Various Bible scholars have proven conclusively that Bible societies had honor and shame as their pivotal cultural value. (See my Honor/Shame Resources page for a small selection of these books. Be sure to scroll down to get to the books.)
So for six-plus years now, I have been reading my Bible and highlighting some of the Bible’s key honor/shame dynamics. It has been a most rewarding journey.
In this post, I want to show how I do this.
The system I use is simple: 1) I use a small number of Prismacolor soft-core colored pencils available at any art supply store, and, 2) I use a regular edition of the ESV Bible. Pretty much any printed Bible will work. Below is an image from my Bible.
In the image above, take note of the following highlights:
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ YELLOW—Verses which relate to honor-status reversal—or changes in honor status. (In the image above: Ps 97:7; Ps 101:6–7; Ps 102:8–10.) This is by far the most commonly used color in the pages of my Bible. Honor-status reversal is a dynamic that occurs in every book of the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation.
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ ORANGE—Words and verses which relate to things royal—the reign of a king, the kingdom, the sovereign ‘high-ness’ of God, etc. (In the image above: Ps 97:9; Ps 98:6, Ps 99:1–5; Ps 100:4; Ps 102:12–15.) These orange-highlighted words and verses always refer to the two sources of honor—ascribed and achieved—especially as it is reflected in the royal honor of the king and his royal family.
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ RED—Words and verses which relate to salvation and redemption. (In the image above: Ps 98:1–3.) Highlighting ‘salvation words and verses’ helps us see the sometimes vital overlap between salvation and honor/shame.
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ GREEN—Words and verses which relate to the earth, nations, or peoples—and God’s purpose to bless all peoples of the earth. (In the image above: Ps 97:4–6; Ps 98:2–4; Ps 98:7–9; Ps 99:1–2; Ps 102:15; Ps 102:19.) These highlights help the reader to visualize the integral link between God’s honor and his global purpose to bless all the peoples of earth.
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ BLUE—Words and verses which relate to glory—the glory of God, or other uses of the words glory, glorious, glorify, glorified. (In the image above: Ps 97:6; Ps 102:16.) Of course, glory is part of honor/shame vocabulary, and God’s passion for his glory is largely synonymous to the honor/shame dynamic known as the love of honor.
- ♦♦♦♦♦♦ VIOLET—Words and verses which relate to the love of God—and especially the words, steadfast love, in the Old Testament. (In the image above: Ps 98:3; Ps 101:1.)
What is the value of this highlighting practice?
- We discover that the Bible is already contextualized for honor/shame cultures. When we see the honor/shame dynamics in the Bible—we understand that the social context of the Bible—with its pivotal cultural value of honor and shame—overlaps deeply with most of today’s Majority World cultures and peoples. This gives us fresh hope. The Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks more profoundly to Majority World peoples than we in the West often realize.
- We see that honor-status reversal is a motif of Scripture. I’ve been reading and highlighting my Bible like this for about six years. I’ve highlighted about 80% of my Bible this way. This highlighting process has led me to conclude that the dynamic of honor-status reversal is so prevalent in the pages of Scripture, that it is unquestionably a motif of the Bible. Over and over again, God is raising up and saving the humble—while putting down and judging the proud and arrogant. Moreover, the motif of honor-status reversal ties together many stories of the Old Testament—with the salvation work of Jesus Christ. This enhances our seeing the unity between Old and New Testaments.
- We see that things regal—are more prevalent than things legal. Kings and queens … pharaohs and caesars … kings and kingdoms of the earth in conflict with one another … and God’s already-but-not-yet kingdom/kingship … these all are widely represented on the pages of Scripture. Of course, everything regal connotes honor, so this further enhances our apprehension of honor and shame on the pages of the Bible. Plus, when laws are decreed in Scripture, they always come forth from a king—or the King: Almighty God, King of Creation. Even laws are saturated with regal flavor.
- We see more clearly many overlaps and connections. A full two-page spread of Scripture—with various colors and notations—offers the student of Scripture the ability to see a broader context and see more connections. Prominent themes and how they connect can be quickly identified through color as we flip through the pages of our Bibles.
- It helps us grow in our love for God’s Word. Reading and studying the Bible this way has deepened my love for the Bible. It is thrilling to see—over and over again, day after day—how the cultural value of honor and shame is so deeply woven into the text and story of Holy Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation.
Of course, the goal of Bible study is not simply knowledge, but transformation—becoming more like Jesus. My journey to know Scripture’s honor/shame dynamics has done this for me: I have come to more deeply know that, through Jesus Christ, God has covered my shame and shared with me his honor. To God be the glory.