Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Atonement and Honor

Today's entry will be answering a set of objections and questions raised to my TektonTV vid below by a critic whom we will refrain from naming, for reasons that veteran readers will deem obvious.



Why do we have to follow this notion of honor when we interpret the Bible? Why does the culture have any relevance to God?

The simple answer is, because this is the context that the Biblical authors lived and moved in, and which governed their words, their actions, and their motives, and that context was used to reveal the structure of the theology.

The question, beyond this, is frankly an absurd one: Why would this NOT be the context within which these matters would be considered? Are we to impose a 20th century Western context? A 13th century British context? A 5th century Japanese feudal context? Or some context we simply make up out of thin air? If so, why?


There is an irony beyond this. Given that 99.9% of persons ever to have lived, and even 60-70% today, live in a social setting dominated by honor concerns, it is especially absurd to suppose that any other context ought to serve as an interpretive template for the Biblical text.

The real question is: Did man simply invent the concept of honor? Or is it derived from some notion of how God actually views reality? Those that take Scripture as a revealed product will have little choice but to take the latter option, since God speaks and acts and reveals himself in such a way that indicates a concern for honor. The alternative is to suggest that, eg, God and Jesus were merely acting that way coincidentally, such that it looked like they behaved with concern for honor, when they really did not.


If God has infinite inherent honor, then no matter how much you damage God’s acquired honor, His total honor remains infinite.

This point simply lacks cognizance of how honor works. One cannot add together acquired and inherent honor to come up with a concept of "total honor." The categories of honor are exclusive of one another and do not mix.

Relatedly, an error was made by the commentator in assuming that I regard hell as an “infinite reduction in honor.” That is completely incorrect; I do not regard the reduction as “infinite” – indeed it cannot be, since humans have only a finite amount of honor they are able to assume, and honor, like any limited good among humans, cannot ever be totally allocated to a single person. Rather, honor is reduced in hell (a state of shame) accord with ones works in life. So likewise honor is raised in heaven on the same basis.

The Bible compares us to sheep, and calls us children of God, servants, slaves, etc but nowhere calls us clients or God a patron.

This is again little more than a serious lack of cognizance of how Biblical society worked. The terms client and patron are what we have chosen to broadly describe a wide variety of relationships that existed in the ancient Biblical world, and indeed, dominated its functions. To object that these terms or concepts are not found in Scripture is no more a valid objection than saying the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture. The terms accurately describe what is present in Scripture and in the ancient world.

Technically, master/slave is not reckoned as typical of the patronage relationship in the Roman era because the slave was property (though some scholars have assumed that it is). However, as we note in our review of MacArthur’s Slave, the use of that term in the NT for us must be reckoned by the Jewish Old Testament relationship, which was more in line with a suzerain-vassal agreement. This would be more closely akin to a client-patron relationship in the NT era. Further, note that Jesus qualifies disciples as “friends” which indicates something more substantial than an owner-property relationship.

What it amounts to is that a patron was anyone a client was in debt to, or owed loyalty to – and we are surely to be regarded as indebted to God for the gift of salvation.

Doesn't this concern for honor make God seem like an egomaniac?

Only to those who judge the text by anachronistic standards. Since honor was the concern of all persons in this society, one would have to then conclude that all members of honor-based societies -- meaning, 99.9% of all who have ever lived -- have also been egomaniacs. I think such a presumptuous conclusion speaks for itself in terms of its inherent socio-cultural imperialism.

As well, the entire concept of "ego" is an entirely modern one, limited to individualistic societies. In an honor setting, frank and honest recognition of one's own worth and capabilities is not "egomaniacal" but normal and expected. Indeed it would be considered just as offensive to understate one's qualifications and abilities.

Nor is it proper to say that God’s response is one of “revenge”. That too is a modern evaluation of ancient values. Rather, to seek restoration of rightly-held honor would be seen as a matter of righteousness and justice.

By your understanding, humans are a threat to God’s honor that need to be pacified, not made to actively help Him.

This is utterly false. One of the most basic functions of a client was to aid and serve the patron. At the same time, this is far from exclusive of the honor aspect; a client, too, could easily bring disgrace on his patron, which in turn would require action from the patron.

In close, we would recommend that those who foster objections of this nature read the texts listed in the link below in order to have a full-orbed understanding of these issues.

http://www.tektonics.org/books/socialbooks.html

3 comments:

  1. "The real question is: Did man simply invent the concept of honor? Or is it derived from some notion of how God actually views reality? Those that take Scripture as a revealed product will have little choice but to take the latter option, since God speaks and acts and reveals himself in such a way that indicates a concern for honor. The alternative is to suggest that, eg, God and Jesus were merely acting that way coincidentally, such that it looked like they behaved with concern for honor, when they really did not."

    This is why apologists need to get to grips with this. If skeptics ever get a clue about ancient values, we're gonna need to defend it.

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  2. Is it possible that God operates neither on an honor/shame nor a guilt/concience basis but simply works through whatever paradigm is present in a given society?

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  3. It is "possible" -- just as it is possible God is actually an alien dictator from Betelgeuse. However, if we take the data seriously, then no such possibility exists and any suggestion otherwise is merely special pleading (here, on behalf of one's own society, which is rather imperialistic).

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