Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts by William Webb

This is probably one of the most fascinating books I have read in a while. The topic of corporal punishment is a big one with both the pro & anti smacking lobby’s pretty much entrenched in their positions. Webb seemingly takes on the pro smacking group in a very aggressive way at the beginning of the book. His argument is that while the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks proponents are trying to uphold discipline without abusing the child, their claim that their position is biblical is false. Webb spends the first chapter showing that the biblical position of corporal punishment bears NO resemblance to the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks approach. In fact, to hold a biblical position would require far more violence with no age restriction, striking on the back and sides with the intention of marking.

For a brief moment you actually think Webb may endorse such an approach. But he does not. His point is that he AGREES with the two-smack proponents, but that they should not claim that they follow scripture. On the contrary, to hold the biblical position is to NOT do what the scriptures literally say!! Webb’s approach is called the redemptive movement approach. He argues that to understand scripture you need to know it’s historical & cultural context. In other words, when you realize the uncontrolled violence which was allowed and often practiced then the biblical directives become redemptive as they seek to place boundaries in a culture without boundaries. Webb writes: “The forty lashes of Deut 25:1-3 must be understood against it’s ancient social context, which included beatings of up to 200 lashes or strokes, open wounds, bodily mutilations and other forms of torture.” So the two-smack proponents are, in Webb’s opinion RIGHT not in a literal, biblical way, but in a redemptive movement way, showing grace and more restraint / and kindness in their discipline methods.

This is a fascinating argument and well worth wrestling with. I really like Webb’s other work, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals which uses this approach. Webb is easy to read with a compelling argument.

Highly recommended.


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