William Webb, in his newest book, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts, examines what might be called the traditional view of spanking among evangelical Christians. He calls it the “two smacks max” or “two spanks max” method.
I want for readers today to see what Webb means by the Redemptive movement hermeneutic, and this chart of his is the one he uses in his books to illustrate what he is getting at. X is the culture out of which, in which, with which and over against which the Bible speaks. But the big point Webb makes is that there is an ongoing response in the Bible over against its various cultures, and he sees a notable redemptive movement in those responses, and the movement is headed toward Z as the Bible unfolds, the ultimate ethical application (of what the Bible indicates). That ethical application is already seen in the spirit (and words) of the Bible’s own ethical statements. Some Bible readers have a forward posture of movement from where we are to where we are headed, while others he contends adopt a more regressive — looking back — posture.
What is your response to this redemptive movement hermeneutic?
Here’s his big thesis: “We do not want to stay with the static or frozen-in-time ethic reflected in the concrete-specific instructions of the Bible, rather Christians need to embrace the redemptive spirit of the text and journey toward an ultimate ethical application of that spirit” (62). And then this, and if you get this you get the whole: “Movement is (crucial) meaning.”
Both Bill Webb’s supporters and critics know that this approach to the Bible is profoundly significant for how we both understand and apply the Bible. So, Webb is asking in this book how this way of Bible reading understands both what the Bible says about corporal punishment and how we should “apply” that today. It is my contention that the church has always used an approach more or less like Webb’s redemptive movement hermeneutic. Though some will say “stop here” (which means they want no “redemptive movement” on a given topic), in one way or another most ethical postures of any major significance (take war as an example) will show Christians who have used some of this hermeneutic. What is instructive for corporal punishment is that Webb observes that the pro-spanking (“two smacks max”) approach already has some redemptive movement. For them to criticize this method, then, undercuts their own approach. Folks, the issue here is not “if” but “how much.” It’s that simple. It’s not “yes” or “no” but “how much?”.
Webb’s control model is what the Bible says about slavery. Take, for example, the biblical regulation that prohibited a slave owner’s master from beating his slave in such a manner that the slave could not get up after two days of suffering. Exodus 21:20-21. But this (Y) must be read over against that culture (X) wherein slaves could be beaten to death, and thus it is a redemptive prohibition in that world, though not final, because even that prohibition is on its way toward Z.
He gives other examples on slaves, leading to the clear view that the Bible — at the surface level says things Christians today don’t do and won’t do and are seen as wrong — but when seen at the spirit and redemptive level they indicate the direction of how God wants God’s people ultimately to live. And then you get to Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11 where there is “neither slave nor free” and you see the redemptive design of God.
That design is abolition. Anyone disagree with that? If you do, then how did we get from the slavery texts to abolition? Webb’s contention is that we have (all) used a redemptive movement hermeneutic to get there.
Yes, the Bible has less-than-ultimate rules and regulations, it does not achieve that abolition, but it sets the trajectory for that ultimate ethical application. Webb gives two pages of texts where the Bible (Y), when read over against culture (X), is moving toward Z.
Webb finally observes this is not new: we find it in the Civil War days.