In January I noted that “I find it surprising, and even disturbing, that so many top evangelical NT scholars praise Webb’s problematic approach.” I was therefore pleased to come across D. A. Carson’s critical evaluation of Webb’s redemptive movement hermeneutic, particularly as it relates to slavery. Carson’s view of the NT situation, his exegesis of Philemon, and the Christian abolition movement coheres with the research that I’ve done in these areas. I think he’s spot on, and commend his comments.
Resources I’ve found helpful in researching Philemon and slavery:
Barth, Markus and Helmut Blanke, The Letter to Philemon, Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. Eerdmans, 2000.
Bercott, David. W. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.
Finley, M. I. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. Penguin, 1980.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Letter to Philemon. Anchor Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman. Doubleday, 2000.
Harris, Murray J. Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. InterVarsity, 1999.
Lohse, Eduard. Colossians and Philemon. Hermeneia. Ed. Helmut Koester. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971.
Noll, Mark A. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians, Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary. Ed. David A. Hubbard and Ralph P. Martin. [Waco, TX]: Word, 1982.
NB: Several of the above works are modernist rather than orthodox in their approach to Scripture.
Rich Roper says
I haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I’ve read the first couple chapters and the conclusion which seems to do a good job of describing Webb’s approach. His assertion is that if he can find and “trajectory” of God’s position on some moral issue, like women (which is what this book is really about), he can then extrapolate what God’s position on this issue should be now — even though there is no current revelation. Having found this new position that he believes God has at this point, he is free to teach it as fact. He starts with Old Testament positions, then finds the New Testament position he wants to use, draws a line from one through the other to the present day and reveals what God really meant for us to do now. Yes, this is overly simplistic, but it is the bottom line of his new hermeneutic. The use of Slaves on one side of the argument and Homosexuals at the other end seems strategic. Since most Christians agree that slavery is “wrong” he gains the reader’s confidence my reasserting that position with his new hermeneutic. At the other end, many Christians are very nervous about any approach that might be used to validate homosexual behavior, so he uses his hermeneutic to show that Homosexuality is still “wrong” even now (though his assurance about the future is a little slim). Many readers will be relieved to see this position. Now, having demonstrated that his hermeneutic works out for those difficult issues, the author is free to tell us that the correct approach to the issue of women is “ultra-soft patriarchy or further to an egalitarian position.” Repeatedly he tells us that he prefers the totally egalitarian approach and implies that while we might settle for the “ultra-soft patriarchy” now, we should look toward egalitarianism in the near future. Aside from his tactic in presenting this issue, one must wonder how we can reliably project God’s will to today or even the future. Who decides what the “trajectory” looks like? Is there any evidence in scripture that man is authorized to determine what God meant for man to do, but didn’t actually say in his revelation? I may be wrong, but this kind of questionable conclusion may be easier to draw when one decides early on that “Extrascriptural Criteria” have the same weight as “intrascriptural” criteria. By the way, his approach entails the use of 18 criteria to determine if a particular passage is “transcultural” and therefore should not be disregarded as cultural passages are. Must we really ask the average Christian to wade through 18 different criteria using a number of mental maneuvers to find the answer to the question, “What does God want in regard to…?” It seems an unreasonable expectation of average people who just want to follow God. …and no, I don’t think they should just trust the “scholars” who may be more driven by the need to publish than a desire to know God and teach his word.