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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Shame

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SHAME

1. Objectively = dishonouring treatment, that which causes shame; usually ἀτιμία, ἀτιμάζειν (Mark 12:4, Luke 20:11). Shame is mentioned in several passages of the OT which are usually applied to Christ’s sufferings (Psalms 44:15; Psalms 69:7; Psalms 69:19; Psalms 89:45, Isaiah 50:6); but the word is, curiously enough, never so used in the Gospels. Hebrews 12:2 speaks of the shame (αἰσχύνη) of the cross, Hebrews 13:13 of Christ’s reproach (ὀνειδισμός), and in Hebrews 6:6 those who fall from grace are said to crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame (παραδειγματίζεν). In John 8:49 the unbelieving Jews dishonour (ἀτιμάζειν) Him, and in Acts 5:41 the Apostles rejoice at suffering shame (ἀτιμασθῆναι) for His name.

The shame which Christ in fact bore is seen specially in such incidents of the Passion as the night arrest as of a thief or robber, the spitting, the scourging and the mockings, the public procession through the streets of Jerusalem, the taunts, the stripping naked of His body, and the hanging side by side with criminals. But above all, it is seen in the manner of His death, the cross being peculiarly the death of shame.* [Note: See the well-known passage in Cic. in Verr. v. 66: ‘Quid dicam in crucem tolli? Verbo satis digno tarn nefaria res appellari nullo modo potest.’] In the passages in the Gospels which speak of crucifixion and taking up the cross (Matthew 20:19, Mark 8:34 etc.), though the prominent thought is that of sufferings, the idea of shame and ignominy is undoubtedly present as well. This shame must be willingly borne both by Christ and by His followers.

2. Subjectively = the feeling of shame; usually αἰσχύνη and cognate words.† [Note: For distinction between αἰσχύνη and αἰδώς, see Trench, NT Syn. §§ 19, 20. The latter Is the better word; ‘αἰδώς would always restrain a good man from an unworthy act, while αἰσχύνη would sometimes restrain a bad one.’] It is interesting to note that the typically Greek and almost untranslatable αἰδώς has practically dropped out of Biblical Greek. In the LXX Septuagint it occurs twice in Mac.; in NT only in 1 Timothy 2:9 μετὰ αἰδοῦς κ. σωφροσύνης (’with shamefastness and sobriety,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ; ‘shamefacedness,’ Authorized Version * [Note: See Hastings’ DB, s.v.] ), and in Textus Receptus of Hebrews 12:28 (Authorized Version ‘reverence’), where edd. [Note: editions or editors.] read δέους. It may be that, like such words as ἀρετή and φιλία, it was avoided as having a technical and unsuitable sense. In Homer and Hesiod it ranks high, being coupled with νέμεσις, and personified; it is the sense of what is due to oneself and others. Aristotle,† [Note: See Eth. iv. 9; Rhet. ii. 6.] however, regards it not as a virtue, but an emotion (πάθος), which he does not consider very valuable to ethics. It is the fear of ἀδοξία, the loss of reputation, and, while proper to the νέος, it is out of place in the πρεσβύτερος or ἐπιεικής (the good man). They ought never to do, or wish to do, things that might evoke the feeling of shame.

Shame is not, then, a motive which we shall expect to find prominent in Christian ethics. Its essential idea being φόβος ἀδοξίας, it looks only to the varying standard of public opinion, to what people would say, or might be conceived of as saying if they knew. And its source is not the moral sense of right and wrong, but at best the feeling of propriety and decency. At its highest it is a neutral word. If it may sometimes deter from a wrong action, regarded as disgraceful, it is even more likely to deter from a right action, as unpopular.

It is in this sense that it is most prominent in the Gospels. It may keep a man from honest work (Luke 16:3). Christ warns those who are ashamed of Him and of His words, that He too will be ashamed of them (Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26; cf. John 12:43). It is this false shame that is emphatically repudiated by the Apostles (Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:12, 1 Peter 4:16).

Shame may also follow an action; and here too the idea is not the conviction of sin, but the confusion which comes from discovery, though this may be an element in a future awakening of conscience. It is the fate of one who unduly exalts himself (Luke 14:10). Christ’s enemies are put to shame (Luke 13:17), i.e. they are enraged at being exposed before the people. Though the word is not mentioned, it is presumably the feeling of the man who hid his talent or pound, when brought face to face with his master (Matthew 25:24, Luke 19:20); and it is certainly implied in John 8:9, whether the words ‘convicted by their conscience’ are genuine or not. The Pharisees are ashamed of being found exploiting a sin for their own ends.

It is possible that in the passage last quoted (the episode of the woman taken in adultery) we have an instance of shame in another aspect, the sympathetic shame evoked by sin in others. Christ was face to face with the type of sin which particularly rouses that feeling, and with a callous attempt on the part of His enemies to use that sin for their own advantage. He blushed for those who did not blush for themselves.

‘He was seized with an intolerable sense of shame. He could not meet the eye of the crowd, or of the accusers, and perhaps at that moment least of all of the woman.… In his burning embarrassment and confusion he stooped down so as to hide his face, and began writing with his finger on the ground’ (Seeley, Ecce Homo, ch. ix.).

We may note that the word is far rarer in the NT, and particularly in the Gospels, than in the OT. The typically Hebraic use of בּוֹשׁ = to be disappointed of a hope, is not found in the Gospels; it occurs in Romans 5:5; Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6. In each case a quotation is implied or expressed, though, curiously enough, from a passage (Is 28:16) where בּו̇שׁ does not occur in the Hebrew. The shame or reproach of childlessness, which is so prominent in the OT, is referred to in Luke 1:25.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , art. ‘Shame’; Trench, NT Synonyms; G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism (1887), 164; R. W. Church, Village Serm., 3rd ser. (1897), 236.

C. W. Emmet.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Shame'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/s/shame.html. 1906-1918.

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