Resolve Tension into Identity

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101But the meek shall inherit the land and 

delight themselves in abundant peace. 

(Ps 37:11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One resolution of life’s tensions is that they are absorbed into our identity, defining our self-image, relationships, and expected actions and reactions. A pastoral identity, for example, implies spending time with God, interpreting scripture, praying with others, preaching the Gospel, and offering comfort to everyone; these activities are expected of pastors and are an essential part of pastoral training. Likewise, training in humility makes us meek, part of our identity as disciples of Christ.

Meekness is Unique

The Third Beatitude is unique to Matthew: “Honored are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5). Meek means to: “…not [be] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble,  considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like applied humility (poor in spirit)—a character trait of being  humble (Guelich 1982, 82), suggested by at least three verses in Matthew:

1. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:29)

2. Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. (Matt 21:5)

3. And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent. (Matt 26:62-63)

In these three events—Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, his humble parade into Jerusalem, and his silence while on trial—Jesus exhibited his meekness. Sedler (2003, 92) observes that “anything Jesus said [at his trial] would have been twisted, turned, and rejected.” Jesus’ meekness is also observed in the writings of the Apostles Peter, James, and Paul (e.g. 1 Pet 3:13–17, Jas 1:21, and 2 Cor 10:1).

Honor and Meekness

In his writing, Neyrey (1998, 181–182) describes honor in meekness in these terms:

It can indeed be understood as grounds for praise for refusing to be a victim…according to the choreography of honor challenges, the ‘meek’ person could be one who makes no honor claims (e.g. Matt 21:5), or, more likely, one who does not give a riposte [response] to challenges and does not respond in anger to insults. In this light, a ‘meek’ person disengages entirely from the typical honor games of the village…failure to seek revenge.

The implication here is that the meek person choses wisely to remain silent, especially when speaking would escalate conflict with another person.

The problem of escalation is referenced in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said:

1. Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:22)

2. Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matt 5:37)

3. Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matt 5:39–41)

Meekness as a Strategy

Savage (1996, 57–61) suggests a strategy of not resisting evil, “fogging,” that involves finding something in the criticism to agree with to frustrate the attacker and to avoid becoming defensive, as when Jesus responses when asked about taxes (Matt 22:17–22). More generally, the meek person will refuse to pursue vindication, offer no response when baited to act imprudently, or just make peace. We are to preserve a humble identity by refusing to argue, belittle, or engage in a response to harsh words. In other words, defend your meekness with silence and humility.

Ortberg (2012, 107) illustrates Jesus’ meekness in imaging a pep talk that Jesus might have given the disciples:

Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in. We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.

Meekness is a strategy, not a weakness, that identifies us as Christians, advances the kingdom, and steals the thunder from our adversaries.


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Ortberg, John. 2012. Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Resolve Tension into Identity

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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Poor in Spirit: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 17, 2020

Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on the Poor in Spirit.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Poor in Spirit: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 17, 2020

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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The Beatitudes: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 10, 2020

Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a  prayer and reflect on the Beatitudes. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.Beatitude

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

The Beatitudes: Monday Monologues, Podcast on February 10, 2020

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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The Beatitudes

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 

for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

(Ps 2:11-12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Beatitudes poetically introduce Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7), which sets priorities, redefines honor among disciples, and commissions his disciples. The sermon offers the lengthiest statement of Jesus’ teaching and the early church cited it more frequently than any other passage in scripture (Guelich (1982, 14). As an introduction, the Beatitudes interpret the Old Testament in ways that surprised his disciples then and continue to surprise us now, suggesting that the Beatitudes deserve careful study.

Gospel Context

In both Matthew and Luke, the Beatitudes appear immediately after Jesus calls his disciples and addresses the disciples, serving as a preamble for the sermon that follows.

The sermon addresses the disciples personally, much like Jesus’ earlier call to ministry—“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19). This is not a passive call to be spectators, but an active call for disciples who will share in his suffering, at a time when the arrest and beheading of John (who baptized Jesus) was still fresh in their minds (Matt 4:12; 14:10).

Suffering—extreme tension—is an obvious theme in the sermon both because of John’s recent death and because of the ongoing threats to Jesus’ life that began even before his birth (Matt 1:18-25; 2:1-13). Suffering, we learn in the Beatitudes, is part of being a faithful disciple and we know that the disciples got the message because ten out of the eleven faithful disciples died a martyr’s death (Fox and Chadwick, 2001, 10).

Literary Context

The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin translation (beati) of the Greek word for honor (μακάριος) which means “humans privileged recipients of divine favor” or “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy,  privileged“ (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a). Jesus repeats μακάριος nine times.

The Bible uses repetition for emphasis—twice is emphasis; three times is highly emphatic; and nine times is unprecedented. This emphatic repetition reinforces the sermon’s content. The sermon in Matthew pictures Jesus as the new Moses issuing a new law of grace on a mountain (like Mount Sinai), while in Luke the sermon presents both blessings and curses (woes), a pattern associated with covenantal law (Deut 28). In other words, the literary style and content of the text are both attention-grabbers for a Jewish audience.

Old Testament Context

Jesus’ repeated use of μακάριος in the sermon alludes to Psalm 1 in the  Greek translation (most familiar to first century readers), where it says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:1-2)

Psalm 1 pictures God’s shalom, a call to holiness, and integration (the opposite of tension) within ourselves, with God (through obedience to the law), and with others with an amazing economy of words. Other references to μακάριος speak, not of integration, but of tension, such as political tension (Psalm 2) and affliction (Isaiah 30). In Isaiah 30, for example, God makes an interesting promise to those that wait for him:

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Isa 30:20)

The teacher here is the Messiah who blesses those who suffer “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction”—a poetic phrase meaning persecution, while the word for teacher (‎מוֹרֶ֔יךָ) also means early rain, a form of blessing in a desert region like Israel.

Commissioning Purpose

In his sermon, Jesus redefines the meaning of honor, an important, but neglected, translation of μακάριος (Neyrey 1998, 164). If Jesus had wanted to convey the idea of blessed—the usual translation of μακάριος, then the more conventional word in Greek would eulogetos (France 2007, 161). Honored is a more appropriate translation  because the ancient world had an honor-shame culture where even a small insult requires an immediate and sometimes deadly response—Jesus forbids such responses. When Jesus taught forgiveness, enemy love, and turning the other cheek, he radically confronted the honor-shame culture, where masters had honor and slaves had mostly shame.

Dishonor in the ancient world Jesus redefined as honor among his disciples. Jesus said:

Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11–12)

In other words, heavenly rewards follow from earthly persecution. In a culture obsessed with glory and honor—especially family honor, the preferred translation for μακάριος here is honor, not blessing. It is more consistent with the rest of Jesus’ sermon and less consistent with the law of Moses with blessings and curses as in Psalm 1.

The Beatitude

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Las Bienaventuradas

Vida_en_Tensión_front_20200102Adoren al señor con reverencia, y alégrense con temblor.

 Honren al hijo para que no se enoje y perezcan en el camino, 

Pues puede inflamarse de repente su ira. 

¡Cuán bienaventurados son todos los que en el se refugian!

(Ps 2:11-12)

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Las Bienaventuradas introducen poéticamente el Sermón de la Monte (Matt 5-7), que establecen prioridades, redefinen honra entre discípulos, y encargan su discípulos.  El sermón ofrece la declaración más larga de la enseñanza de Jesus y la iglesia primitiva la citó más frecuentemente que cualquiera otra pasaje en las escrituras (Guelich 1982, 14). Como una introducción, las Bienaventuradas interpretan el Antiguo Testamento de manera que sorpresó sus discípulos entonces y continúan a sorpresernos ahora, que sugir que las Bienaventuradas merecen un estudio cuidadoso.

Contexto del Evangelio

En ambos Mateo y Lucas, las Bienaventuradas aparecen inmediatamente despues Jesús llamó sus discípulos y se dirige a los discípulos, sirviendo como un preámbulo para el sermon que sigue.

El sermón se dirge a los disciples personalmente, al igual que el anterior llamado de Jesus al ministerio—“Vengan en pos de mí, y yo los haré pescadores de hombres” (Matt 4:19). No es un llamado pasivo a ser espectadores, sino un activo llamado para discípulos quienes compartirán en su sufrimiento, en un momento en que el arresto y decapitación de Juan (quien baptizó Jesús) fue todavía fresco en sus mentes (Matt 4:12; 14:10). Sufrimiento—tensión extrema—es un tema obvio en el sermón tanto por el muerte reciénte de Juan como por razón de las continuas amenazas a la vida de Jesus que empezaran aun antes su nacimiento (Matt 1:18-25; 2:1-13).

Sufrimiento, como aprendimos en las Bienaventuradas, es parte de ser un discípulo fiel y sabemos que los discípulos fieles recibieron esta mensaje porque diez de los once discípulos murieron como mártires (Fox and Chadwick, 2001, 10).

Contexto Literario

En inglés, las Bienaventuradas (Beatitudes) toman su nombre de la traducción de latin (beati) de la palabra en griego para honra (μακάριος) que significa “humanos privilegiados receptores del favor divino” o “favorecidos, bendicido, afortunados, felices, privilegiado” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a). Jesus repite μακάριος por nueve veces.

La Biblia usa la repetición para enfatizar—dos veces es enfasis; tres veces es muy enfatico; y nueve veces no tiene precedentes.

Esta enfatica repetición refuerza el contenido del sermón.  El sermón en Mateo representa Jesús como el nuevo Moisés quien emite un nuevo ley sobre la montaña (después el Monte de Sinaí), mientras en Lucas el sermón presenta ambas bendeciones y maldecienes (problemas), un patrón como del pacto (Deut 28). En otras palabras, el estilo literario y contenido del texto atraerían la atención de un público judío.

Contexto del Antiguo Testamento

El uso repetido de Jesús de μακάριος en el sermon alude a Salmo 1 en la traducción de griego (el más familiar para los lectores del primer siglo), donde dice:

¡Cuán bienaventurado es el hombre que no anda en el consejo de los impíos, ni se detiene en el camino de los pecadores, ni se sienta en la silla de los escarnecedores, sino que en la ley del señor está su deleite, y en su ley medita de día y de noche! (Ps 1:1-2)

Salmo 1 presenta la paz de Dios, un llamado a la santidad, y una integración (lo opuesto a tensión) dentro de nosotros mismos, con Dios (a través de la obediencia a la ley), y con los demás con una sorprendente economía de palabras. 

Otras referencias de μακάριος hablan, no a integración, sino de tensión, como la tensión política (Salmo 2) y  la aflicción (Isaiah 30). En Isaías 30, por ejemplo, Dios hace una promesa interesante a los que esperan por él.

Aunque el Señor les ha dado pan de escasez y agua de opresión, el, tu maestro, no se esconderá más, sino que tus propios ojos contemplarán a tu maestro. (Isa 30:20)

El maestro aquí es el Mesías quien bendica los quienes sufren “el pan de escasez y la agua de opresión”—una expresión poética que significa persecución, mientras la palabra por maestro (‎מוֹרֶ֔יךָ) también significa la lluvia temprana, una forma de bendición en una región desértica como Israel.

Propósito de Comisionar

En su sermon, Jesus redefine la significado de honra que es una importante, pero neglectada, translación de μακάριος (Neyrey 1998, 164). Si Jesús hubiera querido transmitir la idea de bendito, la traducción habitual de μακάριος, entonces la palabra más convencional en griego sería eulogetos (France 2007, 161). Honrado es una translación más apropriado porque el mundo antiguo tenía una cultura de honor y vergüenza donde incluso un pequeño insulto require una respuesta inmediata y ya veces mortal—Jesús prohíbe tales respuestas. Cuando Jesús enseñó el perdón, el amor enemigo y poner la otra mejilla, él confrontó radicalmente la cultura de honor y vergüenza, donde los amos tuvieron el honor y los esclavos tuvieron la  vergüenza.

Deshonra en el mundo antiguo Jesús redefinió como honor entre sus discípulos. Jesús dijo:

Honrados serán cuando los insulten y persigan, y digan todo género de mal contra ustedes falsamente, por causa de mí. Regocíjense y alégrense, porque la recompensa de ustedes en los cielos es grande, porque así persiguieron a los profetas que fueron antes que ustedes. (Matt 5:11–12)

En otras palabras, las recompensas celestiales siguen de la persecución terrenal. En una cultural obsesionada con la gloria y honor—especialmente honor de la familiar—la traducción preferida para μακάριος aqui es honor, no bendición. Este es más consistente con el resto del sermón de Jesus y menos consistente con la ley de Moisés con bendiciones y maldiciones como en Salmo 1.

Las Bienaventurada

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Gospel as Divine Template

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Prayer of Presence

PA Church
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty father,

You created us in your image and ushered us into your presence honoring us more than we could ever honor you. Teach us to honor you more every day!

Forgive our unwillingness to usher others into your presence and to honor them as you have honored us. Teach us to honor those around us more every day!

Thank you for the presence of your church in our lives. May it be a light to the world and inspire us in participating in this work. Teach us to love the light and spread it more every day!

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to be a non-anxious presence in our families, church, and work that your name would be praised. May we learn the names of the silent people in our lives and cherish them as friends.

Bless us that we might bless those around us. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Prayer of Presence

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 2

Honor_and_shame_02192015Jerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Neyrey organizes his discussion of honor like an anthropologist into 7 categories:

  1. Definition of honor,
  2. Sources of honor,
  3. Conflict and honor,
  4. Display and recognition of honor,
  5. Collective honor, and
  6. Gender and honor (14-15).

Under sources of honor, for example, Neyrey notes that honor can be both ascribed as in being born into a well-known family or achieved as in earning special merit (15).

Shame, by contrast, is the opposite of honor—loss of respect, regard, worth, and value in the eyes of others.  A shameless person does not care what people think of them (30).  Because honor and shame are displayed publicly, our individualistic culture downplays both honor and shame.

Honor must, of course, be defended.  Neyrey notes 4 steps into challenges to honor and response—reposte:

  1. Claim to honor,
  2. Challenge to that claim,
  3. Riposte to the challenge, and
  4. Public verdict by onlookers (44).

Neyrey (51) sees many examples of challenge and riposte in Matthew.  For example in Matthew 9: 1-8 we see:

Claim to honor:  “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” [Divinity claim] (v 2)

Challenge:         “This man is blaspheming.” (v 3)

Riposte:             “Which is easier…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (vv 5-6)

Verdict:              “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid…” (v 8)

Much of Neyrey’s book focuses on the details of Matthew’s encomium of Jesus. For example, Matthew portrays Jesus as just in performing his duties to God, his parents, and the dead (109).  Jesus is faithful to God (his heavenly patron) even until death (Matt 26:39; 110).  He defended the rights of parents over traditions, like “korban” (Matt 15:5).  While Neyrey skips over the question of just for the dead, clearly Jesus’ teaching about eternal life would also honor the dead.

A key hypothesis that Neyrey advances is to read the Sermon on the Mount as reforming the honor code of his society.  Neyrey writes:

“Jesus did not overthrow the honor code as such, but rather redefined what constitutes honor in his eyes and how his disciples should play the game…For example, he forbade his disciples to play the typical village honor game by forswearing honor claims (i.e. boasting), challenges (i.e. physical and sexual aggressiveness), and ripostes (i.e. seeking satisfaction and revenge). Moreover, he attempted to redefine whose acknowledge (i.e. grant of honor) truly counts…Jesus , then, changed the way the honor game was played and redefined the source of honor, name, acknowledgment by God, not by neighbor.” (164).

Most importantly in this respect, Neyrey suggests that the Greek words “makarios” and “ouai” be translated respectively as esteemed or honorable (not blessed or happy) and as shame on or disrespectable (165-166). In this way, Jesus is redefining the honor code that applies to his disciples.

Neyrey also sees Jesus redefining shame in the last “makario”.  This verse in Matthew reads:  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute [drive out] you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5:11 ESV)  Neyrey sees this verse addressing the problem of a son being disinherited for becoming Jesus’ disciple rather than being generally persecuted (169).  In other words, what society took as dishonorable, Jesus redefined as honorable[1].

Following Neyrey, the Sermon on the Mount can be read as Jesus offering more than your typical a pep talk to his disciples who needed reassurance.  He was commissioning them to a higher calling.  This calling was something worth dying for or, more importantly, something to live for.

Clearly, this reading is as important today as it was then.


[1]Neyrey reads Matthew as implying that:  “Discipleship often meant cross-generational conflict within families.” (227)  Today we see this dynamic when a Muslim or Jewish child converts to Christianity or when a child from a “good family” suddenly “gets religion” and drops out of college to pursue social ministry.

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 2

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

Jeremey Neyrey Honor and ShameJerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A frequent comment in the church today is the need to stop using all those “churchy” words. While the definition of “churchy” may be up for grabs, the focus of these comments is usually on words that have in the postmodern context lost their meaning. Verses, such as—“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev 4:11 ESV)—almost certainly be classified as knee-deep in churchy words, because our buddy culture admits no one worthy of praise, glory or honor or of titles such as Lord and God.


In his book, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome H. Neyrey states his objective plainly:  “This book focuses on the praise of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in narrative form by the evangelist Matthew.” (1)  Neyrey sees gospel as a type of ancient writing form called an encomium which is a structured biography designed to offer praise (2). The rules for writing such encomium were the subject of rhetorical handbooks, starting with Aristotle.  Neyrey (4) writes:

“Nothing in the exercise of praise was left to chance, for students were instructed concerning the form of speech of praise, as well as the specific content of each element in that form.  They learned to organize their praise according to the conventional manner of presenting a person’s life from birth to death and in light of specific rules for developing praise at each state of life.”

Honor (τιμη) is the “worth or value of persons both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the village or neighborhood”“concern for ‘honor’ as reputation and ‘good name’ was endemic to the ancient world…” (5)

An important, but questionable, assumption in some biblical interpretation is that honor and shame play a same role in our own culture as in biblical culture. Cultural anthropologist sometimes describe American culture today as a guilt-innocence culture where guilt is only triggered when a law has been transgressed and shame, if experienced at all, is trigger when a law is broken and publically exposed[1]. The shame and guilt so important in biblical culture has lost its meaning. Complaints about the meaninglessness of “churchy” words underscore an important cultural shift that renders aspects of the biblical witness out of reach[2].


Neyrey writes in 10 chapters divided into 3 parts:

Part One:  Matthew: In Other Words

  1. Honor and Shame in Cultural Perspective
  2. Reading Matthew in Cultural Perspective

Part Two:  Matthew and the Rhetoric of Praise

  1. The Rhetoric of Praise and Blame
  2. An Encomium for Jesus: Origins, Birth, Nurture, and Training
  3. An Encomium for Jesus: Accomplishments and Deeds
  4. An Encomium for Jesus: Deeds of the Body and Deeds of Fortune
  5. An Encomium for Jesus: A Noble Death

Part Three:  The Sermon on the Mount in Cultural Perspective

  1. Matthew 5:3-12—Honoring the Dishonored
  2. Matthew 5:21-28—Calling Off the Honor Game
  3. Matthew 6:1-18—Vacating the Playing Field (v).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliography and indices.


Neyrey is a tough read. Not only is it hard to follow the arguments, the arguments challenge important preconceptions that we hold in reading scripture. What happens if the “Jesus in our head” is not the Jesus of the bible?  What if our kids hear something different than what we do during the Sunday morning service? These are important questions which directly affect our interpretation of scripture and experience of church.  In Part 2 (look for the post on Monday, March 2), I will explore Neyrey’s arguments in more detail.



[2] For example, read:  2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief (

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

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Prayer Day 9: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on
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God of all wonders. We praise you for Mary’s faithfulness and Jesus’ miraculous birth. Bridge the gaps of holiness, time, and space between us. Open our minds to the miracles that we experience daily but neglect to think about. Open our hearts to accept your will for our lives. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dios de todas las maravillosas. Te alabamos por la fidelidad de María y el nacimiento milagroso de Jesús. Puente la brecha de santidad, tiempo, y espacio entre nosotros. Abre nuestra mentes a los milagrosos que experimentamos cotidiana pero se olvidan de considerar. Abre nuestros corazones a aceptar tu voluntad por nuestras vidas. En el nombre del Padre, el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief

My Grandparents' Tombstone
My Grandparents’ Tombstone

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The rapid pace of cultural change in our society can sometimes leave us speechless and unable to process some things that we observe.  For me, one of those moments occurred last week when I walked into my living room and saw my wife watching an episode of Dr. Phil.  On the show, a 16-year woman shamelessly recounted how she had been sexually intimate with several young men, one after the other, at a party.  Yet, she was upset on the show primarily because the whole incident was video-taped by others present [1].  By contrast, her mother’s response was more like mine—she was speechless and horrified.

A cultural anthropologist might describe this incident as an example of a response in a guilt-innocence culture where things not illegal trigger no internal feeling of shame—the individual feels no accountability to social norms (even on national television).  In an honor-shame culture, by contrast, the expected response would be to feel shame and attempt to hide the behavior to avoid sanctioning by the community [2].  My distress in observing this show suggests that one dimension of cultural change today is the shift from an honor-shame culture of most adults to a guilt-innocence culture among some youth today.

In chapter 5 of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth clearly addresses the culture in Corinth as an honor-shame culture.  The idea of holiness expressed in verse 1, for example, talks about holiness as spiritual cleansing motivated by fear of God.  Holiness is a virtue or character trait focusing on separating oneself from evil practices—defilement (spiritual dirtiness) [3]—or to preserve the sacred nature of something.  Holiness is a character trait valued primarily in an honor-shame culture, not a guilt-innocence culture.

Paul observes in the Corinthian church experiencing Godly grief after they mistreated him.  Paul writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (vv 9-10).

In other words, Godly grief brings shame which leads to repentance and a turning to God, hence—salvation.  The young woman on Dr. Phil, by contrast, only grieved that she had been video-taped—she expressed no repentance.  The discipline which Paul practiced in Corinth and led to their salvation would have been pointless in the case of this young woman.

How does someone experience Godly grief in a guilt-innocence culture?  I fear that one can only outgrow a youth culture stuck in guilt-innocence mode [4], but I pray for God’s intervention.


[1] Dr. Phil, August 6, 2014, Not-So-Sweet 16: “My Daughter’s Dangerous Sex Life” (


[3] μολυσμός (BDAG 4973) noun version of verb, μολύνω (BDAG  4972.1), meaning to “cause something to become dirty or soiled, stain”, soil  in a “in sacred and moral context”. 

[4] One could perhaps say that Rosaria Butterfield went through this process marrying at age 39.  No longer able to have children of her own, she and her husband adopted and raised orphans.   (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Pittsburgh:  Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012, page 108).

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