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SHAME (בּוֹשׁ, H1017, בֹּ֫שֶׁת, H1425; αἰσχύνη, G158; and other Heb. and Gr. words). The word shame occurs in the RSV over 150 times. It is coupled with defeat, reproach, nakedness, folly, contempt, poverty, unseemliness, cruelty, and nothingness. It is a debasing emotion arising from a consciousness of impropriety, offense, injured reputation, hurt pride, or guilt. In most Biblical references it is associated with religion, with only a few instances relating to social prestige. While there are many aspects to shame, two classifications are comprehensive.

Subjective shame.

Sin is the primary source of all shame, expressing itself through various media. Scripturally, the first of these is nakedness, having a dualistic meaning—physical and spiritual. In their primordial state “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25), but after they sinned they were ashamed of their nakedness in God’s presence (3:10; cf. Rev 3:18).

Wicked and rude people may cause shame to those of nobler nature. David’s goodwill servants “were greatly ashamed” by the humiliating treatment given them by the Ammonite king, Hanun (2 Sam 10:1-5). David called on God because of “my shame and my dishonor” caused by foes (Ps 69:19). A violent son “causes shame and brings reproach” (Prov 19:26). The survivers of the Babylonian exile were reported to be “in great trouble and shame” (Neh 1:3). Most of all, Jesus endured the shame of the cross at the hands of evil men (Heb 12:2; cf. Isa 50:6).

Objective shame.

Shame is a component of divine judgment on sin. It is therefore an instrument to be dreaded, and also one to employ against an enemy.

The Hebrews delighted in the shame of the ungodly. “Let the godless be put to shame” (Ps 119:78; cf. “the wicked” in 31:17a). The final place of the wicked is accursed with shame. “God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame” (Ps 53:5b). Elam and her accessories in crime will bear their shame with those “whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the Pit” (Ezek 32:23). In the resurrection all “shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2).

The worst that a Heb. could wish on his enemy was that he be put to shame. It was often invoked, sometimes coupled with another curse: “shame and dishonor”; “shame and confusion”; “put to shame and consumed” (Pss 35:4, 26; 71:13; cf. Pss 40:14; 70:2; 109:28; Jer 17:18a).


Mould, Bible History (1966), 25, 518-524, 595f., 667f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

On conditions beyond the grave the Biblical revelation is exceedingly reticent, but here and there are hints that shame waits upon the wicked here and hereafter. Such an expression as that in Daniel (12:2) cannot be ignored, and though the writing itself may belong to a late period and a somewhat sophisticated theological development, the idea is but a reflection of the earlier and more elementary period, when the voice of crime and cruelty went up from earth to be heard in the audience chamber of God (Ge 4:11; 6:13). In the New Testament there is similar reticence but also similar implications. It cannot be much amiss to say that in the mind of the Biblical writers sin was a shameful thing; that part of the punishment for sin was a consciousness of guilt in the sense of shame; and that from this consciousness of guilt there was no deliverance while the sin was unconfessed and unforgiven. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt." From one’s own past there is no deliverance, save through contrition of spirit and the grace and forgiveness of God. While the sense of shame persists, or, in other words, while the moral constitution of man’s nature remains as it is, there will never be wanting an avenger of sin.

Charles M. Stuart