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Published Date: January 18, 2009

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Published Date: January 18, 2009

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Slaves, Women & Homosexuals

“Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” by William J Webb

This book starts out with the question: Which of these instructions from Scripture are still in force for us today exactly as they are articulated “on the page”?

Webb then lists several Scripture passages. Here is a short sample of them:

• Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5)
• Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period (Lev 18:19)
• Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman (Lev 18:22)
• Go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19)
• Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Mt 5:42)
• Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh (1 Pet 2:18)
• Do not take interest of any kind from your countryman (Lev 25:36)
• Is any sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord

The purpose of this exercise is to help the reader understand the difficulty of understanding which biblical verses are cultural and which are transcultural.

In this book Webb confront three topics, that of slavery, women, and homosexuality and asks which aspects of the Scripture passages on each are dealing with a cultural situation and which are transcultural.

He goes through the difficult Scripture on slavery and women and comes to the conclusion that there is movement in the passages on these subjects. The movement he is referring to is in contrast to the surrounding culture of the time. Many of the passages on slaves and women modify the harsh conditions that both slaves and women lived under. So while they appear to support slavery and the subordination of women, there is movement towards liberation for both slaves and women within them. On the other hand, he states there is no movement on the restriction of homosexuality. In the surrounding culture of the time in some places homosexuality was accepted, and in other places it had mixed acceptance. But Scripture doesn’t accept it at all. This is in contrast to the surrounding culture. Therefore there is no movement towards acceptance of homosexual activity.

His point is that when we try to assess which parts of Scripture are cultural and which are transcultural we need to see whether there is any movement in Scripture. We do see movement on the issue of slaves and women; therefore we should view these verses in a cultural context. We do not see movement on the issue of restriction of homosexuality; therefore we should see these verses as transcultural.

Webb believes slavery is morally wrong and supports the egalitarian view of Scripture in regard to women. However, he believes that homosexuality is biblically wrong.   His understanding of movement in Scripture is what underlies his opinions.

I enjoyed this book and it helped answer a lot of questions for me. I must say that I found it a little on the difficult side to read. I had to read it in parts. But for those like me, who struggle with what is cultural within the biblical text and with what is transcultural this is an excellent resource.