I don’t move in circles that discuss corporal punishment much, whether the discussion is about the home or in society. So I would like to know what you believe about corporal punishment in society as a result of breaking laws. And the major question here that we want to address is How do we make such decisions? And that means What role does the Bible play in such a decision? Which leads us to…
William Webb, adjunct at Tyndale Seminary in Canada, Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts, takes this angle: if you want to be “biblical” (in a traditional sense), then corporal punishment for crime is taught in the Bible. In fact, what we find there might surprise us. So, how do we approach such texts when we consider punishment for crime?
Webb is pressing here: if we say we want to establish our practices on the basis of the Bible, do we do all three? And, if not (and none do), then how do we know which forms of punishment not to do? And if we surrender mutilation, are we aware of what steps we are taking to do such things?
So he sketches his view one more time, a view called the redemptive movement hermeneutic.
The Bible has one mutilation text, and it’s found in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, and here is the text for you to read:
11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.
Webb’s conclusions on what this text means is that a woman, in defense, has destroyed the capacity for another man to procreate so her hand is cut off. Now to his further points.
1. Mutilation was common in the Ancient Near East (ANE), and the surrounding cultures have many crimes punishable by mutiliation — e.g., cutting off nose, cutting off ears, cutting off hands, etc.
2. There is but one instance of mutilation in the Old Testament.
3. The OT therefore reflects a redemptive movement, a movement away from a cultural shaping of laws toward a more complete form of punishment.
4. The OT laws show incredible restraint; they also show a better alternative than the ANE approaches in this one instance (the alternatives were cutting off both breasts and cutting out both eyes.
5. This movement is incremental when it comes to mapping a redemptive movement when it comes to punishment.
The obvious questions are clear: Do you want to return to the “biblical” practice? Or, do you agree with Webb that we have to move “beyond” the Bible to a more redemptive form of punishment? Which always leads to this: Why? And this: What does this do to our view of how the Bible exercises its authority today?