“Honor” in the New Testament
The main New Testament word for honor is timē. The word refers to the value of an object. In material transactions, the word means “price” or “a sum (of money).” For example
- The tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver (Acts 7:16 NRS).
- “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).
- Cognates of timē are used 21 times in the Greek translation of Lev 27 in the sense of “evaluation” or “assessment” of things dedicated to God.
The word is applied abstractly to non-material objects as well. Here, the sense is “profit/utility.”
- These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence (Col. 2:23).
- But I do not count my life of any value to myself (Acts 20:24).
- In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary (2 Tim. 2:20).
Most occurrences of timē focus on people. In these contexts, the value of a person refers to their worth as people, or “honor.” People can give timē to others by properly recognizing their sense of worth and rightly acknowledge their value.
- Pay to all what is due them…honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7).
- Honor your father and mother (Eph. 6:2).
- Honor widows who are really widows (1 Tim. 5:3; cf. 1 Tim 5:17).
- They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed (Acts 28:10).
Beyond this social, human-to-human exchange of timē, the word can be used in a theological/spiritual sense. People give timē (“worship,” or “glory”) to God.
- [Jesus has all judgment] in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him (Jn. 5:23).
- The living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne (Rev. 4:9).
And perhaps most significantly, God gives timē to people.
- The Father will honor him (Jn. 12:26).
- But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it (1 Cor. 12:24)
The chart below shows the various ways the NRSV translates timē,
The other key NT word is doxa. This word is the common LXX translation of the Hebrew kavod, and is usually translated as “glory.” Doxa and timē share a common meaning as it relates to honor. Biblical writers often parallel “glory” and “honor” (see Job 40:10; Ps. 8:5; Dan. 4:36; Rom. 2:7, 10; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 2:7, 9; 1 Pet. 1:7; 2 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 4:9, 11; Rev 5:12, 13; Rev 7:12; Rev 21:26). I have seen biblical commentators translate doxa as the hyphenated “honor-glory.” Not every instance of doxa means “honor” (just like timē), as the word also carries the sense of “splendor” (Mt 6:29; 1 Pet 1:24) and “brightness” (Acts 22:11; Rev 15:8). This dox- root appears 250x in the NT, and often refers to the display of honor.
The chart below shows the common words translated as “honor” in the NRSV. The majority come from roots of tim- or dox-.
Timē in 1 Cor 6:20?
The word timē has multiple meanings, as seen above. As a general hermeneutical rule, only one of those meanings was the author’s intention. So, at times, the text is ambiguous, leaving us unsure as to what meaning was meant. 1 Cor 6:20 is an example—“For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” The phrase “with a price” is a translation of timēs (a genitive of means). Have we been bought “with a price,” or “with honor”? Is Paul saying we have been purchased with a price (cf. 1 Cor 7:22-23), like a slave liberated from one’s master? Or, is Paul making a deeper theological statement about how Christ lost his own honor on the cross, and the shame of the crucifixion is an essential means of procuring our salvation? Because we were bought by means of Christ’s honor, we ought to “therefore, honor God in your body” (NIV). So, does timē here mean “price,” or “honor”?
Despite the possibility of reading 1 Cor 6:20 as “honor,” there are good reasons why every single English version translates it as “price.” But we must still ask: What was the “price” Jesus paid? Obviously, it was not some gold coins, and it was more than just his physical life. NT authors emphasize the social humiliation Jesus endured. So, the “price” Jesus paid involved his disgrace and forfeited honor. Perhaps in 1 Cor 6:20, Paul plays off both senses of the word timē —we were bought with a price, which was Jesus’ honor.