A Gospel Narrative for the Shame-Honor Culture of India

Jay Dharan (M.Div, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is a Bible-teacher ministering in India. He desires to foster an indigenous Christianity that addresses the honor-shame culture of India.


In India, the shame-honor culture is deeply rooted in the caste system, which is foundational to the Indian perspective, even for those outside Hinduism. Though it may have had its origin as a trade-based stratification of ancient Indian society, for much of India’s history, it has had a Brahminic hegemony to its structure. So the priestly class are the true custodians of the Vedic faith, while all the other castes are inferior to them. One’s honor in this sense is fixed from birth to death based on one’s caste-based identity.

The Christian gospel begins its narrative with God creating all mankind in His own image. Hence on the one hand, it agrees with the Indian culture that vocation or virtue does not determine one’s identity and rather affirms an ontological worth as foundational to one’s identity. But on the other hand by its affirmation of the image of God in all human beings, the gospel disagrees with the Indian culture that this ontological worth has a variegated presence based on one’s caste. Moreover, the offer of redemption in Christ involves gaining an additional, new, and everlasting identity of being a child of God dearly loved by the Father in Christ Jesus. This identity is a relational one, affording us the greatest relationship, and thereby, the greatest favor and honor. Thus true and lasting honor is not to have the highest caste identity, but the highest relational identity, one of being able to call God, Abba Father.

However, all mankind does not enjoy this kind of dignity and fellowship, as the narrative of the gospel goes on to tell us, because our first parents were disloyal to God and thereby, dishonored him. All progeny of Adam were thus born into this estrangement from God. Being cast away from the loving and favorable presence of God, mankind wallows in shame. Neither do we image God faithfully, nor do we enjoy relational favor with Him. We thus experience the very undoing of ourselves and have thus lost our face covered in shame. It is here that culture tries to construct alternate and pseudo-honor in the name of caste or other ascribed social wealth. The gospel informs us that no such ascribed honor can overcome the depths of shame we feel deep inside us due to our estrangement from God. For true shame cannot be covered with fig leaves, it requires a restorative transformation of our own selves from within. In other words, it is not the same soul going through cycles of reincarnation that will get rid of this shame, but a regeneration of the inner self back to the original dignity and favor that Adam lost.

To accomplish this restoration of man to the likeness and life of God, God Himself in His great kindness and condescending compassion, chose to incarnate Himself. In the Son who became flesh, our nature was united to His so that He can heal and restore it. On the Cross, Jesus embodied all our shame and condemnation from God, chiefly the ultimate estrangement from God, namely, death. Precisely because Jesus took our nature, He was able to die. But also because it was God who came in flesh, He was able to defeat death. In His resurrection then we have God restoring His honor back as the beloved Son freed from the dominion of sin and death. In His consubstantial unity with mankind, our nature also experiences the same redemption. Thus in Him, the Second Adam, there is access to a new creation which is available for anyone who will unite with Him through the instrument of faith. Being a believer of Christ thus means being part of the restored mankind which progressively is experiencing the dignity and favor that Adam lost. So the gospel now invites all to experience true honor through union with Christ, the redeemer, and participating by the indwelling Spirit in the filial relationship enjoyed by the Son from the Father. This is the good news of Jesus Christ.

Evangelizing Indians would then involve communicating two pivotal truths. First, Jesus Christ is the truly honorable man, even though He died the most shameful way. Christ is honorable because He was always faithful in all His relationships. In His relationship with God, He was obedient to the point of death. In His relationship with man, He was faithful to love man to the point of death. In both cases, He voluntarily chose to die, thus demonstrating true justice and courage. Thus Christ is noble and worthy of unparalleled praise from all mankind. Moreover, even God acknowledged it by raising Him from the dead and crowning Him as Lord King of heaven and earth. Hence the primary demand of the gospel – to repent of all false worship and give all adulation to where true honor is due, Lord Jesus Christ. Second, through the shameful death and eventual resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have access to true and lasting honor. Through the substitutionary shaming of Jesus, He is now the savior of all mankind offering relational peace with and honor from God to any who will experience new creation in Him. Hence the gospel then demands all to be united to Christ through wholehearted trust in His saving promise and live in embodied allegiance to His kingdom.

Posted in Communication, Culture Tagged with: , ,

Paul’s Rhetoric of Shame in Philemon, ala John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom preached four homilies on Paul’s letter to Philemon. The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople was trained in Greek rhetoric, so he discusses the various ways that Paul uses honor and shame to influence Philemon. The words “honor” and “shame” each appear twenty-two times in the four homilies.

Chrysostom’s fourth-century homilies reveal how the early Church read and interpreted Paul. We can see the letter through different eyes. Also, we can better understand how Paul uses shame for his ministry purposes. For Paul, the rhetoric of shame (and honor) was not taboo or manipulative; rather, it was acceptable for purposes of discipleship and ministry. This post summarizes Chrysostom’s interpretation of Paul’s letter to Philemon.

The Rhetoric of Shame

 Chrysostom’s homilies read like a rhetorical analysis of Paul’s epistle. He often draws the readers to Paul’s stealthy rhetoric. For example, Chrysostom makes this comment about Paul’s introductory greeting: “Observe therefore how prudently he has found a way by his manner of mentioning them, both to honor them by his mention of them, and not to wound him.” As a student of ancient rhetoric, Chrysostom notices Paul’s repeated use of shame and honor to influence Philemon. At one point, he explains, “Strange! how many things are here to shame him into compliance.”

Paul’s identification as a “prisoner of Christ” (v. 1) has a particular rhetorical strategy. If a prisoner like Paul can be Philemon’s honored friend, then so can a slave (Onesimus). The apostle deliberately minimizes his own status: “For if a chain for Christ’s sake is not a shame but a boast, much more is slavery not to be considered a reproach. … Nothing is greater than this boast, to be called ‘the stigmatized’ of Christ.” Paul refers to his imprisonment several times: “the chains are mentioned to shame [Philemon] into compliance.” Paul also identifies Epaphras (the minister who started the Colossian church, cf. Col 1:7; Phil 23) as a “fellow-prisoner.” According to Chrysostom, Philemon would be put to shame if he did not grant Paul’s favor while the apostle and his countryman Epaphras languished in prison.

In verse 7 Paul notes Philemon’s generosity towards other saints, as a way of inducing another favor towards Onesimus. “Nothing so shames us into giving, as to bring forward the kindnesses bestowed on others, and particularly when a man is more entitled to respect than they.”

Likewise, Paul’s offer to pay Onesimus’ debt (v. 18) “would both shame Philemon into compliance, and bring Onesimus out of trouble.”

And why does Paul extend greetings from other people (v. 24)? Once again, to shame Philemon into compliance! “And from these indeed [Paul] salutes [Philemon], urging him the more to obedience, and calls them his fellow-laborers, and in this way shames him into granting the request.” Before Paul makes a request, he bestows “a much greater one of his own.” First he gives a favor, then requests a favor.

Rhetoric of Honor

Chrysostom also notes several ways that Paul uses honor throughout the letter to motivate Philemon to welcome Onesimus. Paul presents his request with tact and praise. “He does not immediately at the commencement ask the favor, but having first admired the man, and having praised him for his good actions, and having shown no small proof of his love.” Philemon is esteemed as a noble person.

Paul also honors Onesimus, so as to make him worthy of Onesimus’ welcome. Paul claims Onesimus as his child “so that on this account also he was worthy to obtain much honor” from Philemon. The logic runs, “But if [Onesimus] is my brother, you [Philemon] also will not be ashamed of him.” And so, Paul instructs Philemon to receive Onesimus because “he is worthy not only of pardon, but of honor. Why? Because he is become the son of Paul.” Paul “has at length brought him honorably before his master,” and presents Onesimus, “no longer a slave, but more honorable than a slave.”

Ethics and Theology

 In addition to the rhetorical analysis, Chrysostom offers ethical and theological instruction in the final part of each homily. Here, too, he broaches honor and shame.

Speaking to Christian slave-owners in his congregation, Chrysostom exhorts them to not be ashamed of their Christian servants. As an example, Chrysostom presents our Master in heaven, who was not ashamed to call us servants his own siblings. May we masters, he says, “not from their servitude be ashamed to make them partakers with us in all things when they are good. For if Paul was not ashamed to call one ‘his son, his own bowels, his brother, his beloved,’ surely we ought not to be ashamed. And why do I say Paul? The Master of Paul is not ashamed to call our servants His own brethren; and are we ashamed? See how He honors us; He calls our servants His own brethren, friends, and fellow-heirs. See to what He has descended!” And later, “And this is the glory of a Master, not to be ashamed to confess them before all.”

Sermon two concludes with a warning against false-humility and vainglory. Humility can puff up “when it is practiced to gain favor of men, and not of God, that we may be praised and be high-minded.” After discussing several biblical examples of true humility, Chrysostom counsels believers, “When it enters into thy thought to admire thyself because thou art humble, consider thy Master, to what He descended, and thou wilt no longer admire thyself, nor praise thyself, but wilt deride thyself as having done nothing. Consider thyself altogether to be a debtor.”

Like other historical theologians, Chrysostom views sin as insulting and despising God. At the end of sermon one has an extended explanation. “[H]e who has offended a greater magistrate offends in a higher degree, and he who offends an inferior one in a lower degree; but he who insults the king offends much more.” Then he provides a practical example of how we dishonor God: “For consider, he that commits adultery knows that God sees him, yet he disregards Him; but if a man see him, he restrains his lust. Does not such a one not only honor men above God, not only insult God, but, which is even much more dreadful, whilst he fears them, despise Him?” Likewise, a thief “does not regard Him, nor stand in awe of Him, nor honor Him.” To convict the listener of sin, Chrysostom plainly asks, “Do you see then that we honor men more than God?” And then later, “For if by honoring men even equally with God, we insult God, how much more, when we honor men above Him?” Chrysostom’s main point is that we fail to honor God, as so are debtors.

Further Resources

  • The epistle of Philemon in your Bible.
  • The Homilies of Philemon in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (1:13), online here.
  • A previous post about Chrysostom’s hermeneutic of honor and shame in John’s Gospel.
  • Te-Li Lau’s new book Defending Shame, esp. pages 139–47 and 216–21.
Posted in Bible Tagged with:

Article: “Why We Dislike Shame”

The American Interest has published an article “Why We Dislike Shame—and Can’t Get Enough of It.” The article examines why shaming is essential in America today, and offers some suggestions for curbing its excesses. I commend the article for its clarity, balance, and insights. The author, Peter N. Stearns (University Professor of History at George Mason University) works extensively on the modern history of emotions and their social role.

Here are a few of my favorite lines, which hopefully whet your appetite to read the full article.

After an analysis of our post-Enlightenment scorn for shame, he explores its potential: “Shaming also persists because it serves vital social functions and because, even in contemporary Western society, it can work, or at least seem to work. This other side to the argument, focused on shaming not so much as individual punishment but as social practice, is what makes the current issue so complex—and so intriguing.

He summarizes the complexity of shame: “Shaming is awful; it is desirable; its extremes can be disciplined; it is inevitable.” But without ending in despair, he charts a path through these complexities so that shame may play a positive role, especially in modern democracies. 

The author makes a most insightful comment: “One of the reasons for discussing shame is to highlight the kind of complex, ambiguous problem that invites contemplation and debate rather than decisive formulas.” For me personally, this resonated strongly in my attempts to present honor-shame for Christian audiences. Many people, whether one’s context is the public sphere or Christian ministry, have a natural inclination to domestic shame into a sort of philosophical notion or pragmatic tool. But the multi-faceted nature of “shame” and “honor” (evidenced by the proliferation of definitions) calls us to contemplation and reflection, especially as they relate to human identity, morality, and community formation. Our conversations about shame must involve nuance and wisdom, as the concept is not as tamable as we may wish.  

And perhaps my favorite, the proposal of a new virtue—”shameability.” Click here to read more. 

Posted in Culture, ethics

My Response to a Critique

The academic journal Missiology recently published a critique of honor-shame, especially my book The 3D Gospel. The article is entitled “The Culture Problem: How the Honor/Shame Issue Got the Wrong End of the Anthropological Stick”, by Johannes Merz (PhD), an anthropology consultant with SIL International.

Here is the article’s abstract:

The honor/shame issue is an important topic in mission, as portrayed in Georges’s The 3D Gospel for example. Proponents of the shame–guilt distinction draw on the popular culture concept of the early 20th century by assuming that cultures are objects that we can easily grasp and demarcate from one to another. Culture thus becomes a convenient idea to understand difference by generalizing and simplifying the unfamiliar and submitting it to one’s own way of thinking. Current anthropology, however, rejects such a reifying and essentializing approach. Rather, culture is seen as an expression of how humans think, act, and live in the world, and is thus complex, fuzzy, and dynamic. In dealing with the honor/shame issue, we need to get hold of the other end of the stick by starting with humans and treating honor and shame as cultural traits. Accordingly, honor and shame are encountered to different degrees and in different ways across humanity. A vertical and categorical classification and demarcation of cultures thus needs to make room for a more dynamic and horizontal spread of cultural traits. This allows us to account better for human diversity, while simultaneously maintaining humanity’s commonality as cultural beings. To study honor and shame we need to focus on how relationships work in various real-life situations. Such an ethnographic approach builds on observation, participation, and sharing in other people’s lives. It also asks what words and notions people use to express the values that shape their relationships.

From my perspective, the article, perhaps like all publications, has both positives and shortcomings. I share my response here.  

The Positives

I am truly thankful for Merz and this article for several reasons. Several critiques of honor-shame have appeared recently, in blog posts and articles. In my opinion, Merz offers the first substantive and engaging critique. For people thinking about and researching the topic, this will be an important piece with which to interact.

Second, I have actually been waiting for such an article that “updates” our anthropology of honor and shame. For a long time, I have sensed that we are working with outdated conceptions of honor and shame (i.e., Pitt-Rivers conceptual models from 1950s Mediterranean anthropology, or Benedicts antiquated dichotomony). Whenever I hear of someone doing graduate- or doctoral-level research in anthropology, I have encouraged them to research/update notions of honor and shame. Merz has attempted this task.

Third, I was thankful for personal interactions with Merz. Whenever someone publishes a critique/warning of honor-shame, I email that person to request a chance to discuss the topic personally. Surprisingly, and to my discouragement, authors rarely respond to my invitation for a personal dialogue. However, Merz kindly responded, and we had a fruitful Skype discussion during which he answered some questions. You’d think this would be expected and typical, but I’ve found such interactions to be rare. So, kudos to Dr. Merz!

The article has definite strengths but, obviously, I disagree with some key points, at the levels of both methodology and content. Here they are.

Some Issues

One, Merz (and other recent articles) interact with The 3D Gospel, a self-published booklet. Though I’m grateful to have the book cited and discussed, an academic journal should not cite a self-published booklet. Merz does not even cite, let alone engage, my more academic book published by IVP Academic, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures. This was surprising to me, and a significant oversight by the editor. Anybody publishing or researching my work on honor-shame should not cite a self-published booklet but, rather, should engage the full-length publication. This would have resolved many incorrect assumptions.

Two, Merz’s article is admittedly anthropological and not theological. “I focus on anthropological concepts, theory, and methodology that determine how we deal with the issue of honor and shame, rather than studying it as a theological topic” (128). Anthropology is helpful and even essential. But, can we really deal with honor and shame without theology? If the cosmos has been renewed and redefined through Christ, then we must understand honor/worth/value/glory as divinely revealed. If there is any topic that gets radically redefined by Christ, it is the topic of honor! The crucified outcast becomes divinely exalted. We, as Christians, cannot explore the meaning of honor and shame apart from the Christ event. This is not a fundamentalistic rejection of the social sciences but, rather, a Barthian/apocalyptic interpretation of humanity, wherein all cultures are hopelessly alienated apart from divine intervention. Honor is inherently theological, and even Christological. We need theology to “deal with the issue of honor and shame.” If culture is not a mere personality, but “system of meaning” (as per Merz, following Geertz), then we must look to God-incarnate as the source of that ultimate meaning/worth.

Three, the article critiques the concept of honor-shame cultures as a kind of “cultural pragmatism,” as though pragmatism is negative (130-31). I would actually suggest that the practicality of the category affirms its legitimacy and accuracy. Here, I would distinguish between “conceptual pragmatism” (which provides clarity and insights) and “ministry pragmatism” (which promises certain ministry results). I resist any efforts to make “honor-shame” a shortcut or program—a common tendency in evangelical missiology. However, I think we need more conceptual pragmatism— models or concepts that bring greater insights. One reason why honor/shame “is currently one of the big topics in missionary circles” (128) is because it helps people better understand their world, the Bible, and even their own spiritual journey. The concept helps to explain reality. This does not mean the model of honor-shame is reality or that it corresponds to all social realities. But, more accurately, the concept helps to explain much of reality. In that way, I’m glad that “honor-shame” is pragmatic and helpful for people.

Four, Merz portrays anyone who uses honor-shame as a cultural imperialist who walks into a society and brashly slaps the label “guilt-innocence” or “honor-shame” onto all people from day one, and boasts in their cultural mastery. According to Merz, the Western cultural concept of honor-shame: suggests “you can master the main characteristic of your own—or indeed any—culture with virtually no investment [and] without having to engage with people” (133), “provides a double award at very little cost by affirming us in who we are and how we think, and makes us feel that we understand others better” (133), and “does not encourage further study of cultural issues” (134). Besides being humorously untrue, such a critique is quite ironic, at two levels. One, he essentializes those people who advocate honor-shame as being people who essentialize cultures. Two, the author did not read my fuller work on the topic, yet speaks of people who utilize honor shame for interpretative purposes as people who don’t want to “further study.” The entire point of my publications of honor-shame is to help people learn. I agree the category may foster some overconfidence, as when new leaders eagerly label each and every social encounter as either “guilt,” “shame,” or “fear.” However, even such overzealous naivety reflects a desire to learn. Every conceptual model can (and does) get misappropriated, but such a post-colonial critique of the concept is overly suspicious of motives.  

Five, Merz suggests that honor-shame is a tool for essentializing and otherizing a group of people (133). In post-modern anthropology and Western popular society, this is the great sin. We ought not suggest that people are different in any way; we are all humans, all equal. Post-modern anthropology reminds us that all humans share a commonality, and so we should not attempt any definitions or descriptions of cultures. The idea of culture is “complex, fuzzy, and dynamic,” and so should not be straightjacketed.

This point, which moves towards Merz’s conclusion, is actually my greatest area of both agreement and disagreement. Let me explain. I entirely agree with these contemporary anthropological ideas, in which culture is an adjective and noun. I resist the efforts of people to define a culture as simply “honor-shame,” or something else. I agree with Merz’s insights: “Ideas like honor or justice can no longer be viewed as concepts that define culture, but rather as values that act as guiding principles to help us live our lives in all their relational complexities” (139).

Yet, however grand this postmodern approach sounds on the pages of anthropology journals, I find it inadequate and insufficient in reality. This approach works well for people with a PhD in anthropology (such as Merz), but fails the average cross-cultural worker. What about the people going on one-week prayer-trip to Bulgaria, or teaching English in China, or doing a sports ministry in Argentina? Yes, it would be great if they conducted extensive anthropological research to learn how people see themselves! But this ideal is not realistic. Yes, everyone would benefit from a PhD in anthropology to learn the emic nuances of a social network, but that is not a viable plan. So in the meantime, the majority of people stand to benefit from clear, simple, insightful frameworks. 

Honor-shame is not a perfect description of collectivistic societies, but it is far better than no description at all. Most people are culturally imperialistic in that they assume their own culture is the only culture, and so they make default judgments based on their own culture. The purpose of The 3D Gospel is to introduce the idea that other cultures function differently in terms of values and morals. However, Merz’s post-modern approach seeks to erase all differences in favor of a common humanity. This sounds promising and high-minded. But, in effect, it returns us to our original mono-cultural position, and leaves people without advanced anthropological research skills prey to hegemonic notions of culture. In our phone conversation, Merz acknowledged that for some 90% of people, honor-shame can be helpful. For, one can’t understand what one doesn’t see; the words can help us describe things.

Conclusion

Merz wrote his article as a critique, but I think it functions better as a warning to not overly define people. Our descriptions ought not become prescriptions. And with this, we certainly all agree.

Posted in Culture

The Origins of Guilt-Shame-Fear

From where do we get the categories of “guilt,” “shame,” and “fear”? People do not use these terms to classify themselves. Rather, they are outside (etic) terms that researchers have used to describe the primary relational patterns in groups. In The 3D Gospel, I introduce the topic with these words:

Christian missiologists identify three responses to sin in human cultures. Eugene Nida said, “We have to reckon with three different types of reactions to transgressions of religiously sanctioned codes: fear, shame, and guilt” (Customs and Cultures, p. 150). These three moral emotions have become the foundation for three types of culture… (p. 10, 2017)

Some recent publications in mission journals have questioned the validity of the guilt-shame-fear cultural model. They imply, and at times argue, that there is no scholarly support for the idea. They note that Nida did not have in mind three “cultural categories,” and then conclude that there is no scholarly support for such categories, so there is no warrant for developing the concepts as I do in The 3D Gospel. But this argument does not work. There has, in fact, been a considerable amount of scholarship in various disciplines that parallels the guilt-shame-fear paradigm.

I agree that Nida did not intend for the three types of moral reactions to classify cultures. His comment was only a passing reference. I did not cite Nida to prove the culture types, but, rather, to (1) introduce the basic idea of different moral values/responses and (2) explain from where the labels originated. Readers have critiqued the jump from Nida’s comment to my explanation of three culture types. The 3D Gospel is introductory, not an academic book, so it does not explain every logical step or cite all of the relevant sources. Therefore, this post identifies five academic disciplines that have proposed various paradigms similar to guilt, shame, and fear.

1. Psychology

Western psychologists, emphasizing personal and internal aspects, usually identify “anxiety” as the third emotion along with guilt and shame. For example, the journal article “Anxiety, Guilt and Shame in the Atonement” (Theology Today, 1964) draws from the psychology of religion. The psychological understanding of “anxiety”— feelings of dread over future events—is quite similar to spiritual fear. David Augsburger (Professor of Psychology/Counseling at Fuller Seminary) expounded the categories in several of his publications, including Conflict Mediation Across Cultures (1986). He was a leading Christian psychologist of the late twentieth-century, and clearly identifies the three cultural types. Here is his explanation:

“Anxiety, shame, and guilt are the normal and sequential control processes that emerge in the first, second, and third years of a child’s development in every culture. Each culture has its own balanced and its own integrative hierarchy of these internal controls. Tribalistic cultures are dominated by the fear/anxiety motive. Individualistic cultures generally seek to minimize anxiety and shame while socializing the child to have more of a guilt orientation, while many collectivistic cultures generally tend to encourage a shame orientation. … The three function together, although the intensity of each influence varies significantly from culture to culture.” (pp. 82, 126)

2. Missiology

Charles Kraft (Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Intercultural Communication Fuller Theological Seminary) has an article in Perspectives  titled “The 3 Encounters of Christian Witness.” This article, adapted from his 1991 EMQ article, speaks about ministry approaches in terms of “truth,” “power,” and “allegiance” encounter.

Doug Hayward (Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Biola University) reaches similar conclusions in “The Evangelization of Animists: Power, Truth or Love Encounter?” IJFM (1997). Though they do not use the language of guilt-shame-fear, the overlap with their categories is remarkable. These articles influenced the final section of The 3D Gospel which outlines some ministry applications and approaches. 

3. Moral Psychology

Richard Shweder (Professor of Cultural Psychology at the University of Chicago) researches the cross-cultural concepts of self and moral reasoning. In 2003 he co-authored an article “The ‘Big Three’ of Morality (Autonomy, Community, and Divinity) and the ‘Big Three’ Explanations of Suffering.” They analyzed hundreds of interviews from India and noticed three clusters of “moral themes”: autonomycommunity, and divinity

Shweder’s three categories (autonomy, community, and divinity) mirror the explanation of guilt, shame, and fear cultures, though with a slight difference. Shweder’s three “moral discourses” focus on the basis of personhood (whereas guilt/shame/fear focuses on moral emotions). The labels explain how cultures define the value and essence of human beings. The three options are: rights and freedoms, status and connection, or spiritual harmony and sacredness. Then by extension, cultures develop an appropriate moral system to protect and preserve their definition of “truly human.”

In his popular book The Righteous Mind (p. 16ff), social psychologist Jonathon (Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business) adopts Shweder socio-moral taxonomy for various global cultures.

4. Cultural Communication

British polyglot Richard D. Lewis developed another cultural model called LMR to forecast cultural behavior. According to his book When Cultures Collide (1999), there are three main styles of cultural communication.

  • Linear-active cultures are factual and decisive organizers, planners and schedulers (i.e., Germany).
  • Multi-active cultures are lively multi-taskers who live according to the moment (i.e., Brazilians).
  • Re-active cultures are courteous and calm listeners who respond carefully (i.e., Japanese).

Similar to the guilt-shame-fear model, Lewis’ LMR model involves three categories plotted on a triangle. Lewis’ LMR describes communication styles, not cultural values or ethics. Though not academic, this model has been influential in the world of international relations and business.

5. International Relations

 Joerg Friedrichs (Faculty Member of International Development at University of Oxford) wrote an article “An Intercultural Theory of International Relations: How Self-Worth Underlies Politics Among Nations” (International Theory, 2016). He introduces an intercultural theory of international relations based on three distinctive ways of establishing self-worth: honor, face, and dignity. This cultural model of self-worth broadly aligns with guilt (intrinsic dignity), shame (internalized honor), and fear (externalized face).

Conclusion

Scholars in various fields have proposed three-fold cultural models similar to guilt-shame-fear. Yet recent critics of the idea seem unaware of the broader scholarship on the topic. They do not engage or cite the above-mentioned publications. Thus, they leave the impression that the entire concept comes from one sentence in Eugene Nida’s book and my self-published introduction. I, too, would question the idea if that were the case! But it is not. 

I am not arguing here that guilt-shame-fear is perfect or faultless paradigm, as though it should not be critiqued, nuanced, or enhanced. Rather, I am noting that the three broad umbrellas has some academic precedent. I appreciate engagement and critique of my publications and the culture model of honor-shame, especially from like-minded believers who are grappling with the theological and missional implications of the concepts. However, such critiques would benefit from knowing the the idea’s intellectual history.

Posted in Bible

New Webzine: Women, Honour, & Shame

The online forum When Women Speak has published a new webzine on the topic of honor and shame. Below is a list of the articles, which are introduced in the editorial. A sentence from the opening page explains why these articles are indeed timely and important—regarding the honor-shame conversation, “women’s voices have been less prominent and less often referred to, and yet, the way women experience honour and shame is quite different to that of men.” To read the full webzine, click here

Posted in Bible, Ministry, Missiology Tagged with: , ,

Perpetua and Felicitas

The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas is an early martyr story that subverts and transforms the ancient Greco-Roman notions of honor and shame.

Summary

The short story narrates the martyrdom of six young catechumens in Carthage, North Africa in the year 203. In her prison diary, Perpetua recounts her court trial and four spiritual visions. The book concludes with an eye-witness account of their heroic martyrdom. The narrative is sophisticated and inspiring literature. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas has historical value as one of the earliest Christian martyrdom stories and as the first Christian text written by a woman. Felicitas and Perpetua rank among the most famous saints in early Church history. In fact, Augustine of Hippo warned Christians 200 years later to not esteem this text as canonical Scriptures! You can read the text here or here.

This post examines the honor-shame motifs prominent throughout the story. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas illustrates how Christians adopted and redefined Greco-Roman notions of honor-shame. Moreover, these early martyrdom accounts can help us read other early Christian martyrs, such as Stephen (Acts 7) and Polycarp (c. 155 in Smyrna).

In sum, the story portrays these martyrs as noble and honorable heroes. Perpetua and others were honorable before, during, and after their death for Jesus.

Perpetua’s Honorable Nobility

 The opening paragraph introduces Perpetua as a woman of noble descent, education, and marriage. She is an aristocratic woman of status (1). Perpetua retains this sense of dignitas throughout the trial.

Before their deaths, the victims were paraded through the street for the entertainment of onlookers. The Roman guards forced Perpetua and Felicitas to dress as Ceres, the Roman goddess of fertility. The attire likely sexualized the young ladies. However, the “noble-minded women resisted even to the end with constancy.” They retain their honor by refusing to allow imperial powers to objectify and shame them (cf. Queen Vashti, Esther 1).

When thrown before the animals in the arena, Perpetua retains her status, as traditionally marked by clothes and hair. “When she saw her tunic torn from her side, she drew it over her as a veil for her middle, rather mindful of her modesty than her suffering. Then she was called for again, and bound up her disheveled hair; for it was not becoming for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning” (20). Her honorable instincts shine even in the face of death.

New Family

Times of persecution pushed martyrs to form new kinship alliances. A new spiritual family replaces traditional family structures, which were gravely important in Roman society. In antiquity, a 22-year-old lady such as Perpetua was defined by relationships with her father, husband, and brother(s). However, Perpetua redefines all three of these relationships.

Perpetua’s (unnamed) father is actually the narrative’s chief antagonist. In a series of four arguments, he begs and even assaults Perpetua so that she will renounce martyrdom. In Perpetua’s own words, the father uses “satanic arguments” to “cast [Perpetua] down from the faith,” which is the work of the devil. After Perpetua denounces the demands and authority of her pater, she has a vision that reveals her true father. Perpetua ascends to heaven and sees a white-haired shepherd, around whom are many thousand white-robed figures. This divine figure says, “Welcome, daughter” and extends food to her (4). Perpetua has a new father in heaven. In the end, the Roman judge casts down and humiliates Perpetua’s father. The Roman trial functions as a double revelation. The scene, as though an eschatological courtroom, denounces the opponent (Perpetua’s father) to shameful judgment, and reveals the hero’s honorable identification with Christ (i.e., “I am a Christian”).

The scene has great irony because the father appeals to the family honor when trying to persuade Perpetua—“Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. If with these hands I have brought you up to this flower of your age, if I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able to live after you.” The father’s concern for his family’s reputation, and how Perpetua’s actions may tarnish that reputation, leads to his public disgrace. In fact, Perpetua’s martyrdom actually does enhance the honor of her (new, spiritual) paterfamilias.

The story never mentions Perpetua’s husband. Female ascetics in the early church often claimed marriage with Jesus (cf. Acts of Paul and Thecla, St. Barbara). This new spiritual marriage extended Paul’s language in Ephesians 5. As for brothers, deacons of the church attend to Perpetua throughout her imprisonment. They assume the family role of bringing her supplies and keeping her company. These people, often males, function as spiritual brothers in the narrative. The final demonstration of renewed family occurs just before their martyrdom. Felicitas gives birth to a young girl, “which a certain sister brought up as her daughter.” Fellow Christians adopt the child into their own family.

Rhetoric and Power

Today the word martyr means “a person who dies for Christ.” But the term originally meant “witness,” someone who spoke authoritatively and eloquently before others. Martyria was a rhetorical argument delivered in a court. In the early Church, martyrs were socially prominent Christians with the authority and education to publicly defend themselves. In this ancient rhetorical context, martyr stories are not focused on the deaths of passive victims, but their public declarations, even in the face of death.

Martyr accounts like The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas portray Christians as competing in public competitions. Through their words and divine support, the Christian witnesses emerge victorious and shame their opponents. This function is central to the entire genre of martyr narratives (cf. Stephen in Acts 7, Polycarp). The martyrs claim honor through their public witness, first at their court trial and then in the arena.

Perpetua competes in and dominates verbal honor-competitions. In the opening scene, Perpetua defeats her father with Socratic reasoning. As she says, if a bowl cannot change its name, she too must be called by her essence—”I am a Christian.” Perpetua vanquishes her father’s satanic arguments (2). Later she shames the tribune with her words. They are scandalized and embarrassed, so then treat her better (16). On their final evening, Perpetua and her friends share a love-feast (agape) as curious spectators watch them. However, instead of feeling diminished as exposed criminals, the martyrs shame and expose the onlookers, and many of them believed (17). The next morning, spectators gather for the game’s official procession in order to deride and mock those condemned. But Perpetua stares down the audience and forces them to lower their gaze (18). The shamers have been shamed. Perpetua, through her masterful orator, is a Roman hero who conquers in the face of adversity.

Courage and Noble Death

Perpetua has the courage to die a noble death. She controls the situation with her words and her actions, orchestrating the event to divine plan. In the final scene, Perpetua exercises her courage and control to gain the contest’s ultimate honor. The young gladiator wavers in fear before Perpetua, so she brings his shaky hand up to her own throat. Like Jesus and other Greco-Roman heroes, she controls her own fate and dies a noble death with great courage. In the New Testament, this is most emphasized in John’s Gospel.

The nobility of a courageous death, as Perpetua displays, explains the book’s most famous verse. In her third prophetic vision (10), Perpetua faces a barbarous Egyptian in the arena. Some young men prepare her for the fight. “I was stripped, and became a man. Then my helpers began to rub me with oil, as is the custom for contest.” These sentences have fostered much discussion about “gender-fluidity” and “eroticism.” However, these words are referring to her noble character, not her gender or sexuality. This is evident in the story itself, as in the next scene the referee of the gladiatorial fight refers to Perpetua as “this woman.”

So how did Perpetua “become a man”? In ancient Greece, “manliness” was a noble virtue. To “be a man” meant to face danger with courage, self-control, and resolve. The opposite was an emotional display of fear and cowardice. This ancient virtue system leaks into the Greek language, so the verb “to be courageous” is literally “be a man” (cf. 1 Cor 16:13, ἀνδρίζεσθε, where Paul is speaking to women and men!). Such “manliness” refers to Perpetua’s virtues of self-control and courage, regardless of her gender. In her vision, she conquers the Egyptian (another demonic figure) by striking his face with her heels. This biblical language (cf. Gen 3:15; Rom 16:20) interprets her impending martyrdom as a victory of evil, which Perpetua accomplished by becoming “manly/courageous.”

The Crowds

The onlooking crowds function as another character in the story. Much like Perpetua’s father, they are opponents who embody shame. These blood-thirsty onlookers revel in the violence of death. They demand that the martyrs be “tormented with scourges” (18) and “make their eyes partners in the murder” (20). However, in the end, these crowds are shamed and exposed. The crowds echo the demanding Jewish leadership at Jesus’ trials. The public decrees contrast the heavenly verdict issued from the throne of heaven, as in the book of Revelation. The crowds function as the mouthpiece of the false honor-system. But even as they perpetuate a false reality, their evil advances God’s victory through the martyrs.

And also like Jesus’ passion narrative, the Roman officials are portrayed in a more positive light (though they carry out the execution). The Roman judge “put down” the story’s antagonist, Perpetua’s father. The overseer of the prison, Pudens, “began to regard us in great esteem, perceiving that the great power of God was in us” (cf. Mark 15:39). And the tribune treated the imprisoned martyrs humanly and allowed visitors (16). Though in this last instance, the prisoners shamed them into the action by appealing to their honor—“Is it not your glory if we appear [in the arena] fatter than others?”

Death as Glory

 For early Christians, death via martyrdom was the obtainment of glory. Martyrs imitated Jesus; they participated in his suffering and his glory (cf. Phil 3). For example, the narrator declares the moment Perpetua lies disheveled and exposed before the lions as “her glory” (20). Another member of the group, Saturninus, was “doubtless that he might wear a more glorious crown” upon facing the beasts. Martyrdom was the revelation and obtainment of divine glory. In a pre-martyrdom vision, Perpetua enters into paradise with Saturus. As they walk through a garden, “four other angels appeared, brighter than the previous ones, who, when they saw us, gave us honour, and said to the rest of the angels, ‘Here they are! Here they are!’ with admiration” (11). The heavenly crowds publicly honor them along with previous martyrs.

The narrative also utilizes spatial language—i.e., up and down, raised and lowered—to portray status. In her first prophetic vision from prison, Perpetua sees “a golden ladder of marvelous height, reaching up even to heaven,” which represents the martyrdom itself (4). At the base was a crouching dragon waiting to scare potential martyrs from the ascent. This represents Satan’s efforts to lure persecuted Christians into renouncing Christ and offering a pagan sacrifice, and thus to fail to “climb the ladder.” At the end of the story, the narrator says that the initial martyr Saturus “had first ascended the ladder.”

Another motif, common in other martyrdom stories (cf. Daniel 6), is the submission of vicious animals. For example, a boar is released upon the martyrs, but attacks and kills his master. Then a bear does not exit his den (19). The murderous animals do not attack the holy ones. Ancient Roman officials organized gladiatorial games with exotic animals from around the world. In such events, Romans were the glorious masters of all creation. But martyrdom stories reverse that narrative and portray Christians as masters of creation, co-rulers with Christ over all.

The narrator’s final postscript affirms the honor of the martyrs as ones who honor Christ. “Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old” (21).

For more, see these articles Brian Sower, “Pudor et Dedecus: Rhetoric of Honor and Shame in Perpetua’s Passion” (2015) and Erin Ronsse, “Rhetoric of Martyrs: Listening to Saints Perpetua and Felictas” (2006), both in Journal of Early Christian Studies

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

4 Honor-Shame Motifs of Lamentations 1

The realities of dishonor and shame pervade the book of Lamentations (see previous post). Four motifs express the honor-shame dynamics in Lamentations 1—defilement, loneliness, subjugation, and desperation, as this post explores.

Defilement

The poet portrays the destruction of Israel is terms of defilement and uncleanness. Israel has become unacceptable and dismissed. The city is a violated virgin.

Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away. 

Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
she did not consider her future. (1:8-9a)

Israel is “unclean,” “naked,” and “filthy.” This state has come about because of her sins and through her enemies. The poet uses verbs of sexual violence against the city. 

The enemy laid hands on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden to enter your assembly. (Lam 1:10)

God’s city has been violated and spoiled. The “Virgin Daughter of Judah” has been trampled in the winepress and lost her purity (1:15, cf. Jer 14:17). The implicit result is disgrace, for both Israel herself and her father/husband YHWH.

Israel’s defilement raises a chicken-and-egg type problem? What came first—Israel’s defilement, or their judgment? Was Israel defiled through judgment? Or, were they judged because they were defiled. The answer is, yes to both. Israel had become an unclean person through spiritual prostitution (1:9). Their skirts have become filthy from sexual fluids. This is a metaphor of Israel’s gross disloyalty to God (not a prophecy about the dress of a Presidential aid). Israel had failed to consider the future consequences of such harlotry. But now she has been exposed for his sin. As a covenant keeping husband, God has publicized Israel’s spiritual disgrace. Theological shame (before God) has led to Israel’s social shame (through Babylon). The exile displayed their shame. Or in the words of Jer 13:26, “I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen.”

Abandonment

Israel was completely abandoned. She has no friends or allies. Nobody sought relationship with Israel. The nation was rendered useless and tossed aside like trash. Israel has no covenant relationships, no social connections to help in times of distress. The words “no one” and “none” fill the chapter.

Among all her lovers
there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies. (1:2)

When her people fell into enemy hands,
there was no one to help her. (1:7b)

there was none to comfort her. (1:9, 17, and 21)

No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit. (1:16)

“I called to my allies but they betrayed me.” (1:19)

In a society where social relationships define status and identity, such alienation is utmost disgrace. Israel had become an unwelcome relative (cf. Job 19:13-19).

The theme of abandonment is a common motif in the lives of God’s people. Joseph, Job, and Jesus were abandoned by family and friends. They were left to die alone in disgrace, but were later divinely exalted.

Subjugation

Jerusalem was once the queen city. She was the political capital of Israel, but also the dwelling of God, the place where heaven met earth.  But now others rule over Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been enslaved and subjugated. The personified Jerusalem says, “The Lord handed me over to those whom I cannot withstand” (1:14b).

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe. (1:5)

“Her pursuers have all overtaken her” (1:3) and inflict suffering (1:12). Babylon “despises” Jerusalem and her inhabitants (1:8, 11). Israel faces deliberate humiliation from others. They have become less than human. Lamentations 5 articulates how every social class in Israel had been degraded.

Desperation

The people now live in a state of desperation and turmoil, not order and structure. Instead of celebrating the national holidays as a people, they scrounge for water. The people are in survival mode. They live like rats scurrying for food and are chased away. Such desperation creates feelings of worthlessness.

All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become. (1:12)

They only sit and mourn like a dispossessed widow. “She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks” (1:2).

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter. (1:4)

The despair causes mourning, an act of symbolic self-shaming wherein people embody their lowliness and chaos.  

Conclusion

The destruction of Jerusalem brought disgrace and shame upon Israel. The people of God were defiled, abandoned, subjugated, and desperate.

 

 

Posted in Bible, OT Tagged with: ,

Honor and Shame in Lamentations

The book of Lamentations features two of my least favorite things in the world—poetry and suffering. I enjoy many other biblical books more than Lamentations. But in seasons of loss and anguish, the voice of Lamentations has drawn my attention like a bright, unavoidable light.

The book of Lamentation consists of five alphabet poems, funeral dirges. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people of God were decimated in 586 BC. To grieve this tragedy, Lamentations articulates the social devastation and explores theological tensions. And naturally, honor and shame are prominent themes in Lamentations.

This post lists verses explicitly discussing the dishonor and shame of Israel’s devastation. Then I explain the broader theological mindset surrounding these verses.

Honor-Shame Verses

All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness. (1:8)

Look, Lord, and consider, for I am despised. (1:11c)

How the Lord in his anger
has humiliated daughter Zion! (2:1)

He has brought her kingdom and its princes
down to the ground in dishonor. (2:2)

I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long. (3:14)

So I say, “My splendor is gone” (3:18)

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace. (3:30)

You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations. (3:45)

The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor. (4:16)

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace. (5:1)

The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned! (5:16)

Along with these explicit verses about honor and shame, Lamentations communicates honor-shame realities non-discursively through motifs such as defilement, subjugation, loneliness, and hopelessness (addressed in the next post).

Centrality of Shame

The poems of Lamentations grieve the loss of Israel’s honor. The political subjugation and miserable conditions symbolize the nation’s lost status. The physical and economic destruction of Babylon’s invasion has caused social disgrace. In losing their ancestral home, Israel had lost their status and significance. The poems of Lamentations bemoan their shame and plea for restored honor. The core issue is not material loss, but social loss. Israel’s main problem was not poverty, hunger, or exile, but the disgrace associated with those conditions. After Babylon’s invasion, Israel could repeat Job’s lament:

He has stripped me of my honor
and removed the crown from my head.

He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
he uproots my hope like a tree.
His anger burns against me;
he counts me among his enemies. (Job 19:9-11)

God’s Dishonor

The devastation of Israel created a theological problem—the dishonor of God. How can God be a righteous covenant partner if he destroys his people? Israel’s suffering and shame (seemingly) discredited God’s honor as a patron and provider. If God’s people experience shame, how can God be an honorable king? (cf. 5:19-22). For more, see this post about Old Testament theodicy.

This theological conundrum pushes the poet to explore the cause of Israel’s shame. The nation’s sin and rebellion is the primary cause of the destruction. Israel’s shame is discipline for their sin (Lam 1:5, 8–9, 14, 18, 20; 2:14; 3:39–42). By accepting responsibility for the evil, Israel absolves God of the blame and helps to restore his honor. The fault is not his shameful lack of loyalty or strength, but their disloyalty as his covenant clients.  

God also plays an active role in Israel’s experience. God “humiliates” and throws down” Israel, but his actions are justified because of Israel’s sin. In fact, the destruction is proof of God’s covenant loyalty (albeit to the promises of cursing in Duet 28). God’s past judgments are the basis of Israel’s hope for future restoration. If God was consistent to judge, he will also be consistent to save (Lam 3:20-22). As Israel experiences shame, she interprets the shame in a way that preserves God’s honor, and also invokes God to restore her honor. 

A third reason for Israel’s situation is their enemies (Lam 1:21–22; 2:16; 3:52–66; 4:21–22; 5:2, 8). They have taken advantage of the situation, but will ultimately face the same fate and be stripped naked (Lam 5:2). As with all of God’s opponents, their status is temporary.

For more, see the article “Expressions of Honor and Shame in Lamentations 1” by Balu Savarikannu, AJPS 21:1 (Feb 2018), pp. 81-94.

Image © Saint Mary’s Press.

Posted in Bible, OT Tagged with:

Pledge Allegiance To Christ

Guest Werner Mischke did a blog series on some key books in New Testament studies related to allegiance, or “relational loyalty”. This concluding post summarizes and applies the key ideas. Reposted with permission. 


  • Post #1 introduces the topic of allegiance to “THE CHRIST”—Jesus as King.
  • Post #2 was on allegiance and GRACE, referencing primarily Paul and the Gift by Prof. John M. G. Barclay.
  • Post #3 focused on allegiance and FAITH, in which we referenced Matthew W. Bates’s Gospel AllegianceWhat Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ.
  • Post #4 and post 4b focused on allegiance and BAPTISM. We looked at R. Alan Streett’s Caesar and the Sacrament: Baptism: A Rite of Resistance.

In this post, I want to summarize the main ideas. I will also consider several questions and some possible applications.

Summary of Key Ideas

  1. Christ is King of kings; his followers give ultimate allegiance to Christ.
  1. Allegiance and GRACE 

In the ancient world, grace and allegiance were understood as a package deal. As a Christian, you received a magnificent gift (Gk., charis) from a great Patron (God). To receive an undeserved gift was deeply counter-cultural. In reciprocity, you return to the Patron praise, obedience, loyalty—allegiance. This reciprocal aspect of grace was in keeping with the culture.

  1. Allegiance and FAITH 

The Greek word pistis in the New Testament can be translated variously depending on the context as faith, belief, faithfulness, loyalty, allegiance. When it is used in relation to Jesus “the Christ,” that is, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, then pistis often conveys the meaning of allegiance or loyalty.

  1. Allegiance and BAPTISM

Baptism expresses one’s identification with the Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–5). Baptism is also an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ and his kingdom. This oath of allegiance to the Christ may be considered an implicit denial of allegiance to other social structures, which may be inconsistent with the values of the kingdom of God.

Questions and Possible Applications

  1. Identity: To whom do we belong? 

How should believers navigate multiple allegiances under their ultimate allegiance to Christ the King? In every Christian community, believers have multiple allegiances. Allegiance to your family is rightly considered basic. In many nations, allegiance to your country is considered a sacred duty. Among some peoples, loyalty to one’s tribe or extended family carries greater obligations than civic law or national identity. 

Serving in the American military requires an Oath of Enlistment. Servicemen and women “solemnly swear” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same; . . .”

The company you work for can also engender profound allegiance from its employees. A person can belong to a sports team, or be a die-hard fan of that team. A political party often requires allegiance from its members.

In what ways might allegiance to Christ benefit or enhance these various other relations? In what ways might allegiance to Christ serve as a critique to these relations? 

  1. The church 

How does allegiance to Christ impact one’s allegiance to the local church? This relates to the question: To whom do we belong? In a culture of choice and radical individualism, how should believers express the primacy of their allegiance to the body of Christ? 

Regular attendance, regular serving with your spiritual gifts, and regular financial support (tithing) are expressions of allegiance. People who call themselves “Christian” but are not committed to a local assembly of believers do not show allegiance to Christ.

  1. Evangelism 

Does the Lord call people to simple repentance and allegiance? How do we navigate the tension between simplicity and fierceness in the call to follow Jesus? The simplicity of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 18:2–3; 19:14; John 10:27–28; Rev 3:20; 22:17. The fierceness of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 9:26; 9:62; 14:27–28; 2 Tim 2:3.

  1. Baptism 

What if the church’s teaching on the subject of baptism included the early church perspective of an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ? In America, I have witnessed many celebratory baptisms. Should the baptism service be less celebratory and more solemn? What might make a baptism service more solemn? Considering the idea of allegiance as an oath, should children make oaths of allegiance? How might this affect our thinking about baptism of children or of infants?

  1. Tribalism

Christ’s glorious Being transforms all secondary identity factors of the believer. If this is true, what are the practical results of one’s ethnicity, tribe, race, or social status being subsumed within one’s allegiance to Christ? How might allegiance to Christ lead you to rethink your social obligations, where you choose to live, or where your family worships?

  1. Spiritual transformation

Because of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Paul identifies all of his social capital (all of his Jewish moral and ethnic honor), whether ascribed or achieved honor, as “rubbish” (Phil 3:3–8). His experiential knowledge of Christ gives him the honor surplus that fuels his allegiance to Christ even unto suffering: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10–11). 

Paul’s allegiance to Christ is integral to his participation with Christ. This glory of being in Christ relativizes all other aspects of his identity. How do believers get to the place in their journey where they share in the experience of  “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?” Should the suffering of believers be emphasized as normal rather than exceptional? Should everyone who pledges allegiance to the Christ expect to suffer? 

Conclusion

If allegiance to Jesus the Christ is: 

  1. an integral part of the reciprocal nature of God’s grace
  2. a vital aspect of faith in Christ, and 
  3. the oath publicly proclaimed as part of the sacrament of baptism

then it follows: Allegiance to Christ should be regularly proclaimed, taught, and modeled as a normal part of the Christian life.

Posted in leadership, Ministry, NT

Updated: Honor-Shame Research Bibliography

In 2015, I compiled and released an extensive bibliography for honor-shame to facilitate research on the topic. Since then, the amount of resources on honor and shame has greatly increased. Thanks to the work of Chris Flanders, the bibliography has been updated and now has over 550 references.

This bibliography is designed for people doing research and writing. If you are looking to learn about honor & shame, I suggest starting with this list of recommended resources. We done our best to ensure accuracy, but no guarantees.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 11.22.03 AM

The bibliography is available online and is fully searchable, by metadata and tags. It can be accessed in two ways:

  1. BASICClick here to view the bibliography. Click around or search to see what is available. Everything has been tagged by topic, genre, source, type, and field. So, you can easily find honor-shame materials related to RomansJapan, the atonement, and more.
  2. ADVANCED: Install the Zotero program to your computer. This allows you import bibliographic data from Amazon.com or Google Books by clicking one button, add auto-formatted references to your research papers with a few simple clicks, and sync all your data on the Zotero cloud for collaboration. It does take some effort to learn the program, but Zotero’s power and simplicity make it a worthy investment, especially for those doing graduate studies and research. If you use Zotero, you can import the honor-shame bibliography in full. To do that–login at Zotero.com, go to https://www.zotero.org/groups/honorshame, click the red “Join Group” button, and then I will OK your request to be a group member.

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Posted in Resources Tagged with: ,

“In Christ” as a Communal Ethic

I remember reading Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker as a new believer. The long list of “who I am in Christ” statements was powerful. Knowing my position is essential to the Christian life.

But have you ever noticed how those lists of “in Christ” statements all start with “I”? Search for images of “who I am in Christ” and endless resources appear. But search for “who we are in Christ” and you get a bunch of “who I am in Christ” lists! This is quite indicative. Western theology emphasizes the individualistic aspects of salvation in Christ, but neglects the corporate dimensions.

The language of “in Christ” is a Pauline favorite. For good reason, many scholars propose “union with Christ,” or “participation with Christ,” as the center of Paul’s theology. For example, in Galatians 2, Paul says we have freedom in Christ, have justification in Christ, and live in Christ. Our connection with Christ creates a new identity, a new way of being. I have died with Christ, resurrected with Christ, and even sit with Christ (cf. Rom 6; Eph 1; 3). This new covenantal bond “with Jesus,” or being “in Christ,” is, indeed, a central aspect of New Covenant salvation, especially in Pauline epistles.

A Community “In Christ”

However, there is also a communal dimension of “in Christ” language in the New Testament. My relationships with others and activities for others occur “in Christ.” For sure, the majority of “in Christ” verses in the Bible involves individual participation in Christ. But individual union is not the whole story; we are overlooking something else.

Below, I explain five verses that use “in Christ” in a communal way. These verses emphasize what we do “in Christ,” not just what we are “in Christ.” The “in Christ” language locates not only the individual but our communal interactions. We are in Christ. And to say “we are in Christ” is not simply “you and I, two separate individuals, are in Christ,” but “our relationships take place in Christ.” In this instance, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You and I together constitute a new relation and form a new identity. Here are some of the verses, then a synthesis.

  1. Paul tells the Christians in Rome to “Welcome [Phoebe, the letter-carrier] in the Lord” (16:2). Later in the chapter, there are several greetings in the Lord (v. 11, 12, 22). Our inter-relations as Christians take place in Christ.
  1. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul defends his choice to not visit the Corinthians. They seem resentful that he did not keep his promise to come, as if that had severed the relationship. However, Paul says, “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us” (2 Cor 1:21). Paul’s ministry team has been divinely united with the Corinthian believers, and this occurred in Christ.
  1. In 1 Corinthians, Paul negotiates his relationship with the fledgling congregation. He must provide correction, but without distancing or offending. So, Paul applies familial metaphors to frame his relationship. “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:15–17). In each instance, the human-to-human relationship—i.e., guardian, father, or child—occurs in Christ.
  1. From his prison in Rome, Paul sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon. Paul asks Philemon for a favor, and he even mentions Philemon’s social debt. In verse 20, he says, “Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.” Philemon is to give Paul a certain gift (i.e., Onesimus) in the Lord. This act of spiritual encouragement from Philemon to Paul would happen in Christ.
  1. The idea of doing things for fellow believers “in Christ” continues with the Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius of Antioch ( 115) instructs believers to “continually love each other in Jesus Christ” (Magn. 6:2).

In each verse, the phrase “in Christ” is rather gratuitous. Paul could have simply said, “Welcome Phoebe” or “give me a benefit.” So, why add the phrase “in Christ”? What is the meaning and significance of these actions happening in Christ?

The Ethics of “In Christ”

The language of “in Christ” frames our relationships. “In Christ” is not simply a heavenly reckoning of our spiritual status, but a new sphere for our interactions and exchanges with others. Our interactions with others occur in the shadow of Jesus’ messianic kingdom. In these instances, the language of “in Christ” roughly stands for the idea “now that Jesus is the King and there is a new honor system in place…”. Remember, “Christ” is not Jesus’ surname, but a declaration of his royal identity. When conjoined with an admonition, “in Christ” means something like, “considering the newly-exalted Messianic ruler,” or “under the jurisdiction of the new king.”

The fact that “Christ is King” reorders the ideology of Christian communities and introduces new social practices. We share a common Lord, and so his peace and love now govern our community. Our practices as his ekklesia derive from our relationship with the enthroned King (Cf. Jipp, Christ is King, 276-77).

Though not ideal, here is a similar good example. When someone from one tribe becomes president of an entire country. The relatives, and entire tribe, of the new president obtain a new status, with new rights and privileges, by virtue of their collective association with the person. Once “their guy” is in office, they act differently (usually harmfully). Likewise, “in Christ” is like stating, “Hey, our guy is in charge now! So act like we have the power to rule!” The powers of this world oppress and plunder. But the ruler of our kingdom, by way of example, leads us to serve and love; our king invites us to co-rule over sin and death. The point being, a new ruler brings new social norms. This is how “in Christ” functions in the examples above.

A new king is on the throne, and so we grant status differently now. This new king/dom redefines and generates new exchanges of honor. We now welcome, greet, partner, relate, reciprocate, and love in entirely new ways because Jesus is king. Because God has vindicated the crucified one, a new calculus of worth and status frames our relationships. The universal lordship of Jesus is the new context for our relationships. This is the meaning of Paul situating Christian-to-Christian relationships “in Christ.”

Posted in ethics, Theology Tagged with: , ,

Honor and Shame as (New) Covenant Language

The removal of shame is a new covenant reality. When God (re)makes his covenant, he removes the shame of his people. This covenantal context, I believe, is crucial to properly understanding the nature of biblical shame, and, thus, salvation as a whole.

In the OT, when God renews the covenant, when he brings his people back from exile, when he remakes his creation … then his people will receive his spirit, overcome evil powers, and be freed from shame. This concepts are all tied together in new covenant salvation.

And so, the language of shame (and honor) in the early Christian writings points to covenant. The fact that we no longer have shame indicates that God has fulfilled his covenant with his people. New Testament references to the absence of shame and the bestowal of glory should be read as new covenant language.

Many biblical interpreters read the  biblical language of shame in light of psychology and anthropology. But honor and shame is, foremost, covenantal language. In my opinion, this realization properly frames honor-shame language in the NT. Let’s trace the idea through Scripture.

Deuteronomic Covenant

The Deuteronomic covenant outlines the (patron-client) relationship with God and Israel. The “blessings and curses” of Deuteronomy 28 explain the ways God will honor and shame his people. Promises of honor bookend the list of blessings in vv. 1–14—“If you will only obey … the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (v. 1) and “The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom, if you obey…” (v. 14). If Israel remains faithful to honoring God via obedience, they will be honored and exalted before other nations, in the form of land, health, and wealth.

Conversely, the nation of Israel faces shameful curses if it breaks covenant with God. Israel will, among many other things, be defeated by enemies (v. 25), oppressed and robbed continually (v. 29), cuckolded as others take their wives (v. 30), become a horror and byword among all peoples (v. 37), and made lower and lower (v. 43). Its status and reputation will fall, even to the point of their becoming unwanted slaves (v. 68). When Israel does not respect the glorious and awesome name of Yahweh (v. 58), its own name becomes an object of derision and scorn.

Keeping the covenant confers honor, while breaking the covenant brings shame. This suggests the restoration of the covenant (i.e., a “new covenant”) would involve the removal of shame and the restoration of honor.

 The Prophetic Vision of Isaiah

To comfort and admonish God’s people, the prophets of Israel proclaimed the future day of God’s salvation. When God delivers his people, the covenant curses and shame of exile would be removed. Ancient Israelites experienced exile as shame (cf. Lam 1:1, 2:1, 5:1; Neh 1:3, 2:17). Thus, they awaited the day when they would no longer face that disgrace (cf. Joel 2:26–28; Zeph 3:19–20). In other words, they hoped for the renewal of covenant and the re-gifting of covenant blessings (cf. Duet 28:1–14). This divine intervention would reverse the status of all—the lowly brought high and the proud made humble. Isaiah, in particular, speaks of this eschatological “escape from shame.” These verses are issued as promises to Israel regarding its new exodus.

  • Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. (Isa 61:7)
  • I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor (Isa 45:3)
  • All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace together. But Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting. (Isa 45:16–17)
  • I will make with you an everlasting covenant,… and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. (Isa 55:3–5)

These promises of salvation are not abstract soteriological declarations but, rather, relational actions that evoke the renewal of covenant. Ancient Israelites would interpret these prophetic words in the context of their covenant with Yahweh, as described in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The removal of shame was not merely a psychological insight or timeless pastoral admonition, but an act of covenantal faithfulness and restoration. This idea continues into the NT.

Isaiah, Romans, 1 Peter

As an example, we examine how the apostles used one particular verse from Isaiah. On three occasions, NT authors cite Isaiah 28:16 (LXX)—“See, I will lay for the foundations of Sion a precious, choice stone, a highly valued cornerstone for its foundations, and the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

 

…as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33)

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13)

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe… (1 Peter 2:6-7)

Several things to note about these passages.

One, each instance is a direct citation from Scripture, not merely an echo. “As it is written…”, “For the Scripture says…”, “For it stands in Scripture…”. The authors deliberately and explicitly evoke Old Testament writings to interpret salvation in Christ. They are locating their story within the story of Israel, which involves God’s covenant with Israel.

Two, the benefit of “not being put to shamed” (οὐ μὴ καταισχυνθῇ) accrues to “the one who believes/trusts unto him” (ὁ πιστεύων ἐπ’ αὐτῷ). We escape shame by having faith. And, just like “shame,” the word “faith” is covenantal. Nijay Gupta states, “Faith language points to covenant.” The Greek word “faith” was a political/military term for mutual and harmonious relationships. The Jewish historian Josephus uses the plural form of “faith” (i.e., pledges of loyalty) as a substitute for the word “covenant.” Faith is not simply cognitive ascent, but trust and allegiance. The word “faith” evokes a covenantal context for understanding the benefit of “not being put to shame.” Faith implies pledging our allegiance and placing our hope in the true King who can save people from disgrace—a particularly covenantal idea. Here is my paraphrase that accounts for the covenantal assumptions of Isa 28:16, et al.: “Peoples who are faithful to God by trusting him … will not be excluded from the blessings and promises of honor, which God has made to his people.” As you can see, this differs from contemporary interpretations of “faith” and “shame,” which lead to a different reading: “Any individual who acknowledges Jesus as personal Savior will not deal with low self-esteem and personal rejection.” I believe this latter statement is theological true and important, but not the main focus of NT citations of Isaiah 28:6.

Three, Paul and Peter cite Isaiah 28:6 to explain the new covenant community. “Who” are the people of God? In Romans 9-11, Paul clarifies the Jew and Gentile relationship and, specifically, which group of people obtains “the adoption, the glory, the covenant” (9:4). In Romans 10, the logical reason why believers won’t be shamed is, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile” (cf. Rom 3:22-23). God has opened the covenant beyond ethnic Israel so that people from all groups can experience the covenant blessing of shame removal. “Whoever believes has no shame” is a way of saying “All people, including Gentiles, can be full covenant members.”

The concept of “covenantal people of God” is also explicit in 1 Peter 2:4–10. Verses 9 and 10, in particular, use several exodus-related titles of Israel to redefine the new community of God. Just as God long ago rescued Israel from shame, formed a covenant with them, and made them a special people, he has done so again through Jesus. “No shame” is, and always has been, a gift/benefit of God’s covenant people.

Four, the idea of “not being put to shame” is synonymous with “salvation.” The verses following Romans 9:33 and 10:11 both use “save” language. Shame is not a psychological emotion, but a theological reality from which we are divinely saved. God, as the true king, rescues his people from public disgrace and condemnation. Such a salvation occurred at the exodus/Mosaic covenant, and then was anticipated in the return-from-exile/New Covenant, which has happened in Christ.

Going one step further, honor and shame could be explored as a potential center of Paul’s theology. As a covenant concept, I foresee ways in which honor and shame might contextualize and integrate other proposed centers of Pauline theology into a complementary mosaic (e.g., justification, salvation-history, apocalypticism, and union with Christ). But that is for another conversation.

New Covenant Community

With this in mind, we can better understand honoring and shaming within the Church. The body of Christ, as the new covenant community, embodies God’s new rubric of human worth declared at the crucifixion and resurrection. Just as Jesus’ physical body established new standards for human value (honor and shame) at the cross, so, too, does the spiritual body of Christ reflect those new standards in our social relationships. We “do church” in a way that affirms Jesus’ shaming of shame and his vindication from death. Honor and shame look different in God’s social economy, which we replicate as the church. We are called to honor (and shame) people in a new covenant manner. This is Paul’s approach to community formation, most evident in 1 Corinthians.

The Deuteronomistic covenant contained stipulations for properly including/excluding (i.e., honor/shaming) people, based on ritual and moral purity. Israel, God’s “holy people,” functioned as the covenant community by maintaining Mosaic distinctions of purity and sacredness. The community reflected divine standards of honor and shame.

Likewise, the community of the new covenant enacts the evaluations of God. We extend honor (and shame) based on the value system of God. Christians are to welcome, accept, and esteem all people, regardless of social distinctions, just as God has done. But also, the Christian community prophetically acts out the eschatological shaming judgment of God in the present age. God’s people enforce covenant standards among themselves. Those who refuse to honor God are shamed, with the intent that temporary social shame will lead to their restoration (cf. 2 Thess 3:14–15). In this way, such people can escape the ultimate shame of external separation.

Conclusion

In the Bible, honor and shame are foremost covenant values, not social-science terms. Thus, the NT language of honor and shame evokes the new covenant. This moves us toward a more biblical understanding of salvation, shame, and honor.

Posted in Bible, salvation, Shame, Theology Tagged with: , , ,

Honor and Shame in Letter of Aristeas

Letter of Aristeas is a second-century BC “historical letter” explaining the composition of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, i.e., LXX) by Jews in Alexandria. Honor and shame are prominent motifs in the story.

The Plot

The story begins with the Ptolemaic king in Alexandria requesting a copy of the Jewish Law for his library. He sends his head librarian, bearing extravagant gifts for the Jerusalem temple, to the Jerusalem High Priest named Eleazar, who gladly complies and sends 72 Jewish elders to Alexandria to complete the Greek translation of Torah. When the 72 elders arrive in Alexandria, they enjoy a lavish feast with the king and display their wisdom. Then they complete the divine translation, to the praise of all. The Letter of Aristeas emphasizes the authority of the Alexandrine translation and portrays Alexandrine Jews as assimilated into Hellenistic culture.

This story from the intertestamental period provides cultural background for the New Testament context, especially regarding honor and shame. In terms of vocabulary, “honor” appears 20 times, “glory” 26x, and “worthy” 20x. The author uses heroic characterization to communicate honor-shame values. The narrator portrays the main characters—Ptolemaios the king, Eleazar the high priest, and the 72 elders—are pious, philanthropic, worthy, and glorious. Their honorable reputation confers authority upon the translation they collaborated to produce.

Ptolemaios, the Hellenistic King

The Ptolemaic king functions as the Gentile protector/savior of the Jewish people. In the opening scene, he liberates tens of thousands of enslaved Jews from captivity (17–19). With imagery from Exodus, the author interprets this action as an act of worship—an honorable person giving thanks/glory to God. The king’s advisor says, “It is worthy of your magnanimity to offer the release of these [Jewish] men as a thank-offering to the Most High God. For you are highly honored by the Lord of all, and have been glorified beyond your ancestors, so if you make such a great thank-offering, it is befitting of you” (19).

The generous king establishes his glory by providing for his subjects. Or more accurately, the king, as a broker, mediates God’s blessings to people. “For as God showers blessings upon all men, so you too, in imitation of him, are a benefactor to your subjects” (281). This king of Egypt is the antitype of Pharaoh. Instead of oppressing Israel and defying God, he honors the Jews and their God. The ideal king dispenses and receives honors.

Ptolemaios also provides gifts to furnish the Jerusalem temple and then oversees the public translation/reading of the Law. These elements—liberation in Egypt, temple construction, law giving—cast Ptolemy as the “new Moses.” The translation event serves as a “new Exodus” for God’s people in Egypt. However, whereas the original exodus-event and law-giving distinguished Israel from Gentile nations, this new exodus and law (i.e., LXX) integrate Jews with Gentiles. Ptolemaios, as the ideal king, unites the people under his realm, creating a harmonious society (37). The noble king rescues, honors, and provides gifts unto the people of God. The New Testament employs a similar royal ideology for Jesus.

This ideal king also seeks wisdom, in the way of Solomon. In particular, he pursues the path to true honor. At the royal feast, the king asks each of the 72 Jewish elders a philosophical question, many of which pertain to honor (cf. 226f):

  • How can we avoid doing anything unworthy of ourselves?
  • How can a man maintain the glory he received?
  • To whom must a man show love-of-honor?
  • To whom must a man show favor?
  • How can a man, after a misstep, recover once more the same degree of glory?
  • What is the greatest form of glory?
  • How can a man pay his parents the debt of gratitude which they are worthy of?
  • What human is worthy of being marveled at?

The king desires to embody and display true glory.

The Jewish elders are quick to praise the Gentile king, particularly for his generosity, benevolence, and philanthropy—all virtues of honor. “You are distinguished … by the outstanding glory of your government and our wealth.” Then, “by your righteous steering in all things have furnished for yourself an everlasting glory” (290-91). Such Messianic/David language for a Gentile king, albeit pragmatic for currying social favor with the Hellenistic overlords, contrasts with the Judean Jews who sought liberation from pagan rulers and glory unto themselves. For the Jews in Alexandria, God has already instilled a noble (Gentile) king under whom the Jews prosper and experience an exodus-like status. However, this new exodus is not from Egypt, but in Egypt.

Eleazar the High Priest

The narrative introduces the Jerusalem high priest Eleazar as a high priest “whose conduct and glory have won him preeminent-honor in the eyes of both citizens and others alike” (3). His interpretation of the Law brought the greatest benefits to many people (3), just as the Egyptian king “bestowed great and unexpected benefits upon [Jewish] citizens in many ways” (44).

The Jewish high priest responds positively to the Egyptian king’s offer of “friendship,” a technical phrase referring to their mutually-beneficial alliance. Both sides act in noble and generous ways, affirming the honor of the other party, and, thus, act in a manner “worthy” of the relationship (40-41, 179). Such love and friendship refer to mutual honoring through diplomatic protocols. The two leaders allow each other to provide benefits and, thus, appear as magnanimous co-patrons of the sacred translation project.

The narrator describes the Jerusalem temple system (83f), in which everything is done with “fear and also in a manner worthy of great divinity” (95). This includes the priest Eleazar “with both his vestments and glory” (96). The high priest embodied divine glory. “Now on his head he has what is called the tiara, but on this the inimitable turban, the royal diadem having the name of God in relief on the front in the middle in holy characters on a golden leaf, ineffable in glory. The wearer is considered worthy of wearing these vestments during the public-services” (98). As the official head of the Jerusalem Temple and Jewish people, Eleazar embodies honor in both religious and diplomatic contexts.

72 Elders/Translators

The 72 elders, six from each of the 12 tribes, are men of great knowledge and honor. They are supremely qualified for the task, in large part because of their noble status confirmed in many ways. “For the chief-priest selected men of the best merit and of excellent discipline due to the distinction of their parentage; they had not only mastered the Judean literature, but instead had even made a serious study of the Hellenic literature. And for this reason, they were well qualified for being the elders, and brought it to fruition as occasion demanded. … And they were, one and all, worthy of their leader and his outstanding excellence” (121-22).

Upon their arrival in Alexandria, the Ptolemaic king breaks official protocol to confer extraordinary honors upon the Judean delegation. For they, and the one who sent them (Eleazar), were worthy of great honor and high regard (175). The king makes a point of “not omitting any form of honor being done to these men” (183). The king recognizes their preeminent status with verbal affirmations and then public feasts. Akin to Esther, the Jewish nobles dine luxuriously in the king’s court.

The longest section of the narrative involves the elders’ replies to the king’s impromptu dinner questions. The elders appear as wise philosophers, affirming the king’s honor and displaying their own. A few examples illustrate their reflections on true honor.

  • Always have an eye to your glory and your prominence [as the king], so that you may say and think what is consistent with it, knowing that all your subjects also have you in mind and utter things about you. (218)
  • By practicing goodwill to all humans and by forming friendships, you would owe no obligation to anyone. But to have gratitude with all humans, and to receive a handsome gift from God—this is one of the strongest gift. (225).
  • It is a man’s duty to show a love-of-honor toward those who are amicably disposed to us. That is the overall opinion. But I think that we must show the same keen love-of-honor to our opponents, so that in this manner, we may convert them to what is proper and fitting for them. (227)
  • [The greatest form of glory is] Honoring God. But this is not done with gifts nor sacrifices; instead, it is done with a soul that is clean and of a disposition that is sacred, since everything is furnished by God, and administered in accordance with his wish. (234)

At the end of each day’s feast, the king praises, congratulates, compliments, and applauds the Jewish elders. He declares that they are greater than the philosophers (235) and their mere presence is the “greatest good-thing” (293). Like Daniel and Mordecai, they enjoy royal honors for their divine insights.

When the Jewish elders compose the translation, they wash their hands as evidence that they have no evil (306). Other figures had attempted to translate the Torah into Greek but were smitten with illnesses because of their inadequacy. However, the text produced by the 72 elders is publicly read, admired, and accepted as authoritative by the local Jewish community (308-10). Among the various Greek translations available to Jews is Diaspora. This text gets “canonized” because it was “made beautifully and sacredly” (310).

The elders even exit the narrative with great honor. The king promised that if the elders returned to Alexandria, he would, “as was proper, treat them as friends, and they would receive the greatest gifts [of liberal hospitality] from him” (318). In a final display of mutual honor, the king treated the elders magnificently with fine gifts as they departed for Jerusalem.

Why Honor?

 Why does the author Eristeas so emphatically foreground the honor of every character in the story? Even the Egyptian artisans who carved objects for the Jerusalem temple “make it a love-of-honor to complete everything in a way worthy of the king’s majesty.” Why is honor so pivotal in this narrative?

In collectivistic contexts, people equate messages with their messengers. Authority is social. The honor and nobility of the king, priest, and 72 elders bestow authority upon the text they produce. Their sacred honor is transferred to the work they produce. Only divine figures could produce a text so “solemn and of divine origin” (313).

The patrons are worthy of honor for their many gifts, chief of which is this translation. And the gift itself is worthy of honor. The Jewish multitudes are amazed by its words and request a copy for their own community (just as the Israelites confirmed and received Torah at Sinai, cf. Ex 19:7–8). Even the Gentile king asks “for great care to be taken of the books and to keep them pure” (317). The king had earlier granted the same reverence to the Hebrew scriptures. When the elders arrived, they unveiled the marvelous parchments with Torah in gold lettering. The king paused, then bowed seven times before the oracles of God (176–77). By the end of the story, this Alexandrian Greek translation merits the same honor as the Hebrew original. This LXX can be faithfully received, read, and obeyed by the community as God’s sacred and authoritative text.

Posted in Bible, NT, OT Tagged with: ,

Resources & Webinars

Here are some resources available at HonorShame.com. I try to keep these updated to make honor-shame content accessible. 

Webpages

Webinars

The three webinars hosted last month are available to view and download.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Ruth 1 (HSP)

This paraphrase of Ruth 1 is from the new book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 


A long time ago before the days of king David, a man named Elimelech lived in his ancestral village of Bethlehem. There was a famine in the land of Judah, so Elimelech and his wife Naomi with their two sons left their homeland and went to the foreign country of Moab.1–2

After they arrived in Moab, Elimelech died and Naomi became a widow. Her two sons eventually married Moabite wives named Orpah and Ruth. Then ten years later, tragedy struck again—Naomi’s two sons died. Naomi became a childless, destitute widow in a foreign land. With no children and no land, she had no status, no community, and no hope.3–5

Years later, Naomi heard that God remembered his people in Bethlehem and provided food for them. So despite her old age, Naomi decided to return to her ancestral village. She gathered everything to return back home.6–7

Naomi told her two young daughters-in-law (also childless widows), “Go home and live with your parents. Thanks for being so kind to me. May Yahweh bless you with the safety and security of a new husband and better family.” Naomi tried to kiss her daughters-in-law farewell. But they began crying and clung to Naomi, saying, “No! We will go with you to your people and to you land! We want to be your family!”8–10

Naomi responded, “No, my girls, that would be foolish! I do not have any other sons for you to marry. And even if I got pregnant tonight, you would have to wait twenty years for that child to grow up before he could marry you. You ladies can’t wait that long. I feel awful that my God Yahweh has taken my sons and left you as young widows. You must return to your parents so they can find you a new family to marry into.”11–13

The three women wept together. Orpah kissed Naomi farewell and returned to her parents. But Ruth remained with her mother-in-law. Naomi told Ruth, “See, your sister-in-law Orpah has returned to her people and to her culture. That is what you should do, too.”14–15

Ruth replied, “Do not advise me to leave you and return home. I will be loyal to you. I will stay with you and support you. Your people will become my people; your God, Yahweh, will be my God; your culture will become my culture. I want to be buried in your ancestral village as your relative. Before our God, Yahweh, I swear by this.” Ruth seemed determined, so Naomi allowed her to come to Bethlehem.16–18

After a long journey, they arrived in Naomi’s ancestral village of Bethlehem. The entire community was shocked. They hardly recognized Naomi after so many years.19

Naomi said to the villagers, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means “pleasant”); call me Mara (which means “resentful”), because I resent what our God, Yahweh, has done toward me. I left Bethlehem with a full family but returned an empty widow. I have lost all status and live as a nobody.20–21

So Naomi settled in Bethlehem, along with her daughter-in-law Ruth, a childless widow from a foreign land. They arrived during harvest season, when the farmers were gathering grain in the fields.22


Learn more about the book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase

 

Posted in Bible, Honor-Shame Paraphrase Tagged with: ,

Life of St. Antony and Early Monasticism

Life of St. Antony, written by Athanasius in 360 AD, is one of the most important books in Christian history. The hagiography recounts the spiritual journey of the famous “Father of Christian Monasticism.” Antony was an uneducated orphan who lived in monastic solitude and defeated Satan in the deserts of Egypt.

The short biography of Life of St. Antony not only pioneered the genre of hagiography (an idealized biography of a saint), but also helped spread the monastic ideal throughout the Church. 

Antony (251–356 AD) lived at a pivotal junction in history, a time when Christianity transitioned from being a persecuted minority to the favored religion in the Roman Empire. For this reason, his life and teaching was crucial in redefining the classical, Greco-Roman notions the “good life.” Wisdom and goodness were no longer bestowed by philosophers or imperial leaders, but through a spiritual experience in the form of monastic self-renunciation. Life of St. Antony burnished new Christian conceptions of honor and shame in antiquity. Here are four examples, along with extended quotes, of how this important book re-defined honor and shame in the Christian life.

Despising Satan

A prominent theme is how Antony shames and despises the Devil. Antony “passed through the temptation unscathed. All this was a source of shame to his foe [the devil]. For he, deeming himself like God, was now mocked by a young man; and he who boasted himself against flesh and blood was being put to flight by a man in the flesh.” (5, cf. 11)

Antony later cites Ephesians 6:14 and Titus 2:8 in this regard. “He exhorted, ‘Take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,’ that the enemy, ‘having no evil thing to say against us, may be ashamed.’” (65).

Here are exhortations from his teaching:

  • “More and more, therefore, let the deceiver be despised by us.” (37; cf. 28)
  • “‘So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them. But the more they do these things the more let us intensify our discipline against them, for a good life and faith in God is a great weapon.” (30)
  • “If, therefore, the devil himself confesses that his power is gone, we ought utterly to despise both him and his demons; and since the enemy with his hounds has but devices of this sort, we, having got to know their weakness, are able to despise them.” (42)
  • “While Antony was thus speaking all rejoiced; … and all were persuaded to despise the assaults of the Evil One, and marveled at the grace given to Antony from the Lord for the discerning of spirits.” (44)

Critiquing Pagans with New Honor Standard

Antony made a common Christian argument against the pagans—Christ and his message are a complete reversal of honor standards. The cross was not a source of shame and mockery, but the exemplar of divine life. “Tell us therefore where your oracles are now? Where are the charms of the Egyptians? Where the delusions of the magicians? When did all these things cease and grow weak except when the Cross of Christ arose? Is It then a fit subject for mockery, and not rather the things brought to nought by it, and convicted of weakness? For this is a marvelous thing, that your religion was never persecuted, but even was honoured by men in every city, while the followers of Christ are persecuted, and still our side flourishes and multiplies over yours. What is yours, though praised and honoured, perishes, while the faith and teaching of Christ, though mocked by you and often persecuted by kings, has filled the world. For when has the knowledge of God so shone forth? or when has self-control and the excellence of virginity appeared as now? or when has death been so despised except when the Cross of Christ has appeared? And this no one doubts when he sees the martyr despising death for the sake of Christ, when he sees for Christ’s sake the virgins of the Church keeping themselves pure and undefiled.” (79)

Antony lists the false pagan gods, then explains the misplaced honor of paganism. “You do not worship God Himself, but serve the creature rather than God who created all things. For if because creation is beautiful you composed such legends, still it was fitting that you should stop short at admiration and not make gods of the things created; so that you should not give the honour of the Creator to that which is created. Since, if you do, it is time for you to divert the honour of the master builder to the house built by him; and of the general to the soldier. What then can you reply to these things, that we may know whether the Cross hath anything worthy of mockery?” (76)

Shame and Conviction

Antony practiced an extreme form of self-denunciation, even to the point of experience shame for meeting everyday physical needs. Though Christians today would not denounce such daily activities as unholy, it is interesting to note that shame was the emotion of Antony’s conviction. “And he used to eat and sleep, and go about all other bodily necessities with shame when he thought of the spiritual faculties of the soul. So often, when about to eat with any other hermits, recollecting the spiritual food, he begged to be excused, and departed far off from them, deeming it a matter for shame if he should be seen eating by others. He used, however, when by himself, to eat through bodily necessity, but often also with the brethren; covered with shame on these occasions, yet speaking boldly words of help. And he used to say that it behooved a man to give all his time to his soul rather than his body.” (45)

Antony proposed we leverage the positive aspects of shame in our fight against sin. “And as a safeguard against sin let the following be observed. Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impulses of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each other. And be assured that if we should be utterly ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and harbor no base thoughts in our mind. …if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one another, we shall the more easily keep ourselves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known. Wherefore let that which is written be to us in place of the eyes of our fellow hermits, that blushing as much to write as if we had been caught, we may never think of what is unseemly. Thus fashioning ourselves we shall be able to keep the body in subjection, to please the Lord, and to trample on the devices of the enemy.” (55)

Antony’s Humility as an Honorable Example

Athanasius speaks of Antony’s humility in submitting to the ecclesiastical authorities. This was significant, for at that time many monks denounced (and even physically attacked) the institutional church for being too comprised. “He was tolerant in disposition and humble in spirit. For though he was such a man, he observed the rule of the Church most rigidly, and was willing that all the clergy should be honoured above himself. For he was not ashamed to bow his head to bishops and presbyters, and if ever a deacon came to him for help he discoursed with him on what was profitable, but gave place to him in prayer, not being ashamed to learn himself.” (67)

Antony had humble character even in childhood. “With his parents he used to attend the Lord’s House, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise [his parents]; but was both obedient to his father and mother.” (1)

Even in death Antony sought to avoid worldly praise. Adoration of saints was a common practice in early Christianity. Antony suspected his body would become the object of veneration, so wanted to be buried in secret. “The Egyptians are wont to honour with funeral rites, and to wrap in linen cloths at death the bodies of good men, and especially of the holy martyrs; and not to bury them underground, but to place them on couches, and to keep them in their houses, thinking in this to honour the departed.… But he, knowing the custom, and fearing that his body would be treated this way, hastened, and having bidden farewell to the monks in the outer mountain entered the inner mountain, where he was accustomed to abide.” (90–91) Despite Antony’s wishes, his bodily was “miraculously” discovered in the desert, then translated to Alexandria, then Constantinople, then Vienne.

The epilogue by Athanasius affirms self-renunciation as the pathway to divine honor. The conclusion demonstrates Athanasius wanted to propagate ascetism and renunciation as the true means of honor. “And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God…And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God.” (93–94) His retreat to desert solitude brought supernatural honor.

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New Book—Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrse

The new book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase is now available. Along with 1 PeterEsther, Psalms, James, and Malachi, this is the sixth title in the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series.

The book of Ruth has a simple yet inspiring plot line—God redeems a family from despair and social shame to a position of great honor in Israel’s history. The short story is often read for entertainment or encouragement, but often neglected as a theological work. This honor-shame paraphrase uncovers Ruth’s rich theology of God and salvation.

Learn more about the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series, or buy the book here. A forthcoming post will feature the honor-shame paraphrase of Ruth chapter 1. 

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Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame”

Free Zoom Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 29 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Honor and shame are important topics, but often they are new concepts for people. How can we effectively introduce honor and shame to other people, especially to equip them for ministry? This webinar will provide practical suggestions and learning activities for ministry instructors/trainers. To help ministry leaders and teachers better teach honor and shame to other people, Jayson Georges will host this free, 1-hour webinar, discussing some methodological ideas and tips. Jayson has taught honor-shame many times, from seminary courses to short-term missions training, in various countries. 

Please note, this webinar is not about honor and shame, but about how to teach honor and shame to others. If you plan to teach honor-shame to others (in any setting), this is time is designed for you. This is the same webinar presented on April 2, which quickly reach capacity. I will be repeating the same content.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cd1dAUUdRlqXc7G7kqkkrQ . After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

Previous Webinars

Last week’s webinar “Guilt-Shame-Fear: Reassessing the Cultural Model” is available to view and download here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/naigtoyea6ib4v0/%20GSF%20Assessing%20the%20model.mp4?dl=0

The previous webinar by Jackson Wu, “Honor and Shame in Romans,” is here.

 

 

 

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Making Disciples of the Whole Family

Guest Jeannie Marie is an author, speaker and strategist for an international sending organization. This post is an excerpt from her book Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond (Thomas Nelson, 2018).


As individualistic Westerners, we sometimes forget that the gospel is for the whole family. God made families. He wants them together, and we can honor that design by including the whole family in our disciple-making process.

In most non-Western cultures, families— and even entire communities, tribes, or clans— make decisions together. Rarely does a young person determine his own career path, his marriage partner, or his religious beliefs on his own. Since Westerners value independence and individual decision- making so highly, we can unintentionally rip families apart in our zeal to disciple one person at a time without regard to his or her family.

Finn, a Westerner who works in South Asia, living with unreached Muslim people groups, understands the strategic and biblical importance of family and goes to great lengths to honor it. He knows the local language well and holds a solid reputation within the city as a businessman. The community regards him as a spiritual and respectful person who follows Jesus and honors God. One day, Malik, a young man from one of these unreached people groups, came to visit Finn and his wife. Malik told of how Jesus had appeared to him in a dream, and he asked Finn to teach him more about Jesus.

Finn responded, “I would love to do that. Go home and ask permission from your father, and we will discover more about Jesus together, in your home.”

The color drained out of the young man’s face. He drew his finger under his neck, slitting his own throat, shaking his head. His father, a Muslim sheikh (an Islamic spiritual leader), would never agree. He was right. His father refused to let him study. Finn encouraged Malik to pray and continue to ask his father’s permission, honoring his father in this way.

Six times Malik came to ask Finn to disciple him, but Finn refused, instead giving him more ways to speak to his father about his interest. The young man kept telling his father how the Qur’an spoke of Jesus the Messiah more than it did any other prophet, and that his holy book actually encouraged Muslims to read the Injil, the Bible in Arabic.

One day, miraculously, Malik’s father finally agreed. Finn began visiting the young man’s home to read the Bible with him in a way that promoted discovery, encouraged obedience to the Word, and inspired sharing it with others.

Malik came to a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, transformed by the Spirit from the inside out. Most members of his extended family also surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as they walked alongside him in his discipleship process. Even though his father did not (yet) embrace Jesus as the Messiah, the sheikh supported, encouraged, and blessed his son to obey and follow Christ.

The father even witnessed his son’s baptism, done in his home without Finn or other Westerners present and born out of the young man’s desire to obey after reading about baptism in the gospel of John.

Malik became a conduit of the gospel to many others, starting Jesus communities that are multiplying rapidly, with Finn continuing to coach him.

Finn could have agreed to disciple this young man in secret, without his father’s permission. It’s likely Malik would have still come to faith. But his family would have been excluded, creating barriers to sharing his new faith in Jesus with them. If the local community had discovered his allegiance to Jesus Christ without going on his journey of discovery with him, they would likely have excommunicated Malik, with much shame brought on the family. In countries that operate under sharia law, a strict Islamic code, he might have even been killed.

We also can honor the family as Finn did by helping our disciples speak of their desire to learn more about God in bridging ways with their families. We can encourage them to honor their fathers and mothers when they share what they are learning as they are learning it. For international students here without their family members, we can regularly ask, “What does your father think of this passage? When could you share this with your brothers?” and remind them to thank their parents for raising them to be spiritual seekers after God.

Jesus the Messiah is for the whole family and the whole community, and we can honor the family structure when we invite people to consider Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

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