19 Jun

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/19/01

In his book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, professor William J. Webb explores the differences between the Church's historical stances on slavery, the subjugation of women, and homosexual practices.

Debate about the Church's historic stance on homosexuality has intensified with the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. Many who celebrate his consecration and welcome a change in the Church's teaching on homosexuality refer to the Church's refined positions on slavery and the subjugation of women to buoy their arguments for change. These two cultural phenomenon were renounced by the Church in subsequent cultural settings, they point out, and such should be the case with the restriction of homosexual practices; today's Church ought to lift those restrictions. William J. Webb, professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary, counters this assertion, however, cautioning that these three issues ought not be conflated. In his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (InterVarsity Press, 2001), Webb demonstrates that the Church's restriction of homosexual practices acknowledges that the Bible's stance on homosexuality is a "transcultural" stance, unlike its stances on slavery and the role of women in society which are "culture-bound." His demonstration uses the criteria he recommends Christians enlist to determine which components of biblical text should apply today and which should not.

Since it is important that Christians live out the redemptive spirit of Scripture, they must be able to discern which values in Scripture are "kingdom values" (those that transcend culture and time) and which are "culture values" (those specific to a particular time and place). To assist his readers in this task, Webb uses the early chapters of Slaves, Women & Homosexuals to introduce a Redemptive-Movement framework for reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. In his later chapters he uses the circumstances of slaves, women, and homosexuals in biblical times to develop the criteria of the framework. The book is divided into three sections, titled: "Toward a Hermeneutic of Cultural Analysis"; "Intrascriptural Criteria"; and "Extrascriptural Criteria."[Posted November 2003, ALG]