“Shame” in the New Testament

The New Testament uses a variety of words to speak about shame. This post discusses main three roots for shame. This first pie chart shows the various Greek terms behind the word “shame” in the NRSV.

The primary NT word for shame is aischuné (αἰσχύνη). The word can mean “ashamed,” “shamed,” and/or “shameful.” These nuances have theological implications, and so are worth noting.

  1. “Ashamed.” Aischunē refers to the inner sense or feeling of shame (see 2 Cor 4:2; Luke 16:3; 1 Pet 4:16). This carries a subjective sense of shame, referring to a person’s self-estimation.
  2. Aischunē also refers to the experience of disgrace and ignominy, the objective and public aspect of shame, a low estimation in the eyes of others. This is the opposite of doxa (glory), a person who does not project a respectable, glorious image (see Heb 12:2, Rev 3:18; Phil 1:20; Phil 3:19). The person is “put to shame.”
  3. The root aisch– is used for things that bring shame. Certain actions are considered disgraceful, something to be ashamed of (see Eph 5:12; Jude 13; Rev 3:18).

These three aspects of the Greek aischunē correspond to the three dimensions of shame in Julien Pitt-Rivers’ explanation: sentiment (ashamed), evaluation (shamed), and conduct (shameful).

Three main verbs come from this root. Aischunō is to be disgraced, dishonored, put to shame. Epiaischunō is to be ashamed (of), usually for an illegitimate reason (cf. Mk. 8:38; Lk. 9:26; Rom. 1:16; 6:21; 2 Tim. 1:8; 1:12; 1:16; Heb. 2:11; 11:16). Kataischunō means to disgrace or humiliate another person.

Entropē is another word for shame. This word refers to the state of being shamed, by another person or before others, often for the purpose of change or improvement. Compared to aischunē, entropē is more constructive and restorative. In 1 Cor, Paul says twice, “I say this to your shame [pros entropēn]” (1 Cor 6:5; 15:34; cf. 4:14). Paul sought to humble (not humiliate!) the Corinthians so that they would change. The verbal form entrepō is used in the transitive and objective sense—someone is shaming someone else (1 Cor 4:4; 2 Thess 3:14; Titus 2:8). In the middle-passive voice, this word can also mean “deference” or “respect”—yes, the exact opposite of the first meaning (Matt 21:37, Luke 18:2; Heb 12:9)!

The root tapein- (can be a noun, adjective, or verb) means “low status” or “undistinguished” (see James 1:9). Like the English word “humble” tapein- generally denotes the positive side of being in a shameful position, as in the opposite of pride or arrogance. This word does cut both ways; the lack of status can be a positive (humility) or negative (humiliation) thing (Luke 14:11; Acts 8:33 vs. Acts 20:19). Tapein- occurs 33x in the NT and 209x in the LXX.

  1. 7 Problems with Defining Honor and Shame
  2. “Honor” in the Old Testament
  3. “Shame” in the Old Testament
  4. “Honor” in the New Testament
  5. “Shame” in the New Testament

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