Shame in a Range of Paul’s Epistles

1 Corinthians 1 -4, 11 and 14, 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Galatians 1 and 2, Philippians 3, and Colossians 2, 1 Thessalonians

Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that God chooses the foolish things of this world in order to shame the wise. He takes the weak things of this world in order to shame the strong. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection change the whole dynamic of authority, power and honour: those who are first (the place of honor) will be last (the place of shame), and those who are last will be made first (cf. Matt. 20:16). This turning upside-down of accepted norms continues at the cross. “At the very hour of Jesus’ public shame on the cross, he was actually in the process of shaming his enemies, disarming the powers and authorities and making “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). With these new eschatological realities breaking in on the present order, the only remaining “glory” (doxa) of the world, Paul declares, “is in their shame [aisxunh]” (Phil. 3:19).”[1]

Joeph Plevnik says that Paul set aside the kinship basis for honour in favour of a new standard (Phil. 3:7-8, 10-11). “Status in Israelite and local Tarsus society is no longer the apostle’s supreme value; now it is status in the Christian group: Christ is now his supreme worth. Instead of boasting of his own power and courage, the apostle now accepts weakness, lowliness, suffering, and fear (1 Cor. 2:1-5) for the sake of the gospel. Instead of seeking recognition in the eyes of others, he wants to be found in Christ, his Lord and his judge (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 2:1-5). He does not seek human approval (1 Thess. 2:4) but only God’s approval (cf. Gal 1:10). He insists on his status and role as a legitimate apostle (Gal. 1 and 2)”[2] (p99).

So, Paul was often in conflict with other apostles who “insisted that Greeks and Romans had to first be ‘in Israel’ before they could be accepted ‘in Christ’ (2 Cor. 11:5-6; 12:10). In Paul’s view, those ‘in Christ’ need to reassess what they once considered honourable in favour of a new set of standards. For example, when the Corinthians began to boast about their spiritual accomplishments, he reminded them that God called them when they were lowly, weak, and foolish in order to shame the strong, the wise, and the noble.”[3]

Wener Mischke also highlights 2 Corinthians 12:20-24 and asks us to “notice the emphasis on giving greater honor to those who seem honorless, because in Christ, all are ascribed honor by virtue of their being in Christ, members of God’s family, unashamed before / holy Almighty God. In this way it appears that community trumps individuality in the body of Christ—and that God wants our desire for individual honor to be in balance with—if not in submission to—the unity, honor and strength of the community.”[4]

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul “is at pains to make sure that this fledgling Corinthian community observes proper first-century social conventions in order to maintain their public honour.”[5]

In 1 Corinthians 14, “Paul’s overriding concern [is]about potential shame for the community. Paul claims that women’s speech in worship is shameful. We should … remember that a man’s honour was impacted by his wife’s public comportment … Once again, the issue is public order so that the community (an ultimately Paul) will not be shamed by negative publicity.”[6]

[1] Timothy C. Tennent: “Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology;” Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007: p88. He also notes that Jude 1:13 describes the rebellious world as ‘wild waves of the sea foaming up their shame’.

[2] Joseph Plevnik; “Honor/Shame;” in John J Pilch and Bruce J. Malina eds; “Biblical Social Values and Their Meaning – A Handbook”; Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993.

[3] Ibid., p99-100.

[4] Werner Mischke; “Honor and Shame in Cross-Cultural Relationships;” Mission ONE, May 2010. Web. 21st November 2103. Available from at p20-21.

[5] Carolyn Osiek and Jennifer Pouya, “Constructions of Gender in the Roman Imperial World” in Dietmar Neufeld, Richard E. Demaris eds. ‘Understanding the Social World of the New Testament’, Routledge, Abingdon, 2010, p50.

[6] Ibid., p50.

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