Humility [N] [T] [E]

Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy ( Psalm 113:4-9 ; 138:6-7 ); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross ( Matt 11:29 ; Acts 8:32-33 ; Php 2:5-8 ). The dual usage of "meek" (Gk. praus [prau?"]) and "humble (tapeinos [tapeinov"] "low") in heart" in Matthew 11:29 emphasizes Christ's humility before humankind, whom he came to serve ( Matt 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ) and his submission before God. Humility and meekness are often inseparable ( 2 Col 10:1 ; Eph 4:2 ; Col 3:12 ).

As a sign of genuine religion ( Mic 6:8 ) humility is necessary to enter God's kingdom ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ) or to be great in it ( Matt 20:26-27 ; Mark 10:43-44 ). As the absence of self ( Matt 10:38-39 ; Luke 9:23-25 ), it is a bankruptcy of spirit ( Matt 5:3 ) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God's righteousness for salvation ( Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:15-17 ). It may involve praying ( 2 Chron 7:14 ; Dan 6:10 ; 9:3-20 ), fasting ( Lev 16:29-32 ; 23:27-32 ; Ezra 8:21 Ezra 8:23 ; Psalm 35:13 ; Daniel 10:1-3 Daniel 10:12 ), and falling prostrate ( Ezek 1:28 ; Dan 6:10 ; Rev 1:12-17 ) before the Lord. Since the Lord denounces hypocritical worship ( Isa 58:3-7 ; Matthew 6:5-8 Matthew 6:16-18 ) and false humility ( Colossians 2:18 Colossians 2:23 ), a person's heart must match his or her posture ( Isa 57:15 ; Luke 18:9-14 ; cf. Isa 6:5 ; Matt 11:29 ).

Humility is the prerequisite for honor ( Prov 15:33 ; 18:12 ; 22:4 ; 29:23 ) and physical blessing ( Psalm 37:11 ; Matt 5:5 ). Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord ( Psalms 25:9 Psalms 25:12-14 ; Prov 15:33 ), it may provide the key to wealth and life ( Prov 22:4 ); but even when blessings are postponed, a humble spirit is necessary ( Prov 16:18-19 ; cf. Romans 12:14 Romans 12:16-17 ). It is the gateway to eternal life ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ), not necessarily physical reward (5:10-12).

God gives grace to the humble (or afflicted) but resists the proud ( Prov 3:34 ; James 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ). Regardless of social or moral position ( Luke 1:48 Luke 1:52-54 ; cf. Psalm 51:16-17 ), God often delivers people who humble themselves before him — whether righteous kings ( 2 Chron 32:24-26 ; 34:26-28 ), wicked rulers ( 1 Kings 21:27-29 ; 2 Chron 33:12-13 ), or commoners ( 2 Ch 30:8-11 ).

The Lord exalts the humble ( Matt 23:12 ; Luke 1:52 ; 14:11 ; 18:14 ; James 4:10 ) in his proper timing ( 1 Peter 5:6 ). A person must not claim honor for self ( Prov 25:6-7 ; Luke 14:7-11 ) but have an unassuming attitude ( Rom 12:3 ). Jesus' teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant ( John 13:1-16 ), even unto death ( Isa 53:7-8 ; Acts 8:32-33 ) in obedience to the Father ( Php 2:5-8 ), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11).

The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom ( Prov 11:2 ). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite ( Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:5 ) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart ( Isa 57:15 ; 2 Cor 7:6 ).

The Christian ought to emulate Christ's example ( Matt 11:28-30 ; 2 Col 10:1 ) of meekness and humility. Humility is the foremost test of a truly great person or leader ( Luke 22:24-27 ). Paul's teachings and life ( Acts 20:18-21 ) emphasize and elucidate Christian humility. Recognizing he was the chief sinner ( 1 Tim 1:15 ) and the least saint and apostle ( 1 Cor 15:9 ; Eph 3:8 ) he gloried in the grace of God ( 1 Cor 15:10 ; cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10 ) and in the cross of Christ ( Gal 6:14 ; cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:5 ) rather than self-righteousness ( Php 3:3-9 ).

Greg W. Parsons

Bibliography. J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self: Apostolic Teaching for Personal Wholeness; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 2:256-64; F. S. Fitzsimmons, New Bible Dictionary, p. 500; R. E. O. White, EDT, p. 537.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Humility'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Humility [N] [T] [B]

a prominent Christian grace ( Romans 12:3 ; Romans 15:17 Romans 15:18 ; 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 ; 2 co 3:5 ; Phil 4:11-13 ). It is a state of mind well pleasing to God ( 1 Peter 3:4 ); it preserves the soul in tranquillity ( Psalms 69:32 Psalms 69:33 ), and makes us patient under trials ( Job 1:22 ).

Christ has set us an example of humility (Phil 2:6-8 ). We should be led thereto by a remembrance of our sins ( Lamentations 3:39 ), and by the thought that it is the way to honour ( Proverbs 16:18 ), and that the greatest promises are made to the humble ( Psalms 147:6 ; Isaiah 57:15 ; 66:2 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ). It is a "great paradox in Christianity that it makes humility the avenue to glory."

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Humility". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .


hu-mil'-i-ti (~[`anawah]; tapeinophrosune):

(1) The noun occurs in the Old Testament only in Proverbs 15:33; 18:12; 22:4, but the adjective "humble" appears frequently as the translation of `ani, `anaw, shaphal, meaning also "poor," "afflicted"; the verb, as the translation of `anah, "to afflict," "to humble," and of kana`, "to be or become humbled"; tsana`, "to be lowly," occurs in Micah 6:8. For "humble" (Psalms 9:12; 10:12) the Revised Version (British and American) has "poor"; Psalms 10:17; 34:2; 69:32, "meek"; for "humbled" (Psalms 35:13), "afflicted" (Isaiah 2:11; 10:33), "brought low"; for "He humbleth himself" (Isaiah 2:9) "is brought low," margin "humbleth himself"; Psalms 10:10, "boweth down"; tapeinophrosune is translated "humility" (Colossians 2:18,23; 1 Peter 5:5); in several other places it is translated "lowliness" and "lowliness of mind"; tapeinos is translated "humble" (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; elsewhere "lowly," etc.; 1 Peter 3:8, tapeinophron), the Revised Version (British and American) "humble-minded"; tapeinoo, "to humble," occurs frequently (Matthew 18:4; 23:12, etc.); tapeinosis is "humiliation" (Acts 8:33); for "vile body" (Philippians 3:21) the Revised Version (British and American) gives "body of our humiliation."

(2) (a) In the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament, humility is an essential characteristic of true piety, or of the man who is right with God. God humbles men in order to bring them to Himself (Deuteronomy 8:2,3, etc.), and it is when men humble themselves before Him that they are accepted (1 Kings 21:29; 2 Chronicles 7:14, etc.); to "walk humbly with thy God" completes the Divine requirements (Micah 6:8). In Psalms 18:35 (2 Samuel 22:36) the quality is ascribed to God Himself, "Thy gentleness (or condescension) hath made me great." Of "him that hath his seat on high" it is said, (Hebrew) "humbleth (shaphel) himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth" (Psalms 113:6). It is in the humble heart that "the high and lofty One, .... whose name is Holy" dwells (Isaiah 57:15; compare Isaiah 66:2).

(b) The word tapeinophrosune is not found in classical Greek (Lightfoot); in the New Testament (with the exception of 1 Peter 5:5) it is Pauline. In Greek pre-Christian writers tapeinos is, with a few exceptions in Plato and Platonic writers, used in a bad or inferior sense--as denoting something evil or unworthy. The prominence it gained in Christian thought indicates the new conception of man in relation to God, to himself, and to his fellows, which is due to Christianity. It by no means implies slavishness or servility; nor is it inconsistent with a right estimate of oneself, one's gifts and calling of God, or with proper self-assertion when called for. But the habitual frame of mind of a child of God is that of one who feels not only that he owes all his natural gifts, etc., to God, but that he has been the object of undeserved redeeming love, and who regards himself as being not his own, but God's in Christ. He cannot exalt himself, for he knows that he has nothing of himself. The humble mind is thus at the root of all other graces and virtues. Self-exaltation spoils everything. There can be no real love without humility. "Love," said Paul, "vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up" (1 Corinthians 13:4). As Augustine said, humility is first, second and third in Christianity.

(c) Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as "meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart" (Matthew 11:29). The first of the Beatitudes was to "the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3), and it was "the meek" who should "inherit the earth. Humility is the way to true greatness:

he who should "humble himself as this little child" should be "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"; "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 18:4; 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). To the humble mind truth is revealed (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21). Jesus set a touching example of humility in His washing His disciples' feet (John 13:1-17).

(d) Paul, therefore, makes an earnest appeal to Christians (Philippians 2:1-11) that they should cherish and manifest the Spirit of their Lord's humility--"in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself," and adduces the supreme example of the self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ:

"Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," etc. The rendering of heauton ekenosen (Philippians 2:7 the King James Version) by "he humbled himself" has given rise to the designation of the Incarnation as "the Humiliation of Christ."

(e) There is a false humility which Paul warns against, a self-sought, "voluntary humility" (Colossians 2:18,23). This still exists in many forms, and has to be guarded against. It is not genuine humility when we humble ourselves with the feeling that we are greater than others, but only when we do not think of self at all. It is not alone the sense of sin that should create the humble spirit:

Jesus had no sin. It belongs not merely to the creature, but even to a son in relation to God. There may be much self-satisfaction where sinfulness is confessed. We may be proud of our humility. It is necessary also always to beware of "the pride that apes humility."

W. L. Walker

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'HUMILITY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.