Word Study #128 — “Guilt and Shame”

I am just plain fed-up!

Whether it’s the “creeds” and “confessions” of liturgical groups, or the “praise songs”, “old hymns”, or pious-sounding, flowery prayers of groups that consider themselves less formal, the ubiquitous requirement to wallow in self-deprecation about “all my guilt and shame” is so blatantly opposed, not only to Jesus’ teaching, but to his entire life and interaction with people, that I often feel like walking out! Or at least, carrying a protest sign:


Please show me one single place where he did!

Neither noun — neither “guilt” nor “shame” – appears a single time in the entire New Testament, in connection with earnest followers of Jesus! In fact, “guilt”, in any context, is completely absent.
This subject has been addressed previously in the postings on repentance (#6), forgiveness of sins (#7), and “humility” (#14), but I think we need to look at these two words individually. They are symptoms of a pervasive disease, that is potentially fatal to the genuine message of Jesus, not to mention the welfare of his people.

The concept of “guilt” is not totally absent from New Testament writings. Twice, Jesus uses anaitios (L/S – guiltless, without fault or blame), once of himself (Mt.12:7) and once of priests performing their legitimate sabbath duties (Mt.12:5).
There are three words traditionally translated “guilty”. Hupodikos (L/S – a legal term, referring to trial and conviction), is used only in Rom.3:19, making the point that whether Jew or Gentile, the whole world has ignored God’s instructions. Opheilo (L/S – referring primarily to monetary debt, legal obligation, or duty) was only once rendered “guilty” (Mt.23:18), regarding one’s obligation incurred by oath. Its other translations are “ought,must, should” 18x, “debt” 5x, and “duty” 4x.
Enochos (L/S – legal liability or a court sentence), is translated “danger” 5x (Mt.5:21,22 – 4 uses – and Mk.3:29), 1x “subject” (Heb.2:15), and 4x “guilty” (Mt.26:66 and Mk.14:64 regarding the verdict at Jesus’ mock trial; James’ indictment – 2:10 – of people picking and choosing only parts of the law to observe; and I Cor.11:27.) This last is the only one that could conceivably be applied to “believers” – and it is directed toward those who are doing active damage to the function of the Body.

It is difficult to sort out the “shame / ashamed” words.
Aischunomai (5x), epaischuneo (11x), and kataischuneo (12x) (L/S – to dishonor, disfigure or tarnish; to disdain, to be ashamed (and consequently not do something), to be ashamed of having done something; to feel shame, or to cause another to do so) are exclusively rendered “ashamed” in the New Testament, except for two instances where for some reason, “confounded” was used (I Cor.1:27, I Pet.2:6), and two (I Cor.11:4,5) where “dishonor” was chosen. The only reference to a committed person being “ashamed” is with reference (Rom.6:21) to his former life. But Paul immediately follows that remark with v.22, “But now that you have been set free —” and paints a picture of sharp contrast.

Many references are admonitions to not be ashamed when persecuted or put-down (I Pet.4:6, II Tim.1:8, 12, 16; Heb.12:12, Phil.1:20); nor of the Gospel itself (Rom.1:16, 9:3, 10:11); of Jesus (Mk.8:38, Lk.9:26), or of each other (II Cor.7:14, 9:4), and to take care that God / Jesus have no reason to be ashamed of us (Heb.2:11, 11:16).
There are statements that opponents were – or ought to be – ashamed (Lk.13:17, I Pet.3:16, Tit.2:8), and that brethren who are in error should be corrected, in order that they may be restored (I Cor.4:14, 6:5, 15:34; II Cor.10:8, II Thes.3;14), but none implying continuing “shame” on the part of faithful followers.

The other words are somewhat harder to pin down.
Aischune , the noun form of “shame”, only appearing 6x, is likewise never applied to the faithful. The one reference to Jesus, (Heb.12:2), says that he “endured the cross, despising the shame” (NOT “assuming” or “bearing” it!) The verb is kataphroneo, (L/S – “to look down upon, to be disdainful of, to think contemptuously of, to disregard, or neglect!”) This looks more to me like triumph and complete superiority than the much-touted “submission”! Where did the notion of his “bearing” or “becoming” shame come from? Certainly not the New Testament!
Paul (II Cor.4:2, Phil.3:9), Jude (13), and John (Rv.3:18) all speak of the “shame” of the disobedient, and Luke (14:9) describes the embarrassment of an egotistical guest. Notice the translation in II Cor.4:2 is “dishonesty”. That bears further study. Is requiring people to “confess” “shame” without any reason, really urging them to dishonesty?

Entrepomai, used 9x, represents a historical alteration of meaning. L/S lists “to command respect, to hesitate or feel misgivings, to reverence or feel regard for,” and only later “to feel shame or fear.” In Mt.21:37, Mk.12:6,Lk.20:13, and Heb.12:9, “reverence” was chosen; in Lk.18:2,4 , “regard”; and only 3x, I Cor.4:14, II Thes.3:14, Tit.2:8, “ashamed.” I will welcome your thoughts on how these choices might have been made. They are all valid translations of the word…..
Other words for dishonorable behavior are used more rarely: aschemosune (2x), atimia, atimao (negative forms of timao, to honor) 8x, entrope (2x), making little or no reference to its effect, or the perception of the actors. It is interesting that the only two uses of paradeigmatizo are Mt.1:19 of Joseph’s reluctance to embarrass Mary publicly, and Heb.6:6, the charge that those who turn away, put Jesus himself to public shame. (If you have downloaded the PNT, please add that in brackets to the end of the verse! I will correct it in the next version.)

 So, where does all this leave us?

Very simply: seek to live in such a way that we will have nothing of which to be ashamed,
that we will not make the Lord ashamed of us,
and that none of us will cause shame to other brethren.

But scrap the platitudes about “guilt and shame”!!!

If you belong to Jesus, YOU ARE NOT “FULL OF GUILT AND SHAME”!
It does NOT make you “holier”, more appreciative, or more faithful, to wallow around “confessing”or singing songs, bemoaning some artificial construct of “guilt and shame”!

And for Jesus’ sake – (please note that I am using that phrase as Paul did, and not as a profanity!) – quit assuming that that sort of behavior is “praising the Lord”!!!

Praise him rather for setting you FREE from all that, to follow him!

4 Responses to Word Study #128 — “Guilt and Shame”

  1. Thanks Ruth and Hallelujah. I got in trouble in seminary when I confronted a class that wanted to wallow in “we’re just wretched sinners.” The professor took umbrage when I said we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus and my grade went from an A to a B.
    I recently stopped attending a church who sang morbid songs and read a printed liturgy reminding us how much we fail every day.

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Good for you! I get in trouble for such things too.
    So, incidentally, did Jesus , and Paul, and a lot of those “good guys”!

  3. sharonjoy says:

    I was touched profoundly by the Holy Spirit as I read these words today. I was studying the Greek words for joy, grace, and gifts. Seeking to understand the language connection between the words chara and charis, I understood more that grace was literally ‘that which causes joy.’ So I asked the Lord why I wasn’t receiving grace in fullness, because it is evident in my life that my joy is not complete. He revealed to me that the root was shame. When anyone might ask me to describe grace, I would whole-heartedly reply that it was ‘unmerited favor.’ The words ‘unmerited favor’ never evoked feelings of great joy in my heart, but a low-hanging head, and a heart that inside me was speaking, ‘thank You, Jesus, for giving this lowly piece of garbage unmerited favor that I will never deserve.’ Shame had become such a natural part of my journey with Jesus, that at times I think I gloried in it!
    Thank you for reminding me today of truth – I am His righteousness. That definitely is cause for JOY!
    Glory to God!

  4. ruthpmartin says:

    I thank the Lord that it was helpful to you.
    I deeply believe that the “guilt and shame” heresy robs far too many people of the freedom Jesus offers.
    Of coursewe are not all we could be — but we are on the way, and in the hands of the best Teacher and Guide this poor world has ever hosted.
    Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

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 )

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: