About This Blog

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate" (Benjamin Reaoch)

TITLE: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic
AUTHOR: Benjamin Reaoch
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012, (224 pages).

Does the Bible prove the total abolition of slavery? Is the hierarchy of male over female gender still applicable today? Does the Bible support egalitarianism? According to William Webb's Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic, hierarchy and slavery will be abolished eventually. Likewise, an ultimate ethic also points to a total egalitarian structure.

This book is a direct response to William Webb's book with the title reminiscent of Webb's innovative work on Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutics (RMH). Called a "complementarian response to the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic," it provides a robust rebuttal at Webb's theory of RMH.

Key to Reaoch's rejection of RMH is to delink the issue of slavery from the gender issues in the Bible. In other words, Webb has "overemphasized the similarities" of the two issues, which as a result casts doubts on the hermeneutical reach of RMH into other controversial topics in the Bible. Reaoch argues that the New Testament does not condemn slavery or command all masters to release their slaves. It is also wrong to insert an "ultimate ethic" into the Bible, and justify a total release of all slaves.  This, together with several other moves by RMH to "move beyond the biblical instructions" are deemed "unwarranted." Reaoch does this by using two criteria. For RMH to be viable, it must be both "hermeneutically persuasive" and "exegetically faithful." Before applying his examination, he lists some proponents of RMH. Krister Stendahl argues for a trajectory toward total freedom of slavery on the basis of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:11-12. R. T. France argues that since there is a slow process toward total abolition of slavery, there is a similar egalitarian movement, that leads to an ultimate purpose in Christ. Along with Richard Longenecker, David Thompson, Kevin Giles, I. Howard Marshall and finally William Webb, these scholars turn specific instructions to a general principle of an ultimate ethic, connect slavery with gender matters, tie together racism and slavery to bring about their redemptive trajectory that leads to an ultimate ethic.

Reaoch then goes on an exegetical study to verify the findings of these scholars. First, he deals with all the scriptural references on slavery, working through five key New Testament passages; namely, Ephesians 6:5–8, Colossians 3:22–4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1, Titus 2:9–10, and 1 Peter 2:18–25. He asserts that the New Testament neither condemns nor commends slavery, just like how the Bible does not condemn nor commend patriarchy. On the issue of women, Reaoch also draws a parallel to his earlier work on slavery, and highlights five passages; namely, Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Tim. 2:9–15; 1 Cor. 11:2–16; 1 Cor. 14:33b-35. Key to Reaoch's method is a distinction between "ground clauses" and "purposes clauses" pertaining to each imperative. In terms of the latter, there are marked similarities of the link between biblical teachings on slavery and women. However, on the former, the similarities disappear. Simply put, "ground clauses" are what the texts say. "Purpose clauses" are what the texts point toward. RMH proponents  say the revelation of scripture moves forward toward an ultimate ethic. Reaoch argues against it, questioning why then Paul moves backward to the creation narrative when talking about the authority of man over the woman. Moreover, there are far too many differences in "ground clauses" between the slavery passages and the women passages, that the best interpretation is not to lump the two issues together. If that is true, RMH will be undermined.

At the hermeutical section, Reaoch takes issue with eight of Webb's 18 criteria. He questions Webb's "theological analogies" that the passages chosen (Ephesians 5 and 1 Cor 11) by Webb are not to be interpret as analogies for something else, but they reflect the very nature of God Himself. Pivotal to Reaoch's argument is the frequent backward references to the creation mandate by the apostle Paul. Another issue is whether redemption "trumps" creation, which is a vital point when arguing for an "ultimate ethic."  Reaoch ends with a passionate plea for readers to have a clear understanding of what biblical manhood and womanhood means. We cannot allow culture to dictate our interpretation of biblical literature, nor let postmodernism defines our faith. The author acknowledges that issues of gender and slavery remain formidable issues, but the resolution of them require both hermeneutical persuasiveness AND exegetical faithfulness.

My Thoughts

I must commend Reaoch for a job well done. The work is indeed faithful to the exegesis of the biblical texts and a careful hermeneutical application of the word. The author puts his heart and soul into the book by claiming that his heart is to teach, to preach, and to lead with conviction that is based on an accurate study of the biblical texts. He even reviews the four recent views (Walter Kaiser, Daniel Doriani, Kevin Vanhoozer, and William Webb) with regards to theological movement beyond the Bible, reserving his heaviest artillery for Webb. In conclusion, Reaoch commends the hermeneutical "intention" of Webb, but strongly disputes the exegetical part of Webb's work.

I see the merits of Reaoch's work, but questions the intensity of his disagreement with Webb. Sometimes, I feel that Reaoch may have overstretched himself in the critique of Webb's RMH. There are merits to RMH as it is one of the most innovative hermeneutical methods offered for the evangelical world so far. It has reinvigorated biblical hermeneutics and the need for creative interpretation. Reaoch, while he does a good job in taking apart Webb's RMH proposal, he offers more of a critique rather than a counter-proposal. It is one thing to tear down someone else's ideas. It is yet another to offer a constructive alternative, of a similar magnitude as RMH. That said, the field of hermeneutics is a dynamic field. Both Reaoch and Webb have enriched the biblical studies pertaining to the difficult issues of slavery, women, and the gender issue. Readers have more to gain by learning about RMH and its controversies. It enlarges our hermeneutical debates, and strengthens our exegetical skills. Maybe, if Webb can be offered a platform to respond to Reaoch, we will get the best of hermeneutical persuasion and the best of exegetical faithfulness. Even better, both Reaoch and Webb should write a book together.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by P & R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment