Book Reviews,  Theology/Bible

A Biblical Case against Spanking?

WebbI just received InterVarsity’s Fall 2011 catalog and noted that William Webb has a new book coming out: Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts. Many of you will remember Webb as the author of the egalitarian book Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals, in which Webb argued for an ethic on the women’s issue that goes beyond the ethic of the New Testament. In that book, Webb argued that “redemptive-movement” often brings readers to an ethical position superior to the one found in the Bible. So even though Paul clearly argues for male headship in a variety of texts, redemptive-movement indicates that there is a better ethic for contemporary readers—namely, egalitarianism.

In this latest book, Webb applies this hermeneutic to spanking and finds that spanking shouldn’t be done. The catalog describes it this way:

“William J. Webb defuses misguided readings of biblical passages that call for the corporal punishment of children, slaves and wrongdoers. Setting these passages in their ancient cultural context, Webb reaffirms the importance of reading Scripture with God’s redemptive movement in mind.”

Readers will recognize many of those who offer endorsements of the book: Dan Block, Darrell Bock, Mark Strauss, William Heth, Robert Chisholm, Christopher Wright, Mart De Haan, and Scot McKnight. Here’s a quick sampling of what they say:

Scot McKnight: “Every parent and every pastor, in that order, needs to read this book before either lifts a hand or teaches others to lift a hand. I pray this book will flourish.”

William Heth: “This book is about exercising parental discipline biblically by, paradoxically, disobeying the concrete specific instructions in the Bible (in seven ways!) that speak to this subject. Contemporary pro-spankers have, indeed, already done this but do not adequately justify how they could abandon an ‘on the page’ grammatical-historical exegesis of the corporal punishment texts to get there.”

The table of contents indicates that there is an appendix that takes on Andreas Köstenberger’s argument in favor of corporal punishment from his book God, Marriage & Family. Here are the contents:

Foreword by I. Howard Marshall
Introduction: A Troubled Christian Soul
Part I: Troubling Texts
1 Seven Ways Pro-Spankers Go Beyond the Bible
Part II: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic
2 The Slavery Texts: A Redemptive-Movement Model
3 The Rod and Whip Texts: A Biblical Basis for Going Beyond
Part III: Lingering Questions
4 What About Adult Corporal Punishment?
5 What About Using Only Noncorporal Methods for Children?
Conclusion: Dare to Read the Bible Differently
Postscript: An Unplanned Parenting Journey
Appendix: A Response to Andreas Köstenberger

We will be keeping our eye out for the appearance of this book. It is set to release in September, and it’s available for pre-order now from


  • Chris

    Wisdom is justified by all her children/deeds. Therefore, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

  • Donald Johnson

    Thanks for the tip, it is on my wish list.

    P.S. I do not agree with Denny’s summary of the Slaves book. People need to read it for themselves. My summary is as follows: Slaves are emancipated now, but how does one get to that belief based on the Bible? This is a very good question, as Grant and Sherman were not theologians. Webb tries to systematize the “that was then, this is now” types of arguments and does a service even if one does not agree with all of his ideas (I do not).

    Webb then uses his methods on homosexuality and women Bible texts, finding no movement in the first area and finding movement in the second.

    The idea that a faithful believer might need to go beyond the written text is an area fraught with concern, but that is what ALL believers do when they try to apply the Bible’s ideas today after trying to exegete the original meaning, since we live in a radically different culture than when any of the Bible’s books was written. Given that one MUST make such application, one at least should want as much help as possible to do it faithfully and Webb’s Slaves book can help in this, even when you disagree with it.

  • Daniel

    I thought that it was interesting to see that Dr. Block endorsed both Webb’s book and Köstenberger’s book.

  • Richard Lucas

    Webb summarizes his argument on Spanking/Corporal Punishment in his chapter in “Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology” (2009), pp. 228-40.

    He even produces a helpful chart on page 232 where he lays out “six significant ways that pro-spanking advocates such as (Andreas) Kostenberger, (Albert) Mohler, and (Paul) Wegner today have ‘abandoned’ what Scripture teaches, either explicitly or implicitly, about corporal punishment.”

    I hope that those he critiques, especially Kostenberger since he seems to single him out in the Appendix, would respond in due time.

  • Dave

    I was a student of Dr. Webb and unfortunately he flogged his redemptive movement hermeneutic by means of polemic attacking authors who held differing views with his own. Plus he caricatured his opponents.

  • Chris

    Dave, Professors have the right to do all that, in fact they should. But this just makes it all the more important for schools to select the right teaches.

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