Reading Scripture—and Modern Times—through an Honor/Shame Culture Perspective

Many times I will go to bed with local Christian radio on. Perhaps this accounts, at least in part, for my occasional feeling of sleep debt.

Last night—I realize now this was at 4 AM!—I caught part of a very engaging monologue by Abdu Murray from RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). In my semi-conscious state, I knew I had to investigate this further, later in the morning when I would be more lucid. The title of this podcast is “Evangelism in an Honor and Shame Culture, Part 1”. Below is the audio. I cannot recommend it enough:

[Side note: I am saddened by the recent death of Ravi Zacharias; I really enjoy/ed listening to him.]

One of the points Murray argues is that this cultural norm of honor versus shame in the Middle East and the East is becoming more commonplace in the West. He is absolutely correct! This can be found in the “virtue signaling” and social media tirades against those who dare disagree with the Leftist position on a given subject. From this perspective, a person adhering to a particular belief which is at odds with Leftist ideology does not merely render said person guilty of wrong-belief on this subject, but one who is inherently bad! This wrong-thought then not only deems the entire person malevolent, but extends to anyone who defends this particular belief of said person. Thus, the social media mobs not only attack the one person who subscribes to said belief, but to anyone who defends this person’s belief in any shape or form—including their free speech right—regardless of the rest of the defender’s worldviews. One strike, you’re out. You’re ostracized. Cancelled. You’re inherently bad, too.

Murray uses the account of the man born blind and subsequently healed by Jesus in John 9 as a base text. One of the main points he makes centers on a very astute observation regarding John 9:19 (~15 minutes into the podcast). Murray rightly emphasizes the “you”—something I’d not found in any of the numerous commentaries I consulted on this matter. Though he does not explain his reasoning for why he views this as emphatic, below I will illustrate how Murray is correct in his expression of this particular passage.

First, I must add the following related comment. While searching the RZIM site for this podcast, I came across a brief article by Margaret Manning Shull titled, “A Face for the Faceless”. In it, she covers some of the same territory as Murray. The following section merits inclusion here (emphasis added):

The story of the man born blind in John’s gospel is a fitting example of a more collective honor and shame culture: “Who sinned,” the disciples asked Jesus, “This man or his parents that he was born blind?” Here, the belief that someone else’s sins could be borne by another is striking. After Jesus healed this man’s blindness, the religious leaders question the blind man’s parents. His parents didn’t want to speak on his behalf “for fear of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus as Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (See John 9:20-23). To be put out of the synagogue was to be excommunicated from God, family, and society—and to bear the burden of collective shame and dishonor. The son was already in a dishonorable state because of his blindness. One false move by the parents and they would suffer the same fate.

Note that it’s not merely individual but collective shame.

“…whom you say…”

This section will necessarily be a bit technical—though I don’t think it is too much so. For those with limited time and/or shortened attention spans (a byproduct of our “social media” culture)—though this section is not very lengthy—please go to the final section for my important closing comments. With this brief preface out of the way, I shall proceed.

In Greek, all finite verbs encode both person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person) and number (singular or plural), though not gender. (Stay with me!) Given this, in Greek a complete sentence can be made with just one verb, as Jesus does with his final word on the Cross (John 19:30): Tetelestai. The verb here is a 3rd person singular, which, on the surface, could be either masculine (he is finished), feminine (she is finished), or neuter (it is finished). But by the context we can clearly discern that it should be the neuter it is finished. Thus, adding a pronoun (or noun) is unnecessary in the Greek. Now, certainly, the question of just what was finished is a big one; however, the point here is that it wasn’t a “she” or a “he” that was finished in the context of John 19:30.

If this seems a bit confusing, don’t let this detain you just yet. I think any confusion will be quickly cleared up as I explain the specific clause in John 9:19. Below is the Greek text, under that its transliteration (substituting English letters for the Greek), a rough translation is beneath that, which is followed by my translation. I placed brackets [ ] around the implied pronouns encoded in the two finite verbs below:

ὃν ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι τυφλὸς ἐγεννήθη
hon hymeis legete hoti typhlos egennēthē
whom you [you-]say that blind [he-]was-born
whom you say {that} was born blind

Beginning our discussion with the last word, the verb “was-born” (egennēthē), the encoded person/number is 3rd person singular. Since the context makes it clear that the referent is the man born blind, we know that “he” is the implied pronoun, not “it” or “she”. Thus, adding a pronoun is unnecessary in the Greek. (And in English it would be improper to translate the implied “he”.)

The third word, the verb “say” (legete), has the 2nd person plural encoded. This is in reference to the parents of the now-healed man. Since the context makes the referent clear, then, once again, adding a pronoun is unnecessary in the Greek. (Of course this “you” must be translated into English in order to make sense of the passage.) However, the Greek text also includes the 2nd person plural pronoun hymeis (“you”), even though, as we just noted, this pronoun is unnecessary to convey what was meant. Thus, this is not a redundancy; this is to make the “you” emphatic.

So here [some of] “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) were trying to shame the parents of the man born blind by implicitly accusing them of lying about the blindness of their son—since these Jews assumed the formerly-blind-but-now-healed man had been lying all this time about his own blindness. The other option—that Jesus, that “sinner”, healed him—was beyond the realm of possibility in their figuratively blinded eyes. But this was also a set-up. If the parents were to affirm his blindness from birth, then, in “the Jews” darkened eyes, they would also be an implied party to his “purported” healing by Jesus. This is why the parents claimed ignorance of just how their son was healed and then deferred to their son—to let him speak on his own, thus making him the sole one ‘guilty’ of this—so that they would not face expulsion from the synagogue. Better to let the son face the dishonor and shame by himself. They didn’t wish to share it with him.

Take a listen to the podcast to hear the other (explicit) points the speaker makes.

Concluding Near-Field Digression

I must end this blog post with somewhat of a digression, though not far at all from where I started. I count myself as blessed to live in a place—namely San Antonio, Texas—that has excellent programming (largely so, but discernment required) on Christian radio. This includes both KDRY (AM 1100) and KSLR (AM 630). Programs include both internationally recognized voices and local pastors/teachers. For those in the local area, I suggest you check them out. For non-locals, there may be programming available in your area. Moreover, I’m aware that KDRY can be listened to online or through a mobile app. For those with the financial wherewithal, donations are appreciated, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: