REVIEW: Slaves, Women, and the Gender Debate, by Benjamin Reaoch

Cultures vary in times and places.  Certain practices that are culturally acceptable in one part of the world may not be in another.  Practices/behaviors that were, at one time, culturally acceptable in a particular culture may no longer be acceptable in that same culture as the years have passed or vice versa.  In light of a world comprised of ever-changing cultures, the question arises as to how we are to apply the pan-culturally authoritative and unchanging truth of God’s Word to the oft-changing cultural practices and expectations of our day.

In terms of biblical interpretation, one hermeneutical approach that has developed over that last 50 years which attempts to deal with reading and applying the Scriptures in a world of changing cultures, has come to be known as the “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” or the “trajectory hermeneutic”.  Those who advocate the use of this interpretative method believe that “there are indications in the Bible that move us beyond the specific instructions of the Bible and toward an ultimate ethic” (emphasis original).[1]  For example, such an approach seeks to answer the question of why slavery, while mentioned in the Scriptures, is never expressly condemned.  Taking the approach a step further, proponents seek to utilize a redemptive-movement hermeneutic to “go beyond” what the Bible proposes in terms of the role distinctions between men and women, thus abolishing any Scripturally prescribed distinctions (i.e., Egalitarianism).  Though many scholars/authors advocating such an approach do not arrive at the following conclusion, some are using a trajectory hermeneutic to go even further, thereby condoning the practice of homosexuality.

Does the Bible indicate the validity of the redemptive-movement/trajectory hermeneutic (RMH, moving forward)?  Should we move beyond the prescriptions of the Holy Scriptures toward an “ultimate ethic”?  The ultimate resulting question is, as with slavery, how do we reconcile certain prescriptive and/or restrictive areas of Scripture when it appears there are also elements present that would appear to point toward a fully liberating ethic?

In his new book, Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic (P & R, 2012), Benjamin Reaoch (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) engages the arguments of RMH proponents (most thoroughly, Kevin Giles and William Webb), and provides a soundly exegetical and hermeneutical complementarian engagement and response.  Reaoch states his thesis as follows:

The significant differences between the New Testament instructions to slaves and to women seriously undermine the conclusions made by the redemptive-movement hermeneutic.  The fact that the New Testament “points beyond” the institution of slavery does not indicate that it likewise points beyond God’s design for gender roles.[2]

After a helpful introduction, which serves as a very accessible primer to the issues at large, Reaoch handles his engagement in 6 chapters, along with helpful concluding chapter and a chapter which examines the continuing discussions within the RMH debate.  Beginning with a chapter entitled, “The Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic”, Reaoch surveys the surfacing and development of RMH through the writings of Stendahl, France, Longenecker, Thompson,  Webb, Giles, and Marshall.  Through brief profiles, he notes each author/scholars contributions to the RMH in terms of books, articles, and significant conclusions.  Reaoch then summarizes the complementarian responses offered by Grudem, Schreiner, and Yarbrough.  Utilizing these responses, he moves into what serves as an introduction to his study of slavery and women’s roles in particular.

Chapters 2 and 3, respectively, address slavery and women’s roles according to the Scriptures.  Reaoch includes a helpful section addressing the manner and place of slavery in the ancient world.  He then moves forward to engage the aforementioned scholars’ arguments and conclusions which he intersperses throughout his analysis, in which he structures by addressing the passages concerning each issue, the grounds for obedience in terms of slaves and women, and then the purposes for obedience.  Reaoch’s organization provides for a very accessible survey and understanding of the issues at hand in light of the biblical data.

Chapter 4, entitled “Comparing the Data” assessed the Scriptural data that was presented in chs. 2 & 3, but focuses mainly on the differences between the passages concerning slavery and women’s roles.  Ultimately, Reaoch draws the similarities from common purposes of obedience while the grounds for obedience show marked differences.

Chapter 5, “Heremenutical Considerations: Part 1”, critically engages William Webb’s work Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.  Reaoch examines Webb’s idea of “theological analogy” and several aspects of Webb’s guiding criteria.  Chapter 6, “Hermeneutical Considerations: Part 2” continues to critique Webb’s work with particular attention given to the arguments that Webb gives to bind the slavery and women’s roles arguments together.

As Reaoch concludes, he summarizes the issues and avoids mere academia by demonstrating what is at stake in the debate as it relates to his role as a pastor, husband and father.  Reaoch notes, “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.

In sum, Reaoch provides a thorough and largely accessible summary, critique, interaction and response to the issues of trajectory hermeneutics from a complimentarian perspective.  His writing is fluid, and his organization is clear.  For those who have interacted with proponents of the redemptive-movement hermeneutic in general, or specifically, William Webb’s work in particular, this is a first-rate response that is both scholarly and pastoral.  I recommend it!

*A secure, digital copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.


Publisher: P and R Publishing Company
Author: Reaoch, Benjamin
ISBN-10: 1596384018 | ISBN-13: 9781596384019
Cover Type: Paperback
List Price: $25.00
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore$16.25 – 35% Off

[1] Benjamin Reaoch, Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012), xvii.

[2] Ibid., xix.


3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Slaves, Women, and the Gender Debate, by Benjamin Reaoch

  1. The problem with being to quick to link “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” or the “trajectory hermeneutic” with an egalitarian position is that it might suggest that all egalitarians follow this model.

    There are many of us who have a high view of scripture and hold this position.


    • Al, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

      As a self-identified egalitarian, and one who claims to deny the necessary connection of a redemptive-movement hermeneutic with an egalitarian reading of Scripture, may I ask what you mean by a “high view of Scripture”, and how you arrive at egalitarian conclusions apart from employing a trajectory hermeneutic?

      • Hi Kevin

        Thanks for your reply. I really do appreciate it, and the opportunity to learn and discuss.

        I think I would answer it as follows:

        Trajectory suggests that the direction in someway can govern the exegesis.

        In my mind I, and many of my fellow egalitarians (granted not all) approach the text to see what it says not what they want it it say. (the danger of eisegesis is true for both comps and egals)

        So if we take the key comp/egal biblical texts we look to understand the context in order to try to find the authors intention.

        Comps may try to maintain that they don’t contextualise but this is not true as seen by the fact that most churches allow women to teach in some capacity, and don’t require the wearing of hats.

        (I often joking say to those who maintain that they don’t contextualise that I will bring a circumcision knife to my next discussion)

        Now this is my main point: suggesting a trajectory offers a view that the ends justifies the means. I believe this to be a red herring because I can make a scriptural case for full equality of men and women by just using scripture and seeing it in the context it was written.

        This is what I mean by a high view of scripture. I am not looking to ignore verses or say that certain parts are not the word of God.

        Hope that helps (hope my humour comes across in the mild way it is intended)


        Kind regards

        Alan Molineaux MA Rooted Training

        07540 723622

        60 The Locks Bingley West Yorkshire BD16 4BG

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