Book Review: “Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate” by Benjamin Reaoch

Reaoch produced a frustrating book engaging William Webb’s work on redemptive-movement hermeneutics (see my review of Webb’s book). Unfortunately, Reaoch excels at missing the point. Webb writes as a systematician advocating a specific hermeneutical approach, whereas Reaoch writes as an exegete who atomizes texts and speaks of grammar and syntax. They frame their discussions differently, because they are writing for very different purposes.[1]

Reaoch begins by falsely claiming Webb believes the issue of gender roles are tied to slavery.[2] He then wastes 61 pages discussing the Bible’s teaching on slavery and gender. Webb wrote about hermeneutics using gender and slavery as a foil; a distinction Reaoch appears to miss. For example:

  • “ … if the New Testament simply regulates slavery and points toward its abolition, then the perceived need for the redemptive-movement hermeneutic evaporates.” [3] Reaoch misses Webb’s point; the text “points” forward along an implicit trajectory (i.e. redemptive-movement).
  • “In this way we should not assume that instructions to slaves are an implicit endorsement of slavery itself.”[4] Again, he misses the point. Greco-Roman culture did positively endorse slavery. The New Testament did not. There is an implicit movement away from the institution; a trajectory.
  • “The instructions to these individuals would have challenged the cultural norms of the day and if heeded, would radically transform the master-slave relationship.”[5] Yes, almost as if there is a redemptive movement toward an ethical good implicit in the text …

Reaoch’s approach is to argue against Webb’s applications of his criteria, while not explaining why the criteria itself is wrong. Indeed, nearly all his criticisms have to do with interpretations of individual texts:

  • He quibbles because Webb did not cite Jesus in a brief discussion on created order.[6]
  • He accuses Webb of over-simplifying a remark about the Sabbath, being wrong about similar examples of singleness and procreation.[7]
  • Reaoch then impugns Webb’s character and accuses him of making deliberately simplistic arguments for sinister reasons.[8]
  • He then criticizes another of Webb’s comments about created order related to homosexuality.[9]

The cycle repeats. Again, Reaoch wants to exegete, whereas Webb wrote a book to discuss hermeneutics. Their approaches are like water and oil, and Reaoch erred by not critiquing Webb’s framework. Instead, he contented himself with attacking one of Webb’s foils. In the end, Reaoch does not like the implications of Webb’s hermeneutic[10] and he sees Webb’s work as an attack on complementarianism.[11]

This is a frustrating book, because Reaoch refuses to engage Webb fairly. He exegetes Webb’s applications, then invalidates them and thus dismisses the criteria. Is it true the trajectory of Scripture nudges us in a certain direction, even if it is not explicit in the text? Is it true that, insofar as we can, we should not make results of the Fall transcultural? Is it true that New Covenant status and new creation texts have implications for social status and role, today? Reaoch does not answer these questions; he wants to discuss gender texts. Therefore, his book’s main value is as an example of how to miss the point.


[1]  Webb wrote his book to advocate a broad hermeneutical approach wherein one examines the pan-canonical drift of Scripture to discern movement (or lack thereof) along a trajectory, and carries that movement forward. Reaoch wrote his book to critique Webb’s position application of redemptive-movement hermeneutic to the gender issue.

[2] “Pivotal to Webb’s conclusions are the following assumptions: (1) the issue of gender roles is closely analogous to the slavery issue, and (2) patriarchy’s basis in original creation does not conclusively differentiate the two,” (Benjamin Reaoch, Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2012; Kindle ed.), pg. 8.   

However, Webb explained: “This book attempts to provide a collection, in one volume, of the various criteria that can be used in cultural analysis. In order to make the process more objective, I have attempted to establish each criterion from neutral examples before moving to two of today’s more debated topics— women and homosexuals. In this respect, the book has been designed as a tool for the application process in hermeneutics. Although my focus has been primarily on slaves, women and homosexuals, the various criteria may be used as a grid to explore any aspect of Scripture where one might suspect or question the impact of culture. I have used this material in a hermeneutics course for several years. My students have utilized these criteria, along with a redemptive-movement hermeneutic, to explore the question of cultural assessment in a wide variety of issues, for example, war, clothing taboos, government, circumcision, alcohol, child rearing practices, dancing, transvestism, polygamy, church offices, reproductive technologies, capital punishment, Sabbath and animal rights,” (William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis [Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.], pgs. 197-298).

[3] Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 11.  

[4] Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 33.  

[5] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 36-37.  

[6] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 115-116.    

[7] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 116-118.  

[8] “Webb has assumed unlikely and hermeneutically simplistic interpretations of the creation account in an attempt to heighten the perceived tension between original creation and today’s culture. In this way he has set up reductionistic arguments that are easily dismantled,” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 118). Reaoch does this repeatedly.

[9] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 122-124.  

[10] “We are happy to find movement when we compare the New Testament commands with the first-century culture, and we must recognize this to be ‘absolute movement,’ not ‘preliminary movement,’” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 114).

[11] “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,” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 160).

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