Friday, May 29, 2020

William Webb 5: Inconclusive Criteria

William Webb continues: Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.

Previous chapters:
Chapter 1: The Christian and Culture
Chapter 2: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic
Chapter 3: Persuasive Criteria
Chapter 4: Moderately Persuasive Criteria

Now Chapter 5: Inconclusive Criteria
You can see that Webb is steadily moving from criteria that he finds very helpful to criteria that he finds less and less clear Criterion 14: Theological Analogy
The question here is whether, if God is described in a certain way, we would consider such descriptions as transcultural. Webb says that the answer is inconclusive, since God is sometimes described with cultural analogies.

For example, the following are transcultural:
  • God is love; therefore, love is a transcultural value.
  • God is holy; therefore, holiness is a transcultural value.
  • God forgives; therefore, we should forgive.
However, on other occasions cultural analogies are used to describe God:
  • God is master, we as slaves.
  • God as king, we as subjects.
  • Christ is the firstborn, thus primogeniture.
  • Jesus is at God's right hand, the right hand is preferred. 
Webb then suggests that these are cultural analogies:
  • Christ is a husband who loves his wife does mean husband-headship is transcultural.
  • God disciplines his wife like a husband (e.g., Hosea). It is not transcultural for a husband to strip his wife and physically confine her.
  • However, there is no theological analogy in relation to God and homosexuality.
Criterion 15: Comparisons in Collections
In this section Webb looks at various biblical collections of items. Does the transcultural nature of one item in the collection suggest the others are transcultural too?
  • "mixture texts" -- don't wear clothing of mixed thread, don't plow with donkey and ox together.  Most of these texts are considered cultural. I call this "Levitical kind theology," part of the Levitical worldview that believed that different kinds of things should not be mixed. Following Mary Douglas, I believe this worldview ultimately stood behind the food laws (ostrich, eel, and snake did not fit the "kind" of thing they were).
  • virtue and vice lists -- Webb believes these lists lean heavily toward the transcultural (including, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
  • household codes -- He considers these texts mixed in relation to their transcultural import. So the instruction on children/parents and congregations/elders are transcultural, while the material on slaves/masters and husbands/wives is cultural.
  • sexual taboo lists -- He considers most of the items on these lists in Leviticus 18 and 20 to be transcultural, although not necessarily in their punishment. He has also mentioned elsewhere that he does not consider rules on sex during menstruation to be transcultural. I'm not sure he has provided a good rationale here.
  • He argues that the unusual mention of Molech in Leviticus 18:21 is a transition between heterosexual sex and non-heterosexual sex, implying that heterosexual sex is a key value implicit in the structure of the chapter. He does mention the possibility that the fact that the prohibition on homosexual sex comes after a mention of Molech could imply that the prohibition is about homosexual temple prostitution but indicates there is not enough contextual evidence to conclude that.  
Criterion 16: Continuity with Old Testament
He words this one in a funny way to me. For me, a key factor in these discussions is whether a teaching in the Old Testament is continued into the New Testament. For example, the command not to wear clothing of mixed thread is not mentioned in the New Testament, but the prohibition against homosexual sex is continued. By contrast, he considers such continuity inconclusive in general.

Here is his summary: "Discontinuity between epochs in salvation history does provide a reliable basis for assessment" (206). So because Jesus explicitly declares all foods clean, we can eat pork now (Mark 7:19). However, "continuity between Testaments, whether by ideological precedence or verbal appeal, is not a reliable indicator for discovering that which [is] transcultural."

Examples of discontinuation:
  • sacrifices - fulfilled in Christ, not continued, no longer in effect
  • food laws - clearly discontinued in the NT
  • circumcision - clearly not required according to Galatians and Acts 15
  • slaves and masters - although continued between OT and NT, cultural, thus 
Example of continuance that is cultural:
  • slavery - continued between OT and NT but cultural
  • kings and subjects - continued between OT and NT but cultural
  • lifting up holy hands - continued between OT and NT but cultural
  • holy kiss - continued between OT and NT but cultural
  • foot washing traditions - continued between OT and NT but cultural
I'll end this summary with an interesting comment about Lutherans and the Reformed tradition:
  • Fallacy #1 (a tendency of the Lutheran tradition): "Only those particulars of the Mosaic law that the New Testament expressly sanctions apply to New Testament believers"  (205).
  • Fallacy #2 (a tendency of the Reformed tradition): "Christians are bound to obey all those particulars in the Mosaic law that the New Testament does not expressly abrogate."
He would say we have to look at the particular commands of the OT in the light of all these criteria.

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