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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Shame and Honor

Sociological studies have increased appreciation for shame and honor as two pivotal values in ancient societies. As a noun, honor approximates our ideas of esteem, respect, (high) regard, or (good) reputation. Shame, the opposite of honor, approximates humiliation or loss of standing. Shame is also used as a euphemism for nakedness (Jeremiah 13:26; Nahum 3:5; Habakkuk 2:15 ). In a similar way, to give honor to private parts is to clothe them (1 Corinthians 12:23-24 ). English preserves this connection between shame and nakedness when we speak of someone's guilt being exposed. In Jeremiah 2:26 , for example, a thief once caught suffers shame, that is, the loss of esteem in the public eye.

To honor is to recognize the value of someone or thing and to act accordingly. Honoring parents (Exodus 20:12 ), for example, involves providing for their material needs (Matthew 15:4-5 ) so that their poverty would not be a source of shame. To honor can mean to reward with tangible signs of respect (2 Chronicles 16:14; Esther 6:8-11 ). To shame someone is to challenge that one's reputation or to disregard his or her worth. The ancients viewed every human action and interaction as an occasion for either gaining honor, that is, increasing one's value in the public eye, or for being shamed, that is, having one's estimation degraded. The desire to maintain one's honor and to avoid shame or dishonor was a powerful incentive for right action (Job 11:3; Psalm 70:3; Ezekiel 43:10 ). Honor was thought of as a limited good, that is, the amount of available honor was limited. If one lost honor, another had to gain honor (Proverbs 5:9 ).

Those who demonstrate a lack of concern for matters of honor and shame are termed shameless. Having rejected the framework for values, such will do anything (Job 19:3; Jeremiah 6:15 ). Others fail to recognize what is a source of honor and what a source of shame. Those who are ashamed of Christ and His words (Mark 8:32 ) are shamed by what should give them honor.

The reference to the man and woman in Genesis 2:25 being naked and unashamed likely does not highlight that they were not bashful. Rather, their honor or respect was intact in contrast to the loss of respect they suffered when God made their guilt public ( Genesis 3:8-10 ).

Chris Church

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Shame and Honor'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/s/shame-and-honor.html. 1991.

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