Friday, November 25, 2011

"Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts" Review

Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts (from here CP) by William J. Webb offers a rebuttal to Dobson, Grudem, Kostenburger and the like who advocating spanking from the Bible. By adopting a "Redemptive Movement" hermeneutic, Webb argues, one can see how there has been a trajectory sort of ethic through the OT to the NT.

Webb, of course, is building off his fairly controversial work Slave, Women and Homosexuals written back in 2001. If you disagreed with his conclusions in that book, there is probably nothing here that is going to convince you to adopt a "redemptive movement hermeneutic." If you found his first work convincing, you are probably going to like this work as well. My own thoughts?

1) Webb's argument, as Thomas Schreiner has pointed out here, needs to be a bit more nuanced. Webb was aiming this book at a more popular level than his previous work, so I give him a bit of flexibility here. However, given the fire-storm his last work created, I think it would have been wiser to write a bit more in-depth.

2) Having read Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright, I think Webb's own approach is viable and helpful. In other words, Webb sees a concrete command in the OT and rightly abstracts it a bit more. Wright does virtually the same throughout his work and, though Wright's book is more comprehensive, I think both end up at the right conclusions.

3) It seems most people rule out Webb's book based upon the fact that he believes women could be pastors or leaders of a church. I'll grant that Webb's trajectory based hermeneutic favors such a conclusion. But even if one disagrees with that particular point of Webb's thinking, it is somewhat absurd to rule out every other argument he makes. I think Webb has done a brilliant job of taking troubling texts and using them to the advantage (!!!) of the conservative Christian.

4) I wish Webb would spend more time focusing on redemptive history so that I could see the larger paint strokes of his hermeneutic in action.

5) Read the book. It is clearly written and is concise. It really is a joy to read Webb and he is never dull (at least to me). You won't regret it. While you're at it read Slaves, Women and Homosexuals. It is perhaps one of the best works on hermeneutics written in the past decade (certainly it is one of the most bold). You won't regret that you did.

I have benefited tremendous from CP and William J. Webb's thinking. Definitely read this work!

*I received this work from IVP Academic in exchange for providing a review. I was not obligated to provide a positive review.*


  1. So, how does he treat the issue of corporal punishment? I have read people who have found a "new" way to understand the "real" meaning of Proverbs 13:24 "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." They boldly declare that the church has misunderstood the text all this time until they came on the scene. Where does this fellow stand? And I think it is kind of funny that this is a "troubling text." It is so only for this generation...

  2. No. He doesn't say we misunderstood the text. He insists, instead, that we aren't being Biblical to the spirit of the text by still spanking. No one literally follows out what the Bible commands in regard to what the text says...if we did we would be arrested! As a result, he argues, if we don't literally follow the Bible on this by still claim biblical faithfulness, is it possible that we can follow the spirit of the text more effectively by not spanking but finding alternative ways of discipline. This, of course, follows a larger hermeneutic which he employs. It's very good. You should read it.

  3. "No one literally follows out what the Bible commands in regard to what the text says."
    OL, What does it mean to literally follow the text? What is "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" telling me to do that I did not do in using corporal punishment with my younger children?

  4. Well, did you literally use a rod? If so, did you do the prescribed number of blows prescribed by the law of Moses?

    If not, then you clearly did not follow the Bible literally...and if not, then why didn't you?

    If you did, I regret none of your neighbors called social service on you :-)

  5. Did I use a rod? Yes, I routinely used something instead of my hand

    Number of blows prescribed by the Law? You have me there. I am unaware of there being a command covering routine discipline requiring a set number of blows. How many blows are prescribed and where is this found?