Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
by William Webb William Webb, who received his ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary and is presently professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary, has written this book to introduce and promote a new hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures, what he calls “redemptive-movement.”
The author’s primary concern is figuring out which statements from the Bible should be followed as expressed in Scripture and which do we have the right to take further to the redemptive spirit of the statement due to cultural changes (p. 13). Webb is trying to weave a path somewhere between what he calls static hermeneutics (grammatical-historical) and radical hermeneutics (liberal and neo-orthodox). With redemptive-movement interpretation the exegete will agree that statements, commands, etc., in Scripture can be taken at face “on the page” value. But the meaning was for the original time and culture only; it was never meant to be timeless in its application. Many statements and commands have a redemptive-movement spirit about them, meaning that God intended for His followers to adapt principles from these commands that fit with their culture. The Word of God is not static, it is dynamic, so says Webb.
If Webb is correct, that leaves us with two big problems: Which statements and commands did God intend to be static and which did He intend a redemptive-movement? Once that question is answered, the next one comes into play: Since we have now moved from the written page, how are we to decide exactly where God wants us to land on any given topic in any given culture?
Of course, the issue of what is cultural and what is permanent in Scripture is not a new one; believers have debated this for generations. But Webb’s solution is unique. He offers eighteen criteria to resolve the question of how to know which things God intended for us to accept as static and which to see as fluid and changeable. These criteria are complex and would take an exegetical genius to apply. But that is the least of Webb’s problems. The bigger concern is, once we are untethered from Scripture, how do we decide what God would have us do? There seems to be no objective means by which we can make such judgments under the redemptive-movement framework. With this approach the Scriptures are ever reforming.
Webb applies his criteria to three issues: slavery, women and homosexuals. He demonstrates that while slavery was accepted in Scripture we have moved redemptively in modern times to eliminate slavery from our society. This same approach is next applied to women issues and homosexuality. Concerning homosexuality, Webb concludes Scripture is static and, thus, our view today should be the same as in biblical times. But the women issues are another matter. To Webb they are a good example of the best use of redemptive-movement hermeneutics—much like slavery and ultimately leading to an egalitarian position.
While the author is a thorough researcher, an irenic theologian and a writer of clarity, I believe his redemptive-movement hermeneutics is largely flawed and highly dangerous. But my concerns are too complicated for a book review. For more, see our Think on These Things article on this subject (www.tottministries.org).