Critiquing William Webb’s Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic

Reaoch - coverFive months ago I highlighted Don Carson’s critique of William Webb’s trajectory hermeneutic (copied at the end of this post).

Now there’s a more comprehensive, book-length critique:

Benjamin Reaoch. Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012.

It revises Reaoch’s PhD dissertation at Southern Seminary under Tom Schreiner, who writes the foreword.

Reaoch makes several arguments:

  • Slavery and the role of women are two critically different issues.
  • The NT neither condemns nor commends slavery.
  • Gender passages apply transculturally because they are rooted in creation.


Reaoch concludes by answering the question, “What is at stake?”

This study has not been an abstract, academic endeavor for me. As a pastor, I am zealous to teach and preach and lead in such a way that individuals are inspired and instructed to glorify God in every aspect of their lives, not least of which is the area of manhood and womanhood. By pursuing the model of marriage presented in Ephesians 5, husbands and wives vividly display Christ’s relationship to his church and thus proclaim the gospel to those around them. Single individuals and young people will also glorify God as they grow into godly men and godly women who recognize their God-ordained roles in the home and church and affirm and encourage those roles as they are played out in the marriages around them. I desperately want our church and other churches to recognize the beauty of what God has done in creating us male and female.

As a husband, I am very aware of the ways in which I fall short of the biblical model of manhood. But I have also begun to experience the delights of living with my wife in a way that honors God and brings both of us great satisfaction. As I grow and mature in my role as the sacrificial leader of our home, and as Stacy supports and encourages my leadership, we are discovering the joy of our complementary, God-given roles.

Finally, as a father, I want to pass on to our children a clear vision of manhood and womanhood. In the moral confusion of our culture, I want my son and two daughters to know what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. I want them to know that there is a difference between the two, and that it is a wonderful and noble thing to grow into the roles that God has set out for each of them. I desire that our daughters one day will know what to look for in a prospective husband, and that our son will know what to look for in a prospective wife.

Therefore, there is much at stake in this debate—for the church, for marriages, and for families. The debate over gender roles has not diminished, and I do not see any end in sight. But we must not grow weary in defending the beautiful portrait of gender complementarity presented in the Bible. For by minimizing this aspect of Scripture, we put ourselves at great risk of looking more and more like the world, and we also miss out on many joys God intends for his people. May we rather submit ourselves to the teaching of God’s Word, no matter how countercultural it may be, and discover the joy of affirming and conforming to God’s plan for manhood and womanhood. (pp. 159–60)

D. A. Carson on William Webb

In January, Bob Yarbrough and Don Carson spoke at the EFCA’s theology conference: “Understanding the Complementarian Position: Considering Implications and Exploring Practices in the Home and the Local Church” (TGC report). The MP3s are well worth listening to.

[Update on 10/9/2012: The EFCA just released notes from this conference as a free 47-page PDF.]

In a Q&A someone asked Don Carson about William Webb’s redemptive-movement hermeneutic, and Carson replied that it is unconvincing. Carson followed up with an email (see this 3-page PDF): “As for bibliography,” writes Carson, “the literature is pretty extensive, but the two most substantive review articles evaluating Webb’s book are” these:

  1. Thomas R. Schreiner. “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: A Review Article.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6, no. 1 (2002): 46–65.
  1. Wayne Grudem. “‘A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic: The Slavery Analogy’ (Ch 22) and ‘Gender Equality and Homosexuality’ (Ch 23) by William J. Webb.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 10, no. 1 (2005): 96–120.
  2. William J. Webb. “A Redemptive-Movement Model” (see also the responses). In Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology. Edited by Gary T. Meadors. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  3. Thomas R. Schreiner. “Review of William J. Webb, Corporal Punishment in the Bible.” The Gospel Coalition Book Reviews. September 12, 2011.


  1. Brad Laramie says

    Hi Andy!

    How does the thought of N.T. Wright and Roger Nicole and William Webb relate to one another?

    I am a complementarian, but I have been trying to read as many books by egalitarians as I can. I have read a book by Glen Scorgie, and I have read some articles by Wright and Nicole and Webb, but I am not sure what brings them all together. I have been surprised that there is a stream of egalitarians who are so committed to the authority of the Bible (and of course there are many who aren’t). Overall, I can’t buy the entire egalitarian argument but I have to admit that I have learned a ton from them and their writings have helped me immensely in loving my wife and being on mission to the world (they have allowed me to encourage my wife to proclaim the Gospel).


  2. Stan Fowler says

    I look forward to reading this book, and I hope that it advances the discussion. But I want to suggest that Bill Webb’s hermeneutic and egalitarianism are distinct issues, contrary to what many assume. There are plenty of egalitarians who get to that conclusion without the RMH, and there are complementarians like me who think that the essence of the RMH is true, but without leading to egalitarianism. The RMH merely says that on SOME topics, the moral ideal goes beyond the final canonical statement on the topic, but each topic has to be examined on its own. With all due respect to Don Carson’s comments noted above, he still admits that a full rejection of slavery is only implicit in Paul’s letter to Philemon, i.e., that the moral ideal is at the end of a trajectory beyond the words on the page. I agree that Paul’s treatment of slavery and his treatment of male-female order are very different, but one can come to that conclusion while affirming the RMH. Although I don’t share all of Bill Webb’s conclusions, I still am a bit amazed at what I perceive to be an over-reaction to his hermeneutic.

  3. says


    I believe the link to Carson’s response is broken. Do you by chance know where I might find it? I’m currently working through some of Webb’s material.

    I look forward to seeing you at Lake Drive soon for your lectures on the conscience.

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