How Does God Cause Evil? Part 1

Back in July, Gregory Boyd wrote a post on interpretation methods and their relevance to OT passages.  The most common interpretive method today by evangelicals is that the meaning of the text is what the author meant it to mean (which we can call, Authorial Intent).  Boyd believes this to be a relatively new development, even placing its birth in secular thought.  He believes that prior to Authorial Intent the traditional view by Christians was Divine Authorial Intent (DAI) (that is, since God is the author of the Scriptures, any passage may have multiple meanings).  DAI is supported in the NT because, “NT authors exhibit little concern for the original meaning of passages in the OT.”  Instead, they use various strategies to discover Christ in the OT.

Boyd introduces a book by Matthew Bates, wherein Bates argues that Paul implements a “prosopological exegesis” (PE).  Basically, PE “explains a text by suggesting that the author of the text identified various persons or characters (prosopa) as speakers or addressees in a pre-text, even though it is not clear from the pre-text itself that such persons are in view” (Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183).  The purpose of doing this, explains Boyd and Bates, was to reconcile perceived incompatibilities between one text and the beliefs of the interpreter.  Basically, PE argues that the NT authors took liberty to ascribe a second meaning to the OT text when it wasn’t clear that the OT text’s intention was for the NT audience.

However, Boyd believes that PE “provides warrant for us to be similarly creative and imaginative as we confront material in the OT that is incompatible with the revelation of God in the crucified Christ.”  Furthermore, PE might help us make sense of “how portraits of Yahweh causing parents to cannibalize their children (e.g. Lev. 26:28-29; Jere 19:9; Ezek.5:10 ) or commanding genocide (Deut. 7:2) point us to the enemy-embracing, non-violent, self-sacrificial love of God revealed on the cross.”  Boyd thinks this type of hermeneutic will solve the problem so often seen in the apologetic enterprise.  If there was a perceived incompatibility between the author’s identity (God) and other facts known about that author (God), then this issue is it.  “For the “well-known ‘facts’ pertaining to” Yahweh are that he is revealed in Christ to be a God who sacrifices himself to bring abundant life to all, the very opposite of a “thief” who “kills, steals and destroys” (Jn 10:10) by causing parents to eat their babies and by commanding the wholesale slaughter of entire people groups!”  How does Boyd suggest we utilize PE to understand these difficult portraits?  He uses his following post to explain; I’ll use my next post to critique his suggestion.

Meanwhile, there are a few things to be said regarding Boyd’s account:

1.  Boyd fails to convince us as to why the NT portrait of God contains the ‘well-known facts’ and not the OT portrait.  In fact, why think that the two are distinct, separate portraits and not one portrait? I understand that he still accepts the OT, but this is certainly Marcionite in character.

2.  Unless Boyd is already implementing some form of PE, he clearly takes John 10:10 out of its context and (unjustly) makes the syntax of that verse refer to a completely different semantic from other verses.

3.  His statement that the “NT authors exhibit little concern for the original meaning of passages in the OT” seems false.  The NT authors exhibited great care and concern for original meaning and additional meaning (of which they later became aware).  Saying that 1st century Jews showed little concern for the primary meaning of passages in the OT would be insulting to the Apostles.

4.  I’m not sure if Boyd is being more rhetorical than he thinks is actually the case, but his presented interpretations of the OT passages makes it appear as if he believes God directly causes evil.  I don’t think is a careful way of understanding the difficult OT passages.  I will try to expound on this in my next post.

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Kurt Jaros is the Director of Operations at Apologetics.com, where he oversees various projects, including Real Clear Apologetics (which he founded). He holds a Master's degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and a Master's in Systematic Theology from King's College London. He teaches part-time at Naperville Christian Academy and also blogs at ValuesAndCapitalism.com, a project of the American Enterprise Institute.

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