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Male Dominance and the Honor Shame Social Paradigm

Ancient Roman and Asian societies were honor and shame societies. Their lives revolved around who was honored and who wasn’t. There were two main sources of honor: ascribed and achieved. Ascribed honor was your roots, where you came from, your family, your family achievements (wealth, reputation, etc.). Achieved honor had to do with your personal successes and achievements.

Aristotle, a student of Socrates (and considered a genius), developed the social construction of a society whose citizens were the wealthy and noble born men. It is interesting that Aristotle ignored Plato’s more liberal ideas of women (the Greeks liked Plato’s ideas) and chose to view them as completely inferior. A man could become noble by his achievements as well. If one was not male, noble born or from wealth then that person was not considered honorable enough to sit in discussion and planning of the social issues or sit in judgment of law issues. People of this background could not become  leaders. Many well-known and educated men throughout history used this same or similar pattern of thinking including Calvin and Luther. Thus the Rabbis and Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were greatly influenced by Socrates (469BC-399BC), Plato (424BC-347BC) and Aristotle (384BC-322BC)

Women could be considered noble born by reason of their family status and family achievements. However, because women were considered physically inferior and incapable of the physical and mental challenges that men exchanged between themselves, the primary honor they could gain was in serving their fathers and husbands and in certain personal feminine achievements, primarily the arts.

Men sought to perpetuate their own honor by marrying women who could continue their own nobility, wealth, and good family bloodlines. This is why few men in those times (including the days of Jesus and the early church) thought it of any consequence to love their wives. They married to perpetuate their public honor and continue an honorable bloodline. The majority of society was scrambling in a “quiet” way to outdo each other. And in these struggles women fell to the wayside. These were the issues of women and marriage that Paul so delicately, indirectly and brilliantly spoke into in Ephesians 5. According to Mischke, it is a common theme of the honor/shame way of thinking to speak indirectly. This way one can be directed, direct others and correct oneself without shame of error or failure. It is commonly called “saving face” in Eastern cultures today. And this I believe is what Paul was doing in Ephesians 5 and in 1 Cor. 11:2-16.

It is my belief that the entire system of male dominance we deal with in the church today is built around these ancient paradigms. The hierarchalists don’t say outright that women cannot be leaders and cannot be equal partners with their husbands because women are inferior mentally and physically. But they do say it indirectly and cleverly.

In Jesus’ day and in the early church, the challenge Jesus’ Truth brought to the Pharisees’ power and authority was so feared, so destructive to their (may I say evil) paradigm of honor and shame that they sought to kill Jesus. And they also sought to kill Christ’s disciples before and after Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s Truth brings equality, mutuality, and true compassion, support and help to become like Jesus in humility. These things, especially humility, do not walk well with a scrambling for honor.

The vociferous responses of the hierarchalist male dominance crowd to the teachings of mutuality, is very similar to the attempts by the Pharisees to destroy Jesus and His disciples. We have difficulty getting along because we not only speak different languages but our approaches are opposite. Those believing in equality want to speak more directly. Those in the honor shame paradigms speak their beliefs indirectly so that one has to interpret and guess at what is really being said. Hence the “equal but different” mantra that is really not about equality at all. But they speak their anger boldly and harshly because mutuality threatens their social systems.

Paul chose to be all things to all that some may be won for the kingdom. (1 Cor. 10:31-33) Thus he spoke indirectly in most instances. Christ chose to do both fairly equally. In many instances He strongly rebuked the Pharisees who were constantly challenging him critically and in judgmentalism, and in other instances Jesus wove His answers and directions in metaphors and stories.

My hope is that considering these things we may all (including myself) better learn how and in what circumstances we can respond both directly and indirectly toward the issues of male hierarchies in today’s churches in hopes of bringing and living the humility of honoring all believers.

What say you . . . . . .


  • Honor & Shame in Cross Cultural Relationships by Werner Mischke
  • Honor & Shame in the Gospel of Matthew by Jerome Neyrey
  • When Dogmas Die by Susanna Krizo
  • Woman in Greek Civilization Before 100BC by Arthur F. Ide


  1. Comment #99442 posted March 15, 2013 at 7:06 am

    in my humble opinion, we need to speak the truth boldly like Jesus did—paul makes it crystal clear in gal. 4 that it’s impossible to play nice with the children of bondage—they have one purpose, and that is to enslave us

    • Comment #99479 posted March 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      A couple of points about Galatians 4 as I read it.

      It is more about how we are to behave ourselves rather than how we relate to those who are unbelievers (Gentiles) We are encouraged to no longer live as the Gentiles do (verses 18 and 19 describe something of their way of life)

      The ‘Gentiles’ are those who do not believe in Christ – hierarchalists with whom we debate should be honoured as members of the Body of Christ. Our attitude to those who believe differently could be summed up in the last verse of Ephesians 4 where we are encouraged to ‘be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other’ (TNIV)

      • Comment #99480 posted March 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm

        you make a good point liz, and i am willing to disagree respectfully most of the time, but the people who basically just want me to shut up and go back to the kitchen frankly anger me

        • Liz Liz
          Comment #99482 posted March 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

          Can understand that. Good to have a place to vent sometimes.

  2. Don
    Comment #99443 posted March 15, 2013 at 7:13 am

    It is true that the ancient societies were based on honor and shame and are therefore unlike ours today in fundamental ways.

    It is debated how much the Greeks influenced the Pharisees and other Jewish groups, after all the Maccabean revolt was against the imposition of Greek ideas by Antiochus onto Jews. There is no question that the Greeks heavily influenced the Romans and so the gentile portion of the church was influenced by Greek and Roman thinking.

    • Comment #99476 posted March 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      And in some households, it would have been a mixed marriage so both traditions and teachings would have been present. Acts 16 describes Timothy’s father as ‘a Greek’ which was why Paul circumcised Timothy to not offend the Jews in the area.

  3. Comment #99470 posted March 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Hi TL: just a couple of corrections to your post’s historical data. I am currently a philosophy major, (I’ve been through Ancient) and there are a few things that need fixing.

    Aristotle was a student of Plato at the Academy in Athens, and he never encountered Socrates. Second, Aristotle was by profession a doctor and not from nobility, that was Plato. So actually Plato’s ideas about women was a point of view of those of noble birth. Noteworthy here is that although Plato hypothetically thought women could be philosophers, in actuality I really don’t think he believed it was possible due to his understanding of women’s station in life.

    Now as far as the Hellenistic influence on the Jews of Jesus’ day: that is debatable as the “Alexandrian” Jews ( I am thinking Philo…his writings were contemporary) were not held in very high esteem by the rabbis connected with Jerusalem. Although Paul clearly was taught Greek philosophy, he makes a point in the Epistles of his being “a Hebrew of Hebrews” and that he was a Pharisee by training, so that does lead one to think he was in some cases distancing himself from his Hellenistic training.

    Personally, this “women as less than human” thinking has been re-enforced in almost every generation since the “church fathers” stage after the apostolic era.

    But by all accounts, the church fathers including Augustine (who was heavily influenced by Plotinus and neo-platonism) brought neo-platonic ideas of chain-of-being metaphysics into church theology/philosophy of the day, and women were seen as lower on that chain that men.

    Ancient philosophy and it’s reach (even today) is a very interesting topic for me. Thanks for this post.

    • Comment #99486 posted March 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you for these thoughts, Lisa. I will ponder them and maybe change a few things on my blog post of this.

      I am aware that Aristotle was Plato’s student, and Plato was taught by Socrates. So, my point was that the origin of these ways of thinking was ultimately Socrates. And that I thought Aristotle chose to follow Socrates more closely than even Plato did. I came to that conclusion through brief readings of the differences in Socrates and Plato and comparing them to how Aristotle built on them. It didn’t come out clear enough the way I rushed through it trying to be brief. And actually you sound more knowledgeable and familiar with ancient philosophy than I am. I also found this topic of great interest as I tried to sort it out. It is not my usual topic. :)

  4. Comment #99471 posted March 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    What I am constantly amazed by is that many conservative, bible believing Christians are so influenced by historical, secular teachers and philosophers. I perceive that their ideas have been so influential over centuries and sometimes people are unaware of where the ideas even originated, yet take them on board as truth.

    • Comment #99475 posted March 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      so true–i have heard many bible believing Christians spouting ideas from darwin and freud–both of whom were avowed atheists

      • Comment #99487 posted March 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm

        Good point. I remember Freud being spouted and praised by Christians 30-40 years ago. And Freud had some really demeaning views of women, if I’m recollecting correctly. But I’m loathe to go back and read through Freud’s stuff to prove that statement today.

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