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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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hū̇ - mil´i - ti ( ענוה , ‛ănāwāh ; ταπεινοφροσύνη , tapeinophrosúnē ):

(1) The noun occurs in the Old Testament only in Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 18:12; Proverbs 22:4 , but the adjective "humble" appears frequently as the translation of ‛ānı̄ , ‛ānāw , shāphāl , meaning also "poor," "afflicted"; the verb, as the translation of ‛ānāh , "to afflict," "to humble," and of kāna‛ , "to be or become humbled"; cānā‛ , "to be lowly," occurs in Micah 6:8 . For "humble" (Psalm 9:12; Psalm 10:12 ) the Revised Version (British and American) has "poor"; Psalm 10:17; Psalm 34:2; Psalm 69:32 , "meek"; for "humbled" (Psalm 35:13 ), "afflicted" (Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 10:33 ), "brought low"; for "He humbleth himself" (Isaiah 2:9 ) "is brought low," margin "humbleth himself"; Psalm 10:10 , "boweth down"; tapeinophrosunē is translated "humility" (Colossians 2:18 , Colossians 2:23; 1 Peter 5:5 ); in several other places it is translated "lowliness" and "lowliness of mind"; tapeinós is translated "humble" (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; elsewhere "lowly," etc.; 1 Peter 3:8 , tapeinóphrōn ), the Revised Version (British and American) "humble-minded"; tapeinóō , "to humble," occurs frequently (Matthew 18:4; Matthew 23:12 , etc.); tapeı́nōsis 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 , Deuteronomy 8:3 , 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 Psalm 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 (shāphēl ) himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth" (Psalm 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 tapeinophrosunē 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.

( 100 ) 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; Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 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 (Jn 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 (kénōsis ) of Christ: "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," etc. The rendering of heautō̇n ekénōsen (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 , Colossians 2:23 ). 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."

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

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