“As one might suspect from its name, a key component of a redemptive-movement hermeneutic is the idea of movement. The Christian seeking to apply Scripture today should examine the movement between the biblical text and its surrounding social context. Once that movement has been discovered, there needs to be an assessment of whether the movement is preliminary or absolute (see criterion 1). If it is preliminary and further movement in the direction set by the text would produce a more fully realized ethic, then that is the course of action one must pursue. The interpreter extrapolates the biblical movement toward a more just, more equitable and more loving form. If a better ethic than the one expressed in the isolated words of the text is possible, and the biblical and canonical spirit is headed that direction, then that is where one ultimately wants to end up. The alternative, of course, is to work with an understanding of Scripture that is static.
A static hermeneutic does not interest itself in discovering movement. It is primarily interested in exegeting the text as an isolated entity and finding comparable or equivalent expressions (alternative forms) of how that text may be lived out in another culture. In the case of slavery, a static hermeneutic would not condemn biblical-type slavery, if that social order were to reappear in society today. Proponents of a static hermeneutic are generally willing to condemn American slavery, which was often worse than the biblical form, but they will not speak in a negative manner about the kind of slavery presented in the Bible. In the meantime, the household codes concerning masters and slaves are transferred to the modern context of employer/employee relationships. Equivalent admonitions of “obey” and “submit” are popped in like sure-fit items. This type of application process amounts to a rather wooden swapping of ancient-world and modern-world equivalents. When a static hermeneutic is pressed with the actual words of the slavery texts, however, it produces grotesque, mutation-like applications. Imagine taking the words of Peter and advising modem employees to accept physical beatings by their employers for the sake of the gospel (1 Pet 2:18-25). Or, think about instructing contemporary employers from the Pentateuch that, should they limit beating employees to within a hairbreadth of their life, they would not be guilty of legal reprisal (Ex 21:20-21). Or, maybe our modem world should consider handing out lesser penalties for sexual violation against an employee (= slave) than in the case of sexual violation against an employer or self-employed person (= free) (Deut 22:25-27; cf. Lev 19:20-22). These examples, of course, show the utterly ridiculous nature of a static hermeneutic. Even a static application utilizes a redemptive-movement hermeneutic of sorts, on a lesser scale, by its selective choice of that which can and cannot be carried over to our context.
One might be able to persuade a modern congregation into believing that employees should “obey” and “submit to” their employers based upon the slavery texts. This happens all the time. But the outcome reflects a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture. The rest of the slavery material, beyond the obey/submit instructions, is often left at arm’s length and simply not applied. This kind of static approach to the slavery texts is not persuasive. In fact, the wooden nature of a static hermeneutic becomes a liability to any Christian seeking to live out their commitment to God’s will, as revealed through Scripture. Having discovered the movement of the biblical texts on slavery relative to the original social context, an extrapolation of that movement today leads to the abolition of slavery altogether. On this issue our culture is much closer to an ultimate ethic than it is to the unrealized ethic reflected in the isolated words of the Bible.
In addition to the complete removal of slavery, a redemptive-movement hermeneutic proposes quite a different way of applying the household codes in our modern context. A redemptive-movement hermeneutic does not argue that modem Christians apply the household codes through submitting to and obeying their employers. Such an application not only neglects the element of movement to a more fully realized ethic but overlooks fundamental differences between slavery and modem employee-employer relations. The most crucial difference is that of ownership compared to a contractual basis for working relationships. In the modern contractual setting we should not preach obedience and submission, but that Christian employees should fulfill the terms of their contract to the best of their ability in order to bring glory to God and enhance their gospel witness. In addition, a redemptive-movement hermeneutic seeks to reapply the spirit or movement component of the slavery texts relative to the surrounding cultures. Scripture sides heavily with the plight of the slave, the poor and the oppressed. This life-breathing spirit, which bettered the conditions for slaves in the ancient world, should also influence the application process today. Contemporary Christian employers, then, should not abuse their power in pursuit of bottom-line production but advance their businesses in ways that value their employees as people and encourage their productive contribution in humane and just ways. Working conditions, levels of income, and disparity between the rich and poor are all issues that the redemptive spirit, evidenced in scriptural movement, ought to impact as we bring these texts to bear on our modem world.”
William J. Webb. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Kindle Locations 319-339). Kindle Edition.
What are your thoughts?
1. “A static hermeneutic does not interest itself in discovering movement.” What do you think about the idea that scripture is not static?
2. As we read scripture are we able to see the trajectory of a text not just the shooter or the place where the text is being shot from?