This is an article from the January-February 2015 issue: The Power of Honor

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

The Gospel the World is Waiting For

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

As our team in Central Asia was preparing to host a training for national church-planting partners, I took advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with the six national believers on our team about honor and shame. We examined the biblical story through the lens of honor and shame for over an hour, and they were animated and encouraged to see how the Bible speaks so directly into their honor-shame culture.1

Aisha has served in campus ministry and church planting, and the gospel she learned from Western ministry organizations emphasizes forgiveness of sins without reference to the problem of shame. She quickly recognized the implications of this new paradigm, and her eyes watered up as she begged to know, “Why has nobody told me this before? I have shared with my sister many times that God forgives her sins. But she just says her shame is too great for God, and I have had nothing to say to her. Why am I just learning this now?” 

Aisha’s question highlights a glaring missiological problem. If most of the world (especially most unreached people groups) live and think in terms of honor and shame, and honor-shame themes are inherent in the Bible, then why is honor and shame so absent in our missiology and theology? Why do we fail to present people in shame-based cultures with the honor-restoring salvation available in Jesus? These questions have huge missiological significance for the completion of the Great Commission.

Honor-Shame Dynamics Among UPGs

Roland Muller notes that “much of the 10/40 window is made up of shame-based cultures.”2  And anthropologists and missionaries increasingly observe that collectivistic and group-oriented cultures, most notably in Arab and Asian contexts, construct their worldview and society upon the pivotal values of honor and shame. This is in contrast with individualistic Western societies that emphasize personal guilt, legal innocence, and retributive justice.

Most people in collectivistic societies structure their life to avoid shame and maintain honor. This influences where they sit at a meal, how they introduce themselves, who they marry, where they work, and how they receive the message of Jesus. All of these behaviors are influenced by concern for maintaining a positive reputation and harmonious relationships in the community.

Our Tunnel Vision

Does the gospel address shame? Does Jesus Christ grant honor to those who believe in him? Absolutely! The Bible is saturated with honor and shame dynamics. Majority World peoples in shame-based cultures may intuitively understand facets of the Bible better than seminary-trained Westerners.

While studying the Bible together I asked my friend Kairbek, a Central Asian believer, “What kind of person was Adam?” anticipating a philosophical or ontological answer. Kairbek replied, “A person of great honor!” Being from an honor-shame culture, Kairbek implicitly understood the great honor God gave Adam at creation—blessing, land, a multitude of descendants, food, the divine image, naming privileges, and a wife. For these reasons, Adam and Eve “felt no shame,” even though they were naked (Gen 2:25). Kairbek opened my eyes to see new aspects of God’s plan
in scripture.

Beginning from Genesis 1, honor and shame run through the entire story of the Bible. “The term guilt and its various derivatives occur 145 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, whereas the term shame and its derivatives occur nearly 300 times in the Old Testament and 45 times in the New Testament.”3  Yet leading theology books continue to emphasize guilt and courtroom motifs over shame and community motifs. In fact, I have encountered indices in theology books with multiple references to “Shakespeare”, but no references for “shame.”

The Bible is Covered in Shame (and Honor!)

Western theology is “shameless,” yet the Bible is saturated with references to shame and honor:

  • “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more”
  • (Isa 54:4).
  • “My salvation and my honor depend on God”
  • (Ps 62:7).
  • “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] will not be put to shame, [with] honor to those who believe” (1 Pet 2:6-7). 

New Testament professor David deSilva tells us, “The culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social values of honor and dishonor.”4   So it is natural that biblical writers proclaimed the gospel in the language of honor and shame. The centrality of honor and shame emerges even more fully as we consider the biblical motifs of glory, name, adoption/family, and purity/defilement. And the stories of Genesis, Esther, many Psalms, Daniel, Luke, 2 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Revelation, and even Romans center around God’s status-restoring salvation.

Where Does the Roman Road Lead Us?

Western theology leads us to read Paul’s epistle to the Romans as a legal letter explaining heavenly acquittal of our individual transgressions. But Romans rarely uses courtroom terms like guilt (0x), forgiveness (1x), or innocence (1x). Rather it places much greater emphasis on shame (6x), honor (15x), and glory (20x). In Romans, Paul addresses the corrosive ethnic divisions between Roman Christians (Jew-Gentile and Roman-barbarian) by replacing their false claims to honor with their new basis for true honor in God, equally available to all who trust in God’s honored Messiah.5  In other words, Romans confronts “group righteousness” (claims to superiority over other groups), not just “works righteousness” (pride in one’s moral goodness). In this context, Paul reveals sin as the shameful manipulation of cultural systems that dishonors God (1:23-24, 2:23-24, 3:23). The trajectory of “The Romans Road” leads to a salvation of divine honor, eternal glory, and membership into God’s family (2:7, ch 4; 8:18, 10:10-11).6

Seeing the Forest in the Trees

Biblical authors communicate their from-shame-to-honor theology through various literary genres:

  • propositions—“No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom 10:11),
  • metaphors of status reversal—“You are no longer strangers and aliens” (Eph 2:19),
  • narratives of honorification—Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Daniel, Jesus’ healings, etc., and
  • covenants of promised honor—Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), David (2 Sam 7:7-14). 

The biblical view of honor and shame runs even deeper than these passages suggest. Understanding honor and shame does far more for our message and ministry than help us better interpret Jesus’ parables or repackage our evangelistic presentations. Ultimately, the Bible’s teaching about honor and shame reveals the very heartbeat of God to remove shame and restore honor for the human family. God intends humanity to become his family, bearing his honor. This stands at the center of his salvific purposes for the nations. We must not miss the forest—God’s mission to gain honor for himself by honoring those who embrace his kingdom—for the trees—biblical texts about honor. From Adam (Gen 1:27) and Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) through to Jesus (Phil 2:4-9) and his Church (1 Pet 2:6-10), the historical and eschatological purpose of God’s salvation is to honor his people (Rev 21:17-22). Throughout salvation history Missio Dei is the restoration of human “face” and status. Saving people from shame to honor establishes God’s reputation as the only true source of honor and glory. Ultimately the story of the Bible is about God’s honor and “face,” not just ours.

In application of this understanding, our team in Central Asia practices a missiology of “honorification” to connect Central Asians longing for honor with God’s offer of honor. Through our relationships, evangelism, discipleship, and business platform, we aim to join in God’s mission of blessing all people with Christ’s eternal honor.

A Missional Harmony

The scriptures were written in a socio-cultural milieu of honor and shame, so we don’t need to “contextualize the gospel” in terms of honor and shame! That has already been done. We must simply overcome the Western assumption that the legal framework of the gospel is the only biblical framework of salvation.
If the nations long for honor and God’s plan is for the nations to seek and find their honor only in Him, then Christian mission involves playing the role of matchmaker. The Good News of Christ’s salvation, as outlined in the Bible, already speaks to unreached people groups and their deep longing for honor. It is a perfect match, just waiting to be made! 



/Jayson Georges (adapted from The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jayson Georges)


God has existed for all eternity in full glory and honor. He is an honorable King, a Father who provides for the entire family. He is pure, faithful, and glorious—the essence and source of all true honor. 

To magnify his glory, God created the world and spoke life into being. God created Adam and Eve, crowning them with glory and honor. As God’s esteemed co-regents, they received authority to rule over creation in God’s name. They walked naked, but were not ashamed. 


But Adam and Eve were disloyal to God. They forfeited divine honor to pursue a self-earned honor. Their disloyalty to God created shame, so they hid and covered themselves. Moreover, their sin dishonored God, and God lost face. Because Adam and Eve brought shame upon everyone, God banished them from His presence. 

As Adam and Eve’s descendants, the human family inherited their shame. And having lost everything—our spiritual face, family, name, and status—we became engaged in a perpetual effort to construct a counterfeit honor for ourselves. The tower of Babel is a powerful illustration of our continuing drive to exalt ourselves and make a name for ourselves apart from God.


God then initiated a plan to restore His honor and remove shame from humanity. He covenanted to honor Abram with a great name, as well as land, blessing, and many children. As a great nation, Abraham’s family would become God’s instrument to bless—or honor—all nations. 

When Abraham’s descendants suffered in slavery in Egypt, God delivered them from their shameful bondage, and Israel became God’s most prized nation—the apple of his eye and the treasure of his heart. God made a special covenant to honor Israel if she would honor him with loyalty and obedience to his law. 

God intended this covenant to produce honor, but Israel’s disloyalty in turning to other gods brought God dishonor among the nations, and even more shame to Israel. As an unfaithful spouse, Israel caused God to lose face. And instead of bringing God’s blessing and honor to all nations, Israel further dishonored God by becoming ethnocentric—treating Gentiles as inferior and unworthy of God’s family. 

Like Adam, Israel was chosen for honor but ended up in shameful exile. Yet assurances and instances of divine 

exaltation (e.g., Ruth, David, Daniel, and Esther) foreshadowed a greater intervention by God to rescue the human family from shame and restore its honor. 


Although Jesus was eternally glorious and honored in heaven, he became flesh to deliver us from our shame by embracing and destroying it. Jesus’ healings and acceptance of marginalized people restored their dignity and honor. He was so full of divine honor that those who touched him were cleansed and accepted. His teaching proclaimed the true, eternal code of honor. And by loving and accepting all people regardless of their reputation or ethnicity, Jesus undercut society’s false honor code and offered divine honor to humanity. 

Jesus’ life fully honored God, but his ministry threatened the earthly honor of established leaders. So they shamed Him—publicly and gruesomely. Jesus was arrested, stripped, mocked, whipped, spat upon, and nailed to die on a cross. Thus he broke the power of shame by embracing and overcoming it rather than retaliating. The cross restored God’s honor and removed our shame. Face was restored. 

God then honored Jesus’ obedience by raising him from the dead and exalting him to the highest place of honor— seated at God’s right hand with a name that is above every other name. By fully honoring God and mankind, Jesus has reversed the shame that Adam and Israel had brought on God and humanity. 


Today, apart from Jesus, our own defiled and disloyal hearts add to the shame we inherit from our forefathers. Apart from God, mankind continues seeking to manufacture a false honor— often through shaming others or boasting in the superiority of our family or group. This pursuit of false honor dishonors God and leads to disgraceful conduct—abuse, anger, gossip, boasting, racism, violence, war, etc. 

Yet Jesus provides a better option. When we give our allegiance to Jesus, God removes our old status as unclean and shameful orphans and adopts us as his own pure and honorable children. We who find our honor solely in following Jesus are freed from the games of social manipulation, status construction, and face management. And we who embrace the shame of the cross with Christ are assured by His Spirit of eternal resurrection glory. 

Membership in God’s family is not based on ethnicity, reputation, or religious purity, but on our familial allegiance to the crucified Messiah. And becoming part of God’s family empowers us to welcome and accept others. As followers of Christ we are able to honor others and glorify God since we possess God’s eternal honor and empowering Spirit. Upon Jesus’ return, unbelievers will be stripped of all worldly honors and banished to everlasting shame, while we who believe will receive crowns of eternal honor as God’s glory fills all creation.

  1. See a five-minute video on this theme, and other related videos, at

  2. Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (Xlibris, 2001), p. 20.

  3. Timothy Tennent, “Anthropology: Human Identity in Shame-Based Cultures of the Far East,” in Theology in the Context of World Christianity : How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 92.

  4. David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 23.

  5. Krister Stendahl, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” in Paul among Jews and Gentiles, and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976); Robert Jewett, “Honor and Shame in the Argument of Romans,” in Putting Body & Soul Together: Essays in Honor of Robin Scroggs, eds. Virginia Wiles, Alexandra R. Brown, and Graydon F. Snyder (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997); Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007).

  6. Jayson Georges, “From Shame to Honor: A Theological Reading of Romans for Honor-Shame Contexts,” Missiology 38, no. 3 (2010): 295–307; Jackson Wu, Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame, EMS Dissertation Series (Pasadena, CA: William Carey International University Press, 2013).


I wanted to make a few comments on a few of your points, but one in particular can be made now. Under your heading, Israel,your breakdown is sound up to the ethnocentric statement. If you are going to try to convince people to be comprehending of Islamic sensibilities pertaining to ritual purity, is it to much too ask for equal treatment for Jews? And how is it we find constant mention of Israelites in the New Testament attempting to include Gentiles? Be it such as Paul or those of the circumcision, inclusionary zeal is all over the place. I suppose that one can sound like a Mein Kampf devotee without meaning to, but considering the part of the world you are working in you had better be correct in your exegetics.I seem to recall another theological epiphany not too long ago when the fashion of the moment was to decry the many centuries of antisemitic canards spouted by, well, Seminary graduates mostly, such as their oft preached proposition that Jews think they are better than everybody else. Are you positive that you can make a cogent case from the Bible that supports your proposition? Can you make it available for peer review? Can you invite any interfaith critique of the same, perhaps from Shia and Sunni clerics? One Rabbi?

This article echoes the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The sacrament of reconciliation practised within the Catholic and Orthodox Faith addresses this issue of shame and reconciles the penitant with God

But the echoe rings hollow when contrasted to the Bible’s own noisy depiction of rampant proselytizing efforts. James remarks how Moses is read throughout the world, Christ mentions Pharisees going to the ends of the Earth to make a convert. That an offensive emphasis was placed on man made layers of ritual purity as Christ makes clear is not to say Jews considered others inferior. Unclean, yes, inferior no. I honestly do not see the vaguest scriptural support for your statement. It was God, not his people that required steps in the conversion of a Gentile, the transgenerational gap for even cousin peoples such as Edomites and Moabites, with even greater expectations for others. The efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra where God’s own way of calling his people to a lived out separation from others. But nowhere do we see Jesus saying that his contemporaries where racial snobs, indeed, he reiterates blatantly to the Samaritans that they are in abject ignorance and responds only to respectful Romans that showed that a truly appreciative Gentile can acquire a praiseworthy faith. It is Christ that denigrates the Canaanite mother from Lebanon and by so doing exacts from her the humility filled plea that secured her daughter’s deliverance. On can not fault Jews for seeking the separation they were called to without diminishing the sacrifice of Christ, planned and executed in a context of personal pursuit of holiness that might school them to long for a truly life effecting atonement. And it is from their acceptance of it that Paul derives his statement to Gentile believers that we are in their debt. I, a gentile, get to be included in the commonwealth of faith because of the faith of those that included me.

I read the link you provided of Lord Sach’s speech, and unless I failed to see some lead to comments theirs on first century Jewish attitudes towards Gentiles, I’d have to agree that some of his article shares some of your themes, but not the one I highlighted. And actually, his on proposing is a positive place for guilt versus shame, not precisely an echoe of your general theme.

What I would say to your overall idea is that perhaps you are close to a problem without really seeing it. The generic evangelical gospel presentation made up of the set pieces of sin, sinner, atonement, justification is surely common, but it is not nor has it ever been the only approach in the presentation of or reception of Christ in either the West or elsewhere. But you bring in the seminary trained missionary, I would add his classmate that stayed in country as a pastor. This pair have mounted the dais of ordination upon graduating from being students, they had not taught. Yet Paul tells Timothy not to ordain such, but rather those already apt to teach, generally middle aged, practicing Christian family men engaged already in some congregation, though untitled. Such applied living men learn in the workaday world many of the lessons you claim you and your novice peers did not learn. We learn shame in the work place, we learn the rightful moral expectations of dependent groups, be they co workers or customers. We learn the tentative satisfactions of conscience in our context of limited ability and other demands such as those of our families and bill collectors. You find our world noteworthy enough to sound surprised by it, but according to the scripture, it is supposed to be your own personal history. I’d suggest that to such extent a grasping such pedestrian normalcies can assist in the preaching of the gospel that their is less a lack of the experiential in the western church as there is in the career clergy, prepared unbiblicaly for far too long.
When once a United States Marine I knew a Chaplain, an officer, a graduate of a seminary. By virtue of military protocol his bars earned him a salute, but his absence from the barracks life in the Brig where he served excluded him from ever earning any honor. His rank was bestowed by the grace of his superiors, but for the sake of those he never even knew.

My friend, I reread Lord Sach’s article and can’t help but wonder if you hurriedly grabbed something off the web by searching with the cultural terms you used in common. One has to say it is more a high sounding shout down than an echo of your thesis. To be sure, that a Rabbi would posit law as contributive to cultural good is entirely unsurprising since God, somewhere twixt Occident and Orient wrote in stone that which he would inscribe on societal hearts. Amongst the laws rendered near Sinai was the statement, ” Do not run with a group. ” Much later and elsewhere we hear of a narrow gate that is not described as the preferred detour for those on the widely honorable road. It takes two to commit adultery, a statutory transgression, but that is the two of two individuals individually transgressing. By myself I can break any number of commandments. I can pray eloquently in your hearing or stutter,groan and mumble in a closet if I’d rather impress God. That he’d care not to have me either honored or shamed by whoever else could be kindly if it could mean I might carry forth the secret of an answer unknown to my peers.

I think the above might better echo the Rabbi. I will add the gratuity that if the one time Cheif Rabbi of England can speak so morally about unborn children that are more my kin than his, and the chronically bedridden, more likely my kin than his, then I want to know where to sign up for Jewish ethnocentrism.

Dennis Golding-The person who gave the link to the article had the name of David and the author of this article looks like it is Jayson Georges. Just thought I should clarify since you seemed to be attacking the author in the comment directly above.

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