Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)

What is honor?

And why does it matter to Christians?

There is a very helpful article, ‘What is Honor?’, over at the Art of Manliness. It isn’t intended strictly for Christians, of course—but if you want to understand the worldview of the people who wrote the Bible, this is a useful primer that will clear up a key difference between their culture and ours.

It is a surprisingly important topic because it affects our understanding of fundamental, ground-level Christian concepts—like the place of community, and the nature of sin as an affront to the honor of God and his kin. For example:

The worst of the sins against honor—culminating in actual cowardice and flight—always elevated the individual above the group.

This is very challenging to Western Christians, but precisely in line with understanding biblical love as intrinsically focused on unity with a community.

Mind you, this is only a first step to understanding honor in the biblical worldview. You still need to work out the implications of Christian doctrine to the honor/shame paradigm, and see the various ways in which God corrects or advances it. One example: by making God the most honorable “patron” of our community, Christianity actually inverts a lot of the traditional honor code. The last shall be first, for instance, because although human honor codes exalt people, it is those who are able to accept God’s assessment of themselves as normative, rather than people’s, who will be most honored by God—and those people are the ones who realize how worthless they actually are despite whatever human honor they may have a claim to.

Another example: this affects our understanding of hell. Daniel talks about how many will be resurrected to shame and everlasting contempt. By the same token, Jesus’ descriptions of hell are often as a place of exclusion, a place “outside” the honored community, a place of darkness; so it is very plausible to think that the primary torture of hell is not some Dantesque furnace, but rather the shame of being discarded as refuse by the infinitely worthy God instead of being raised up as an honored member of his family.

Understanding honor and shame cultures also makes it much easier to understand many biblical events. I recently preached on the wedding at Cana—a story which can be puzzling, or even lead to absurd ideas about Mary, if you don’t know that Jewish weddings lasted for about a week, and that a host failing to provide for his guests was extremely shameful. So shameful that legal action could be taken against him by those with higher standing in the community. Examples, of course, can be multiplied.

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