Contextualization in the Old Testament

In 1902, Friedrich Delitzsch’s lectures on “Babel und Bibel” ignited a furor for the claim that the OT had plagiarized the intellectual and literary forms of ancient Babylon. Following a century of upheaval, mainstream OT scholarship has arrived at a more balanced understanding of the OT as a contextual and contextualizing document that employs both similarities and differences with its cultural environment for the sake of communicating a distinctive message. This paper explores three kinds of cultural appropriation in the OT with particular relevance for mission in Asia: (1) The functions, titles, and depictions for Israel’s deity in a world of polytheism; (2) The divine-human relationship in a world of karmic justice; and (3) The cultural values of honor and shame in a world of patronage.

Jerry Hwang and his wife Jackie serve as OMF missionaries at Singapore Bible College, where he serves as Academic Dean of the School of Theology (English) and teaches courses in Old Testament and Hebrew. His PhD is in Old Testament from Wheaton College.

Contextualization in the Old Testament

Mission Round Table Vol. 13 No. 2 (May-Aug 2018): 4-9

German translation – Siehe abstrakt – Evangelische Missiologie 2019:1



In a 1985 review article of seven books on mission, David Bosch closes with the lament that his twin passions of biblical studies and missiology remain far apart as disciplines:

At the end the church is still left with the nagging question of whether its missionary activities today bear any resemblance at all to what biblical scholars call ‘mission’ and also if and how it can appeal to scripture for its missionary service. Perhaps we need a book written by a theologian who is both a missiologist and a biblical scholar—if such an animal exists.[1]

In the three decades since, only a few brave souls have heeded Bosch’s summons to become such a hybrid creature.[2] The widest gap of all between the Bible and missiology appears in the lack of interaction between the Old Testament, the longer of the Bible’s two corpora by far, and contextualization, one of the missiologist’s most important tools. In Transforming Mission,[3] Bosch’s own magnum opus, the OT receives only four pages whereas he devotes 150 pages to the NT. And in a standard textbook on contextualization, David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen assert, “In the case of the Old Testament we are hard-pressed to find examples of cross-cultural communication of a specifically religious message.”[4] Although the OT figures prominently in several biblical theologies of mission,[5] their discussion tends to center on the OT’s narrative of the missio Dei more than its missional methods.[6] The occasions when the OT’s methods do feature tend to focus on whether the OT envisions Israel’s mission as centrifugal or centripetal in orientation.[7]

This chasm between the OT and contextualization is too broad to close in a short article. Instead, I sketch the outlines of contextualization as the OT’s own posture toward the surrounding cultures of its time, most of which have more in common with the traditional cultures of the Majority World than with the post-Christian West. In summary, the OT’s discerning combination of engagement, sifting, and rejection toward its cultural environment exemplifies how, in the words of Dean Flemming, “Contextualized theology is not just desirable; it is the only way theology can be done.”[8]

Identifying and studying contextualization in the Old Testament

Some propose, however, that speaking of contextualization in the OT is a category fallacy, an impossibility along the lines of “smelling the color nine.” According to this view, contextualization is limited to the act of communicating the apostolically revealed message of the Bible in new cultural situations. This definition relegates contextualization to a post-biblical set of methods that is missing from the OT, since only the NT’s finished revelation of the gospel could furnish a starting point for acts of cultural translation.[9]

Long before Shoki Coe coined the term contextualization (1972) and the concept gained traction in missiology,[10] OT scholars had been addressing what were essentially missiological questions by situating Israelite faith within a newly discovered world of texts and artifacts from the ancient Near East. In 1902, the public lectures of the German critical scholar Friedrich Delitzsch on “Babel und Bibel” (translated and published in English the following year as Babel and Bible)[11] ignited an international furor for their claim that the OT had plagiarized the intellectual and literary forms of ancient Babylon. Following a century of upheaval, mainstream OT scholarship has arrived at a more balanced understanding of the OT as a contextual and contextualizing document that employs both similarities and differences with its cultural environment for the sake of communicating a distinctive message.[12] The time is thus ripe for OT studies to add biblical examples of contextualization to those already identified in the NT. In what follows, I briefly explore three kinds of cultural appropriation in the OT with particular relevance for mission in Asia: (1) The functions, titles, and depictions for Israel’s deity in a world of polytheism; (2) The divine-human relationship in a world of karmic justice; and (3) The cultural values of honor and shame in a world of patronage.

Israel’s deity in a world of polytheism

Gods and goddesses in the ancient Near East can be loosely classified as family deities, national deities, and nature deities.[13] These three categories are not mutually exclusive, since in a polytheistic world the number or roles of deities in a pantheon could always change when deities were promoted in status or borrowed between peoples. More important than the stature of a given deity or the total number of deities, the worldview of the ancient Near East focused on deities in terms of their function (i.e., what they did) rather than their essence (i.e., who they were).[14] This feature meant that the Israelite creed of “Yahweh is one” (Deut 6:4) was less about the God of Israel being the only god who existed, and more about how he functioned as “the God of gods and Lord of lords” (Deut 10:17) by serving simultaneously as family deity, national deity, and nature deity for Israel. In the biblical storyline, Yahweh intimately revealed himself to the patriarchs as a family deity who accompanied them on their journeys, powerfully became a national deity in Israel’s experience upon defeating Egypt’s national deities in the exodus, and practically demonstrated that he was also a nature deity after Israel’s conquest of a land infused with Canaanite fertility religion. Thus the OT’s rhetorical question, “Who is like you among the gods, O Yahweh?” (Exod 15:11), vaults the God of Israel into a class of his own, not by denying the existence of other gods, but by Yahweh usurping all their supposed power.[15] At the same time, this pragmatic orientation that Israel shared with its neighbors raised the likelihood of misunderstanding divine justice to be merely karmic or magical in nature. This kind of syncretism in the OT and its modern parallel of prosperity theology will be treated in the following section.

The OT’s contextualization of ancient Near East notions of deity extends also to titles and terms. Indeed, the “term question” of how to describe God/gods in native categories predates the advent of missiology since the OT occasionally identifies “Yahweh” (the personal name of Israel’s God) using compound epithets of “El.” In cultures adjacent to Israel, the god El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon and the father of Baal, as well as “El” being a general term for “god” in languages cognate with Hebrew. It is understandable that English Bibles mute these cross-cultural echoes by rendering El-epithets such as El Qana (Deut 4:24) and El Rahum (Deut 4:31) as “a jealous God” and “a compassionate God,” respectively, rather than “a jealous El” and “a compassionate El.” In contrast to European languages, other Semitic languages retained El titles and terms, most notably in how Aramaic- and Syriac-speaking Christians eventually provided a pre-Islamic stage of the Arabic language with “Allah” as a Christian term for God/god.[16]

As with modern controversies about “Allah” and insider movements in Islam, the OT’s use of “El” derivatives as linguistic common ground leads naturally to questions about syncretism. The OT preempts similar issues by a twofold strategy of contextualization for a people who faced the temptation to syncretize in a land formerly overseen by Canaanite deities. First, and as noted above, the OT applies El epithets to Yahweh so that he displaces El as national god over the territory of Canaan. As a supreme or national deity, however, El was generally seen by Canaanite peoples as a remote deity in heaven compared to the hands-on involvement of his son Baal, a nature deity who watered the earth and allowed crops to grow. Thus, and secondly, the OT transfers Baal’s functions as a nature deity to Yahweh while also forbidding Israelites from using any Baal terms or titles to address Yahweh (e.g., Hos 2:2–23). Yet as a nature deity, Baal differed from El for needing to die and come back to life in an annual symbiosis with the cycles of nature. Because of the strengths and weaknesses of both Canaanite gods, OT passages like Hosea and Psalm 29 frame Yahweh’s distinctiveness both in and beyond Canaanite categories. Their polemic ascribes to him El’s transcendence and immortality as a national god but sets aside El’s disinterest in people. They also attribute immanence like Baal’s to Yahweh but discard Baal’s mortality and fickleness toward people.[17] By taking such a contextual and contextualizing posture toward its world, the OT depicts Yahweh as recognizably similar to, yet distinct from, other ancient Near Eastern deities. The God of Israel is always more than El, Baal, and other gods and goddesses of Canaan, of course. But he cannot be less since some measure of similarity is necessary for the assertion of incomparability, “Who is like you among the gods, O Yahweh?” to have any meaning.

Israel’s relationship with Yahweh in a world of karmic justice

In an influential article from 1952, Morton Smith observed that the belief in blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience is reflective of “The Common Theology of the Ancient Near East.”[18] Deities would reward the virtuous behavior of their people, but vices would be punished by natural disaster or defeat before an enemy. The OT concurs with this retribution principle in books such as Deuteronomy and Proverbs.[19] However, the existence of a moral link between cause and effect raises several theological questions that find currency in the OT: Does faith in Yahweh come with a reward, or is faith its own reward? What is the relationship between sin and suffering? And particularly for an Asian context, how does one handle the obvious echoes between the OT’s understanding of moral causality and the karmic principle of Eastern religions? The conceptual field of agriculture lacks religious connotations for most Westerners, but Asians hear echoes of karma in the OT itself since biblical idioms about sowing/reaping also appear in Asian summaries of karma. In Chinese folk religion, for example, the common saying that “有播种,才会有收成” (“one must sow [virtue] to reap [reward]”) sounds indistinguishable from the Chinese New Version’s rendering of Hos 8:7 as “他们播种的是风,收成的是暴风” (“they sow the wind, but reap the whirlwind”).

Ironically, it is in Malachi—the same book that allegedly supports the “prosperity gospel”—that the OT provides its most systematic dialogue with distortions of the retribution principle (in both its ancient Near Eastern and modern Far Eastern forms). Prosperity teachers often employ Malachi 3:8–10 as a prooftext that tithing is an investment that brings exponential return,[20] but a closer reading shows how the book takes a homeopathic posture toward material blessing for the sake of hollowing out Israel’s errant understanding from within. Since I have outlined Malachi’s missional response to syncretism in more detail elsewhere,[21] what follows is a summary of the book’s main contributions for understanding contextualization in the OT.

The book of Malachi records six disputations that reflect Israel’s theological confusion about retribution in the wake of exile. In the first disputation (1:1–5), Israel asserts that exile shows that Yahweh no longer loves his people. However, this complaint distorts the covenant theology of the Pentateuch into the mechanistic principle of karma. This misunderstanding of retribution leads to the second disputation (1:6–2:9) wherein Yahweh confronts Israel’s priests for their retaliatory act of bringing halfhearted sacrifices to a God who has supposedly abandoned his people. The third disputation (2:10–16) continues this line of argument by exposing Israel’s tit-for-tat action of abandoning Yahweh in favor of marrying “the daughter of a foreign god” (2:11), even as Israel attempts to manipulate Yahweh by Baalistic practices of weeping and groaning before the altar (2:13).

Following the first three disputations, however, Yahweh’s systematic rebuttal of karmic ideas has left Israel at a loss for whether any form of rewards and punishment remains operative. Beth Glazier-Macdonald rightly notes regarding the fourth disputation (2:17–3:6): “Having lived with the almost magical assumption that good begets good and evil begets evil, they were standing on a precipice. They could find no evidence for the existence of a just judge of the world when they saw the wicked prosper and God showing no sign of intervention.”[22] The implosion of Israel’s quid pro quo worldview seems to leave no viable alternative—either Yahweh has no moral standards to begin with (“everyone who does evil is good in Yhwh’s sight”; 2:17c), or Yahweh is absent from his people (“Where is the God of justice?”; 2:17e). In light of these distortions about Yahweh’s justice and presence, is any form of retribution valid?

Malachi addresses this question in the fifth (3:7–12) and sixth (3:13–4:6) disputations. Because the retribution principle seems nonsensical to Israel, the fifth disputation opens with Yahweh inviting his people to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven” (3:10). This is not a promise of supernatural abundance, as prosperity teachers assert, since the immediate context’s reference to “curse” (3:9) and “blessing” (3:10) indicate that Deuteronomy’s covenantal promises of rain and basic sustenance in the land are in view. The sixth disputation similarly refutes Israel’s complaint by showing that divine mercy is what allowed the people to survive exile in the first place and to lodge their complaints about divine justice. Israel sought retribution when Yahweh offered grace, but this syncretistic and ungrateful people misunderstand this uneven accounting for sin as a sign of unfairness. To summarize Malachi’s argument:

As YHWH refuses to play by the mechanistic rules of karma, this impersonal worldview then becomes its own downfall since Israel is in effect complaining to a personal God that the universe is not a closed system of ethical retribution. The logic of Israel’s syncretism refutes itself through the realization that human suffering cannot be explained as a karmic connection between cause and effect nor as the magical use of rituals to control the powers. Inadvertently, Israel arrives at the realization that YHWH is a transcendent Creator who enforces the morality of the universe without being subject to the ancient Near Eastern dictates of karma and magic.[23]

Malachi therefore offers a contextual and contextualizing account of retribution in three parts. First, obedience leads to blessing and disobedience leads to curse. Second and in contrast with ancient Near Eastern understandings, not all suffering comes from sin, nor all prosperity from righteousness. Third and most importantly, seeking God is even more important than seeking God’s justice, prosperity, or freedom from suffering, since all these goals are potentially impersonal in nature. It is this third aspect of Malachi that resonates particularly in Asian religious contexts, since questions about culpability for suffering become subordinate to the redemptive role of suffering as a means to know a personal Creator, regardless of whether this suffering is deserved.[24]

Israel’s understanding of honor and shame in a world of patronage

In a rare convergence nowadays, it is becoming common for missiologists, biblical scholars, and theologians to agree that ancient Israel was a collectivist society in which the cultural value of honor played a major role.[25] One standard definition of honor as “the positive value of a person in his or her own eyes plus the positive appreciation of that honor in the eyes of his or her own social group”[26] seems equally applicable to various societies across the millennia, such as those in the Mediterranean or East Asia. The corollary of this importance attached to honor is that shame is to be avoided whenever possible, though here it is notable that each culture’s characteristic approach to mitigating shame will differ. Werner Mischke, following the pioneering work of psychologist Donald Nathanson, observes in passing that East Asian cultures such as China, Japan, and Thailand tend to expect the shamed party to attack themselves, while West Asian and Mediterranean cultures tend to expect the shamed party to attack others.[27]

Although Mischke provides many insights to equip westerners for ministry in non-Western contexts, it is somewhat unfortunate that the rest of his book tends to treat honor and shame in the biblical and non-Western worlds as monoliths without attending to differences across time and geography. This omission reflects a longstanding tendency in missiology to draw a sharp contrast between “guilt cultures” (i.e., the individualistic West) and “honor-shame cultures” (i.e., the collectivistic non-West).[28] But given the presence of honor, shame, and guilt in all societies to varying degrees, such an undifferentiated view stands at odds with the newer consensus in anthropology and psychology that “there are no guilt cultures or shame cultures. … all cultures are shame cultures, and all cultures are guilt cultures. Thus, what differs between them (and their individual members) is not which of these dynamics they operate on, but how these concepts are variously configured, related, and articulated.”[29]

At the same time, all is not lost in connecting honor-shame in the OT with honor-shame in missiology. A more nuanced approach is available by revisiting the OT’s own dialogical relationship to its cultural environment. When the OT is thus situated within its own world, what emerges is a distinctive understanding of honor and shame in both contextual and contextualizing dimensions. The OT is clearly contextual in that it is acquainted with ancient Near Eastern ideas of honor and shame. But importantly for our purposes, the OT also displays a contextualizing approach that redefines or challenges typical understandings of honor and shame. Out of the many ways in which the OT reworks honor and shame rather than uncritically reflecting these cultural values, three are particularly relevant for Asian readers of the OT.

The OT’s first act of contextualization appears in its very first chapter. Yahweh’s proclamation that he shall make all humanity in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26–28) affords countercultural dignity in its cultural context. In the rest of the ancient Near East, the “image” and “likeness” of a deity were reserved for the king, who stood in a unique mediatory position between the gods and goddesses above him and his people below him. This three-tier structure in society also entailed the king alone possessing the status of “son of [the] god,” a privileged office known as sacral kingship. By contrast, Genesis 1 imparts all humanity the status of royalty as bearers of the divine “image” and “likeness.”[30] This countercultural trajectory continues in the OT with all of Yahweh’s people being his royal priesthood (Exod 19:6) and every member of Israel being included among the children of Yahweh (Deut 14:1). As overfamiliar as the doctrines of the imago Dei and the Christian’s identity as child of God can sometimes become, the OT’s democratization of honor formerly reserved for kings was revolutionary in a world of patronage. By contrast, Confucian thought mirrors ancient Near Eastern societies outside Israel in that only the king is the “Son of Heaven” (天子) who is entrusted by the gods with the “Mandate of Heaven” (天命).

The OT’s second noteworthy act of contextualization also relates to the king and honor-shame norms, but more generally through the ancient Near Eastern monarchy’s role as the main sponsor of historiography (i.e., the writing of history). Unlike in modern societies where any sleuth can credibly take up the investigation of history, historiography was sponsored in ancient societies by kings who had the resources to employ an educated class of nobles and scribes. As an instrument of royal ideology, however, ancient historiography aimed to emphasize divine favor on the king and his kingdom, highlight his victories and accomplishments, and downplay any setbacks. This propagandistic bent is dominant in Assyrian sources, for example, when King Sennacherib describes his failed siege at Jerusalem in 701 BC (narrated in 2 Kings 18:13–19:37) as the successful act of shutting up King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” so that “it [was] unthinkable for him to exit by the city gate.”[31] Rather than admitting that he could not get into Jerusalem, Sennacherib insists that Hezekiah could not get out! This is as close as Assyrian historiography comes to admitting defeat in war.

​​​​​​Sennacherib’s Prism in the Israel Museum, by Hanay, (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Historiography in ancient Israel was still sponsored by the monarchy, but it served the divergent purpose of explaining the unlikely origins of the Israelite kingdoms as well as their deserved demise in exile. The historical reviews in OT passages such as Joshua 24, 2 Kings 17, Psalm 78, Ezra 9, and Isaiah 51 emphasize the themes of unworthiness and sinfulness in Israel’s dealings with Yahweh, especially the apostasy of its kings. The OT scholar Frederick Greenspan rightly summarizes how Israelite historiography is subversive in its world: “Unlike other writings of its time, the Hebrew Bible is thoroughly critical of its own people.”[32] So, despite being state-sponsored, Israelite historiography is distinct, then and now, for being commissioned by the state with the responsibility to shame the state. The Bible’s contrarian posture with respect to honor and shame provides a better starting point for contextualizing these values in modern Asian cultures than granting the notion that “saving face” is culturally neutral.[33]

Third and finally, Israel’s understanding of honor and shame is unique with respect to the relationship between God and people. In most cultures where honor and shame are significant, the weaker party in a relationship is expected to avoid causing the stronger party to lose face, while the stronger party will dissociate themselves from any shame or lack of honor brought by a weaker party. The OT exhibits this tendency to some extent, but its literary traditions of lament go in the opposite direction by portraying Yahweh as a stronger party who willingly entwines his honor and shame with Israel as a weaker party.

This shared identity emboldens Israel’s protest literature to seek Yahweh’s intervention in surprisingly honest ways. Throughout the OT, faithful intercessors implore Yahweh to consider how the sorry state of his people appears to others: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Pss 79:10; 115:2; cf. Exod 32:13). The precise manner in which Yahweh is vulnerable to shame is a mystery of sorts,[34] but his reputation among the nations is clearly important enough for his people to repeatedly seek his help “for the sake of your/his name.” A tipping point of shame is eventually reached when Yahweh finally acts “for my own sake” (e.g., Ps 79:9; Isa 48:11; Ezek 20:9, 14, 22; Dan 9:19). The leverage that Israel possesses with Yahweh extends even to prayers of penitence containing complaints of suffering shame as a result of sin. The fact that a repentant supplicant in Israel could still plead, “Let me not be put to shame” (Ps 25:1; cf. Dan 9:19; Ezra 9:6–7), is culturally unique in that the weaker party leans into punishment and suffering justly inflicted by the higher party rather than shrinking back and/or blaming themselves, as would normally be expected in such shaming situations.[35] The paradox of biblical lament that “I protest, therefore I believe”[36] models a vigorous but trusting challenge to divine honor which lacks the politeness or fatalism toward deity that often characterizes both Eastern and Western faith traditions.


Examples of contextualization in the Old Testament abound beyond the three broad categories mentioned above. But time would fail me to tell of the OT’s contextual and contextualizing stance toward the ancient Near East in areas such as leadership (e.g., prophet, priest, sage), divine-human communication (e.g., magic, divination, prayer, dreams), social fabric (e.g., in-groups vs. out-groups, family relationships), law and order (e.g., the link between government and religion), economics (e.g., wealth, poverty, urbanization), creation and causality (e.g., history vs. myth, natural vs. supernatural), and learning and education (e.g., the nature of wisdom, knowledge, and the good life). A full treatment of these and other topics will require an OT counterpart to Dean Flemming’s Contextualization in the New Testament which I am hoping to write. In the meantime, the OT has always stood on its own merits as a specimen of Asian contextual theology, albeit originating in the ancient Near East rather than the modern Far East. Reclaiming this biblical heritage in our missional methods will therefore go a long way in Asia toward correcting the misconception that Christianity is a Western religion.


[1] David J. Bosch, “Mission in Biblical Perspective,” International Review of Mission 74 (1985): 538, italics original.

[2] Most notable in this respect are Dean E. Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005); and Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).

[3] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

[4] David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Pasadena: William Carey, 2000), 4.

[5] In addition to Wright’s major work (n. 2), see also Richard J. Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003); Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

[6] Flemming acknowledges the need to study the contextualizing methods of the OT as well, but adds that this task falls outside his scope (Contextualization and the New Testament, 16, n. 3). No comprehensive treatment of contextualization in the OT currently exists, but there are shorter essays by Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Contextualization: Some Implications from Life and Witness in the Old Testament,” in New Horizons in World Mission: Evangelicals and the Christian Mission in the 1980s: Papers and Responses Prepared for the Consultation on Theology and Mission, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, School of World Mission and Evangelism, March 19–22, 1979, ed. David J. Hesselgrave (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 199–216; D. Premnan Niles, “Example of Contextualization in the Old Testament,” The South East Asia Journal of Theology 21 (1980): 19–33; Millard C. Lind, “Refocusing Theological Education to Mission: The Old Testament and Contextualization,” Missiology: An International Review 10 (April 1982): 141–60; Saphir Athyal, “The Old Testament Contextualisations,” World Evangelization Magazine, October 1997, 8–9; Arthur F. Glasser, “Old Testament Contextualization: Revelation and Its Environment,” in The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission Today, ed. Dean S. Gilliland (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2002); Brian K. Petersen, “A Brief Investigation of Old Testament Precursors to the Pauline Missiological Model of Cultural Adaptation,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 23 (Fall 2007): 117–29, (accessed 9 July 2018); and Marvin J. Newell, Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principles for Mission Practice (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016), 45–166.

[7] Robert Martin-Achard, A Light to the Nations : A Study of the OT Conception of Israel’s Mission to the World (Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1962); Jiří Moskala, “The Mission of God’s People in the Old Testament,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 19 (2008): 40–60, (accessed 9 July 2018); Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012).

[8] Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, 298.

[9] E.g., George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody, 1976), 52; Hesselgrave and Rommen, Contextualization, 149.

[10] For a full history of the contextualization debate, see Andrew J. Prince, Contextualization of the Gospel: Towards an Evangelical Approach in the Light of Scripture and the Church Fathers, ACT Monograph Series (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 37–71.

[11] Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible: Two Lectures on the Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion, trans. Thomas J. Cormack and W. H. Carruth (Chicago: The Open Court, 1903).

[12] Peter Machinist, “The Question of Distinctiveness in Ancient Israel,” in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. Frederick E. Greenspahn, Essential Papers on Jewish Studies (New York: NYU, 2000), 420–42.

[13] Daniel I. Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, 2nd ed., ETS Studies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 18–19.

[14] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 88–92.

[15] Richard J. Bauckham, “Biblical Theology and the Problems of Monotheism,” in Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 214.

[16] For evidence that the use of “Allah” for God by Arabic-speaking Christians predates the advent of Islam, see Rick Brown, “Who was ‘Allah’ before Islam? Evidence that the Term ‘Allah’ originated with Jewish and Christian Arabs,” in Toward Respectful Understanding and Witness among Muslims: Essays in Honor of J. Dudley Woodberry, ed. Evelyne A. Reisacher (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2012), 147–78,,%20R%20-%20Who%20was%20Allah%20before%20Islam.pdf (accessed 9 July 2018).

[17] Dennis G. Pardee, “On Psalm 29: Structure and Meaning,” in The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception, ed. Peter W. Flint et al., Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 99 (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 165–66.

[18] Morton Smith, “The Common Theology of the Ancient Near East,” Journal of Biblical Literature 71 (1952): 144–45, (accessed 9 July 2018).

[19] John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 179–80.

[20] E.g., Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Fort Worth: Kenneth Copeland, 1974), 8, 71.

[21] Jerry Hwang, “Syncretism after the Exile and Malachi’s Missional Response,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20 (2016): 49–68, (accessed 9 July 2018).

[22] Beth Glazier-McDonald, Malachi, The Divine Messenger, SBL Dissertation Series 98 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), 123.

[23] Hwang, “Syncretism,” 63–64.

[24] John R. Davis, Poles Apart? Contextualizing the Gospel (Bangkok: OMF Publishers, 1993), 56–79.

[25] Lyn M. Bechtel, “The Perception of Shame within the Divine-Human Relationship in Biblical Israel,” in Uncovering Ancient Stones: Essays in Memory of H. Neil Richardson, ed. H. Neil Richardson and Lewis M. Hopfe (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 79–92; Jason Borges, “‘Dignified’: An Exegetical Soteriology of Divine Honour,” Scottish Journal of Theology 66 (2013): 74–87, (accessed 9 July 2018); Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016), 67–90.

[26] Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Cultural Values of the Mediterranean World,” in The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, ed. Jerome H. Neyrey (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 25.

[27] Werner Mischke, The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World (Scottsdale: Mission ONE, 2015), 76–77.

[28] As reflected in the title of Georges and Baker, Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures.

[29] Daniel Wu, Honor, Shame, and Guilt: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Book of Ezekiel, BBR Supplement Series 14 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2016), 178, italics original.

[30] J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 121.

[31] For this translation from the “Sennacherib Prism,” see Michael D. Coogan, A Reader of Ancient Near Eastern Texts: Sources for the Study of the Old Testament (Oxford: OUP, 2013), 81.

[32] Frederick E. Greenspan, “Syncretism and Idolatry in the Bible,” Vetus Testamentum 44 (2004): 480.

[33] Cf. Jackson Wu, Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame, EMS Dissertation Series (Pasadena: William Carey, 2012).

[34] Cf. David A. Glatt-Gilad, “Yahweh’s Honor at Stake: A Divine Conundrum,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 98 (2002): 63–74. Yahweh’s honor possesses both an objective and transcendent dimension that is grounded in his faithful character as well as the subjective and immanent dimension of what people attribute to him. For this reason, Daniel Wu is correct to assert that “YHWH can never truly be shamed in the OT.” Wu, Honor, Shame, and Guilt, 172.

[35] For a detailed argument along these lines, see Jerry Hwang, “‘How Long Will My Glory Be Reproach?’ Honour and Shame in Old Testament Lament Traditions,” Old Testament Essays 30 (2017): 684–706, (accessed 9 July 2018).

[36] Miroslav Volf, “I Protest, Therefore I Believe,” Christian Century, February 8, 2005, 39, italics added.

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