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What Does the Bible Say about Shame?

Did you know that the Bible mentions shame over 400 times? Here is what you need to know about it.

Contributing Writer
Updated Apr 25, 2022
What Does the Bible Say about Shame?

My icy fingers stacked the firewood on the far end of the tailgate, but the subzero temperatures made the work slow. Almost painful for an eight-year-old. My stepfather’s ruddy face deepened to purple, the veins in his neck bulging. Shame spilled wet on cheeks aching with cold, and I murmured an unintelligible apology. I dodged a log fired in my direction. Like Adam and Eve hiding from God, I longed for cover.

Have you, too, experienced shame? Have embarrassment and humiliation flooded you? There was a time when shame didn’t exist. We have to look thousands of years in the past to discover what the Bible says about shame.

Where Does the Bible Talk about Shame?

The first mention of shame is in Genesis 2:25, which reads, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

Before the fall, God’s first couple lived in a state of innocence. According to the Free Dictionary, they existed outside of shame, which is “the painful feeling of having done or experienced something dishonorable, improper, foolish.”

The emotion of shame entered the human experience when Adam and Eve coveted God’s knowledge and invited sin into their hearts. From the time man and wife laced fig leaves together to hide their embarrassment, shame has dogged humanity.

Does Shame Have Several Meanings in the Bible?

The word translated as “shame” in scripture is derived from thirty-eight different Hebrew words or roots. Sifting through the meanings helps us understand the Biblical concept of shame.

Buwsh, pronounced boosh, is used most often at one hundred nineteen times in the Old Testament. A verb, it means “ashamed” or “covered with shame.” The Hebraic pictographs used to illustrate this root created a picture of a “consuming fire” – the idea that shame “eats you up from the inside.” Jeremiah 17:13 uses the variation when it reads, “all who abandon You will be put to shame.” (NASB)

Cherpah, another version of the word, is used seventy-three times--most frequently in the Psalms and the books of the prophets. Pronounced kher-paw’, this noun means “reproach” or “taunt.” It is included in Psalms 109:25, for instance, which speaks of Christ being an “object of scorn.”

Nakedness, particularly indecent exposure, is implied by ervah – a transliteration derived from arah. Arah is a verb that means “helplessly exposed.” Twice, ervah refers to undefended territory. However, all other uses point to either sexual immorality or idolatry.

Other definitions of shame derived from the original language include confusion, contempt, dishonor, dishonesty, and to wither away. All told, the Bible mentions shame over four hundred and thirty times in the Old and New Testaments. It is associated with:

- sexual sin

- social labeling

- emotional and physical abuse

The Bible also makes it clear that the name of Jesus removes our shame.

Where Does the Bible Talk about Shame and Sexual Sin?

A recurring theme throughout scripture, the Bible highlights the problem of shame and sexual sin as early as Genesis 34:7 when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped. Enraged, her brothers Levi and Simeon murdered her assailant and his father.

Multiple Levitical laws address sexual sin, while verses such as Romans 1:27 stirred up as much controversy in Rome and Greece as it does in today’s culture. Why? Because Paul spoke against homosexuality--a practice commonly accepted by the citizens.

How Does Shame Fit Our Social Labels?

What are your labels? Many are positive, and we welcome their influence in our lives. Labels such as “spouse,” “parent,” “doctor,” “Christian,” or (fill in the blank). But others create pain. They may have stalked us since childhood or been acquired during a difficult season later in life. Some might include “divorced,” “ugly,” “stupid,” “unwanted,” or (fill in the blank).

People often attach shame to negative labels, certain they either deserve them or allow another’s assessment to maintain power.

Scripture presents two men who dealt with shame and social labeling differently. In 1 Samuel 20:34, Saul pours out a curse-filled version of “Shame on you, Jonathan” before attempting to murder his son. In contrast, Mary’s betrothed Joseph decides to quietly divorce his pregnant wife rather than choose public shaming (Matthew 1:19). Saul’s label focused on self, while Joseph refused to mislabel his wife.

How is Shame Connected to Abuse?

Shame accompanies abuse. Too often, the victim feels as though the actions of the abuser were his or her fault.

The most egregious acts of abuse ever committed were those heaped on Jesus. Innocent of sin, He was mocked, whipped and beaten beyond recognition, and tortured to death. Not only was Christ labeled, but He “despised the shame” of the cross (Hebrews 12:2) on behalf of those who would accept Him as Lord.

The Creator of heaven and earth intentionally wore shame to rescue us. Then, robed in nothing but the guilt and shame of your sin and mine, the Father turned away from His Son. Humanity’s stain tore the eyes of a Holy God from His only begotten like Eve snatching fruit from the tree.

How Does the Bible Say Jesus Removes Our Shame?

Scripture reveals that Israel is God’s special possession, set apart to live for Him. Though most of the Lord’s people denied Christ as Messiah at the time of His death, heaven’s plans remained steadfast. Only through Jesus’ death and resurrection could the world be ushered into the kingdom.

The gift of inclusion awaits anyone willing to receive it. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11 NIV).

Heather Davis Nelson of Crosswalk.com outlines some of the ways that Jesus replace shame with things our Father wants us to have:

- Jesus comes to give honor instead of dishonor—all the ways you have felt and experienced rejection.

- Jesus clothes you with beauty, removing the ashes of shame you’ve worn for your sin or for the sinful atrocities committed against you.

- He comforts you as you mourn, releasing you from the shame of grieving alone or without purpose.

- Whether in this life or in the one to come, he brings justice for the injustice you’ve suffered because of your race, faith, gender, or family.

- Jesus brings favor—oh, favor of the Lord that is permanent and unchanging—instead of the vague cloud of constant disapproval.

(Excerpted from "How Jesus Can Free You from Shame" by Heather Davis Nelson)

How Is Shame Different From Guilt?

Shame is the feeling associated with guilt, while guilt involves wrongful actions. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines guilt as “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating the law and involving a penalty.”

Scripture affirms we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) but that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). Like Adam and Eve, we are all guilty of choosing our own way. Eating our own proverbial fruit.

If we allow it, shame can point people to their condition of guilt. I have been and will be guilty of lying, gossiping, wishing harm on others, jealous thoughts, and much more.

The idea of revealing any of these could embarrass me. Tear at the thin veneer of reputation. But God knows every sin and has removed my guilt. From the moment I invited Christ into the wounded place of reproach. The broken spaces of confusion. The contemptible areas are filled with dishonesty, immorality, or hatred. There? I discovered freedom. Shamelessness. And an eternal verdict announced, “Not guilty.”

Through Jesus, neither shame nor guilt rules me any longer. I am forgiven through His saving grace.

Should Christians Have Shame?

Are you a Christian who struggles with shame? Maybe you are ashamed of the sins of the past. Perhaps you experienced an abusive childhood, or a label like “divorced,” “bipolar,” or “childless” thrusts itself into your thoughts in unwelcome moments—threatening your composure. You shrink as shame grows and fear comes alongside.

Whether the shame you carry resulted from another’s sin against you or your shortcomings, our Lord bore our sins on the cross. Not only that, but He overcame the shame.

Christian, through Jesus, we live in freedom--shameless. May I pray for you?

A Prayer if You Struggle with Shame

Father, thank you for bearing the shame of the cross that we might live in freedom. I pray for the dear one reading these words who struggles with the weight of shame, Lord. Would your mercies, which are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23), continually be a reminder of your sacrifice. Equip your child to release shame and stand against the lies of the enemy through the power of your word.

In the powerful name of Jesus,

Amen

Photo Credit: GettyImages/SIphotography

Tammy KenningtonTammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog www.tammykennington.com where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.


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