William Webb finds three criteria that are not conclusive in his book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals. We’ll look at these three criteria today.
I’m curious how often you see any of these arguments that Webb sketches, and how compelling you find them when they are used. When someone anchors something in God’s nature, is it compelling to you? Is it compelling because it is anchored in God or because you think it is true? Thus, you should be loving; why? because God is. Does Christ being a “slave” anchor slavery itself in timelessness?
#14: Basis in theological analogy. A component of a text may be transcultural if its basis is rooted in the character of God or Christ through theological analogy. While love, holiness, and forgiveness are transcultural and rooted in God’s nature, slavery itself has an analogy in Christ himself (1 Peter 2) and makes such a connection “inconclusive.” What I see here is an ontological argument: if it is true of God, it is true of all God makes. But, we need to be careful.
#15: Contextual comparisons. A text or a component in a text may be transcultural/cultural if other elements in the context are transcultural/cultural. Thus, something like Deut 22:9-11 (two kinds of seeds in a vineyard, do not plow with a donkey and an ox, etc) is cultural. A vice and virtue list (say Prov 6:16-19; Jer 7:9; Ezk 18:10-13; Matt 5:3-10; Mark 7:21; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:22-23 James 3:17, etc) are more transcultural. He then sketches the household rules (Eph 5:21-6:9 etc) and the sexual taboo lists (Lev 18:6-23; 20:10-21). He doesn’t think it is possible to make absolute judgments on these matters; the household codes mitigate against assuming consistently cultural or consistently transcultural.
#16: Appeal to the Old Testament. A practice in the NT may be transcultural if it appeals to the Old Testament in support. Thus, continuity between the testaments might indicate transcultural. But, his view is that continuity between the two testaments may or may not indicate transcultural, while the putting aside of an OT practice surely indicates a cultural element in the OT.
Thus, sacrifices are done away with; they are culturally-bound teachings. Food laws, too. Circumcision, too. Slavery and king/subjects show continuity but they have been put away today. Foot-washing is another instance.