Social term describing how people within a society evaluate one another. Most occurrences of honor in the Old Testament are translations of some form of kabod [d/b'K], while in the New Testament they are derivatives of timao [timavw]. These terms are generally used with reference to the honor granted fellow human beings, though in some cases they are used to describe the honor a person grants God.
The root of kabod [d/b'K] literally means heavy or weighty. The figurative meaning, however, is far more common: "to give weight to someone." To honor someone, then, is to give weight or to grant a person a position of respect and even authority in one's life. A person grants honor most frequently on the basis of position, status, or wealth, but it can and should also be granted on the basis of character.
While honor is an internal attitude of respect, courtesy, and reverence, it should be accompanied by appropriate attention or even obedience. Honor without such action is incomplete; it is lip service ( Isa 29:13 ). God the Father, for example, is honored when people do the things that please him ( 1 Cor 6:20 ). Parents are honored through the obedience of their children.
The source of all honor is God on the basis of his position as sovereign Creator and of his character as a loving Father. God the Father has bestowed honor on his Son, Jesus Christ ( John 5:23 ). He bestowed honor on humanity by creating man a little lower than the angels ( Psalm 8:5-6 ). He has also created spheres of authority within human government, the church, and the home. The positions of authority in those spheres are to receive honor implicitly.
The granting of honor to others is an essential experience in the believer's life. Christians are to bestow honor on those for whom honor is due. The believer is to honor God, for he is the sovereign head of the universe and his character is unsurpassed. The believer is to honor those in positions of earthly authority, such as governing authorities ( Rom 13:1-7 ), masters ( 1 Tim 6:1 ), and parents ( Exod 20:12 ). As a participant in the church, the believer is also called to honor Jesus Christ, the head of the church ( John 5:23 ), fellow believers ( Rom 12:10 ), and widows ( 1 Tim 5:3 ).
While the reception of honor is a positive experience, it is not to be sought ( Luke 14:7-8 ). When honor comes from others by reason of position or status, it is not to be taken for granted. The recipients should seek to merit honor through godly character. Honor can be lost through disobedience or disrepute, though in exceptional cases, dishonor is a mark of discipleship ( 2 Cor 6:8 ).
Sam Hamstra, Jr.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Honor'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".