CHRISTIANITY TODAY takes a stand on spanking issue

It surprised me!  The editorial board of Christianity Today published their stand/position on the spanking issue.  In brief, their position is as follows:  Christians should adopt a “noncorporal discipline” approach to parenting as a favorable way to train children (and we all ought to rethink spanking especially in view of potential for abuse).  See .

Now some Christians will lament this CT position because they are stuck in a relationship to Scripture that tries to live out the concrete specificity of the Bible rather than rooting their ethics/hermeneutics in its principles and its redemptive spirit.  I understand and appreciate their lament.  It took me many years to figure out that the functional aspect of the Bible is far weightier (in terms of what it really means to be “biblical”) than its form.  And, it took a decade beyond that to come to realize that the particular forms in Scripture often represent incremental steps towards an ultimate ethic and do not always present an ethic that has been fully realized.  So, being “biblical” at times means rethinking the way we do things in order that God’s Spirit in conjunction with the underlying/redemptive spirit of the text (not its time-locked, ancient-world forms) can take us to an application of the Bible that is yet even “more biblical” and thus enjoys a greater or even wider, ear-to-ear smile of God upon our lives.  I am saddened by the fact that some Christians never figure this out.

Hopefully you are with me as one who celebrates (!) the soft/gentle position against spanking that CT has taken.  While the statement only goes so far (I would have taken it a wee bit further), I am delighted with how far it went especially within the current Christian landscape in the USA.  CT affirmed that Christians are free to pursue forms of disipline other than spanking; there is no moral or biblical requirement that Christians must stay with spanking.  Thus CT clearly distances itself from pro-spanking proponents like Al Mohler and Thomas Schreiner who take a “you must spank to be biblical” perspective.  Well, at least the editorial board statement in CT came this far!  Yeah.  I celebrate any and all increment movement that is redemptive in nature (you might have figured that was coming :).  The CT flipside to this statement was, of course, that the current USA context–the deaths of three children, Texas Judge story, etc.–and the real potential for abuse should make us all think about putting the rod away and embracing only non-corporal means of discipline.  This is a good flipside argument.  I like it.  But we could be a touch stronger on this “moral obligation” side of things.  Within Corporal Punishment in the Bible I argue both sides of the coin in chapter 5, “What About Using Only Noncorporal Methods for Children”:  yes, we are free to move away from spanking and still be biblical (the “moral freedom” side) but we actually ought to move away in order to be more biblical (the “moral obligation” side).

That [tiny qualification] being said, on this cold wintery day in January–I do live in Canada eh–the article in Christianity Today brought great warmth and joy to this frozen Christian soul.



William J. Webb is an author, conference speaker and adjunct professor of New Testament/Biblical Studies at Tyndale Seminary (Toronto, Canada).


Posted in Contemporary Social Scene, Reviews | 8 Comments

Thanks to Samuel Martin–blogger, author and activist

I want to take my hat off to Samuel Martin and say, “Thanks!”

When I think about Samuel Martin, what comes to mind is a contemporary and contextualized, this-world version of William Wilberforce.  He certainly has Wilberforce blood running through his veins.  He is a Christian living in Jerusalem with an interest in connecting to the rest of the world in ways that are helpful and strategic about how to live out one’s faith.  Check his website:  .  You will find interesting discussions about various biblical subjects.

In addition to being a blogger, Samuel is an author.  I just finished reading his book Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy.  I ordered the book from a California source and had it delivered to a Canadian residence  Unlike more academic books that I tend to write, which can often be inaccessible to average readers (!), Samuel Martin does a good job of writing with an easy-to-understand touch.  For me the greatest benefit in reading his book was to see how a movement towards an anti-spanking position can be developed through Jewish sources and readings of Scripture (as well as Christian ones).  He comes to similar conclusions that I do regarding the spanking controversy but his path through the biblical material is quite different–a fascinating read.

Blogger, author and, most importantly, activist!  My third “thanks” to Samuel is that he has reminded me of my own need to be at least to some extent . . . an activist.  He has not done this by way of harrassment.  No, he has shown me this through his own life and example.  He would be happy to know that recently I have broken out of my insulated scholarly circles and actually done a handful of radio interviews.  Now that is a stretch for a stuffy, old professor of New Testament.  Through his own activist work–quite extensive as I have watched from afar–he is changing the world one person at a time.  He does so often by putting people together in ways that help to bring influence on those who perhaps would otherwise not listen.  Samuel has reminded me of something that is easily forgotten in the ivory towers of academia, namely, that ideas only work to the degree that there are people willing to influence (other) people about those ideas.

So, on three accounts my hat is off to Samuel Martin–blogger, author and activist.

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Texas Judge Video: Maybe it is time to learn non-corporal discipline

Texas Judge William Adams strikes his 16-year-old daughter with a belt 17 times in the course of a seven minute video (the longer edition is on UTube).  Check out the article on the CNN site: .  This is a truly sad story.  Just as sad, however, is the perspective of the judge that, aside from loosing his temper, he did nothing wrong.  Some of the comments by readers of the CNN article actually defend this sort of severe punishment as an acceptable action of any parent.  Christians need to speak up against this abusive action!  But a change must happen within the Christian community in order for our voice to be heard.  We must get “unstuck” in how we apply the Bible (see “About” and “RMH Overview” on this website).  It is kind of hard to speak out against abusive spanking when many Christians still have a toe hold in the corporal camp with the 2 Smacks Max approach.  Why cling to this even “a little violent” 2 Smacks Max form of discipline when non-corporal methods of discipline provide effective means for disciplining children.  Take a look at the postscript–50 pages of “how to” non-corporal methods–in Corporal Punishment in the Bible (see “Books” section of this website).

In short, followers of Jesus should be more than happy to pour the wine (function) of Scripture into new wine skins (form).  We need to rethink our ways and move to a better realization of the biblical ethic.

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Although they will tell you it is from the Bible, the Pearl’s version of child discipline is not really biblical.  Not in the truest sense.  Not in the deepest sense of what should shape biblical authority.  Not in a way that honors the Bible’s underlying redemptive spirit.  It is utterly heart breaking to watch “Christian materials” written by Michael and Debi Pearl become part of the murder investigations in three separate cases where so-called Christian parents allegedly abused their children in life-threatening and life-ending ways.  I am stunned and appalled by what I have seen on CNN, King5 News, etc.

Unfortunately, Christians often get stuck in their ability to apply the Bible in today’s world.  It is my hope that Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts) will inspire hope and positive dialogue that helps the Christian community move towards something better for our children.  The book outlines how Marilyn (my wife) and I changed our minds about spanking.  Like the Pearls we were severely deluded in thinking that the rod was God’s way.  But over time we learn how to read and understand the Bible differently.  We also learned a truck-load of non-corporal methods of discipline which were far more weighty and effective than the Dobson version (2 smacks max) and certainly better than the abusive Pearl prescription (many beatings with the rod).  Like the slavery texts of Scripture, the answer is not simply in moving towards a better form of slavery.  That only captures part of Scripture’s redemptive spirit.  The Dobson approach is to be commended because they move away from the Pearl-type literalism.  But, that is not where biblical application should stop.  Like the slavery issue of past days, we need to move beyond a gentler, kinder form of slavery/corporal punishment.  Two smacks max is good but it does not reflect an ultimate ethical application of the Bible.  As with slavery, only abolitionism (of the rod) will permit Christians to fully embrace effective non-corporal methods and do the courageous, William Wilberforce action in this hour of time.  I pray that contemporary followers of Jesus might be known as those who want to live out the very highest ethical application of Scripture.  What the Pearls offer is nothing other than “gutter theology”; it is not really the Bible at all . . . well, not if we want to live out Scripture’s redemptive heartbeat.

Dr. William J. Webb–author, conference speaker and adjunct professor of New Testament at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto

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New Reviews: Corporal Punishment in the Bible (IVP)

Here are some links to recent reviews of Corporal Punishment in the Bible.

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed: Two Smacks Max 1

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed: Two Smacks Max 2

Scott McKnight at Jesus Creed: Two Smacks Max 3

Christianity Today, Rachel Stone at Her.meneutics: Spanking in the Spirit?

Samuel Martin:

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Rachel Stone asked a probing question about Michele Bachmann’s possible bid for President of the United States:  Can a woman be President and also submit to her husband?  Is there any incongruence?  This question serves as a launching pad for a two-sided interview of an egalitarian (myself/W. J. Webb) and of a hierarchalist (Russell Moore) regarding their views on women in Scripture.

See:  The Her.meneutics Gender Debates (Parts I and II)


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A Response to Thomas R. Schreiner

Recently Dr. Thomas Schreiner did a review of my book, Corporal Punishment in the Bible; the review was posted on the Gospel Coalition website:  Here is my response to Dr. Schreiner’s review.

I must begin my response to Tom by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Schreiner and, given that respect, feel the need to interact with his critique. Our discussion and exchange(s) in the past have always been gracious and cordial; I have been impressed with Dr. Schreiner’s attempt to represent fairly what I have said before responding to

In view of our good interaction in the past I will offer the following comments that ask for a re-reading of the book on his part:

  1. Schreiner’s First Objection: “Covenant Discontinuity”–we are not under the Torah. Dr. Schreiner states that Webb does not understand continuity-discontinuity issues between the Testaments. In short, Christians are under no binding covenant obligation to fulfill the old covenant. WJW RESPONSE: Yes, I agree. Christians are under no covenant obligation to fulfill the OT (or old covenant within the OT). But this continuity-discontinuity observation did not help Christians untangle the ethics of slavery in the civil war discussions. Contrary to Schreiner, who makes a big deal about Webb “never talking about such things”, I would have to say that I do discuss such matters and he has somehow missed it. I would ask my esteemed colleague to re-read the chapter on slavery (chapter 2), which was written with the continuity-discontinuity scenario in mind. Also kindly re-work your way through pages 122-126, 127-128 of the corporal punishment discussion, which develops precisely what you say I do not say anything about. Sorry, discontinuity issues do not help or “fix” things here in talking about corporal punishment any more than with the slavery issue. There are several reasons why. See pages 122-126.
  2. Schreiner’s Second Objection: “Genre Differences”–the Proverbs are different from Torah. Dr. Schreiner makes the point that I have inappropriately mixed genres in my development of what the Bible has to say about corporal punishment.  WJW RESPONSE: I am a little disappointed here Tom. You simply dismissed my response to Kostenberger—an entire appendix which explains why an appeal to genre does not help your pro-spanking case–in three words “Despite Webb’s protests . . .”  Well, how about responding to the actual arguments given within the appendix response to Kostenberger. That would be helpful. Instead you simply hide behind the same smoke-screen argument about genre differences that Kostenberger does.
  3. Abstracted meaning and purpose meaning. There was no attempt on the part of Dr. Schreiner to discuss other elements of meaning in the biblical texts: abstracted meaning and purpose meaning. I could make a case for moving to non-corporal methods simply based upon these two aspects of the biblical text (Chapter 3) without any appeal to redemptive-movement meaning. How about dealing with the garage and the broom illustration.  You/Dr. Schreiner skip over this material completely. Why?  With these two additional aspects of meaning and the arguments in Chapter 5 I could have made a good case for only using non-corporal methods without introducing the argument from redemptive-movement meaning.  For me the case is considerably strengthened with redemptive-movement meaning but Chapter 3 talks about abstracted meaning and purpose meaning as well.
  4. Ethical Reasoning in  Chapter 5. Again, complete silence here. Why no response to any of the ethical arguments in Chapter 5 about why Christians should adopt non-corporal methods of discipline. What do you find lacking in any of the five arguments discussed on pages 128-137?  How can you not see these as an extension of the ethical development that has already taken place within the pro-spanking evangelical world?

In sum, Dr. Schreiner’s review of Corporal Punishment in the Bible was extremely disappointing and unpersuasive. While it may influence some in the blog world (especially those who have not read the CP book), his review does little to interact with the substantive arguments within the book itself.

William J. Webb


Here is another/second response to Thomas Schreiners’ review; it is written by Rachel Stone and was originally posted on the Gospel Coalition website in the comments section.  I think I will hire Rachel as my defence lawyer (what are your fees Rachel?).  She makes an excellent counter case against Schreiner’s review.  Her spirited response and precision-pointed arguments show that I was probably too soft in my response to Dr. Shchreiner.  But hey, I am a Canadian eh!? so we have a tendancy to understate things.  So with gratitude from me, what follows is Rachel’s discussion below:

Webb does address the New Testament’s treatment of corporal punishment (hereafter CP) texts, remarking that, if anything, the NT would seem to confirm the OT’s instruction on CP, but that nonetheless, we need not stay with a concrete-specific application of the text (just as the overwhelming majority of Christians no longer read the NT as condoning slavery. So actually, the book does make a good case for transcending NT ethics in places.

Reflecting on the nature and application of CP throughout the varied genres of the OT is NOT irrelevant, or a case of “hermeneutical lead-footedness.” Moreover, the same book from which the men you admire (Dobson, Mohler, Grudem, Koestenberger, et al) take their contemporary spanking ethic is the same book in which almost ALL of Webb’s 7 points on “Biblical” CP appear–Proverbs. How is it fair to take Webb to task for failing to adequately distinguish between biblical genres when, clearly, the Proverbs he cites have more than a passing congruence with CP texts in the Torah? Besides, you accuse him of muddling genres–but don’t say why this is problematic.

Further, you say it “seems” to you Dobson, Mohler, et. al. are “right,” but why? Their spanking ethic is ALSO based fairly exclusively on the OT. So why does the “different part of redemptive history” argument not apply there as well? You admit that we apply and interpret Scripture in a different context than it was originally written–so WHY is the approach of Mohler, Dobson, et. al. “right” while Webb is “wrong”? You don’t seem to say–except to say, “if Webb is right, women can be pastors…what next?”

(Slippery Slope is a FALLACY–not an argument.)

You accuse Webb of “domesticating” Scripture, but don’t offer a compelling case for why the Dobson-style spanking ethic DOESN’T constitute a similar domestication.

Finally, I read Webb’s emphasis regarding the CP issue today as a question of whether Christians are BOUND to use CP. He presents a number of compelling arguments as to why we ought not to use CP (which you don’t mention at all) but I felt that he did a great job of showing why we need not feel (as Koestenberger, Mohler, et al) would have it, OBLIGED to use CP as Christian parents. If you’re going to so flatly state that he’s wrong, it might be helpful to talk about WHY that’s so, beyond somewhat incidental reflections on genre-muddling.

Overall, this review seems determined to condemn Webb from the outset based on a quick reading of the book and on criticisms incidental to the main argument.

Rachel Stone
Twitter @eatwithjoy



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