Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book Review of Corporal Punishment in the Bible by William Webb

By William J. Webb

ISBN 978-0-8308-2761-9

Intervarsity Press

Reviewed by Clint Walker


I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home. Every so often there would be classes, discussions, or seminars about child care. In these services, for instance the Sunday evening service, there would be discussions about discipline, usually from Proverbs. These discussions would always initiate a dialogue about how parents needed to beat their children more if they truly loved them. I knew within the next week that I was going to get a vigorous spanking. I hated those sermons.


William Webb, in his well-written book CorporalPunishment in the Bible, argues via a Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic that God in Scripture meets people where they are at, and moves them by his grace toward a new place as his will is progressively communicated. In his previous book, William Webb tests this method of interpretation out in a book called Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. In that book, he argued that the trajectory of the Bible leans in favor of equality for women, against slavery, and that the method applies less to homosexuality. In this book, Webb argues that the trajectory of Scripture may begin in a violent place, but moves toward non-violence. This is especially true, argues Webb, when it comes to using physical violence as a form of discipline with children.


Being a person that leans toward non-violent living as a part of my witness and discipleship as a Christian, I have sympathy with Webb’s arguments. However, I do not think his arguments hold enough weight to cancel out both my experience and the experience of many others regarding the importance and efficacy of corporal punishment. I think very strict boundaries need to be used with the use of physical force as a form of discipline with children, however, I don’t have a problem with this form of discipline being a rarely used form of discipline in a parent’s toolbox. A parent should not use it often, should not leave bruises or marks, but occasionally a good swat on the hind end is just what a child needs. I agree with the Proverbs on this I guess, and there is scant discussion of parenting as a whole in the New Testament.


Nevertheless, Webb makes a fine argument. It is an argument I will consider and respect, even if, at this point, I do not agree with and follow. A great read for anyone who is interested either in the topic of corporal punishment, or the method of a Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic.



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