You do not have to be a professional cross-cultural worker or Bible scholar to read and understand the Bible in the “language of honor and shame”. Most anyone can do it if they familiarize themselves with a few key concepts. Below are four steps to help you unlock the honor/shame dynamics in Scripture so that the Bible can “come alive” for you in a fresh way. You can be confident that the insights you glean from reading the Bible this way will help you understand people from other societies whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame.
Before following these steps, download the quick reference guide to reading the Bible in the language of honor and shame. Click here to download. Familiarize yourself with the dynamics of honor and shame which exist in Bible societies.
STEP 1—Recognize honor/shame dynamics. Observe the “universe” or spectrum words and dynamics of honor and shame in the Bible in the graphic at the top of this post. (This is also part of the quick reference guide.) As you read the Bible, circle those words in black. Pay special attention to these words … glory, honor, blessing, ashamed, cursed, name, kingdom, blood—and anything having to do with family or kinship.
STEP 2—Recognize all conflicts as honor competition. From sibling rivalries to deadly wars—remember it is fueled by “challenge and riposte” (the ubiquitous honor-shame “game”) and the “image of limited good” (win-win was conceptually impossible except as revealed by God; win-lose was the only way). Make a note in your Bible. (NOTE: See this blog post for an explanation of “challenge and riposte”. For an explanation of “image of limited good”, see this blog post.)
STEP 3—Identify examples of honor-status reversal. Underline or circle these verses with a yellow colored pencil. This can range from individual verses to long stories. See this post for an explanation of honor-status reversal.
STEP 4—Observe words and themes about salvation—and how they connect to honor-status reversal. In the Old Testament and New there are many references to the words … saved, ransom, redeem, atone, propitiation, etc. Underline or circle these verses in red. Observe the relationship, if any, between salvation and honor-status reversal.