Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 6): House Churches

Christians assembled in the homes of Aquila and Priscilla in Rome (Rom. 16:5) and earlier in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19), Gaius in Corinth (Rom. 16:23), Philemon in Colosse (Philem. 2), Nympha/s in Laodicea (Col. 4:15), Mary in Jerusalem (Acts 12:5, 12), and Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:40). While the nucleus of house churches was often the household itself, this does not mean every person in the home was converted (e.g. Philem. 2, 10-17). New converts would have been added to the household communities.

The landmass of urban environments, where early Christianity took root, was relatively small compared to today’s megacities, while population density was rather high. This made for very crowded living conditions, and privacy would have been a rarity (W. A. Meeks, First Urban Christians 28-29, 75-76). R. Jewett maintains that city churches assembled in tenements, restricting the number of members who could meet together (“Tenement Churches and Communal Meals,” BibRes 38 [1993]: 23-43), and A. A. Bell, Jr. concludes that a small apartment “is likely to have been the sort of ‘house’ in which the earliest Christian groups gathered” (Exploring the New Testament World 207).However, this was probably not the case for every congregation. 

In Corinth at least some of the converts were among the upper echelons of society [eugenēs] (1 Cor. 1:26; 11:22),and Gaius had a house large enough to accommodate “the whole church” (Rom. 16:23). There are 17 known names of Christians at Corinth (not to mention those unnamed) plus households,which would have required a fairly sizeable dwelling. Unless there were multiple house churches in Corinth, which is unlikely in view of the fact that Gaius was the host of “the whole church,” the congregation probably consisted of fewer than 50 members. Archeology has conclusively shown that the atrium or courtyard in a large Roman-style home would accommodate only about 30 to 50 people.4

A typical upper class Roman house was centered around a columned courtyard with an open room (atrium), in the center of which was a pool (impluvium). At the opposite end from the entrance was a raised area (tablinumcontaining a table and used by the family as a reception area and for ceremonial functions. The congregation in Corinth probably gathered in the atrium of Gaius’ home, and could have used the impluvium as a baptistery and the tablinum for the Lord’s Supper. In the ruins of a Roman garrison city in Mesopotamia (Dura Europos), archeologists have discovered the remnants of the earliest known building to be used by Christians explicitly as a place of worship (ca. 230-240). “The building was a converted house, with a large meeting room and a second smaller room holding a baptistery” (D. Irvin and S. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement 54-55).

J. D. G. Dunn comments, “Historically, it is a reminder of how dependent on quite tiny groups was the development of Christianity …. Theologically, the point is that the dynamic of being ‘the church of God’ did not require large groups in any one place” (Theology of Paul 542). W. A. Meeks adds, “The house as meeting place afforded some privacy, a degree of intimacy, and stability of place. However, it also created the potential for the emergence of factions within the Christian body of a city” (First Urban Christians 76).Although Meeks proposes Corinth as an example, the situation at Rome is a better representation. Paul writes to “all in Rome … called saints” (Rom. 1:7) and sends greetings to what appears to be three or more separate house churches (16:5, 14, 15) comprised of both Gentile believers (1:5-6, 13; 11:13-24; 15:14-21) and Jewish believers (2:17; 6:14-15; 7:4; 16:3, 7, 11). He devotes a sizeable block of the letter addressing apparent division among them (14:1–15:13).

While the divine will is for Christians to regularly assemble together (Heb. 10:24-25),a particular meeting place is not enjoined and would necessarily depend on the unique circumstances of each group. While other assembly places are noted in scripture (e.g. Acts 5:12; 16:13; 26:11), the house proved to be the most expedient for many 1st-century congregations.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     The term oîkos could apply to any dwelling place or home or household. See The Pentecost-Day Miracle.
     Domestic slaves, as opposed to the more underprivileged peasants and rural slaves, were among the converts at Corinth (1 Cor. 7:21-23). There was disposable income available (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8–9). References to individual members (Acts 18:8; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14, 16; 16:15-18), including their occupations or positions, households, services rendered, and travels, indicate that a number of them enjoyed relatively high social status (G. Thiessen, Social Setting 73-96). This includes Erastus, who was potentially the same person who obtained the office of aedile, about whom there is an inscription in the pavement in Corinth (see B. Witherington III, Conflict and Community 32-35; also Paul Quest 92-94).
     A. J. Malherbe, Social Aspects 76. Twelve are Latin names: Lucius, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, Quartus (Rom. 16:21-23), Titius Justus, Crispus (Acts 18:7-8), Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17), Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-2). At least three of these were Jews (Aquila, Priscilla, Crispus), the others were probably Roman, and the rest of those mentioned had Greek names.
     See G. D. Fee, First Corinthians 533-34; also Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “1 and 2 Corinthians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul 74, and St. Paul’s Corinth 178-85, although Murphy-O’Connor’s estimates tend to be somewhat exaggerated. J. D. G. Dunn notes that even a large house would have been pressed to accommodate more than around 40 people (Theology of Paul 542).
     Another challenge created by the church meeting in houses was the question of “role and status” and “the tension caused by public gatherings in private space” (J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul  592, emp. in the text).
     Cf. Acts 11:26; 12:5, 12; 14:27; 15:30; 20:7-8; 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:17-20, 33-34; 14:3-5, 12-26; Jas. 2:2.


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The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 5): Households and Slavery

Households

In the New Testament we read about the households of a nobleman of Cana (John 4:53), Cornelius (Acts 10:2; 11:14), Lydia (Acts 16:15), the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:31-34), Crispus (Acts 18:8), Aristobulus (Rom. 16:10), Narcissus (Rom. 16:11), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15-17), Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19), and even Caesar (Phil. 4:22). Specific instructions are given for Christian households,a number of which would have formed the nucleus of local congregations.

In the ancient Mediterranean world a “household” [oîkos“was essentially a patriarchal institution, with other members of the household, not least wives, children, and slaves, subject to the authority of its male head” (J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul 591 n. 128). This generalized description, however, does not consider households (without a male head) managed by women (e.g. Acts 12:12; 16:14-15; cf. Rom. 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 1:11). Certain household communities would have also included “not only immediate relatives but also slaves, freedmen, hired workers, and sometimes tenants and partners in trade or craft” (W. A. Meeks, First Urban Christians 75-76). 

Slavery

Christianity entered a world where slavery was already an established element of society and regarded as an economic necessity, though not necessarily comparable to the harsher forms in other times and societies. It has been estimated that 1 in 5 of the Empire’s population and 1 in 3 of Italy’s population were slaves.The condition of slavery was the result of prisoners of war, criminal conviction, debt, abandoned children, or birth to a slave mother. A more sinister means involved the so-called  andrapodistē(1 Tim. 1:10), i.e., enslaver, slave-dealer, kidnapper, or one who steals and sells another’s slaves.

Different kinds of slavery co-existed, and one must be careful not to make sweeping generalizations. Ethnicity and race were not determinative factors.Domestic house slaves were much better off than those (usually condemned criminals) working in the fields or mines. Educated slaves were valued. A slave middle class consisted of skilled craftsmen, secretaries, educators, and medical practitioners. Slaves could earn and save money and own property. Influential positions held by a number of slaves afforded benefits and power over free persons of lower social standing.4

M. Barth and H. Blanke observe: “The dividing line between slaves and free persons was not always sharply drawn or easily recognized …. Often a reasonably rich man’s slave was better off than a poor citizen in possession of all civil rights …. Among ancient slaves there were highly intelligent and well-trained people who did qualified work and had — especially in Paul’s day — a fair chance of being eventually manumitted and/or of marrying into the owner’s or another free person’s family …. in many respects an ancient slave’s treatment was better and his life conditions more secure than those of a nineteenth-century factory worker” (Letter to Philemon 3-4).

Being a Roman slave was not necessarily a permanent plight, as indicated by the plethoric former slaves throughout the Empire. Antonius Felix, procurator of Judea (Acts 23:26–24:27), was a freed slave (cf. Tacitus, Histories 5.9). In Jerusalem there was a “synagogue of freedmen” (Acts 6:9), apparently founded by Jewish ex-slaves. However, manumission was no guarantee that one’s social and economic circumstances would improve, and in many cases would have resulted in destitution. Depending on the wealth, status, and temperament of the owner, emancipation might not be the desirable option.

The New Testament does not enjoin, endorse, or condone slavery but simply gives regulatory instructions within the existing social structure. In his letter to Philemon (a Christian slave-owner), Paul urges a new relationship between Philemon and Onesimus but stops short of demanding emancipation. Elsewhere Paul encourages Christian slaves who could legally obtain freedom to take advantage of this opportunity, but otherwise their situation in life was to be accepted and used to the glory of God (1 Cor. 7:17-24). A Christian slave was still free in Christ (cf. Gal. 5:1), just as a free Christian was Christ’s slave (1 Cor. 7:22). Even though Paul taught compliance for slaves and fairness for masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22–4:1), the principles of Christianity were to mitigate the harshness of slavery and eventually lead to its demise.5

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     Eph. 5:22–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1; 1 Tim. 3:4; 5:4, 8; 6:1-2; Tit. 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-20; 3:1-7. 
     M. Cartwright, “Slavery in the Roman World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia (1 Nov. 2013), <Web>. During the 1st century approximately 16-20 percent were reportedly slaves within a population of about 60 million (W. V. Harris, “Towards a Study of the Roman Slave Trade” MAAR 36:117-40); some estimates are as high as 33-40 percent (K. R. Bradley, Slavery and Society 33). 
     “Many of these slaves were natives of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Later, as the Roman Empire expanded westward, the peoples of Britain, Germany, and Gaul (modern-day France) became new sources for slave labor” (R. E. Van Voorst, Reading the NT Today 93-94).
     S. S. Bartchy, “Slaves and Slavery,” in The World of the NT [eds. J. B. Green and L. M. McDonald] 172-73.
     Cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11. When a 1st-century slave owner obeyed the gospel, the master-slave relationship was turned on its head. He was taught to treat his slaves like he wished to be treated (Matt. 7:12), to love them as himself (Matt. 22:39), to put their interests before his own (Phil. 2:3-4), and instead of threatening, to serve them out of respect for Christ (Eph. 6:9). “Slavery is turned upside down, so that the master becomes the servant of his servant…. The gospel changed a master and a slave into family and that is one of the miracles of Christianity” (W. McAdams, “Does the Bible Condone Slavery?” Radically Christian [6 Sept. 2017], <Web>). See also B. M. Metzger, The New Testament: Background, Growth, Content (3rd ed.) 268-69.


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Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 4): Individualism Vs. Collectivism

A notable difference between our contemporary westernized culture and ancient Mediterranean societies concerns the individual in relation to the group. Autonomy, individualism, personal identity, personal belongings, personal space, self-esteem, self-determination, and self-sufficiency are all highly valued and embraced in our world. But in the world of the New Testament (like many non-western cultures today), consideration of the group takes precedence. 

Someone from an individualistic society (like N. America), privately reading Ephesians 6:10-18 in English translation, is more likely to interpret the second-person pronouns as singular and assume the paragraph is about how an individual Christian is to guard against Satan’s personal attacks. But is this how the passage was originally intended and received? Second-person terminology in reference to the reading audience is plural throughout the entire epistle, with much emphasis on “the church” as a whole (1:18, 22-23; 2:16, 19-22; 3:6, 10, 15, 18, 21; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:3, 23-32; 6:18), as well as “one another” (4:2, 25, 32; 5:19, 21). Irrespective of personal struggles each Christian might experience, this passage is about the spiritual warfare we all face together in a collaborative effort. See Putting on God's Whole Armor.

The primary emphasis in idiosyncratic religious cultures tends to be placed on personal salvation, with religion often viewed as a private experience. Yet a key term in God’s salvific plan is ekklēsia (“church”), occurring about 114 times in the Greek New Testament and always referring to a collectivity of people.The reciprocal pronoun allēlōn (“one another”) is found no less than 100 times and simply cannot apply to one person. Despite the modern inclination to think of the individual Christian as being “in Christ,” the biblical emphasis is mutual inclusion in Christ (cf. Gal. 1:22b; Eph. 1:1-14; 1 Thess. 2:14). Penitent baptized believers enter Christ and abide in him as part of and inseparably linked to his emblematic body—the basis of unity among all faithful disciples (Rom. 6:3; 12:5, 10, 12; 1 Cor. 12:13-14, 20, 27; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 5:23).

While individual conversions are documented in the New Testament,these are almost always special circumstances rather than the norm. We mostly read of group responses,including households.The book of Acts gives much more attention to corporate evangelism, reporting outreach efforts both publicly and “from house to house” (5:42; 20:20). 

W. A. Meeks goes too far by suggesting the “centrality of the household … shows our modern, individualistic conceptions of evangelism and conversion to be quite inappropriate” (First Urban Christians 77). This criticism fails to appreciate the fundamental concept of contextualization and the need to adapt one’s approach to the circumstances (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23). In addition to group evangelism (Acts 17:1-4), Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy worked with individuals in Thessalonica, while bringing them all together in a unified entity: “Just as you [all] know how each one [héna ékaston] of you [all], as a father his own children, [we were] exhorting and comforting and charging you [all] to walk worthily of God, who calls you [all] into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11-12).

Each person is accountable to God,and the gospel is to be obeyed on an individual basis,irrespective of how many others may or may not respond. Nonetheless, every baptized believer is expected to look beyond self as part of a larger community of God’s people (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:4; Heb. 3:13; 1 Pet. 4:10). 

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     The noun ekklēsia essentially means ‘”called out [ones],” in most NT uses in reference to the community of the saved. In secular Greek this term was applied to a political body assembled to conduct the affairs of the state (Acts 19:39; Josephus, Ant.12.164; 19.332) or to any general gathering (Acts 19:32, 40; 1 Macc. 3.13; Sir. 26.5). In the LXX it was regularly used to translate qahal in reference to the assembly of the Israelites, especially when gathered for religious purposes (Deut. 31:30; Judg. 20:2; cf. Heb. 2:12; Acts 7:38; Josephus, Ant. 4.309). J. Murphy-O’Connor insists that any contemporary of Paul would have understood this term in a secular, political sense (Letter-Writer 50). But G. D. Fee argues that the word ekklēsia was ready-made for the Christian communities because “Paul saw the church not only as in continuity with the old covenant people of God, but as in the true succession of that people” (First Corinthians 31-32; Paul, the Spirit 65). See The Church of the NT.
     Acts 8:38; 9:18; [13:7, 12?]; 18:26; cf. Rom. 16:5.
     Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:12-13; 9:35, 42; 11:21; 13:43, 48; 14:21; 17:4, 11-12, 34; 18:8b; 19:5, 18; see also Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 19:26.
     Acts 10:24, 48; 11:14; 16:15, 33-34; 18:8a; 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15; cf. Phil. 4:22; 2 John 1-4.
     5 Author's own translation, emp. added. While Christianity is very much a communal religion (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11), inclusive of “all” the redeemed (1 Thess. 1:2, 7; 3:13; 4:10; 5:5, 26, 27), there is also the responsibility, contribution, and involvement of “each” member of the church (1 Thess. 2:11; 4:4; cf. Acts 20:31). Due to the collectivist nature and accompanying pressure of the surrounding culture, perhaps these subtle allusions to individuality serve to promote a more balanced perspective.
     Matt. 16:27; 18:35; 25:15; Rom. 2:6; 14:5, 12; 1 Cor. 3:8, 13; 4:5; 7:17, 20, 24; 12:11; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:4-5; Eph. 4:16, 25; 6:8; 2 Thess. 1:3; Heb. 3:13; 6:11; Jas. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 6:11; 20:13; 22:12.
     Acts 2:38; 3:26; 1 Cor. 7:24; Eph. 4:7; cf. Acts 17:27.


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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 3): Patronage

An extension of the honor/shame/reciprocity mentality (see previous post) is the patron-client social structure, which generally involves relationships between superiors and inferiors. It emerges within “a social stratification based on wealth, occupation, and/or status,” producing an environment “in which one group of people has something that another does not and initiates a supply and demand system” (B. K. Gold, Literary Patronage in Greece and Rome 1). 

During the New Testament era there was an understood code of etiquette. Rather than a legal or contractual arrangement, “the social conventions were stronger than any regulations of law…. Everyone from slave to aristocrat felt bound to display respect to someone more powerful than himself, up to the emperor” (E. Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity [3rd ed.] 67). This was “a pervasive system that operated in all segments of that society …” (B. K. Gold, op cit. 5). 

To accept a gift or favor meant the recipient was in the inferior position, and to refuse a gift or favor was to embarrass or shame the giver. “Favors accepted without appropriate responses called the client’s character into question, bringing shame rather than honor not just to the individual but also to the tightly knit social group with whom he or she was associated. The quest to maintain honorable character was placed far above economic prosperity or success ...” (C. L. Blomberg, Handbook of NT Exegesis 87). Although the patron-client relationship might seem to have been voluntary, those regarded as social inferiors generally had no choice if they wanted to survive socially and economically (B. Witherington III, Paul Quest 48-49). 

There was no such thing in the world of the New Testament as a government-generated welfare system or any kind of wealth distribution. Instead there was the societal expectation that the wealthy would serve as benefactors or patrons for those of the lower class. “In return, the client supported his patron in elections, did odd jobs for him, and escorted him through the streets, giving the patron’s social standing a healthy boost” (A. A. Bell, Jr., Exploring the NT World 191-92). Alliances between benefactors and recipients were often hereditary, passed down from one generation to the next. Because the client was expected to be available whenever the patron demanded, there was little time, interest, or even need for physical work. 

In such an environment the problems in mid-1st-century Thessalonica are more readily understood. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had to direct this young church to discipline “every brother idly walking … not working at all” (2 Thess. 3:6-15, author’s own translation). While manual labor, particularly among the socially elite, was considered demeaning and indicative of a slave rather than a person of prestige (cf. 1 Cor. 4:12-13; 9:19; 2 Thess. 3:7-10), it is also plausible that “converts included those of the urban poor who had formed client relationships with wealthy members in the Thessalonian church, but who exploited the generosity of their new Christian patrons” (J. Weima, Thessalonians 601). 

Literary patronage was also a well-established tradition in Greek and Roman society, seeing that literary work in antiquity was not intended as a money-making enterprise. Writers “were often the near social equals of their patrons; the differences between writer and patron were far more subtle than those between a patron and a lower-class dependent” (B. K. Gold, op cit. 1-6173).

The prologues of Luke’s two-volume work (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1) potentially serve as a dedication to Theophilus as the patron who provided financial support for Luke’s travels, research, and writing projects. Accordingly, Luke-Acts “was intentionally produced for wider distribution and adhered to certain literary conventions. In this regard the address to Theophilus again becomes important, since it was normal to dedicate such works to the patron who paid for the publication, meaning the costs of papyrus, ink, secretaries, and copyists and in many cases support for the author” (L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 249).1

Within the 1st-century church, Phoebe is described as a “benefactor” [prostátis] of Paul and many others (Rom. 16:2).The widowed patroness was not uncommon in the ancient world.Other Christian patrons may have included Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), Jason (Acts 17:3-9), Gaius and Erastus (Rom. 16:23), and Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16-18). Paul praises the Philippians for their generosity but does not directly thank them (Phil. 4:10-17), presumably aware of the culture of reciprocity whereby he avoids an unhealthy patron-client perception. Instead, he offers thanks to God (1:3-11) and frames their generosity as giving to God, the ultimate patron (4:18-20), rather than to Paul himself as a duty-bound client. 

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
    “The presence of a patron in a work of literature ensured that the work would be public in its nature. This was perhaps the ultimate value of the patron: he forced a writer to focus his thoughts outward and thus to create a work worthy of immortality” (B. K. Gold, op cit. 176).
     The feminine noun prostátis, signifying “protectress, patroness, helper” (BAGD 718), occurs in the NT only in Rom. 16:2. D. J. Moo argues that the sense of “benefactor” or “patroness,” common in secular Greek, is the probable usage here (Romans 915-16). 
    E. R. Richards, “Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts,” in The World of the NT (eds. J. B. Green and L. M. McDonald) 349.
    C. L. Blomberg, A Handbook of NT Exegesis 88.


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Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Sociocultural Context of the New Testament (Part 2): Honor and Shame

Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son
The Bible grew out of an ancient Mediterranean cultural environment where the concept of honor vs. shame was embedded as a pivotal value, similar to many present-day eastern- and middle-eastern cultures.“Briefly, the honor/shame complex implies that the maintenance of honor—for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s larger groups—is absolutely vital to life. This entails reputation, status, and sexual identity. The vocabulary of honor and shame is extensive in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin” (K. C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus 4). Particularly in male-dominated societies with a strong collectivist framework, honor and shame are linked to wealth and power, public order and repute, where a person lives for the acclaim of his fellow humans. Indicative of the New Testament world, “the quest for honor and praise was one of the most important forces binding society together ...” (B. Witherington III, Paul Quest 45).

Honor and shame cultures place heavy emphasis on reciprocity. Each social interaction is viewed as an opportunity to increase honor and avoid shame. In the ancient Mediterranean world this included dinner invitations, gift-giving, and special favors. In fact, nearly “every public activity turned out to be some kind of competition for honor and praise” (B. Witherington III, Paul Quest 47).Concepts like unmerited favor (Gal. 6:1-2; Heb. 12:28), giving without expecting something in return (Luke 6:34-35), and a forgiving attitude (Matt. 6:14-15; Col. 3:13) were practically unheard of in secular society. The Lord’s so-called “golden rule (Matt. 7:12) stands in stark contrast to the popular ethic of reciprocity. 

W. Mischke suggests that because of the characteristic individualism of the modern Western world, the honor/shame motif of scripture is largely unrecognized and “represents a blind spot for Christians trained in the Western theological tradition” (“Honor-Status Reversal,” Orality Journal 4:1 [2015]: 11). Removing this blind spot, Minschke argues, enables interpreters to see “honor-status reversal” as a major theme throughout the Bible. “One’s honor-status can be high or low or in-between, ranging from the lowest honor-status of a leper or a slave—to the immensely powerful high honor-status of a mighty king,” the reversal of which turns one’s standing “the other way around” (ibid., 12-36).3

Calling upon readers to esteem others “in humility” (Phil. 2:3) runs counter to societal norms of the time. The general populace of the 1st-century Greco-Roman world did not regard humility as a virtue any more than most secular westerners do today.“The idea that ‘humility’ is a virtue was foreign to the pagan world; the word, in fact, always appeared in Greek literature with the unfavorable sense of ‘humiliation’” (P. E. Harrell, Philippians 92). Nevertheless, a Christ-like spirit looks beyond self to the interests of others (Mark 9:35; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 10:24, 33; 1 Pet. 5:5-6; cp. Phil. 1:15).

The countercultural message of the New Testament is that humility and greater dependence on God are beneficial and should be utilized and esteemed. “Therefore I am well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, and difficulties for Christ; for when I might be weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, authors own translation). This strength-out-of-weakness paradox clashes with man’s infatuation with achievement, prosperity, status, notability, and power.

The New Testament consistently challenges society’s status quo and reconfigures the boundaries of honor and shame. All who might be dishonored because of ethnicity, gender, or social standing can now be unashamed in Christ, where no one is considered inferior to anyone else (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 3:9-11). In this regard New Testament writers are seen as deviants, radicals, and change agents, swimming against the current of popular culture (B. Witherington III, Paul Quest 46, 50). At the same time, the shame of dissociation was an integral component of church discipline to draw one back to faithfulness (2 Thess. 3:6-15).

Understanding the real world of the early Christians enables us to appreciate Christianity’s “cutting edge” (E. Ferguson,  Backgrounds of Early Christianity [3rd ed.] 4). It is “a kind of looking glass world where everything works on principles opposite to those of the world around us. To be blessed, be a blessing to others. To receive love, give love. To be honored, first be humble. To truly live, die to yourself. To gain the unseen, let go of the seen. To receive, first give. To save your life, lose it. To lead, be a servant. To be first, be last” (K. R. Krell, “Work Your Way Down the Ladder,” <Link>).5

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     B. J. Malina, The NT World xii, 27-57; see also B. J. Malina and J. H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts,” in J. H. Neyrey, ed., The Social World of Luke-Acts 25-66.
     A guest to a dinner party might be expected to reciprocate with a reading, an oral recitation, or other entertainment (E. R. Richards, “Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts,” inThe World of the NT [eds. J. B. Green and L. M. McDonald] 349).
     Along with OT references, the following NT passages are submitted as examples: Matt. 5:3-11; Luke 1:51-53; 2:32-38; 9:48; 13:30; 15:11-32; Rom. 1:14-16; 1 Cor. 1:27-29; Eph. 2:1-7, 11-22; Phil. 2:5-11; Rev. 3:18, 21; 5:6-7; 6:11; 18:2; 21:22-26. Having heard Minschke’s oral presentations (Teachers of Missions Workshop [23 Feb. 2018], Hurst, TX), I get the impression that his passion for the subject may be driving him to discover honor/shame allusions in passages where it is less than apparent. He emphasizes the greater attention in scripture to the honor/shame motif above the more westernized concern for innocence/ guilt, although the latter is sufficiently addressed in biblical terms of forgiveness, justification, moral purity, et al. Guilt pertains to one’s actions, while shame concerns one’s worth. For a helpful discussion of this theme, see Jackson Wu, “Have Theologians No Sense of Shame?” Themelios 43:2 (Aug. 2018) 205-219.
     W. Grundmann, TDNT 8:11-12. The Greek noun tapeinophrosúnē (“humility”) occurs in the NT in Acts 2:19; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 2:18, 23; 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5. 
     The “looking glass world” reference alludes to Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, where Alice steps through a mirror into a world where everything is backwards.


Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt)