I love reading reviews written by Thomas R. Schreiner. He is patient, charitable, and insightful. Here are two paragraphs from his review of William Webb’s book on corporal punishment in the Bible:
“The key question, however, is whether Webb is right about corporal punishment. The answer is no. First, Webb doesn’t understand redemptive history, even though he calls his hermeneutic “redemptive-movement.” He never discusses the relationship of the OT to the NT in order to help readers understand that believers are no longer under the Mosaic covenant or the Mosaic law. Such a discussion is fundamental to the issues Webb addresses, and they deserve concentrated attention if one wants to think about how to apply the OT today. But one looks in vain for a careful discussion of this matter in Webb’s book or in his previous work. For instance, he rightly says that Christians reject stoning rebellious children, seizing “hot-looking women,” or cutting off the hand of a woman who grabs someone testicles. And he helpfully notes the cultural differences between the OT laws and the ancient Near Eastern cultures of the day. But there is no reflection on the covenantal difference between the Mosaic covenant under which Israel lived and the new covenant which applies to the church of Jesus Christ. Christians have long recognized that the laws of Torah are not binding on believers today. Jesus himself indicated that some of the laws were given because people have hard hearts (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:3-12). Some of what Webb advocates, therefore, is not new at all, but his hermeneutical program lacks the exegetical and theological foundation established in the history of interpretation.
That leads to a second objection. Finding the same words for the punishment of slaves, criminals, fools, and children does not justify lumping the texts together in an indiscriminate manner. Despite Webb’s protests, he fails to perceive the genre differences between regulations in the Torah and proverbial statements. As already noted, he does not clearly recognize the redemptive historical nature of the Torah. And he merges and mashes together different genres of literature in drawing his conclusions. Proverbial statements are of a different nature than legal material, requiring insight and reflection in terms of application. They shouldn’t be equated with punishments in legal contexts, for it seems rather heavy-handed and hermeneutically lead-footed to conclude that since physical punishments are mentioned in the same texts they must have been understood in the same way. Webb seems to think if one recognizes that proverbs require discernment in application, then one will endorse his view. But how does that follow? I would argue that such a principle means that wisdom and prudence should be applied in understanding Proverbs, which means corporal punishment for children is not administered in the same way it is applied to law-breakers and adults. Nor is it evident, just because both fools and children are flogged, that the punishments would be of the same nature and to the same extent. Again, such readings are mechanical and forced, failing to see what anyone with wisdom in ancient Israel would see: There is massive difference between adult fools and children. Using the same word for children and fools does not mean they are in the same category! It seems to me that the wise application of what we find in Proverbs is well represented by those Webb criticizes: Dobson, Mohler, Wegner, Grudem, and Köstenberger.
Read the whole thing.