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.
No Christians today follow the face-value meanings of biblical statements about corporal disciplinary punishment but instead, Webb argues, have gone beyond what the Bible says. This chp provides a biblical argument for “going beyond” the Bible when it comes to corporal punishment. In other words, it proposes a redemptive movement reading of how Christians can live out the spirit of the biblical teachings.
Do you think Webb’s three points below provide an adequate rationale for going “beyond” the plain senses of the Bible about corporal punishment? Why do you think even pro-spankers transcend what the Bible says?
First, it provides a biblical basis in the redemptive movement readings of the teachings in their historical contexts. That is, when we see what the Bible commands Israelites to do over against what other cultures were doing, we see the spirit of redemptive change at work.
Examples: the ancient Egyptians limited corporal punishment to two hundred blows but most punishments were 100 blows. The ancient Babylonians limited the same to 60 blows; the ancient Assyrian laws limited it to five to 100 blows; but ancient Israel limited it to 40 blows. Webb sees here a softening in the direction of redemption. Then this:
The biblical text moves the covenant people of God toward a kinder and gentler administration of justice and toward a greater dignity for the human being who is punished — this is the spirit of the Bible as it is read within its larger social framework (84).
This illustrates both the redemptive movement and how the pro-spankers have “applied” the Bible today. Though they may not like the redemptive movement, what they have already done illustrates the redemptive movement.There is really no other way to comprehend how pro-spankers have “applied” the Bible to corporal punishment today other than to say they have used some kinds of reasons that lead them to go beyond the Bible.
The second biblical reason Webb gives is called “abstracted meaning.” Good abstracted meaning is to find underlying principles at work already in the text. Bad abstracted meaning, according to Webb: finding principles for anger management in the Joseph story for that is not at all involved in the text. He illustrates: he gives his son a broom and says sweeps the garage, only to return an hour later to discover a spotless garage. Instead of “sweeping” (the words) he inferred to the abstracted meaning (clean the garage) and, instead of using the broom, got the shopvac and really cleaned it up. He saw underlying the words the deep idea and then acted on the deep idea.
Then he provides a kind of ladder of abstraction for Prov 31:6-7 which says “give beer and wine to those perishing, in anguish or in poverty.”
Level one: do exactly the literal thing, nothing less and nothing more.
Level two: use any alcoholic drinks.
Level three: provide relief those in physical, emotional, financial pain
Level four: love people in physical, emotional, financial pain
Level five: love people in pain
Level six: love people
Pro-spankers, Webb argues, are doing this sort of thing at times.
His third reason why we can go beyond the Bible on corporal punishment: purpose meaning. The aim of corporal punishment of children/foolish folks in the Bible is to turn from folly and to help them embrace wisdom. The “end” does not always justify the “means.” This approach focuses on using the appropriate means to achieve these divine ends. As this criterion does not justify the use of torture (which might work in some cases) nor does it justify abandoning any trace of corporal punishment. If we are able to accomplish the divine goals of no folly and wisdom, then abandoning the rod could be biblically justified.
Webb thinks the primary reason for the pro-spankers abandoning the specifics of the Bible on corporal punishment has to do with kinder and gentler and more sane treatment of children (92). He queries how the pro-Dobson folks can justify being biblical in these matters when they are not following the Bible strictly. Webb both celebrates what they are doing and provides a biblical rationale for what they are doing.