Read Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb Darrell L. Bock Online


He leads you through the maze of interpretation that has historically surrounded understanding of slaves, women and homosexuals, and he evaluates various approaches to these and other biblical-ethical teachings. Throughout, Webb attempts to "work out the hermeneutics involved in distinguishing that which is merely cultural in Scripture from that which is timeless" (Craig AHe leads you through the maze of interpretation that has historically surrounded understanding of slaves, women and homosexuals, and he evaluates various approaches to these and other biblical-ethical teachings. Throughout, Webb attempts to "work out the hermeneutics involved in distinguishing that which is merely cultural in Scripture from that which is timeless" (Craig A. Evans). By the conclusion, Webb has introduced and developed a "redemptive hermeneutic" that can be applied to many issues that cause similar dilemmas. Darrel L. Bock writes in the foreword to Webb's work, "His goal is not only to discuss how these groups are to be seen in light of Scriptures but to make a case for a specific hermeneutical approach to reading these texts. . . . This book not only advances a discussion of the topics, but it also takes a markedly new direction toward establishing common ground where possible, potentially breaking down certain walls of hostility within the evangelical community."...

Title : Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
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ISBN : 9780830815616
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 301 Pages
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Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis Reviews

  • David
    2019-02-06 11:40

    William Webb proposes a redemptive-movement hermeneutic as the best way to interpret scripture, using it to investigate issues controversial in the contemporary church regarding women and homosexuals. He lays out 18 criteria, ranging from persuasive to inconclusive, on how to analyze scripture.His argument is that all scripture comes to particular culture; the question is what principles transcend cultures. In regards women, he shows that though some of the passages of scripture seem archaic to us, in their context these passages lifted women up from where they were to a higher plane. He then argues that to be faithful to scripture is not to stop here, but to follow the pointers in scripture to their logical conclusion which is complementary egalitarianism: men and women are different (they complement one another), but are equal in their service to society and the church. Or, to get right to the point, women can serve in the church in any way men can.In regards to homosexual we find that while the ancient cultures were very accepting of homosexual practice scripture moves counter-culturally to condemn these practices. There are no pointers to an ultimate acceptance of homosexuality, as there were with women's issues. His conclusion is that the church is correct in not condoning homosexual practice.Some will say that Webb is on a slippery slope by arguing that the texts on women are cultural. But he persuasively shows that all interpreters of the Bible admit some things are cultural. For example, no Christians use scripture's acceptance of slavery to argue for slavery, no Christians give their firstborn double inheritance, and we do not greet with a holy kiss. The question to tackle is which parts of scripture are cultural and which transcend. Perhaps it is a slippery slope, but it is a slope that all who interpret scripture are forced to live on.Overall I found this book liberating and challenging. Coming from a church that does not allow women to be pastors, this is something I have wrestled with. Webb's arguments give the reader a lot to chew on and cannot be ignored. I recommend this book to anyone who desires to understand the Bible's teachings on women and homosexuals.

  • Adam Omelianchuk
    2019-01-22 11:43

    More like 3.5 stars... Perhaps the most interesting and most controversial book on biblical interpretation published in the last ten years is William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals. The austere title signals to the reader three subjects that have been the most debated in the last 200 years. And for good reason: all who make up those people groups have been marginalized and oppressed under those who supposedly hold the authority of scripture.Webb takes seriously the intuitions of the modern reader who is rightly appalled after reading a text like Exodus 21:20-21:“If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.”What to make of such a barbaric practice, which appears to be sanctioned by the Bible? Webb’s answer: read it from the slave’s point of view. At the time it was written, this was seen as having a softening effect on the institution of slavery; under the Mosaic Law, slaveholders could not go beyond certain limits, specifically causing the death of their slave. Unlike the surrounding culture, which put no limits on slaveholders, this text has a ‘redemptive component’ that moves the culture towards a better ethic, one that ultimately vindicates the abolition of slavery. Thus, to read the ‘words on the page’ in isolation from their redemptive spirit and ethical movement is to misunderstand the text.This raises the question of cultural analysis: how to go about it? By what criteria do we discern the cultural components of a text from the transcultural ones? Webb proposes 18 different criteria meant to discriminate texts that address passing cultural conditions from those that are applicable in all times and places. As a result, he concludes that a “redemptive-movement” hermeneutic leads to the abolition of slavery and either egalitarian gender roles or what he calls “ultra-soft patriarchy” (symbolic male headship that is functionally egalitarian); but, he concludes, it does not lead to the blessing of covenantal same-sex relationships.I leave it to the reader to explore the soundness of Webb’s criteria, but I am less sanguine about his project than I used to be. While there is much I agree with regarding how his hermeneutic determines what the text is saying, why it says it, and where it is taking those who apply it, I think the categories of “cultural” and “transcultural” are too vague to be helpful. For example, when discussing how scientific evidence determines whether a text is “cultural” or “transcultural” he brings up the texts that appear to presume a geocentric view of the cosmos, and says, “the geocentric component of biblical cosmology is cultural...” This is an odd way of putting it. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the biblical cosmology is false?I think so, and therein lies the problem. There are certain questions that are not best served by appeals to cultural relativity. Here a few that are relevant to the issues of slavery and female subordination:[1] Is it ever morally permissible to own another human being?[2] Is the following proposition coherent: ‘x is equal with y and x is designed to be subordinate to y?’[3] Is a hierarchy that stipulates that person P is subordinate to person Q by virtue of P’s being P a morally acceptable form of hierarchy?Each answer demands a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Making a judgment either way is not determined by whether a text is culturally relative; rather, our judgments about these questions determine whether the texts in question are morally flawed or accommodating a morally flawed situation. Texts that address the topic of divorce are a good example. Begin by asking whether the Bible allows for the permissibility of divorce. If we say 'yes,' then we have to decide whether the text is morally flawed or accommodating morally flawed situations. If it is morally flawed, then we are judging it by a prior 'no-divorce' ethic. If it is accommodating morally flawed situations, we have to determine what those situations are and apply the text accordingly. If we say 'no, it doesn't permit divorce', then we have to explain why certain texts seem to allow for divorce (and how do you do that?).As for slavery, either the Bible says it is morally permissible (under certain circumstances), or that it is impermissible, but in circumstances when it is slavery is a fact of life, we should act in such-and-such way. Categories of truth or falsity, and moral permissibility or impermissibility are the relevant issues at stake--not whether things are "cultural" or "transcultural." (If it were, I would have expected a longer treatment of head coverings, but alas they went unaddressed.)This is precisely what made the argument for abolition so difficult. The pro-slavery side could always say, "Look, if the circumstances are such that slavery is part of the economy, then these are the principles we have to abide by (submitting without complaint, not being harsh, ect)." This is the same problem that faces egalitarians: if women are uneducated or become utterly dependent on the physical labor of males, then the acceptability of female subordination in the home and church seems to follow. Yet Webb (rightly, I think) would advocate for abolition and egalitarian gender roles. But why? I assume it is because he thinks a more thoroughgoing biblical theology of the "ultimate ethic" he appeals to can be established. Unfortunately, he spends little time developing it. Of course, it isn't fair to expect this from a book devoted to developing criteria for cultural analysis, but his conclusions largely rest on some weighty background assumptions.All this is not to say that Webb's hermeneutic and his 18 criteria are not useful and informative. There is a lot worth considering, and those who disagree with him have their work cut out for them in defending a "static" hermeneutic.

  • Tim
    2019-01-23 08:41

    This is an amazing book on hermeneutics, as well as one of the two most compelling books I’ve read on the subject of women in ministry. Webb’s approach to hermeneutics is one that most Christians unconsciously employ to an extent already, and that goes a long way in explaining troubling OT passages as well. Many of the passages pertaining to slavery, warfare, women, etc., look regressive to us from where were we stand, but to the original readers were incredibly redemptive. And Webb’s argument is that in many cases they point beyond even where Scripture leaves them, and toward an ultimate Kingdom ethic which the people of God continue to live into as we seek to be obedient to the words of Scripture.Webb uses the example of slavery in the Bible to present what he refers to as a “redemptive movement hermeneutic.” Slavery is no where condemned in the Bible, and this lack of condemnation was too often been used by past proponents of slavery to argue for its justification. But we see in the Scriptures a progression of thought that eventually has pointed the people of God to the universal conclusion that slavery does not represent God’s ultimate intention, or the final expression of his will for people. The progression begins in the Old Testament with a dramatic shift in the way slaves were to be treated in Israel as compared to surrounding nations, laws that make slavery more humane (while preserving the merciful “welfare” function that slavery served for the poor in the ancient Near East), and in the New Testament the elevation of slaves to equality with free people, Paul’s urging of Philemon to set Onesimus free, etc. This trajectory, or redemptive movement, led the Church to the conclusion that though the ultimate abolition of slavery is not explicitly called for in the Scriptures, it is (now) universally accepted that such a conclusion is where the Scriptures compel us to go.Webb makes a lengthy and compelling argument that a similar trajectory exists in Scripture as it pertains to the place of women in society and in the church. The Old Testament dramatically elevates the place of women in comparison with the rest of the ancient Near East, and this trajectory clearly develops and expands as the OT progresses, and as the NT dramatically expands upon both the worth of and roles of women. Webb acknowledges the legitimate questions that remain over whether women, though equal to men, are meant to function in certain church roles but not others, and suggests options that deal seriously with those passages. Webb’s conclusion is that the Bible’s redemptive movement points to one of two options: ultra-soft patriarchy, or complementary egalitarianism, as he calls them. Wherever one falls in their view of women in ministry, it would be hard to remain unmoved by the case Webb makes.Along with this, Webb tackles the issue of homosexuality, and shows that contrary to what some of its advocates claim, it is nearly impossible to identify a similar trajectory on this issue. The Scriptures are consistent in denying that homosexual practice is a God-honoring expression of sexuality. While Christians are to be unreservedly loving of homosexuals, they cannot on biblical grounds affirm their lifestyle.One potential blind spot for readers to be aware of: Webb gives weight to each of his arguments as the book progresses (from “highly persuasive” to “inconclusive”), and in this reader’s opinion is very fair as he does so. However, where one puts the weight in what constitutes persuasive criteria is somewhat subjective, and the reader should keep this in mind as they take in this study.This book is must-reading for anyone wrestling through the issue of women in ministry. Highly recommended!

  • Conor
    2019-01-21 12:29

    A well nuanced hermeneutic beginning to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the culture surrounding scripture (OT and NT) and 21st century culture while allowing it to speak to the church today. Neither the stodgy, isolated-words-on-the-page, "static hermeneutic" of more conservative types, nor the dismissive "it's-just-culturally-relative-so-we-don't-have-to-listen-to-it" liberal hermeneutic do justice to the biblical text; both are naive and reductionistic. Webb points a way out of such a deadlock, though a further discussion of who Christian ethics are for (the church of course!) and why, as well as a theological reading of scripture within the Christian community are necessary (Outside of Webb's concerns in this book). I found myself bristling at the simplistic "culture-bound" vs "transcultural" distinction, though proposing an alternative is something I'm still thinking through. Overall the book is clearly written, scholarly, and faithful; a good immersion into cultural factors affecting the interpretive process of scripture.

  • Nathan Marone
    2019-01-28 11:17

    Regardless of what you think of the Bible - whether you believe in its message or not - and whether or not you agree with Webb's conclusions on the primary issues he covers, this is a necessary book of hermeneutics. Centuries have been devoted to figuring out which aspects of the Biblical text should be understood as culturally bound and which aspects are transcultural. This task becomes more and more difficult as we move further away from the ancient world. But it is a task that needs to be done and done diligently. Webb offers 18 different criteria for assessing the cultural/transcultural nature of issues within the Bible. He applies those criteria specifically to issues of slavery, women, and homosexual behavior. Though Webb uses these criteria to stake out his own positions on those topics (slavery: abolitionist, women: complimentary egalitarian, homosexuality: prohibitive), I would argue that the primary virtue of Webb's book is in his ability to assess the value of each criteria given - what does the criteria tell us or not tell us, how can it be used or not used? Too often when we debate hot issues like women in the church or homosexuality, we are too quick to say, "But that bit is cultural," or "That bit is meant to be carried out for all time," without ever giving proper consideration to the interpretive work necessary to make those determinations. Even if you should disagree with the positions Webb stakes out, this is a valuable book for anyone interested in understanding what the Bible means, in the culture it was written, now, and into the future.

  • Corey Hampton
    2019-02-07 12:29

    This book is good, but it is really boring.It's definitely written for a very conservative audience, as Webb spends a bit too much time trying to convince his readers of what seems to be quite obvious already (such the difference in first and twenty-first century understanding of women and how the Bible progresses in its own understanding over time). But despite this, the book was really insightful. I do think that he could have done much better on the issue of homosexuality though, but I understand his context.If your reading of the Bible leads you to undervalue women (or if you find it difficult to reconcile your progressive understanding of women with the Bible), then read this book. It will help you!

  • James Korsmo
    2019-02-02 09:28

    I really appreciated this book! I think it is fair to say that hermeneutics, and specifically hermeneutics as it relates to cultural anaylsis, is one of the most pressing issues facing the church today. How we understand Scripture to relate to its original culture and how we appropriate it in our own culture is one of the issues that is driving our current era of church history. How we understand issues such as those surrounding women and homosexuals are very live and important questions in our day. And this is why I commend William Webb's book as highly as I possibly can. He addresses these issues by carefully probing the underlying hermeneutical questions with thoroughness and and an irenic and humble spirit.Webb begins by laying out the Christian's challenge with regard to these issues, "It is necessar 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, italics in original). This is difficult because though Scripture contains both culture-bound and transcultural elements, these would have been nearly indistinguishable to its original readers. The challenge, then, is to live out the spirit of the text without being too inseparably bound to the "isolated words." For Webb, this means undertaking a "redemptive-movement hermeneutic" as opposed to a "static" hermeneutic.A redemptive-movement hermeneutic seeks to assess the "movement" of a text relative to its original cultural setting. It then moves into our own day and seeks to retain the same direction of movement relative to our current culture in places where our cultural setting has gone beyond that of the original culture. An explicit component of this assessment is that the Bible doesn't only contain an "ultimate" ethic, but often contains provisions, laws, and instructions that entail only a "partially realized" ethic. It is worth taking a second to look at the reasons Webb outlines for this to be so, because I don't think this concept is one most readers of Scripture consciously ascribe to. Webb asserts that God often inspired a "partially realized" ethic (1) for pastoral reasons, to stretch his people as far as they could go without snapping; (2) for padagogical reasons, to help people move from the known to a foreseeable future with enough continuity so they can find their way; (3) for evangelistic reasons, thus reform was intended to better social structures without being so radical as to jeopardize other aspects of the Christian mission; (4) to sustain competing values, such as upholding temporary values in pursuit of associated goods, such as slavery in service of social welfare or patriarchy in service to gender differentiation; and (5) for soteriological resons, to to deal with a fallen and sinful humanity to whom reform does not come easiliy and move us in a process of progressive sanctification.Throughout the book, Webb sustains an argument that, taking the presence of elements of both an ultimate and a provisional ethic within Scripture (and he certainly acknowledges the presence of an ultimate ethic in Scripture), we must undertake careful cultural analysis to determine what components of Scripture are culture-bound and which are transcultural. Once this is done, we seek to uphold the transcultural components and seek to live out the culture-bound components through a process of "redemptive movement" where we seek to follow the redemptive spirit within the text by reapplying that same spirit to our own culture. Let's follow a similar flow to Webb's own argument to flesh this out a bit.Webb argues that the neutral example of slavery provides an important case study for understanding how a redemptive movement hermeneutic works. The culture of the Ancient Near East and of the Greco-Roman world upheld a structure of slavery. The Bible, written within this culture, reflects this setting, in that it assumes the general structure of slavery. There are no explicit texts or passages that speak directly to the need for the abolition of slavery (except perhaps for Gal 3:28 and parallels); there are, on the flip side, though, many texts that assume that slavery exists. But many of these texts reflect a "redemptive movement," that is, they demonstrate a limited but real movement away from the worst abuses of slavery toward better and more equal treatment of slaves. This movement, when coupled with the ultimate ethic in Scripture that acknowledges the equality of all people before God and the need to love neighbor as self, points toward the need for further movement beyond the movement accomplished in the OT or NT. Thus, as we live out the spirit of these texts, we appreciate our different cultural setting and seek to move closer to the unrealized ultimate ethic of abolition of slavery, and even beyond this toward fuller workplace and economic justice.Webb takes this same process of analysis into his discussion of texts surrounding women. In that cultural analysis, through the use of eighteen different criteria, he assesses the culture-bound components of patriarchy, relating to economic, social, and practical concerns. This analysis includes a careful exposition of the pertinent New Testament texts in their cultural settings, as well as a thorough discussion of the relation between the testaments on this point, and especially of the role played by Genesis texts in the discussion. He then couples this with an investigation of the ultimate ethic present in scripture, and concludes that the Bible moves toward a complementary egalitarianism or an ultra-soft patriarchy.The third issue Webb looks at throughout the book is that of homosexuality. This is important in two respects. First, it is important because it is a vital issue in its own right, and second, because it is often related either positively or negatively to discussion of issues regarding women, usually to rhetorical effect. Thus, importantly, Webb demonstrates that the two issues, both needing careful cultural analysis, demonstrate opposite movements within Scripture. Whereas the patriarchy texts evidence a positive movement toward egalitarianism, the homosexual texts consistently demonstrate an absolute movement away from freedom to complete prohibition, and this movement is to be carried over into our own culture, albeit slightly modified.William Webb's book is often cited and quoted in studies surrounding these important and divisive issues, and this is with good reason. I wish I had read this book years ago, and have deeply appreciated his hermeneutical insights. He shows how to recognize a redemptive movement in Scripture that acknowledges and appreciates the spirit of the text without being too bound to the "isolated words," by which he means the words taken in isolation from their cultural and canonical context. He demonstrates a genuine faithfulness to Scripture and an intense pursuit of God's truth and God's desire for our lives here in the in-between time, while also demonstrating how to carefully move beyond the bare words of Scripture in those cases when it is bound to its cultural setting. I look forward to appropriating his insights in future study. I must say that I also deeply appreciated his humble and irenic tone. He openly acknowledged the areas of greatest weakness in his own case (even writing a "What If I Am Wrong?" chapter to lay bare and discuss these weaknesses and their bearing on his case), and also sought to acknowledge the strengths of his opponents positions and demonstrated charitable readings of opposing views. All the same, I think he also admirably shows the promise of careful cultural analysis for faithful application of Scripture, in a convincing assessment of the issues surrounding both homosexuality and women. I also hope at the very least that this book dismantles the arguments often bandied about that those who favor women in ministry are on the slippery slope to accepting homosexuality or that those who accept women in ministry must make this subsequent move, as Webb demonstrates how this is clearly not so.In all, this book is a landmark study of hermeneutics especially as it bears on these important issues, and is a must read for those on all sides of these pressing discussions. Do not miss this book, and do not delay.

  • Laura Howard
    2019-01-21 10:44

    Webb clearly and convincingly argues that Christians should approach Scripture with what he calls a “redemptive movement hermeneutic,” meaning that much of the Bible presents is with an incomplete ethics, and we need to be willing to let the spirit of the text (really, the Holy Spirit) lead us beyond where Scripture might stop on certain issues. He uses “neutral” examples—the foremost of which is the issue of slavery—to demonstrate that what God ultimately wants for his people is in many cases not precisely and explicitly articulated. Webb follows this with some impressively detailed work, establishing 18 criteria to help the reader evaluate which components of Scripture are culturally bound and which are transcultural. These criteria are incredibly helpful tools; some are ones I’ve been using for years without knowing how to articulate; some are newer to me but make a great deal of sense. So far, so good. But then Webb evaluates what Scripture has to say about women and homosexuality using these criteria. He does a decent job of evaluating passages that have to do with women. But when it comes to passages that deal with homosexuality, Webb fails to employ his criteria well. He consistently (and vastly) overestimates what he can conclude about sexual ethics by his own criteria. This is perhaps showcased when, in his penultimate chapter “What If I Am Wrong?,” he considers error in his assessments regarding women but not regarding sexual ethics. This is a big mistake on Webb’s part. I leave this book grateful for the tools it has given me but with a sense of sadness and frustration for how these tools were ultimately misused by the one who presented them to me. I would not want this book in the hands of someone unable or unwilling to think critically about Webb’s failure to adhere faithfully to his own project.

  • Adam Shields
    2019-02-05 07:25

    Short Review: I think this is a helpful (although a bit dull) book on how to parse out cultural and transcultural aspects of scripture and how to think think about our own culture and how we put scripture into practice within that culture. We cannot read scripture without our culture. We are not transcultural beings. But there are things we can do to try to identify cultural blind spots and all scripture to speak to us in our cultural setting. Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals presents 18 criteria for cultural evaluation of scripture according to his Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. Although it is long and complicated, I am basically in agreement with the concept. I am not sure I agree with the results of his analysis of the three subjects (Slaves is a neutral subject that he assumes most Christians now agree is sinful, Women in the church is one that he thinks is a positive answer and acceptance of gay marriage in the church is one that he thinks is transcultural command and is his negative example.)There is no way, even in my long review to work through all 18 criteria. But I do think they are helpful and worth working through.My nearly 1200 word review is on my blog at ‎

  • Richard Fitzgerald
    2019-01-17 04:29

    Important Strategies for Determining the Cultural and Transcultural Nature of Biblical TextsThis book takes the position that is available cannot be read as static words on the page. The biblical text provides a redemptive movement from the culture of the readers' and authors' culture. That movement gives us insight into the possible trajectory intended by God and how to interpret the biblical text today. The first chapter made me wonder whether the author was simply pushing an agenda, but while he has definite positions there seemed little agenda pushing through the book. The strategies he suggests are important and well-thought out. The illustrations were mostly convincing. Whether the reader agrees with the books applications in every situation, the book and it's criteria for determining the cultural or trans-cultural nature of the biblical text is well worth engaging.

  • Tom R.
    2019-01-18 04:18

    This book made me think about the Bible in a much different way and really helped explain some parts of it that are very difficult for us to understand in modern times. Really emphasizes how understanding the culture the Bible was written in can help you understand the Bible better.There were a few things I didn't like about it -- such as a "what if I'm wrong" section that didn't admit very much possibility of being wrong -- but overall I'd recommend it to anyone who's always found it hard to understand how the Bible treats a number of controversial issues.

  • Alex Burlingame
    2019-01-18 07:47

    Thoughtful, gracious, and compelling.

  • Daniel
    2019-01-24 12:37

    In this book Webb proposes a specific hermeneutic (method of interpreting the bible) that he calls the redemptive-movement hermeneutic. He then uses three topics--slavery, women, and homosexuality--as his case studies for his hermeneutic. Before I write much more I want to admit that I haven’t studied much in terms of hermeneutics so I can only take what he says at face value (not in comparison to other hermeneutical methods). Second I humbly come with the following pre-formed opinions about the 3 case studies, (1)Slavery is wrong and not part of God’s original design, (2) women are equal to men in standing before God and in authority to lead in the church through all the gifts of the Spirit, (3) Homosexuality is a sin. In this I am already in basic agreement with Webb’s conclusions, so I felt that I should state that from the get go. The book is divided into three sections and a conclusion. The first section outlines Webb’s hermeneutic, the second and third sections proceed, point by point, through his different criteria (biblical and extra-biblical respectively) and ending with a conclusion. Webb’s basic premise is that we as Christians know that we need to understand the Bible in its cultural context, but have not developed a systematic way of approaching it. There are very few people who interpret the Bible without assuming at least some of it is culturally-bound (e.g. stoning adulterers, slaves submitting to even harsh masters, head coverings for women, cooking a goat in his mother’s milk). His question is, how do we understand what is a cultural versus transcultural (e.g. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, ten commandments, etc.). He proposes that we can understand all scripture as redemptive. Throughout history God, Jesus and the Apostles are calling God’s people closer to holiness and correct living, and calling people in a way that was prophetic in that era. With that premise, Webb asks us to look at scriptural commands and compare them to the surrounding society, how was he calling his people to be set apart and what direction does that point in? In He then sets up 18 different criteria to help tease that apart. He then launches into the 18 criteria using Slavery (which is allowed in the bible but most of the Christian world agrees is probably not within God’s design) as his neutral case study and then using the same framework to look at the role of women in the church and relating to men and the case of homosexuality. Regarding women, he makes the case that the underlying spirit of the text moves us towards what he calls either a complementary egalitarianism or soft-patriarchalism (the primary difference is that in the second, a special place of honor should be given to men, otherwise men and women should be equal). Regarding homosexuality, he shows that God always called his people (OT and NT) to stand against the prevailing cultures which accepted homosexual behavior and so the underlying spirit of the text does not move us towards accepting homosexuality. I initially picked up this book because I would identify with Webb as a complementary egalitarian (women being equal in power and authority under God while acknowledging the interdependence of men and women as different). Because of that, I was being challenged that if I were to accept that position, I would have to move away from understanding homosexuality as a sin (which continues to be my position). I appreciated Webb’s understanding of the bible in context and while I’m sure not all would agree with his assessments it is a worthwhile read. He focuses primarily on the topic of women, primarily because less is said about homosexuality in the bible. I do feel like he dismissed some of the more recent scientific and psychological studies on homosexuality (he is first and foremost a theologian). Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in biblical interpretation and especially looking for a thoughtful perspective on two hot-button issues of our day. I don’t find all of his criteria to be equally compelling and sometimes he is a little too glib in his arguments. However, I found his perspective a helpful foundation for doing good application of the bible that is both contextual and at the same time originating in the Bible.

  • Edward
    2019-01-24 05:17

    I enjoyed the methods that this author uses but I do not agree with some of his conclusions. Webb’s criteria attempt to guide us in discussing and learning what practices or teachings in the Bible are cultural--and therefore not applicable to our lives as Christians today--and which are transcultural--and therefore applicable. I believe the criteria he has laid forth are good and useful for all those who wish to study the Bible and then apply the teachings to our lives today. However, as my wife pointed out, his inability (in our opinion) to apply some of the criteria objectively leaves his credibility a little shaken.I believe that some of Webb’s conclusions reached using his criteria are biased because he believes that patriarchy is a thing of the past. For example, he dismisses the idea of created order (and thus man is to be a head over woman) based on parallelisms with the practice of primogeniture (the right of the first-born child, specifically the first-born son).Webb concludes that primogeniture was a cultural practice in the past and that we don't really practice that today, so it isn't transcultural. And since the doctrine of created order is parallel to that of primogeniture, then created order is also cultural and therefore should not be practiced today. Thus this is one reason that Paul's prohibition of women teaching men in public should not be followed anymore. Here's my problem with that logic: to the best of my knowledge, all ancient cultures practiced some form of primogeniture and some cultures today still practice it. That would seem to me that primogeniture wasn't just something that was cultural to the Israelites; and if this is a transcultural practice then we should follow to some extent.Now, a similar argument could be made about worshiping multiple gods...many (if not all) ancient cultures worshiped multiple gods (and some still do today) so therefore it’s transcultural and we should follow it to some extent today. But here’s the main difference: God forbids the worship of other gods, therefore, whether this is transcultural or not, it’s not something Christians should do. However, God does not explicitly (or implicitly) tell us not to practice primogeniture, yet Webb decides this is not something we should practice.In Webb’s evaluation of the slave texts, we find a similar pattern and I agree with his reasoning that slavery is a practice that should be done away with even though many ancient cultures practiced it. But here is a difference between the slave texts and primogeniture concept: slavery is inherently contrary to God’s command to love one another for we cannot love someone if we own him and we cannot love someone if we treat her like property to be abused any way we want; however, when the first-born son takes his responsibility properly and conducts himself with the commands of God in mind, there will be no abuse of siblings, kinfolk, or children; i.e. there is no contradiction between practicing primo-geniture and following God’s commands. Admittedly, no one performs his duties as the first-born perfectly because of sinful human nature, but is that a reason to discard primogeniture? No, of course not! So Webb’s discarding of primogeniture is based merely on his use of this as a parallel to created order and thus created order can be tossed since primogeniture can be tossed.This and other inconsistencies with applying the criteria can cause the reader to discard the entire book but I think that would be a mistake. Take what is good and discard what is bad: take the criteria that Webb lays out and discard his biased applications. The other applications are still useful for learning how to apply the criteria in order to gain a fuller understanding of the Bible.

  • Dan
    2019-01-29 04:21

    I am constantly referring people to this book and referencing it. Webb coins the term “redemptive movement hermeneutic” to talk about the movement of the text towards a greater ethic. He uses slavery texts as a neutral point in the argument, as almost all of of us can agree today that slavery is wrong, while Scripture seemingly condones it.A closer look reveals that the Bible always pushed the surrounding culture on towards a greater ethic regarding slavery. While other cultures were free to rape and pillage female slaves, the Israelites were instructed that if they took a slave as a wife (slept with her) then she would have the same protection and status of being a wife. Granted, when looking at that through 21st century lenses, it still appears crude because the Bible still condoned taking female slaves as wives. But for the culture and context in which those instructions were given, this better treatment of slaves was radical, indeed this instruction was already very difficult for the culture to understand and accept in this historical context. It’s easy for us to impose our modern values on ancient cultures and judge them, but doing so fails to acknowledge our own biases.So on and on in the Old and New Testaments, we see the Bible pushing towards better treatment of slaves, with Paul even urging Philemon to free his runaway slave Onesimus. We also see numerous passages discouraging people from becoming slaves and encouraging people to seek freedom. Thus the “redemptive movement” of the text pushes us on toward a greater ethic regarding slavery, namely the freedom of slaves and abolishment of human slavery.In regards to women in society and in the faith, we see a similar redemptive movement in the Old & New Testaments. We see women being acknowledged for military conquests and obedience to the LORD in the Old Testament, and the acknowledgement of female prophets and a greatly elevated social status in the New Testament. The surrounding culture saw this as radical and suppressed women, while Scripture pushed the culture forward towards the better treatment of women. Women were the first witnesses of Christ’s empty tomb, and women have been included in the visible sign and seal of the new covenant, baptism (previously only men were included in the visible sign and seal of the old covenant: circumcision, see Colossians 2:9-12). The redemptive movement of the text is thus the greater elevation of women’s status in society and in the Church.Now let’s look at homosexuality. Both the Old and New Testament denounce homosexuality as an abominable practice. If the surrounding culture shared this view, then we could begin looking for clues that God was pushing for better treatment of and eventually acknowledgement and tolerance of the homosexual lifestyle. But this isn’t the case. The surrounding culture was fairly open to homosexuality, yet the Bible still opposed it in both Testaments. Thus the redemptive movement is against the grain of culture; the Bible continues to affirm that homosexual behavior is sinful. If we were to continue that movement today, then we must also stand against the grain of culture and continue to confess that homosexual behavior is sinful.This "redemptive movement" approach to the text on these three issues is very enlightening and helpful. Webb did a great job writing this book and his research is outstanding. He goes through all the texts of contention and explains them in detail, the book is worth it for this alone. The practical examples and plain logic he uses is refreshing, and makes his point very well. Read it and learn more.

  • Janelle Zeeb
    2019-02-07 07:26

    This is a fascinating look at the difficult topic of how to apply Biblical ethics to modern life. It is an excellent resource if you've ever wondered how to argue that Christians should be progressive on issues such as slavery and equality for women, yet still prohibit homosexuality. While this book may be a bit too detailed and in-depth for the average Christian, it is great for pastors and anyone with slightly more advanced theological understanding. This book is also very affirming to women, especially women who desire to enter Christian ministry, and can help counter arguments that women should never teach or lead men. So if you know any women in ministry, they may really enjoy this book.Webb's approach uses a "redemptive-movement hermeneutic", which examines how the commands given to the Old-Testament Israelites or New-Testament Christians were pointing forward to an ultimate ethic. Specifically, he looks at the topics of slavery, women's equality, and homosexuality. He concludes that the Bible was moving towards abolition of slavery, equality for women, and total prohibition of homosexuality. These conclusions are supported by looking at 18 different criteria which can be used to determine if a particular ethical teaching in the Bible is most likely trans-cultural (meant for all people at all times and places) or cultural (meant only for a specific people at a specific time and place). Yet even then, a trans-cultural principle may need to be applied in different cultures in different ways, and Webb has some interesting insights into how some of these trans-cultural principles may appear in our culture today.I really appreciated Webb's detailed and thorough approach to these issues. I have seen some of these 18 criteria used by various authors, but Webb looks at each criteria very closely and determines how useful each is when applied to the issues of slavery, women's equality, and homosexuality. He points out errors and logical problems that are often made when trying to use one of these criteria to justify a position on ethical issues. I found his reasoning to be very thorough, logical, careful, and convincing. Definitely one of the best books which shows how the Bible is still relevant to modern life and how to apply its teachings to contemporary society.

  • Paul Mullen
    2019-01-24 04:18

    I read this book because it seemed to show up on the reading lists of a lot of folks in their 20s and early 30s. I wanted to know what they were reading. The basic dilemma of the book is this: How should one decide which texts in the Bible provide culturally informed guidance for life, and which are transcendent and apply to all cultures at all times?Webb's argument is this: If you start with the premise that the key message of God is redemption, then one can look for a redemptive theme or movement, as he calls it, throughout the scriptures. He uses an X-->Y-->Z rubric to explain the idea that if the original cultural norm was X, and the scriptures seem to prescribe Y, then one could draw a philosophical vector from X through Y pointing to Z, which would be an ideal expression of the cultural norm. XYZIf slaves are badly treated in the original cultureAnd the Bible sets more humane limits on slaverythen the Bible must be pointing to an ultimate value that is very nearly anti-slaveryIf women were treated as property in the original culture, and the Bible provides a more honorable place for womenThen the scriptures are pointing to a place of near (or absolute) equality with women as the ultimate value.The book lays out this argument and then explores the questions of slavery (roughly a neutral issue these days), the role of women, and the acceptance of homosexuality as test cases for his hermaneutic (philosophy of interpretation).The last half of the book is an exploration of a number of criteria for determining of a certain passage is culturally relative or transcendent, each of which is founded on the overall premise of a redemptive movement hermaneutic.The book reads somewhat like a graduate school thesis -- organized, logical, supported, but not particularly artful. At some point, you'll probably find yourself understanding the rhythm of his argument and then begin to skim through the details.

  • Jelle de Jong
    2019-02-14 08:40

    Especially the first part of the book is thought provoking. After the first chapters he starts to apply his line of thinking to the questions of slavery, homosexuality and the place of women. In my opinion in the later chapters he goes to far to prove his point. He even made a list of good point, mediocre points and weak points. Which is an honost way of defending your hypothese, but doesn't make for nice reading. The further you go, the weaker the points get. No applauding big bang at the end, but just a squib.returnreturnHe states that we should read (some parts) of the bible as an indicator to figure out in which way we should head to make for a better understanding of the will of God. We shouldn't read the laws of the bible as static. He then gives several criteria how we can figure out in which way a given text is pointing and if we should or should not bring the application of the text any further. Should we give women the same place in the church as men, because the text gives the women a little bit better place in the church than in the surrounding world, or should we stick to the text because its statement is finalreturnThis goes much further than: "You should figure out what the writer intended to say with this text. And to do that you should figure out the context of the text." Which is the way I have learned to read the bible. In this 'context'-way of reading, you only try to understand what the underlying principle of the text is. You move up the abstraction ladder (to quote William Web). For example: the text about slavery should now be read as texts about employee and employer.returnWilliam Webb opposes this line of thinking. He says that God expresses Himself in ways so that his people may understand. Therefore there are several reasons why He doesn't always tell what it should be like in the end, the ultimate goal. William Webb explains what this reasons good be. returnI still think it is a bit far fetched at times, but given the bible and his laws as it is, I think Webb's way of reading it, is the best and easiest way to keep the bible intellectualy believable. At least for me.; G8 boek

  • Alex Stroshine
    2019-01-22 07:42

    William J. Webb has written the definitive book for egalitarian-oriented evangelicals who remain biblical and orthodox in their understanding of homosexuality as sin. The book is exhaustive, covering the issues of slavery, women and homosexuality and how Christians should engage with passages touching on them. Webb sees a crucial distinction between cultural (dependent upon historical context) and transcultural values in Scripture. He proposes a "redemptive-movement" hermeneutic that would maintain the "spirit" of the text but adapt it to contemporary understandings. He points out that many who hold to a "static" hermeneutic do not actually consistently adhere to or practice the hermeneutic (while women may be barred from preaching/teaching in certain denominations, virtually no denomination, egalitarian or complementarian, would demand women cover their heads). Other admonitions in the Bible have been abandoned (e.g. washing one another's feet, though Adventists still practice this, along with Saturday worship - another alteration by non-Adventist Christians).This is probably closer to a 4.5. My main criticism of Webb's book is that it is so exhaustive that it gets a little unwieldy and difficult to follow; while I appreciate Webb's engagement with the slavery texts and the relevance it has for hermeneutical discussion, it seems a little out-of-place compared to women and homosexuality (which at least have the commonality of being about gender and sexuality). Webb is winsomely gracious and irenic in his engagement with those on his "left" and those on his "right" - even going so far as to write a whole chapter entitled, "What If I Am Wrong?" and he celebrates the differences between the sexes rather than ignoring them (he refers to his preferred posture as a "complementary egalitarian). Webb engages with sociohistorical circumstances, theological considerations and scientific research in delivering his assessments. Highly recommended for Christians interested in and especially confused by hermeneutics and sexuality.

  • Gary Fields
    2019-01-23 05:37

    Confession, I only read parts of this book as it pertained to a class I was taking. Webb puts forth what he calls a "redemptive movement hermeneutic." It can be summarized in the XYZ model where:X = the culture at the time the Bible/book of the Bible was written in. Y = the actual text of the Bible. Z = the sense of morality that God wants man to achieve. This can be illustrated by the topic of slavery. Part of the mosaic law said that if man beat a slave to death the slave owner was to be punished. But if the slave survived the beating and was okay after a few days, then the slave owner is not to be punished. Looking back at this event from our point in history, we will say the text is barbaric. But Webb says we need to look at what God was doing at that moment in time. When we apply the XYZ model it looks like this:X - the culture at the time said slaves were no more than property and had no worth as humans. Y - the biblical Law says taking the life of a slave is wrong, thereby introducing to man the idea that slaves have worth, value, and dignity as humans. Z - ultimately, the Law and the rest of the Bible lead man to conclude that slavery is morally reprehensible. As far as critiquing this model. I absolutely love the X and the Y parts. I absolutely believe the Bible gives man a higher morality than he would normally hold to.The problem I have is with the Z part. Webb believes the "redeemed morality" God is pushing man to doesn't necessarily stop where the Bible stops. He seems to believe that we can go beyond what the Bible says. My issue with this is that we do not have the authority to do this. Where God speaks we speak, and where God is silent we are silent.

  • Greg
    2019-02-08 12:32

    This is a comprehensive book on the theology of civil rights. It posits that there is a Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic within scripture and that hermeneutic is applied to slavery (a neutral settled issue), feminism (a current debate within the church), and homosexuality (a current debate within the church).The Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic says that there is a contemporary culture of the text in question, Ancient Near Eastern culture for the Old Testament and Greco-Roman culture for the New Testament, that the Bible is a reaction to (for example biblical laws regarding slaves are more lenient than the dominant culture in both Old and New Testaments, therefore there is a Redemptive Movement towards abolition). In addition the current culture must also be taken into account (i.e., since universal suffrage is feature of contemporary culture is more moral, it therefore must be biblically sanctioned). Then end state of the Redemptive Movement is utopia.That final piece is what causes the most consternation with the book, because it is therefore arguing for a temporal messianism that is considered a heresy. The book demonstrates that there is Redemptive Movement for slavery and women's rights, but not for homosexuality, in fact going in exactly the opposite direction than the contemporary culture of scripture.The book is still worth reading even if you don't agree with it, because it is exactly the kind of well constructed argument for updating church doctrine for the 21st century: ordination of women, etc.

  • Winn
    2019-02-08 05:22

    I just can't bring myself to give 5 stars to a book on hermeneutics - I don't consider myself that much of a braniac (and I don't give 5 stars to too much anyway - 4 stars is pretty fabulous for me - and my wife Miska has issues with me on this already, so don't start...). Still, if we are comparing apples to apples, of all the like-genre books I've read (and there have been more than a few stemming back to college and seminary), this may be the most formative to date. I got bogged down a bit about midway through the list of 18 criteria he gives, but still...the overarching themes are provoking, thoughtful, hopeful.This book was sitting on my bedside table for quite a while; and I had the sense that it was going to be a pivotal read for me. It did not disappoint.I'd like to step away and think through a few of my questions. There are some places where I think Webb offered as fact a few opinions that felt more like, well, opinions. But on the whole, I thought he was fair and straightforward. I'm intrigued about how this hermeneutic might push one toward pacifism. I know that it helped me process current questions in multiple directions. And I like his descriptions, as much as I can like any such thing. I think I must be an "egalitarian complementarian" (or something awfully close).

  • Benjamin Merritt
    2019-02-15 07:40

    I think that Webb's redemptive movement hermeneutic is a helpful way forward. This is exactly the type of productive conversation the church needs to be having on these types of hot button issues. I can see how Webb is in an awkward position, being on the left of many Christians on women's issues, and to the right of many others on homosexuality. While I wrestled with some of his points, I thought for the most part it was well argued and that he approached the gay-issue with a great deal of compassion, despite his position.I would highly recommend this book but with a couple qualifiers: 1) I tried to read this with a group and it didn't work out so well. It is very tedious and repetitive at parts (I know - part of this is the nature of the topic), and made it hard to center coffee shop conversation around it.2) While I think his hermeneutical approach is helpful, the results of this type of analysis will always be provisional, material in need of further work. I found myself wanting to embrace his general hermeneutic (some criteria are more helpful than others), but also work through the process myself. 3.5 Stars

  • David Blankenship
    2019-01-28 06:17

    This book is about how to apply cultural analysis to a redemptive-movement hermeneutic (interpretation) of Scripture. It is not for the faint of heart, and there will be something in here to annoy everybody. Practically, it seeks how to answer how Christianity can be restrictive in denying a blessing on the acceptance of homosexuality, while at the same time moving beyond the cultural setting of Scripture to stand against slavery (completely) and firm patriarchy (at least in part), and towards freedom and civil rights for all and towards at least an 'ultra-soft patriarchy' or (more likely) a form of complementary egalitarianism. Again, this is not easy reading, and I wish that something that had been done to format this better. I would like to think I'm a competent Biblical interpreter and I still had problems at times figuring out where the author was going. There are other times in which I believe the author had his interpretation figured out and then built his case around it, and other times arguments he deemed certain arguments 'persuasive' or not on grounds that were a bit subjective, but generally I do believe he was on the right track.

  • Brett
    2019-01-21 08:46

    In this profound work, Webb raises the essential question of biblical studies: how do we apply the text? Application, as it were, is often a matter of understanding culture, both of the original audience and of the modern reader. Through a series of 18 criteria (e.g. preliminary movement, seed ideas, and breakouts), Webb constructs a “hermeneutic of cultural analysis” – a method for understanding the place and influence of culture in the original text. Often times, these criteria point to the transcultural nature of a text (e.g. those texts regarding homosexuality); other times, however, this process indicates a redemptive movement in the text relative to the original culture (e.g. those texts regarding slavery and women). This redemptive movement, Webb argues, asks the reader to identify the “ultimate ethic,” which moves beyond the culturally situated words of certain texts. Whatever one’s position on these issues, Webb offers an engaging and important contribution to the hermeneutics of culture. A

  • Joel Wentz
    2019-02-12 11:34

    This book is far and away the most balanced perspective I have read regarding the contentious issues of homosexuality and women's leadership in the church, and I have read quite a few. Webb still draws some hard lines and does come to firm conclusions, but he gives EVERY other perspective a fair look, including major reformed thinkers (Piper, Grudem) and the socially liberal views on Christian sexual ethics. His explanation of the "redemptive-movement" hermeneutic is fantastic, and no matter where you currently land on these issues, it will challenge the way you read the scriptures that support your particular stance. The only reason this book didn't give five stars from me is because it can be dry and dense at times. However, if you enjoy a cultural hermeneutic approach to scripture, you will eat this up. If you don't typically think through a cultural lens when reading scripture, then I cannot recommend this highly enough, as it will stretch your thinking into new areas.

  • Weston Durrwachter
    2019-01-19 12:27

    What are modern Christians supposed to think about the obscure and seemingly outdated passages in Scripture concerning slaves, women and homosexuals? In this book, Webb discusses the hermeneutical challenges and difficulties concerning slaves, women and homosexuals and advises modern readers to adopt a "redemptive-movement hermeneutic" rather than a "static" hermeneutic. Webb's thoughts and conclusions are quite interesting and persuasive and this book deserves careful analysis. Whether or not one agrees with Webb's conclusions, I think all readers will acknowledge that this is a monumental and thought-provoking contribution to the field of biblical interpretation. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 simply because it was a very challenging book to read and not very accessible to a general audience. Otherwise, I thought this was a fantastic book.

  • Jeni
    2019-01-28 11:22

    I found this to be an excellent, thought-provoking look at how to apply ancient Scriptures to our modern culture. Rather than be one man's opinion on the three topics in the title, it is rather a look at 18 criteria that help the reader to determine whether a passage is meant to be set in the culture it was written, or if it is "trans-cultural," meaning that the principle was "universal" in scope and just as relevant today as when it was written. It was a very interesting read, although somewhat scholarly and text-book-y (which is to be expected). I found the author to be very good at relating complex concepts, and although I don't have a degree in theology, I could still follow his reasoning and explanations.

  • leighcia
    2019-01-21 11:26

    Through the examination of three controversial issues in the church historically and/or currently, Webb provides a framework for “the hermeneutics involved in distinguishing that which is merely cultural in Scripture from that which is timeless." He presents a set of 18 or so criteria that can help us determine how scripture texts apply to our current context. He explains each of the criteria and then assesses the three controversial issues in his title in light of those criteria. While his final conclusions on the three controversial issues are important, the book is most valuable for providing anyone with a framework of distinguishing what is cultural and what is transcendent in scripture.

  • Doutor Branco
    2019-01-21 12:33

    This book is one of the first records I read, perhaps the only one that deal with the texts related to the subject of slavery, women and homosexuals in the way it does. The writer shows a huge courage and an amazing capability to interpret some very difficult texts without isolating the text in a particular time, but he faces the challenge with a magistral way to bring it to our present time without loosening his firm hermeneutical position, but also with love, understanding and so on. I enjoyed a lot this book, I will practice it with my seminary students and I highly recommend the reading! It is really a good stuff.