wish them away. They tell us something about God and His holiness. They also tell us something about God and His mercy. These cultures had been violent and wicked for centuries, and God held off judgment for a LONG time. Whenever I lecture at the remains of Hazor in Israel, I remind people that the first lesson there is not God’s judgment, but rather God’s mercy.

So, how do we approach “texts of terror”? Did God really kill people in the Bible? Yes. Did He order genocide at times? Yes. Deuteronomy 9:4 tells us why: “…it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.”

Boyd’s undermining of what God has said reminds me of a question posed to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say…?” It’s always dangerous to claim God didn’t say something, especially when He did so, very clearly—again and again—and well…again! Greg Boyd is doing a serious disservice to the Church. His use of Scripture, in his sermons and books, is deeply troubling. Bottom line: he is teaching people to not take God at His Word which, at the end of the day, is deadly.