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Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity

, 2012
ISBN: 9780830866120

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Contemporary Western readers may find it surprising that honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, kinship and family, and purity and pollution offer us keys to interpreting the New Testament. In Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, David deSilva demonstrates that paying attention to these cultural themes opens our eyes and ears to new discoveries and deeper understanding of the New Testament and its cultural context.

Through understanding of honor and shame in the Mediterranean world, new appreciation of the way in which the personhood of early Christians connected with group values can be gained. By examining the protocols of patronage and reciprocity, the meaning of God's grace can be more firmly grasped, and the believer’s response has fresh meaning. In exploring the ethos of kinship and household relations, the perspective on the early Christian communities that met in houses and functioned as a new family or "household" of God can be enlarged. And by investigating the notions of purity and pollution along with their associated practices, the Christian can come to realize how the ancient "map" of society and the world was revised by the power of the gospel.

DeSilva's rewarding work offers a deeper appreciation of the New Testament, the gospel and Christian discipleship. Moreover, it can inform the contemporary believer’s participation in today’s Christian community.

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Top Highlights

“The culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social values of honor and dishonor. Seneca” (Pages 22–23)

“Honor and dishonor, then, are not only about the individual’s sense of worth but also about the coordination and promotion of a group’s defining and central values, about the strategies for the preservation of a group’s culture in the midst of a complex web of competing cultures, and about the ways in which honor or dishonor are attained, displayed and enacted.” (Page 42)

“Honoring and shaming became the dominant means of enforcing all those values that were not actually legislated and of reinforcing those values that were covered by written laws.” (Page 36)

“Finally, grace can be used to speak of the response to a benefactor and his or her gifts, namely, ‘gratitude.’” (Page 105)

“Words like glory, reputation (doxa), honor (timē) and praise (epainos), together with verb and adjectival forms, are frequent. Their antonyms, dishonor (aischunē), reproach (oneidos), scorn (kataphronēsis), slander (blasphēmia), together with the adjectives and verbs derived from these roots, are also prominent.” (Pages 27–28)

Cultural analysis holds the potential of enlivening the sometimes dry bones of grammatical-historical analysis by providing the relational context in which the NT would have been read by its first readers. DeSilva has offered an invaluable introduction to this fascinating area of biblical studies.

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

David deSilva has presented us with a helpful primer on first-century cultural values, which, unlike some treatments of the subject, does not neglect either the Jewish or Greco-Roman evidence of relevance for illuminating the New Testament. This study is marked by clarity of expression and a careful ordering of the material, coupled with helpful exegesis of some of the key biblical texts. Highly recommended.

—Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary

David deSilva invites his readers to read the New Testament according to the sociocultural categories of honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, kinship, and purity and pollution that prevailed in the Greco-Roman world (including Judaism) of the first century. The clear explanations give fresh meaning to New Testament language about the church, grace, the household of God and holiness. This readable, accessible and contemporary text succeeds in placing New Testament teachings in their cultural context.

—Everett Ferguson, professor emeritus, Abilene Christian University

David deSilva is a first-rate scholar with an excellent command of the primary sources of Greco-Roman antiquity. He invites the reader's attention to some prominent aspects of the New Testament (such as honor and kinship language) that most of us in Western culture miss and brings to bear a wider array of primary sources than most scholars who address these subjects. Unlike many other academic studies, this one also provides practical implications for how we relate to God and one another.

—Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Eastern Seminary

This book is a model of balanced approach to cultural-contextual study of New Testament writings. While shedding further light on many passages, David deSilva warns scholars against simplistic characterizations of ancient cultures. He cautions against ideological reading of certain texts and exposes moralistic trivializing of New Testament encounter with surrounding culture. Written with sustained clarity and ample account of modern discussions, at appropriate intervals this work takes academia into the public square. It invites Christians of all belief systems to critical examination of their own cultural contexts. Seminarians and ministers therefore dare not ignore the insights offered in this probing study.

—Frederick W. Danker, professor emeritus, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

  • Title: Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture
  • Author: David deSilva
  • Publisher: InterVarsity
  • Publication Date: 2000
  • Pages: 336
David A. deSilva

Dr. David A. deSilva, PhD, is the Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, where he’s taught since 1995.

He’s written over 20 books in the areas of New Testament and Second Temple Judaism, including Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation's Warning (Hendrickson, 2013), The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude (Oxford, 2012),Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation (WJKP, 2009), An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (IVP, 2004), Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker Academic, 2002), and Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Eerdmans, 2000). He’s also interested in spiritual formation, having written Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation through the Book of Common Prayer (IVP, 2008) and Praying with John Wesley (Discipleship Resources, 2001).

He’s ordained in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, and serves as director of music and organist at Christ United Methodist Church in Ashland. He and his wife, Donna Jean, have three sons.


19 ratings

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  1. Christian Sabban
    An extremely valuable help to understand key concepts of ancient culture and to avoid anachronisms in the interpretation of NT texts.
  2. Jacob



    Excellent book covering some counter intuitive cultural facets of scripture. This book is a must for anyone who wants to know what scripture means when it says "friend," "brother," "clean," "unclean," "holy," and "sanctified." The four themes discussed in this book are necessary to understand regardless of how someone views deSilva's Bibliology or hermeneutic (which I personally do not agree with, but in no way did it impede the value of this work).
  3. Sergio Dario Costa Silva
  4. Matt Rowell

    Matt Rowell


  5. Andrew Lim

    Andrew Lim


  6. Dolores Staples
  7. Philana Crouch
    Excellent book that provides valuable insight into the culture of the New Testament.
  8. Aaron



  9. Robert Thomas Murphy
    One of my favorite books on NT culture. It is both rich in its findings about the New Testament world as well as practical applications for church leadership. This book is a must have for anyone studying the New Testament.
  10. Josh



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