The Honor-Shame Paraphrase
Reading the Bible across cultures can be difficult; however, the task is certainly not impossible. With cultural awareness, people today can accurately interpret the Bible by bridging the cultural gap between our world and the biblical world.
The Honor-Shame Paraphrase is a forthcoming book series that highlights the honor-shame dynamics of the Bible for modern readers. Each title makes explicit the implicit cultural assumptions of the Bible. This helps readers overcome cultural blindness. We show how original audiences heard the message in light of their shared cultural assumptions. This series will be ideal for personal devotions, teaching preparation, discipleship lessons, Bible studies, and ministry training.
The Paraphrase Method
The Honor-Shame Paraphrase uses several strategies to express the cultural values and implications of the Bible. For example, we avoid clichéd religious words such as holy, Christ, and faith. These words are like dull knives: over usage has blunted their effect. So instead we use terms like entirely acceptable (holy), God’s exalted king (Christ), and complete loyalty (faith). These re-definitions rescue truth from familiarity and accentuate the honor-shame nuances of the original words.
The Honor-Shame Paraphrase also amplifies certain passages. This means inserting words or phrases in order to clarify the author’s main point or logical connection. The goal throughout is to make the original, honor-shame meaning of the Bible more obvious for readers who do not share the same cultural assumptions. This is similar to how Ezra and the Levites “helped the people to understand the law…They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh 8:7b–8, NRSV).
Please do not equate this Honor-Shame Paraphrase with the actual Bible. This paraphrase is a socio-cultural exposition that seeks to illuminate (not translate) the Bible. The genre of paraphrase weaves together commentary and application to capture the message of the Bible in a fresh way (akin to Eugene Peterson’s The Message). In this way, we make academic research about biblical cultures accessible and informative for people today.
Before the actual paraphrase, we first explain the socio-cultural context of the biblical book. This section will introduce the key cultural dynamics—e.g., honor, purity, covenant, patronage, obligation, ancestors, hierarchy, hospitality—that are essential for understanding the book’s rhetorical, social, and theological strategy. These cultural nuances shed light on the meaning of the biblical message.
Something New, or Old?
The concept of honor-shame is not a “new lens” for reading the Bible but more like a shovel that removes centuries of residue. Honor and shame are inherent aspects of ancient cultures and biblical theology, not merely categories from modern anthropology. The Honor-Shame Paraphrase does not contextualize the Bible for a new setting. Rather it seeks to make the original meaning of the Bible more apparent for contemporary readers from a different culture. Nevertheless, the Honor-Shame Paraphrase does offer new biblical insights for life, ministry, and theology in today’s world.