You are hereA Socio-Cultural Perspective On Elements of New Testament Eschatology

A Socio-Cultural Perspective On Elements of New Testament Eschatology

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By Jer - Posted on 14 September 2006

by Jeremy Lile
This is a slightly modified form of my TV '06 presentation. In it I discuss four elements of Mediterranean culture and how they can impact on the interpretive process.This is a slightly modified form of my TV '06 presentation. In it I discuss four elements of Mediterranean culture and how they can impact on the interpretive process.We should first clarify what is meant by socio-cultural. We'll take this one element at a time. According to Durkheim, sociology is concerned with social facts.

"[Social facts] can be defined as patterns of behavior that are
capable of exercising some coercive power upon individuals. They are guides
and controls of conduct that are external to the individual in the form of group norms, mores and
folkways. Through socialization and education these rules become
internalized in the consciousness of the individual. These social
constraints and guides become moral obligations to obey social
rules." 1

He concludes that "the determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social
facts preceding it." 2

For Durkeim, sociology is concerned with historically transmitted patterns of behavior and the social "oughts"
that guide them. The interests of the sociologist overlap with those of the anthropologist. As Geertz writes:

"[Culture] denotes an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a
system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate,
perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life." (my emphasis)

In other words: Culture is made up of everything that
people have, think and do as members of a society.
A socio-cultural perspective, a least for the purposes of this paper,
is interested in explaining patterns of behavior and
thought within the proper system of inherited conceptions. It's
thinking inside the box, culture as an integrated whole.
Language and other behaviors derive meaning from social
systems. As such, to understand the words of Jesus and the early
Christian message, we must understand the "social facts"
that precede them. Therefore, the meaning of a symbol (e.g., a word, an
artifact, a behavior) must be understood by its relationship to other
symbols within this historically transmitted framework. In this
sense, meaning is culturally relative in that we seek to understand
any aspect of a culture within its own context. 4

By using this interpretative framework,
we hope to avoid anachronisms and ethnocentrism. An ethnocentric view
assesses another culture based on the patterns of the observer. In
other words, we tend to project ourselves onto others; we take the
meaning from our box and put it into someone else's. For
example, when we think of the temple in Jerusalem, we may consider
its religious, political or economic significance. These categories
are familiar to us. It is a convenient for us to identify with ancient people.
However, divisions along these lines are anachronistic and ethnocentric
in that they do not accurately reflect the time and culture
in which the temple existed. The lines between religion, politics and economics are much
more distinct in our culture. We need to dig deeper to gain a better appreciation of
the temple as viewed by ancient Judaeans by examining patterns of thought that do not
parallel our own. We will do this shortly.

We are going to consider a four elements of Mediterranean culture with a
view to their impact on the interpretive process, specifically New Testament eschatology.
We will highlight some key differences between first century Mediterraneans and twenty-first century readers as
noted in the following chart. The reader is encouraged to study these topics as our treatment here will remain
somewhat brief.

First Century Mediterraneans

Twenty-First Century Readers

High Context

Low Context



Honor and Shame are Pivotal Values

Honor and Shame are not Pivotal Values

Source Language

Receptor Language

High Context

"Comic strips and Gospel stories
are examples of 'high context' literature. Authors who write for
readers of their own culture leave out many details because they can
safely and correctly presume that their intended readers can supply
what is required to get the point. The author and the readers share a
common culture and common understandings..." 5

For example, in an old Frank and Ernest cartoon, the two characters are shown walking away from the ticket counter at
airport. One says to the other, "How much did the tickets cost?" The response, "Getting there is half the funds."

Most readers will understand the joke as it is a word play on funds and fun.
One could discuss the syntax, look up all of the words in a dictionary, even study the history of flight,
but without shared shared cultural knowledge, he or she will miss the
joke. Since we do not sure this same cultural knowledge with our New
Testament writers: "We must go beyond grammars, dictionaries
and encyclopedias and seek additional information from ancient
history and cultural anthropology. At the same time, we must refrain
from inserting our culture and our culturally conditioned imagination
into our biblical texts." 6

We mentioned the temple earlier, let's see if we can use it as an
example of high context cultural knowledge. First, we'll be
referring to the Mishnah. It was produced about 210 AD. It contains a
collection of rulings and laws which had been passed on orally for a
number of generations. The work is divided into six sections known as
orders, and these in turn are divided according to subject matter
into sections known as tractates.

In Kelim 1.6-9, we read:

The Land of Israel is holier than any other land...

The walled cities [of the land of Israel] are still more holy...

Within the wall [of Jerusalem] is still more holy...

The Temple Mount is still more holy...

The Rampart is still more holy...

The Court of the Women is still more holy...

The Court of the Israelites is still more holy...

The Court of the Priests is still more holy...

Between the Porch and the Altar is still more holy...

The sanctuary is still more holy...

The Holy of Holies is still more holy...7

Neyrey writes concerning this text:

"The center of the Temple is the Holy of Holies, God's altar and throne,
wherein God is ‘enthroned above the cherubim.’ It is,
then, the center of the universe, the navel of the world...
(or ‘purity’) is measured in terms of proximity to the
Temple, the center of the map. Everything else is classified and
rated as ‘holy’ in proximity to that center." (my emphasis)

We believe Professor Neyrey is correct in this assessment regarding the ancient view
of the temple. Let's examine another source. Jewish Historian Josephus writes:

"However, this part of the tabernacle also proved to be a representation of the
whole natural order
. For the third part of tabernacle (being within
the four pillars, which was inaccessible to the priests) was like
heaven set apart to God, but an area of twenty cubits, just as earth
and sea are accessible to men, so this area was accessible to priests
alone." (my emphasis) 9

We might say that the temple was the economic, social,
political, and cultural nerve center of Jewish life.
But it is more than this. Our ancient informants have provided us with another conception
of the temple/tabernacle - something that may sound strange to our
ears. "The extraordinary nature of [the temple's] design
replicated in physical space what was understood to be the holy order
of creation
." (my emphasis) 10

How do these insights help in the interpretive process? By understanding
the "system of inherited conceptions," we can gain new
perspective on the words of Jesus and the NT writers. Specifically,
with regard to the temple, we can turn to that oft cited text, Matthew 24:

"Now as Jesus left the temple and was walking away, his disciples
approached him to point out the structure of the temple. But he
answered and said to them, 'You do see all these things, don't
you? I assure you that not two stacked stones here will remain in
place. All will be torn down...'"

"'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.'"
(my emphasis) 11

In light of the ancient sources, it is clear that Jesus has not abruptly
changed subjects. The temple reflects cosmology. It is the center of
the world. A culturally sensitive reading must see Jesus'
words against this background. Viewing his words as pertaining to the
destruction of planet earth, is both anachronistic and ethnocentric.
This interpretation lies outside the "shared system of conceptions"
of Jesus and his contemporaries.

Collectivist Personality

Kinship is fundamental to social organization and relationships. In
the high context literature of the bible, this emphasis may be lost
on us due to our society's focus on the individual. Hopefully, we can
see the contrast between the individualism pervasive in our culture
and the collectivism of Mediterranean culture.

Hebrew kinship organization reflects what anthropologists classify as unilineal descent.
"We can cite a number of indicators of the corporate nature of unilineal
descent groups. First, such unilineal groups as lineages frequently
shape a person's identity in significant ways. When a stranger asks
the simple question, 'Who are you?' some lineage members will likely
respond, 'I am a member of such and such a lineage,' rather than, 'I
am John Smith.' Lineage members, in other words, see themselves first
and foremost as members of the kinship group rather than as
." (my emphasis) 12

We see this feature quite often in the biblical texts, the emphasis on
one's tribe and parentage was fundamental to one's standing in the
world. David deSilva writes on the importance of understanding kinship organization:

"A person's family of origin is the primary source for his or status and
location in the world and an essential reference point for the
person's identity. People are not just free-floating individuals out
in the world but are located within the larger constellations of
'family' in a very broad sense (like clan). Location in the larger
family - an ancestral house - is critical not only for
the person's self-perception but also for the perception and
expectations others will have of him or her.

In the ancient world, people are not just 'taken on their own merits.'
Instead, their merits begin with the merits or (debits) of their
lineage, the reputation of their ancestral house. Greek and Romans
receive a basic identity from their larger family: from Romans this
takes the form of including the clan name in the name of each
individual. This is even more pronounced in Jewish culture."

We see the collectivist element manifested in a number of ways - in the genealogy of Jesus, the
priesthood of the Levites (tribe), inheritance, and even names
(so-and-so son of so-and-so). Paul rattles off his claim to status, his collective
identity, in Philippians 3:

"If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human
credentials, I have more: I was circumcised on the eighth day, from
the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.
I lived according to the law as a Pharisee... But these assets I have
come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I
now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater
value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the
loss of all things--indeed, I regard them as dung! --that I may gain
Christ..." (NET)

One cannot understand the full impact of Paul counting these things as
"dung" without first understanding the value placed on
them in his culture. Likewise, when Jesus says the Pharisees were
sons of the devil, it is a direct assault on their fundamental claim
to honor, that is, their family name. Against such a background John
1:12 is read: "But to as many as accepted him, to those who
believed in his name, he granted them the right to become children of
God..." Such kinship terminology reveals the great honor and
privilege God has granted to those who love him. However, the trials
endured by first century Christians and their rejection of/by the majority culture,
would be seen as a source of shame by outsiders. If not checked by the NT authors,
it could also become a source of shame as viewed by insiders. (1 PT 4:16, for example)

Honor and Shame

In the introduction, we mentioned the culture is an integrated system.
In discussing the collective personality, we have touched on another
element of Mediterranean culture, honor and shame. When kinship
terminology is used, honor (or the lack of it) is assumed. What do
we mean by honor?

"Honor is fundamentally the public recognition of one's social
standing. It comes in one of two ways. One's basic honor level,
usually termed ascribed honor, is inherited from the family at birth.
Each child takes on the general honor status that the family
possesses in the eyes of the larger group, and therefore ascribed
honor comes directly from family membership. It is not based on
something the individual has done.

By contrast, honor conferred on the basis of virtuous deeds is called
acquired honor: By its very nature acquired honor may be either
gained or lost in the perpetual struggle for public recognition.
Since the group is so important for the identity of a Mediterranean
person..., it is critical to recognize that honor status comes
primarily from group recognition
. While honor may sometimes be an
inner quality, the value of a person in his or her own eyes, depends
ultimately on recognition from significant others in society. It is a
public matter. When someone’s claim to honor is recognized by
the group, honor is confirmed, and the result is a new social status.
With this status follows the expectation of honorable behavior."
(my emphasis)

Honor plays a prominent role in the early Christian community. The NT
writers spend considerable time redefining what some have called the
"court of reputation," the group of significant others
the one should look to in determining one's honor. Those who left the
gods of their ancestors who be seen, essentially, as atheists,
disrupting social concord. Likewise, Judeans were threated by the
fact that Christianity altered the customs of Moses. These outsiders
were attempting to shame Christians back into conformity. Paul spent
much effort reassuring his readers that they had indeed made the
right choice and that God would honor them for doing so at Christ's
Parousia. They had been shamed by their cognatic kinship groups.
Their claim to honor had been cut off. Paul redefines honor on God's
terms. You are his offspring. Hence, there is no greater claim to
honor. He, and the new fictive kinship group, are the highest court
of reputation. This interplay between honor and collectivism will be
an important factor in our subsequent discussion.

Source Language

Reading the bible in English is a blessing and a curse. English tends to lead
us, and in some cases forces us, to view ancient people on our own
terms. Certain characteristics of the source language do not
translate into English. Greek, like English, has morphemes we call
prefixes and suffixes, as well as infixes. These morphemes have
semantic value, just like true when combined with the
prefix un- changes the meaning. An awareness of these
morphemes and their unaffected meanings may have significant impact
on the interpretation of a text. For example:

Adjectives ending in -ινος
-ινη -ινον
denote material

Adjectives ending in -ικος
-ικη -ικον
characteristic or tendency

λίθος - stone

κόσμος - world

λίθινος - made of stone

κοσμικός - wordly

Consider the following text. The Greek text reveals something that is lost in translation.

"The natural body is being sown, the spiritual body is being raised."

σῶμα ψυχικόν,
εγείρεται σῶμα

Here we have a text of some eschatological significance. Does morphology
lead us in a certain direction? Do the endings
denote material or characteristic / tendency? The latter. Even so, a
discussion limited to morphology or individual words is incomplete,
and often just plain wrong (e.g., the called out ones). Language is one component of a larger
system. With regard to 1 Corinthians, how does the singular body, in
light of collectivism, affect our understanding of text? What about
being sown in shame, but raised in honor? Does morphology make one
interpretation more plausible? Though they are necessary tools, the
answers are not found in grammars or dictionaries. And without
consideration for these cultural values we have been discussing, the interpretation often ends up
going in the wrong direction. How does being aware of these cultural
features, which are part of the social world of Jesus and the first
Christians, affect our understanding of the ancient texts?

Let's see how language is used in a high context, collectivist, honor and shame sensitive culture.
Against the background of this "system of inherited conceptions," we're going to look at one text and see how these
features can impact interpretation.

Putting It Together

The study of language is not limited to grammar and vocabulary. One can
learn Greek and still think like an English speaker living in the twenty-first century.
It's just adding an extra step to get to the wrong place. Language and
other behaviors derive meaning from social systems. This means that language study is a lot
broader than grammar and vocabulary - or morphology. Let's look at one example of how language
was used in the ancient world. We're going to discuss what linguists call
metaphorical extension.

"In their attempts to demonstrate the ‘natural’ origin of
language, the Greeks introduced a number of principles to account for
the extension of a word’s range of meaning beyond its ‘true’,
or ‘original’, meaning (cf. 1.2.2). The most important of
these principles was metaphor (‘transfer’), based on the
‘natural’ connexion between the primary referent and the
secondary referent to which the word was applied. Examples of
‘metaphorical’ extension might be found in the
application of such words as mouth, eye, head, foot and leg to
rivers, needles, persons in authority, mountains, and tables,
respectively. In each instance there is discernible some similarity
of shape or function between the referents. Various types of
‘extension’ or ‘transference’ of meaning were
recognized by the Greek grammarians, and have passed into traditional
works on rhetoric, logic and semantics." 16

We have numerous examples of metaphorical extension. One particular usage concerns us here. Solon (c. 638-558
B.C.) was the law-giver of Athens who is often credited with being
the founder of the Athenian democracy. Plutarch wrote an account of
his life in 75 A.D. He writes:

"...[Solon] trained the citizens to feel and suffer in unison with each other like
members of one body." (Plutarch 18. 5) 17

Notice that body is referring to citizens.
"The word σῶμα often rendered simply as body, has a number of meanings. One of
which is 'a corporate entity consisting of various persons.'" 18
This is metaphorical extension... and consistent will the collectivist personality.
The body polis is one example of metaphorical extension that shows up quite often in rhetoric.
How was body used in rhetoric? What other features did these speeches contain?

"Within 'deliberative' rhetoric - that is, rhetoric urging a political body
toward some course of action- a popular topic was concord, or unity.
Indeed, homonoia ('concord') speeches, as they were known in Greek...
became practically a genre unto themselves, with predictable
patterns, set clichés and examples, and an identifiable

...homonoia speeches regularly took the polis, which could stand for any social
group, to be a body, and rebellion, factionalism, or discord (stasis)
to be a disease." 19

The usage of this metaphor was quite adaptable depending on the
situation. It shows in various speeches in times of crisis,
entertainment, historical narratives and even letters.
Dio Chrysostom, writing near the beginning of the second century:

"If one were to run through the entire list of citizens, I believe he
would not discover even two men in Tarsus who think alike, but on the
contrary, just as with certain incurable and distressing diseases
which are accustomed to pervade the whole body, exempting no member
of it from their inroads, so this state of discord, this almost
complete estrangement from one another, has invaded our entire body
politic." (my emphasis)20

One of the goals of this speech was to resolve a conflict between Tarsus
and the smaller neighboring towns. He goes on:

"It may be true that, if Mallus because of the dunes and pasturage on the
sands were likely to become greater than Tarsus, you ought possibly
show so much concern; but as it is, disgrace and mockery are all you
stand to gain from the objects of your quarrel." 21

Honor, collective honor, was very much a concern here. In fact, competition
for honor is the cause of discord. However, the metaphor was not limited to the "secular"
world. St. Basil (c. A.D. 330-379) writes:

" ...plainly the discipline of the Church of Antioch depends upon your reverence's
being able to control some, to reduce others to silence, and to
restore strength to the Church by concord. No one knows better than
you do, that, like all wise physicians, you ought to begin your
treatment in the most vital parts, and what part is more vital to the
Churches throughout the world than Antioch? Only let Antioch be
restored to harmony, and nothing will stand in the way of her
supplying, as a healthy head, soundness to all the body. Truly the
diseases of that city, which has not only been cut asunder by
heretics, but is torn in pieces by men who say that they are of one
with one another, stand in need of your wisdom and evangelic
sympathy. To unite the sundered parts again, and bring about the
harmony of one body, belongs to Him alone Who by His ineffable power
grants even to the dry bones to come back again to sinews and flesh."
(my emphasis)

One will notice the theme of concord and the use of the "schisms (or ruptures) in
the body" metaphor. This probably sounds familiar. It was a frequent
element in Paul's letters, however, as can be seen from our previous examples,
he is not the inventor of the metaphor. He was communicating with his readers
using historically transmitted patterns of meaning. The particular metaphor had a long history:

"Echoing Plato and Aristotle, Seneca says that as it is
unnatural for the hands to destroy the feet, so the need for harmony,
love, and mutual protection causes mankind to protect individuals (De
Ira II, 31). Such statements are the source 23
of one of the most influential uses of the analogy, Saint Paul's
first epistle to the Corinthians: 'For as the body is one, and hath
many members... so also is Christ.... And the eye cannot say unto the
hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have
no need of you.... Now ye are the body of Christ and members in
particular...' (I Corinthians 12:12-27). Love (agapē) between
the members unifies the body (I Corinthians 6:15-16). Though some of
Paul's language is traditional, the application of the analogy to the
followers of Christ is a significant departure, which contains the
radical implication that faith determines the body of which a man is
a part." 24

Martin also notes, "Many
of the terms Paul employs are borrowed directly from Greek homonoia
speeches, and his rhetorical strategy of urging the Corinthians to do
what is beneficial and what will make for the common advantage,
rather than exercising their complete autonomy, is that of homonoia

'Now, I implore you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that
you all agree and that you allow no schisms (ruptures, σχίσμα)
among you, but that you all be mended together in the same mind and
the same opinion.
...God has blended together the body, giving
greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no schisms
(ruptures, σχίσμα) in the body, but
members may have mutual concern for one another.'" (my emphasis) 25

Paul did not have to explain his use of the metaphor. He assumed they
shared common cultural knowledge (high context). Notice the vocabulary. He appeals to them as brothers.
Behind this vocative is the value placed on kinship and one's relationship to
significant others. Kinship assumes honor. Honor is, again, the central focus of this
"rupture." The plea is for concord in the body. The
language of this text reflects all the elements we have discussed.
Again, the metaphor had a long history. It is their culture. Though
we may not be sensitive to these cultural cues, Paul assumes his
audience is well acquainted with them. However, now that we are a
more sensitive to these themes, we can take a fresh look as another text.
First, a little background:

In Acts 16:12-18, Paul and his companions are traveling. Luke records,
"[ from Neopolis we went] to Philippi, which is a leading city
of that district of Macedonia, a Roman colony...

Now as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave girl met us who had
a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural
means. She brought her owners a great profit by fortune-telling. She
followed behind Paul and us and kept crying out, 'These men are
servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of
salvation.' She continued to do this for many days. But Paul became
greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in
the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!' And it came out of her
at once.

But when her owners saw their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul
and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the
authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they
said, 'These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews
and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or
practice, since we are Romans.'
The crowd joined the attack against
them, and the magistrates tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and
ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had beaten them
severely, they threw them into prison and commanded the jailer to
guard them securely." (my emphasis, NET)

Paul and his companions would be seen as a source of rebellion,
factionalism and discord. Their teaching undermined the social
harmony. As such, they would be treated as a disease in the body
politic. The idea is implicit in the "high context" text.
Beatings and prison attest to this. Some time later, the Christians
in Philippi would suffer the same treatment. Strife can come from
within or without. Internal conflict is often the result of external
forces. When Paul writes his letter to the Philippians, we might expect
to find him using words to encourage concord and unity, just as he did
in the Corinthian letter. We do.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:27-30, "Only conduct yourselves in a manner
worthy of the gospel of Christ so that--whether I come and see you or
whether I remain absent--I should hear that you are standing firm in
one spirit
, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith
of the gospel, and by not being intimidated in any way by your
. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your
salvation--a sign which is from God. For it has been granted to you
not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, since you
are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face
( cf. Acts 16
) and now hear that I am facing." (NET)

The Philippians were suffering likewise for "throwing [the] city into confusion." Like Paul and his
companions, this group would be seen by outsiders as a source of rebellion,
factionalism and discord within the body politic. The shaming tactics employed by outsiders were an
attempt to restore social concord. What advice does Paul give in the face of such opposition?

"Be imitators of me, brothers, and watch for those living this way, as
you have us as an example: For many live as enemies of the cross of
Christ (about whom I often told you, and even now I mention in
tears), whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, whose
'honor' is their shame, being concerned with earthly things. For our
commonwealth (πολίτευμα)
exists in the heavens, from which we also eagerly await a savior
namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him
even to subject all things to himself, will change the body of our
humiliation (ταπεινώσεως)
to be like the body of his glory (δόξης)."

Paul admonishes his readers to imitate him. What example had he set? He
regarded his claim to honor based on the social world of Israel (kinship and
accomplishments) as "dung" - suffering for Christ was
honorable, though a source of shame and humiliation in the eyes of
the world. This section is very much about honor and group
association. The you, our and we are in stark contrast with those,
many, whose and their – the antecedents being the Philippians
and their tormentors, respectively. Philippi was made in the image of
Rome and this section is filled with what we might call social and political vocabulary - commonwealth,
savior, shame (the Greek term refers to status) and honor.

When we read this text, our minds usually pick up one element which shapes
and constrains the discussion. That term of course is "body."
Of course, many are comfortable with changing the collective body to
be more in line our individualistic culture, i.e., bodies, which is ethnocentric in my opinion. Not to
mention the trouble with attempting to "glorify" (in some
other worldly sense) Jesus' physical body. Nevermind the problems with defining glory/honor in such a way -
he still hand holes in his hand and side, ate fish and was made up of flesh and bone. The body
that went in, is the body that came out so it would seem. (The phrase "...neither
did his flesh suffer decay" is important in light of beliefs surrounding secondary burial practices.
This also ties in with how God honored Jesus by raising him from the dead.) If we can set aside our "system
of inherited conceptions" about the resurrection body and step into the
cultural world of the NT, we may find another way to look at this text.

It was a time of crisis in Philippi.

• The Philippians, like Paul, are seen as a source of strife in the city. (Acts 16, Phil. 1)

• Paul is concerned that external pressure may result in discord among the
brethren. As such, he uses the language of "concord."

• Using himself as an example, Paul contends that the opinions of outsiders
do not matter. Honor comes from a new source the fictive kinship
group and, ultimately, God. (Phil. 3:1f)

• Though ostracized and humiliated by the fellow "earthly" citizens, their
true status would be revealed as honorable - just as God had honored Christ.

Considering Paul's words in the preceding verses, and light the things we have
been discussing, it seems those at Philippi would view soma (body) in
a different way - one that was in line with their culture and
milieu. Words such as "commonwealth," "savior,"
"humiliation," and "honor" limit the semantic
range of "soma." These words assume cultural values that
are social and political. Together these "words" reflect
the "historically transmitted pattern of meanings" shared
by Paul and his readers - the rhetoric of homonoia. Simply
stated, Philippians 3:21 is not discussing the body of resurrection
as we have traditionally understood it. Physical substance is nowhere under consideration.
We have similar statements elsewhere that have nothing to do with the substance of biology.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to
be compared with the glory (honor) which shall be revealed in us. For
the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the
revealing of the sons (kinship and honor) of God. 28
...we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves
groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption (kinship and
honor), the redemption of our body (collectivism)."

As Pilch noted, "...we must refrain from inserting our culture and
our culturally conditioned imagination into our biblical texts."

In conclusion, a culturally sensitive reading of Philippians 3 must consider the high
context nature of Paul's letter, the collective personality shared by
the writer and his recipients, the value placed on honor and shame,
the historic use of the body metaphor and how these elements are
integrated. In doing so, we can conclude the use of body in
Philippians 3 is a metaphor consistent with the "historically
transmitted pattern of meanings" appropriate for the social
context of first century Philippi.


Elwell, Frank W. "Emile Durkheim's Sociology" (2003). June 10,
2006 <>.

Durkheim, Emile. 1950 [1895] The Rules of Sociological Method.
Translated by S. A. Solovay and J. H. Mueller. New York: The Free Press. 110

Geertz, Clifford. "Religion as a Cultural System" Interpretation
of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. 89.

For example, Jesus speaking to the woman at the well would hardly cause
the same amazement in modern day disciples. They interpreted his
behavior in a different framework – with different social
"oughts." Please note that this is not the same as
saying "truth" is culturally relative. We are interested
in discovering the meaning of symbols as "natives"
perceive them. Whether their understanding reflects truth is another
issue altogether.

Pilch, John J. "Dance." The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible.
Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999. 33.

Ibid. 34

Danby, Herbert. "Sixth Division, Tohoroth ('Cleannesses')." The
Mishnah. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933. 605-606.

Neyrey, Jerome H. "The Idea of Purity in Mark's Gospel" (May
2002). June 1, 2006 <>.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:123, See also 3:180-181 Greek text based
on the 1890 Niese Edition, My translation.

Maline, Bruce J., and Rohrbaug, Richard L. Social-Science Commentary on the
Synoptic Gospels. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers,
2003. 416.

Matthew 24:1-2, 34, My translation

Ferraro, Gary. "Kinship and Descent" Cultural Anthropology: An
Applied Perspective. 2nd ed. St. Paul: West Publishing Company,
1995. 183.

deSilva, David A.. "Kinship: Living as a Family in the First-Century
World."Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New
Testament Culture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 158.

Moxnes, Halvor. "Honor and Shame." The Social Sciences and New
Testament Interpretation. Ed. Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Peabody:
Hendrickson Publishers, 2004. 21.

1 Corinthians 15:44, My translation

Lyons, John. "Semantics: General Principles." Theoretical
Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1968. 406.

Vlastos, Gregory. "Solonian Justice." Studies in Greek
Philosophy, Volume 1: The Presocratics, Ed. Daniel W. Graham.
Princeton: Princeton University, 1996. 38

Nida, E. A. And Wendland, E. "Lexicography and Bible Translating."
Lexicography and Translation. Cape Town: Bible Society of South
Africa, 1985. 2.

Martin, Dale B. "The Rhetoric of the Body Politic." The Corinthian
Body. New Haven: Yale University, 1995. 38-39.

Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 34.20

Ibid. 34.46

St. Basil of Caesarea, 4th Century, Letter 66, See also Letters 203 and

De Ira, On Anger, was written approximately 41 A.D.

Hale, David G. "Analogy of the Body Politic." The Dictionary of
the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas. Ed. Philip
P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974. 68.

Martin, Dale B. "The Rhetoric of the Body Politic." The Corinthian
Body. New Haven: Yale University, 1995. 38-39.

My translation

See also 1 Peter 1:5-7 for example, "...who by God's
power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be
revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy, although you
may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials
show the proven character of your faith... and will result in praise
and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Also,
Romans 12:1ff

The "revealing" would be a public display of their status as
God's children, vindication of their claim to this honor.

Jer's picture

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I hope the article wasn't too choppy. I had to cut out quite a bit of material to fit within the allotted time at the conference. I'm not patient enough to put it back in after the fact :)


Starlight's picture

This article is just another example of the need for an accurate study bible developed and written by preterist (and not by all preterist but only by those dedicated to cultural scholarship from beginning to end). Jeremy’s article is a wonderful testament to that scholarship which is needed but is veiled from the public. The interesting thing is that in the Bible total we are dealing with multiple cultures.
As an example the Torah was poured forth into a Babylonian/Egyptian influenced culture 1500 years earlier than the Hellenistic inspired New Testament writings. That is the point from which we need to start our investigation concerning these cultures of pagan mythology that surrounded Moses. He brought forth the Law and tabernacle/temple worship out of this pagan environment. This background is especially needed in understanding the Genesis Motifs that Eden, the Garden, the cherubim guarding the eastern entrance the blood of Abel and the Altar represent to the Hebrew mind in their interfacing in worship to God.

Currently our contextual difficulties become compounded by self imposed restraints such as demanding a rigid literal reading by 21st century hermeneutic police. It’s amazing that we are children of the enlightment but we are still controlled by a mind police that stuff an eccentric logic down our throats. How long is it going to be before our collective “body” of believers can become unfettered from this entanglement? Thanks be to God for bringing forth the internet :) and sites such as Planet Preterist and unencumbered free scholars not beholden to organizations which squash their freedom.


Virgil's picture

I will let Jeremy comment on his own, but regarding the kind commnent on PlanetPreterist, we all appreciate it...especially the "unencumbered free scholars" note. It is important for all of us dedicated to pursuing truth and conversation to do so free from shame, cultural and social interference. Thanks Norm!

Virgil's picture

Jeremy, as I mentioned to you in June, I am blown away by your scholarship and research! I used to be quite interested in the Greek and after two years of studying the language it became apparent that the problem (as you clearly demonstrated) is not as much about translating, as it is about the cultural and social aspects of the Scripture.

This really puts arguments over eschatology, Hell, Hades, Gehenna into a new perspective. Not only that, but it puts the post-modern conversation (or whatever you want to call it) into the right perspective as well. It is more often than not that our perception of truth is very much dictated by language, culture, overlapping of the sociological and anthropological aspects of our generation. The problem has never been with the truth (or Truth) since it is unshakable and unchanging; it has always been with man's perception of it.

This article has been an excellent step forward in improving our perception and perspective on the New Testament socio-cultural context! Great job!!

Ransom's picture

Of course that's all well and good, but don't you try that fancy hermeneutic approach on anything in Genesis, or you'll be a post-modernist, tree-hugging, man-exalting liberal! I'm warning you!


MiddleKnowledge's picture

Thank you for your article. It's a very thought-provoking piece. I hope there is more where this came from.


Tim Martin

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