Honor and Shame Rhetoric as a Unifying Motif in Ephesians -- By: Peter W. Gosnell

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 16:1 (NA 2006)
Article: Honor and Shame Rhetoric as a Unifying Motif in Ephesians
Author: Peter W. Gosnell


Honor and Shame Rhetoric as a Unifying Motif in Ephesians

Peter W. Gosnell

Muskingum College

New Testament scholarship increasingly recognizes the importance of honor and shame dynamics for understanding biblical texts. That recognition has not been applied to studies in Ephesians in a consistently developed way. The present article offers a detailed exploration of Ephesians’ persistent regard for honor and shame. This pervasive motif unifies the epistle’s varied contents. Its pervasiveness has significant implications for understanding both the purpose and content of the letter.

Key Words: Ephesians, honor, shame, status, rhetoric, convert, moral behavior

The Epistle “to the Ephesians” exhibits a strong, persistent regard for the concepts of honor and shame. Remarkably, this is rarely observed by commentators and others who write on the epistle.1 The following study focuses on how the honor and shame motif in Ephesians unifies the developing argument of the letter. Recognizing the consistency of this motif helps inform the rhetorical situation of the epistle,2 solidifying Ephesians principally as a resocializing text for new converts.3 The following article

attempts to show how honor and shame language, saturating every section of the letter, ties together all of its varied contents. Throughout, the letter repeatedly orients its readers toward the honored status that accrues to them as a result of their conversion.

The honor-shame framework of conduct is a behavioral phenomenon widely observable in many cultures. It governs behavioral patterns that revolve around the external response of a community to an individual’s external deeds. People have honor, not merely because of their personal persistence in adhering to rigid standards of behavior, but because others in their immediate community recognize them as having honor. This orientation contrasts with a guilt framework, in which the articulation and maintenance of rules can become ends in themselves. People in those cultures more frequently tend to demonstrate a concern for internal motivations that more easily subordinates public approval to internal principle. In honor-shame cultures of the types found in the Greco-Roman world, however, one is more concerned with being perceived as “honorable by the community” than with being “honorable before one’s conscience.”4 This manner of thinking can be foreign to many Northern European oriented biblical sch...

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