The aim of this study is the analysis of social concepts of honor and identity in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
In the first chapter, the research problem is formulated and the appropriate methodology, which could address the issue under investigation, is chosen. It was observed, that in the social studies of the New Testament texts, the key analytical categories – honor, identity and (social) values, – as well as the correlation between them, were not properly defined. At the same time, the text of the letter to the Philippians demonstrates that to aspire for honor is not totally rejected within Christian community (1:20; 2:29; 3:14). The discourse analysis (discovery of social patterns embedded in the text) was taken as main methodological approach; clarifying of social concepts and text analysis were main tools used to test the hypothesis: In his letter to the Philippians, Paul does not argue to reject honor as a social value, yet he promotes a new identity and new source of honor; aspiration to honor within one’s group remains the same for non-Christians and for “heavenly society.”
In the second chapter, the main terminology is defined. So, “value” is an often non-verbalized, invisible conception, which determines one’s understanding of the desirable or rationality. The same values can have different embodiments in different cultures; the same values can be shared by different groups. Identity is based on the visible manifestations of a culture; people of different identities can share the same values. Honor is a positive evaluation of one’s behavior; it is very significant for every collectivistic society. The source of honor is at the same time the source of identity: the one whose opinion matters, whose approval is valuable is the one with whom a person associates/identifies him/herself. In the third chapter, the language of identity in the letter to the Philippians is analyzed. Paul pays a lot of attention to his readers’ new identity “in Christ.” He accentuates their distance
from the non-members of the group (negative identity); he insists on their unity, mutual support, and call to leave aside any inner quarrel or competitiveness in order to concentrate on the survival and development of the “in-Christ” group. His own example of changed identity demonstrates that Christ gives Paul both a sense of belonging and a sense of worth. Strong orientation of the members of the Christian commune to their group reflects the common dependence of an individual on his/hew group in collectivist societies.
In the fourth chapter, the issue of honor in the text of Philippians is investigated. The Christological hymn (Phil 2:6-11) and its context presents the only appropriate way of behavior and hence, gaining honor within the “in-Christ” community: God is the only honor-bestower; one must stay loyal to the community and obedient to its leaders despite suffering and death. Paul’s account of his own experience demonstrates that he is anxious about honor, yet he seeks it exclusively in terms of the “in-Christ” group: God is the only source of honor; hence honor must be achieved strictly via loyal service to God and his group. Any attempt to gain honor in competition with other members of the “in-Christ” group is interpreted as treason, as it denies the status of God as the only honor-bestower.
In the fifth chapter, the findings of the research are summarized. It is concluded that social values of “heavenly society” are very much the same as those of a non-Christian society. Belonging to a group and positive evaluation of such a group (honor) – relational values common for Mediterranean cultures – are still most significant for the “in-Christ” group members. The only thing which is changed is identity (and hence, the source of honor): for Christians, God and Christ are an exclusive source of identity and an exclusive source of honor. Hence, the “in-Christ” group and the outer world both share the value of honor; the only difference between them is the source of that honor (i.e. identity). Values remain the same, identity is different.