Book Plunge: Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals

What do I think of William Webb’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of us like to think of the Bible as the moral guidebook. Now to be sure, there are a lot of good moral lessons in the Bible. Hardly anyone would contend that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a bad idea, but there are some ideas that we just don’t do today. There are some matters explicitly commanded that we don’t do today. There are some commands that we think are even not good for us to do today. How do we differentiate?

William Webb’s book is an excellent reference on this looking at three issues as examples. First is slavery, which is pretty much agreed to that we do not practice. Next is women, and this is an area of some debate as there are complementarians and egalitarians. Finally there’s homosexuality as most evangelicals today still condemn homosexual practice, although that number is starting to change.

So what are we to do? Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but he also told us to wash one another’s feet. We are told in Exodus that we should not murder, but we are also told that we are to keep the Sabbath. Is this just random arbitrariness that is deciding what we do and do not follow?

Naturally, I can’t tell everything Webb says, but his book is a joy to read on this. Webb lays out eighteen different criteria on various themes. He also has what he calls a redemptive hermeneutic. This means that as the story of the Bible progresses, you start to see change. For instance, slavery (While never like Civil War slavery) was a staple at the time and could be called a necessary evil, much like God allowed divorce for the hardness of the peoples’ hearts. They weren’t ready for the advanced lessons yet. Still, even with slavery, the seeds of its destruction were planted early on.

One example is the case of the runaway slave. If a slave ran away from his master, he was supposed to be given safety. He was not to be returned to his master. As we go through the story of the Bible, we see this progressing further with more and more freedom until we get to a book like Philemon where it’s implied in a burning epistle (And yes, Paul is calling out Philemon incredibly in this epistle) that Philemon is to set Onesimus free.

How about women? Women do seem to get a low regard in the Old Testament where they can often be seen as property, but again, the change is right there. You have dynamic women like Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Huldah, and Esther showing up in the text. When you move to the New Testament, you see more women like the witnesses to the empty tomb who first saw Jesus, Junia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, and others.

Now this is one part where I wasn’t as forward as Webb is. I am still more of a complementarian, but I think Webb would likely not have much of a problem with my own style since I think that if a man is the king of his castle, his wife gets treated like a queen.

Finally, you have homosexuals. In the Old Testament, the charges are pretty strict. Leviticus I think is a very clear statement. So is this changed in the New Testament? No. Paul in Romans 1 argues that homosexual practice is a shaming practice that is a horizontal example of what has already happened vertically.

What does this tell us? Some practices move forward redemptively and so we are justified in our lifestyles in moving along that route. The Bible has set the standard for us in itself. Some are more negative, so we ought not switch them because the Bible is consistent throughout with how it deals with them.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into a lot of detail, but this is a book that’s a joy to read to see how the author weaves his way through the texts and deals ¬†with challenges to his position. There’s also a section at the end in humility where Webb answers “What if I’m wrong?” This mainly centers on issues involving 1 Tim. 2 and the section dealing with women there.

I think this book is an excellent read. There are issues on hermeneutics that are extremely necessary. If internet atheists would interact with a book like this, perhaps many of our debates could be better. Perhaps they could be even better still if more Christians interacted with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters