Shame in the New Testament – some themes

In the last few posts we have considered some Old Testament passages in which shame is a significant theme, or where shame seems to have an impact on events. In due course we will consider some New Testament passages where this is also true. But first, some of the themes within the New Testament that are shame related.

I consider that the key elements of the New Testament approach to shame are:

(a) lack of a ‘sense of awe’;

(b) honour and shame;

(c) shame in the teaching of Jesus;

(d) the face of God; and

(e) shame and the Cross and the Passion of Christ.

We’ll take each of these in turn over the next few days:

1.  A sense of awe and discretion-shame seem to be absent from the pages of the New Testament. Indeed there is even seems to be an unabashed shamelessness evident:  “At almost every point of symbolic significance, shame – conceived as a sense of awe, a reticence before the holy – is abolished. There are no holy places that one may no longer enter into: there is no temple in the Revelation of John. There are no holy things that one may no longer touch: Peter, with his Old Testament scruples about unclean animals, is told that there are no unclean things now. When Jesus dies, the veil of the temple is rent in two. … Jesus does away with special holy places and permits free access to God.” (Schneider: p115, cf., Mt.27:51; Mk.15:38; Lk.23:45; Acts.10:9ff,24ff; Rev.21:22.)

Further, Jesus challenges the traditional meaning of the Sabbath (Mt.12:1ff; Lk.13:10ff.), and introduces familiarity into relationship with God. Paul defeats ‘Judaisers’ who want to impose Jewish rituals on new Gentile believers. (Acts 15: 1-35.)

This might appear to suggest that all vestiges of shame/awe can be cast off, and perhaps explains the absence of shame in the traditional thinking of Western society and the Western church. This is, I believe, not what was intended. We are intended to read the New Testament against the backcloth of the Old.

The New Testament: “adds an important dynamic to the picture. The religious encounter is not only one of reticence before that which one venerates; it also involves the revelation of what is hidden. Religion may be understood as the dialectic of covering and uncovering of the sacred in time and space. … The freedom and intimacy of the New Testament presuppose the restraint and respect of the Old Testament. The invitation to address God as ‘Abba‘ is issued to those who dared not utter His name.” (Schneider: p116.)

This does not, however, go far enough. The ‘dynamic of covering and uncovering’ is essential to religious experience, but so also is the sense that ‘shame’ has been dealt with. This is not to imply that we are now to be ‘shameless’, or that ‘shame’ should no longer be part of the experience of Christians, but rather to note that the experience of shame, first noted at the Fall, has been realigned or renewed by the work of the ‘Second Adam’.

References:

Carl D. Schneider; “Shame, Exposure, and Privacy“; Beacon Press, Boston, 1977.

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