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  • Honor and Shame in Hebrews

    John R. Neal, Sr.

    NT9331A - New Testament Text-Hebrews

    December 2013

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    Picture via Google Images

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    I. Abbreviations .. vi-vii

    II. Other Abbreviations .. viii

    III. Introduction . 1-3

    A. Definition of Honor and Shame 1-2

    B. Relationship of Honor and Shame 3

    IV. Patron-Client Relationship 3-5

    A. Patron-Client Relationship in Hebrews . 3-4

    B. Patron-Client-Relationship in Relation to Honor and Shame .. 4-5

    V. Honor and Shame Language in Hebrews ... 5-11

    A. Background to Honor-Shame Concepts .. 5-6

    B. Honor-Shame Terms in General ..7-8

    C. Honor-Shame Terms in Hebrews 8-11

    VI. Conclusion 12-13

    VII. Bibliography 14-15

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    Traditional Shorter Full Name

    Acts -------- Acts of the Apostles

    Apoc. -------- Apocalypse (Revelation)

    Col. Col Colossians

    1 Cor. 1 Cor 1 Corinthians

    2 Cor. 2 Cor 2 Corinthians

    Eph. Eph Ephesians

    Gal. Gal Galatians

    Heb. Heb Hebrews

    James Jas James

    John Jn John (Gospel)

    1 John 1 Jn 1 John (Epistle)

    2 John 2 Jn 2 John (Epistle)

    Jude ------- Jude

    Luke Lk Luke

    Mark Mk Mark

    Matt. Mt Matthew

    1 Pet. 1 Pt 1 Peter

    2 Pet. 2 Pt 2 Peter

    Phil. Phil Philippians

    Philem. Phlm Philemon

    Rev. Rv Revelation (Apocalypse)

    Rom. Rom Romans

    1 Thess. 1 Thes 1 Thessalonians

    1Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Chicago Style For

    Students And Researchers, 7th

    ed, rev by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and The

    University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 342-43. This

    paper will utilize the abbreviations in the Traditional column. (Burge 2009) (Malina 1981) (DeSilva 1994)

    (Ferguson 1989) (Thompson 2008) (Osiek 1997)

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    2 Thess. 2 Thes 2 Thessalonians

    1 Tim. 1 Tm 1 Timothy

    2 Tim. 2 Tm 2 Timothy

    Titus Ti Titus

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    B-A-G-D Bauer, Walter, William F. Ardnt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederdick W. Danker. A

    Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament and Other Early Christian

    Literature. Second Edition Revised And Augmented Bu F. Wilbur Gingrich And

    Frederick W. Danker From Walter Bauer's Fifth Edition, 1958. Translated by

    William F. Ardnt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. Chicago and London: The University

    Of Chicago Press, 1979.

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    Honor and Shame in Hebrews


    In addition to the rhetorical arguments the Hebrew writer utilizes, he also draws

    heavily upon the so-called patron/client sociological model of reciprocity.2 This is based

    upon looking at the New Testament from the standpoint of anthropology and viewing the early

    church from an anthropological and sociological perspective. In the first century Hellenistic-

    Roman world, a patron gave gifts to the client. This gift could come in many forms, such as a

    job, money, or even introducing them to another patron.3 Seneca (in his On Benefits 1.2.3) said

    that the patron should expect nothing in return (though he often did). Senecas attitude: if they

    got something in return, that is gain; if not, they lost nothing. This, he believed was what held

    society together (On Benefits 1.4.2). The patron or benefactor gives for the sake of giving, but

    the client should repay the gift if possible.4 Thus, the client remains forever in the patrons

    debt and always seeks to build up his or her honor (On Benefits 2.10.4).5

    Definition of Honor and Shame

    This patron and client model deals with the theme of honor and shame in the first century

    world as a background to the New Testament books. What does one mean by honor and shame?

    Honor is the value of a person in his or her own eyes (that is, ones claim to worth) plus that

    persons value in the eyes of his or her social group. From a social standpoint, honor is

    2Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, New Testament In Antiquity: A Survey Of The New

    Testament Within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 392. 3Ibid.

    4Ibid., 392-93.

    5Ibid., 393.

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    interconnected from the standpoint of power, sexual status, and religion. There is a personal

    claim to honor as well as the society or social acknowledgement of ones self worth.6

    Honor and shame apply to both sexes, male and female. Honor refers to an individuals or

    collective group feeling of self-worth and the public, social acknowledgement of that worth.

    The concept of shame is not negative, necessarily, but a positive symbol, meaning

    sensitivity for ones own reputation, sensitivity to the opinion of others.7 When one has this

    sense of shame, this makes possible for an individual or a group to exist or live a dignified, and

    human life, since this implies acceptance of and respect for the rules of human interaction.

    On the flip side of the coin, a person who is shameless is one who does not recognize the

    rules of human interaction, who does not recognize the rules of human interaction, who does not

    recognize social boundaries. This same shameless individual is one who possesses a

    dishonorable reputation beyond all social doubt, one outside the boundaries of acceptable moral

    life, hence one who must be denied the normal social courtesies.8 For anyone to show

    courtesy to this shameless individual makes that courtesy person a fool, since it is foolish to

    show respect for boundaries when a person acknowledges no boundaries, just as it would be

    foolish to continue to speak English to a person who does not know the language at all.9

    6Bruce Malina, The New Testament World, insights from cultural anthropology (Atlanta: John Knox Press,

    1981), 27. 7Ibid., 44.


    9Ibid., 44-45.

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    Relationship of Honor/Shame and Hebrews

    How does one relate the concepts of honor and shame in a patron/client society with the

    book of Hebrews? According to Burge, Cohick, and Green, they note that the epistle to the

    Hebrews applies this system of reciprocity to Gods relationship with his people. The

    Christian should realize that they are clients of God. As Gods clients, disciples have a sacred

    duty to honor God continually and to proclaim his greatness. But they are clearly slipping in this

    duty, neglecting the great promises and also sliding away from Gods people. This type of

    response to the benefactor is almost unforgiveable response. If this type of attitude from the

    client is unacceptable, then how much more concerned should they be that they are treating the

    God of the universe in the same way?10

    Patron-Client Relationship

    Patron-Client Relationship in Hebrews

    In recent years NT scholars place great emphasis on the studying the NT from a cultural

    anthropological standpoint. The anthropological approach is helpful in scholars becoming

    more aware to how important themes such as honor and shame in the ancient Mediterranean


    Ferguson notes that this Roman clientele system served as a duty or obligation of

    a client to his patron.12

    A client would present himself or herself early each morning at the


    Burge, 393. 11

    David A. DeSilva, Despising Shame: A Cultural-Anthropological Investigation of the Epistle to the

    Hebrews, Journal of Biblical Literature 113/3 (1994): 439. 12

    Everett Ferguson, Background of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 45.

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    home of their patron to offer greetings and requests. The client would be required to assist the

    patron in any part of his life, be that political or private. This sign of respect would even

    require them to walk in his funeral procession. From the patrons point of view, his value or

    importance in society was gauged by the number who attended his morning audience. The

    patron would normally hand out gifts or even money. He would render any assistance in times

    of need. He would invite his clients to his house at times to eat at the table, and would also offer

    any legal protection clients may need. This societal relationship extended to people from

    all levels and in various groupings, including masters and freedmen, rich and poor, generals

    and conquered peoples, aristocrats and collegia or clubs. Every person, from slave to aristocrat,

    felt bound to display respect so someone more powerful than himself, up to the emperor.13

    Patron-Client in Relation to Honor-Shame

    DeSilva raises the question, How does the Hebrews writer solve the problem of the

    dishonor of Christ and the dishonor of Christians, thereby permitting honor-sensitive people to

    continue in Christian activity, wor