Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
William J. Webb
InterVarsity, 301 pages, $24.99

Is it okay to wear stretch pants? You know, the kind that fit well before and after a big meal, made of 5 percent spandex and 95 percent cotton?

It's a hermeneutical (interpretive) dilemma because the answer to this question flows from the way we interpret the Bible. It's about what we do with Leviticus 19:19, which clearly says, "Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." Think about some other puzzling biblical injunctions:

  • "Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife" (1 Cor. 7:27b).

  • "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more" (Prov. 31:6-7).

  • "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes" (1 Tim. 2:8-9).

Consider, also, the more incendiary mandates. Are the following binding for Christians today?

  • "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh" (1 Peter 2:18).

  • "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim. 2:12a).

  • "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman" (Lev. 18:22).

William J. Webb, professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary in Canada, opens his book with a similar but longer test—two pages full of biblical decrees. He asks, "Which of these instructions from Scripture are still in force for us today exactly as they are articulated 'on the page'?" The exercise is bound to disorient the ...

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