- Paperback: 301 pages
- Publisher: InterVarsity Press; 1st edition (June 28, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0830815619
- ISBN-13: 978-0830815616
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 52 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis Paperback – June 28, 2001
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"Teaching hermeneutics will never be quite the same after one reads this thought-provoking book. The ethical issues it explores raise even deeper questions of how to apply 'cultural background' in interpreting the Bible. Even those who differ on some details will find most of the book's arguments persuasive and helpful, and no one can afford to ignore the issues it raises." (Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Eastern Seminary)
"Webb has tackled some of the most difficult and controversial issues that have faced the Christian church. Some of these issues, such as the role of women in the church and the question of homosexuality, are especially hot topics today. What makes Webb's book special is that it attempts to work out the hermeneutics involved in distinguishing that which is merely cultural in Scripture from that which is timeless. In my estimation, Webb's insights constitute major, positive progress. This book is must reading." (Craig A. Evans, professor and director of the graduate program in biblical studies, Trinity Western University (Langley, British Columbia))
"This book successfully walks the reader through the hermeneutical maze that accompanies the treatment of each of these areas. The goal is not only to discuss how these groups are to be seen in light of Scripture but to make a case for a specific hermeneutical approach to reading these texts. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals not only advances a discussion of the topics beyond current literature, it takes a markedly new direction toward establishing common ground where possible, potentially breaking down certain walls of hostility within the evangelical community." (Darrell L. Bock, research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary (from the foreword))
"The book is well focused, thoroughly researched, carefully argued, meticulously fair to differing views and profoundly biblical. I find it very persuasive." (Stephen R. Spencer, professor of systematic theology, Dallas Theolocial Seminary)
About the Author
William Webb is an adjunct professor of New Testament/Biblical Studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. He has also written Returning Home: New Covenant and Second Exodus as the Context for 2 Corinthians 6:14--7:1 (Sheffield) and Slaves, Women and Homosexuals (InterVarsity Press).
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Webb begins with a question and an answer. The question is: So how does a Christian respond to cultural change? His answer is: It is necessary for Christians to challenge their culture where it departs from kingdom values; it is equally necessary for them to identify with their culture on all other matters (22). The tough part arises in distinguishing: between kingdom values and cultural values within the biblical text (23). This is what Webb sees as the interpretative (hermaneutical) task.
Webb applies his hermaneutical framework primarily to 3 issues: slavery, women, and homosexuality. He picks slavery because he believes the issue to be settled within today's church. Clearly, the role of women and the issue of homosexuality are under active conversation—at least across denominations and, in some cases, within denominations.
Webb (26-28) defines these 4 positions as held on the role of women within the church:
o Hard/strong patriarchy—unilateral submission of women with an extensive power differential;
o Soft patriarchy—unilateral submission of women with a moderate power differential;
o Evangelical egalitarianism—mutual submission with equality of power between male and female; and
o Secular egalitarianism—equal rights and no gender-defined roles.
Webb (28) likewise defines 3 positions within the church on issue of homosexuality:
o Marital heterosexuality only—homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle for Christians;
o Covenant and equal-partner homosexuality—homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle for Christians provided that the partners are equal-status, consenting adults, and the relationship is one of a monogamous, covenant, and lasting kind; and
o Casual adult homosexuality—homosexuality is an appropriate lifestyle for any member of society provided it involves consenting adults.
In laying out these positions, Webb is simply defining the field of inquiry. He is not at least initially advocating for any one of these positions. Near the end of the text, however, he identifies himself as an evangelical egalitarian on women's issues and argues for a marital hetersexuality only position with respect to homosexuality.
An important contribution of Webb's work is a concept that he calls as a redemptive-movement hermaneutic. In defining this concept, he outlines a model: X=>Y=>Z. The X stands for the original culture; the Y stands for scripture; and the Z stands for the ultimate ethic (30-33). This model permits us to ask 2 important questions. First, does scripture move beyond the cultures of surrounding nations in addressing an issue? (X=>Y) Second, does scripture point to an ethic beyond that actually embodied in scripture? (Y=>Z) These 2 questions allow us to isolate the redemptive movement implied in the text of scripture. Webb uses this model to examine several scriptural passages that today sound bizarre, but which would have been at least slightly redemptive to the original audience. One example was the taking of female prisoners as spoils of war:
"When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ESV)
Webb (32-33) argues that this is clearly an ugly text in today's culture, but in relation to the customs of ancient times was redemptive in its application under the X=>Y criteria.
Today's application of the text would not follow the exact words prescribed in the text, but rather to observe the redemptive spirit of the text and draft an appropriately redemptive, modern policy dealing with female captives (33). Webb describes an attempt to apply the exact words of the scriptural text in a new context as a "static" interpretation (36-38). Ignoring the redemptive spirit of the text leads to wooden or misleading interpretations and may lead to the text being discredited in the eyes of believers and non-believers alike. Clearly, much more could be said about this redemptive-movement hermaneutic.
Webb writes his book in 8 chapters preceded by a foreword, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by a conclusion, 4 appendices, a bibliography, and a scriptural index. The chapters are:
1. Christian and Culture;
2. A Redemptive-Movement Hermaneutic;
3. Cultural/Transcultural Analysis: A Road Map;
4. Persuative Criteria;
5. Moderately Persuasive Criteria;
6. Inconclusive Criteria;
7. Persuasive Extracriptural Criteria;
8. What If I Am Wrong; and
9. Conclusion: Arriving at a Bottom Line.
The foreword is written by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary.
Webb's Slaves, Women and Homosexuals is a readable and engaging text that focuses on applying scripture rather than simply arguing over it. It is gutsy for a writer to take on the ugly texts of scripture and to find both redemption and application in them. Personally, my initial response was to reject cultural analysis because it lies outside the twin authorities of scripture and God's direct revelation. However, I realized that I was guilty myself of discounting or skipping over the difficult texts rather than engaging them. In effect, I was already doing cultural analysis, just not employing a consistent method. This internal struggle led me to reconsider Webb's analysis.
I am sure that some readers will simply not be able to engage in conversation about politically incorrect topics, but I would challenge them to stretch their own views a bit for the sake of understanding scripture better. Webb's own words are helpful when he says: I must thank our modern culture for raising the issues addressed in this book. But our cultural only raises the issues...it does not resolve them (245).
William Webb's book is an excellent reference on this looking at three issues as examples. First is slavery, which is pretty much agreed to that we do not practice. Next is women, and this is an area of some debate as there are complementarians and egalitarians. Finally there's homosexuality as most evangelicals today still condemn homosexual practice, although that number is starting to change.
So what are we to do? Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but he also told us to wash one another's feet. We are told in Exodus that we should not murder, but we are also told that we are to keep the Sabbath. Is this just random arbitrariness that is deciding what we do and do not follow?
Naturally, I can't tell everything Webb says, but his book is a joy to read on this. Webb lays out eighteen different criteria on various themes. He also has what he calls a redemptive hermeneutic. This means that as the story of the Bible progresses, you start to see change. For instance, slavery (While never like Civil War slavery) was a staple at the time and could be called a necessary evil, much like God allowed divorce for the hardness of the peoples' hearts. They weren't ready for the advanced lessons yet. Still, even with slavery, the seeds of its destruction were planted early on.
One example is the case of the runaway slave. If a slave ran away from his master, he was supposed to be given safety. He was not to be returned to his master. As we go through the story of the Bible, we see this progressing further with more and more freedom until we get to a book like Philemon where it's implied in a burning epistle (And yes, Paul is calling out Philemon incredibly in this epistle) that Philemon is to set Onesimus free.
How about women? Women do seem to get a low regard in the Old Testament where they can often be seen as property, but again, the change is right there. You have dynamic women like Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Huldah, and Esther showing up in the text. When you move to the New Testament, you see more women like the witnesses to the empty tomb who first saw Jesus, Junia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, and others.
Now this is one part where I wasn't as forward as Webb is. I am still more of a complementarian, but I think Webb would likely not have much of a problem with my own style since I think that if a man is the king of his castle, his wife gets treated like a queen.
Finally, you have homosexuals. In the Old Testament, the charges are pretty strict. Leviticus I think is a very clear statement. So is this changed in the New Testament? No. Paul in Romans 1 argues that homosexual practice is a shaming practice that is a horizontal example of what has already happened vertically.
What does this tell us? Some practices move forward redemptively and so we are justified in our lifestyles in moving along that route. The Bible has set the standard for us in itself. Some are more negative, so we ought not switch them because the Bible is consistent throughout with how it deals with them.
Unfortunately, I can't go into a lot of detail, but this is a book that's a joy to read to see how the author weaves his way through the texts and deals with challenges to his position. There's also a section at the end in humility where Webb answers "What if I'm wrong?" This mainly centers on issues involving 1 Tim. 2 and the section dealing with women there.
I think this book is an excellent read. There are issues on hermeneutics that are extremely necessary. If internet atheists would interact with a book like this, perhaps many of our debates could be better. Perhaps they could be even better still if more Christians interacted with it.
Deeper Waters Christian Ministries