From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

HUMILITY. —This virtue or grace distinguished the leaders of OT history like Abraham and Moses ( Genesis 18:27,  Numbers 12:3), and was inculcated by the prophets as a chief duty ( Micah 6:8). It belongs even to the earlier revelation of God’s character (‘that humbleth himself,’  Psalms 113:6), and is the key to man’s communion with Him ( Isaiah 57:15). In Judaism and the Rabbinical literature we meet with a variety of examples and maxims enforcing the truth that ‘God is the highest type of humility.’ These anticipations prepare us for the new and enlarged conception of humility which rills the NT, and was embodied in the teaching, example, and character of Jesus Christ. The moral quality of our Saviour’s personality lies here ( Matthew 11:29), and on this foundation of astonishing humility, exemplified on the cross, St. Paul bases his great ethical appeal ( Philippians 2:5 ff.). It may be claimed that the gospel alone has popularized humility, but the temper of Christ’s disciples in every age proves that it is an excellence of rare and difficult attainment.

i. Use and meaning of the word.—The noun (ταπεινοφροσύνη, Heb. עַנִוָה, Vulgate humilitas , Germ. Demut ) does not occur till it is employed commonly in the NT (Lightfoot on  Philippians 2:3); it is ‘a birth of the Gospel’ (Trench, Syn. of the NT , § 42). In contrast to the low and servile sense attaching to it in classical writings, humility in the LXX Septuagint, Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] , and NT becomes the designation ‘of the noblest and most necessary of all virtues’ (Cremer’s Lex. ). It rests on a lowly and unpretending view of one’s self, and is opposed to the workings of the ambitious spirit (μεγαλοφροσύνη, ὑψηλοφροσύνη). The term refers mainly to inward character, and sometimes to outward condition. Of humility as the animating principle of Christian character, Jesus Himself was the great example, being ‘lowly in heart’ ( Matthew 11:29), not merely in appearance like the professional religious leaders of the time. Pharisaism is the deadly enemy of humility or the religion of healthy-mindedness. The moral temper that inspired Christ’s life and service is echoed by St. Paul, when he singles out the motive that prompted his labours (‘serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind,’  Acts 20:19). Elsewhere humility is enjoined, along with kindred graces, as the means of averting unholy disputes and of promoting co-operation in the Church and among the members of the Christian society ( Matthew 18:4;  Matthew 23:12,  Ephesians 4:2,  Philippians 2:3,  Colossians 3:12). An exceptional use of the term occurs in  Colossians 2:18;  Colossians 2:23, where the Apostle guards his readers against the counterfeit of this virtue (‘a voluntary humility’). In some instances the humble are viewed in the light of their earthly condition, which God may wonderfully raise and alter ( Luke 1:52), and which, notwithstanding its indignities and trials, should be borne submissively and cheerfully ( James 1:9). This class of sufferers corresponds to the afflicted and meek of the OT (עָנִי, עִנִו), and would he numerous among the peasantry or fellahîn of an oppressed and lawless country (Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, s.v .). The ‘poor in spirit’ spoken of in the first of the Beatitudes ( Matthew 5:3, cf.  Luke 6:20) are probably best understood as placed in such circumstances. In agreement with this, Ritschl ( op. cit. infra ) defines ταπεινοφροσύνη as ‘that temper inclining to the service of God which accepts resignedly an oppressed and wretched condition.’ The term, therefore, as one of deep import, is freshly coined in the NT.

ii. Contrast between Greek and Christian Ethics.—The rise of this grace creates an epoch. ‘Humility is a vice with heathen moralists, but a virtue with Christian apostles’ (Lightfoot on  Colossians 2:18). In particular, it marks the opposition to the Greek idea of ‘high-mindedness’ (art. ‘Ethics,’ by H. Sidgwick in Ency. Brit .9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ), and the advance in ethical sentiment and the standard of judgment due to Christianity. A presentiment of the Christian virtue may be met with in Greek writers (see examples in Neander’s Church History , vol. i. p. 26 [English translation], and in Trench, NT Syn. ), but their use of ταπεινός in any noble sense is rare. The Greeks undoubtedly had their distinguishing qualities, but this was not one of them.

Cf. interesting note of conversation in Morley’s Life of Gladstone , iii. p. 466. ‘Mr. G.—I admit there is no Greek word of good credit for the virtue of humility. J. M.—τατεινοτης? But that has an association of meanness. Mr. G.—Yes; a shabby sort of humility. Humility as a sovereign grace is the creation of Christianity.’

Greek Ethics, as expressed and systematized by Aristotle, the ancient master of moral analysis and definition, fostered pride, the genius of later Stoicism, and regarded the humble as contemptible, mean-spirited, and without force or aspiration. Aristotle’s picture of the ‘great-souled’ man and his exaggerated sense of self-importance have a certain air of loftiness (μεγαλοψυχία), but fall below the standard which obliges the Christian to recognize his duty to others, and to treat with consideration those who are intellectually and socially inferior. The conception of humility, therefore, as it controls the Christian, lies outside the system of Aristotle (see Nic. Ethiopic bk. iv. ch. 3 [Sir A. Grant’s ed. vol. ii. pp. 72–78]). This difference between Greek and Christian ideas of greatness and humility is fundamental, and the change was brought about by Christ’s revelation of the character of God. Of Aristotle’s great-souled man it is said—‘his movements are slow, his voice is deep, and his diction stately’ (Grant, vol. ii. p. 77, note). This measured efflorescence of pride reappears in Christ’s portraiture of the Pharisee in the temple; but the Publican, the opposite and acceptable type, shows how influential, in Christian experience, is the thought of God, and how closely connected are humility, prayer, and confession of sin. In accordance with Augustine’s well-known saying (quoted by Calvin, Institutio , bk. ii. ch. 2), humility comes first, second, third, and always, among the precepts of the Christian religion, and it marks the cleavage between Greek and Christian ideals. The magnificent figure drawn by the Greek philosopher disappears, and, instead, Christ presents the image of the little child ( Matthew 18:2).

iii. Our Lord’s example and teaching

1 . The great saying which goes to the root of the matter—‘I am meek and lowly in heart’ ( Matthew 11:29), has been variously interpreted (see art. by Herrmann, mentioned below), and even called in question as authentic. Martinean asks—‘What meek and lowly soul was ever known to set itself forth as such and commend its own humility as the model for others?’ and adds, ‘did a Saviour bear such testimony of himself, his testimony would not be true’ ( Seat of Authority in Religion 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 583). But the mode of speaking Christ adopted and the claim He put forward would not really seem incongruous in a ‘Teacher of Israel’ (Bruce, Expos. Gr. Test . note ad loc .); and, besides, the objection reads a false tone into the original utterance, and ignores the special nature of Christ’s consciousness. Our Lord was more than a ‘meek and lowly soul,’ and had reason for presenting Himself as a model and a winning type to humanity. His humility clothed and concealed His essential dignity, and in speaking as He did He was conscious at the same time of standing in a unique relation to God ( Matthew 11:27, cf.  John 13:3). Indeed, the union on Christ’s part of ‘unbounded personal pretensions’ with an unconscious humility that regarded His importance to the world as ‘an objective fact with which his own opinion of himself had nothing to do’ ( Ecce Homo , ch. 15) is undeniable, and reminds us that majesty and meekness were the two poles of His mysterious yet harmonious character. Christ’s humility, however, does not rest on a phrase, but was carried out in the lowly setting of His earthly life. His cradle in the manger at Bethlehem and His subjection in the home at Nazareth, His quiet entrance, at the hands of the Baptist, on public life, His restraint in the use of His supernatural powers, and His dislike of consequent honour and fame, His frequent periods of retirement, His choice of followers and friends, His sympathies with little children and humble suppliants ( Mark 10:13-16;  Mark 7:24-30), His appreciation of the smallest offering and the simplest service ( Luke 21:1-4,  Matthew 10:42), and, finally, His submission to the experiences concentrated in the week of His Passion and Crucifixion, all attest the consistency of His character as One who was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ and who, at every step of His career, plainly and profoundly ‘humbled himself’ ( Philippians 2:8).

2 . Passing from Christ’s example, the main lines of His teaching are two

(1) Humility in relation to God, or the Law of Grace .—We are introduced here to the most powerful among the motives to humility, and to a relation deeper than any that influences us in the society of our fellow-men. In Wendt’s language—‘Humility is the conscious lowliness we feel before God in view of His superabundant love and holy majesty, and in contrast to our own unworthiness, guilt, and entire dependence on His grace’ ( The Teaching of Jesus , vol. i. p. 341, note [English translation]). We cannot therefore exaggerate our worth or assert our claims before God: the part we play is that of ‘unprofitable servants’ who, after all their performances, should be filled neither with the sense of merit nor the spirit of boasting ( Luke 17:10). In the parable, which is a gem of teaching on this point, Jesus enforces on us the duty of humility towards God, the need of genuine self-abasement and confession of sin, as we see and feel our unworthiness in the Divine presence ( Luke 18:9-14). He represents God as turning away from the shallow and sounding words of the Pharisee, but giving His mercy freely to the penitent publican who could not look up. For, as a fine Jewish saying puts it, ‘While God despises what is broken among the animals, He loves in man a broken heart.’ This is a fundamental law of the Kingdom of heaven and the indispensable condition of grace: ‘for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted’ (cf.  Proverbs 3:34;  1 Peter 5:5).

Prof. Dowden, in writing of Milton’s view of the intercourse between God and the soul, remarks—‘There are two humilities—that which bows and that which soars, the humility of a servant who looks down, the humility of a son who gazes up. Milton’s humility invigorates itself in the effort to ascend. He would not prostrate himself in the presence of material symbols, but would enter as a glad child into the courts of heaven’ ( Puritan and Anglican , p. 167). This is the humility that Christ welcomes, and that makes religion not stiff and heavy with ceremonial, but simple, reverent, glad, and pleasing to God. On no other terms is grace given or fellowship with God possible. ‘Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in nowise enter therein’ ( Luke 18:17).

(2) Humility in relation to men, or the Law of Service .—While it is true that humility ‘is not primarily concerned with our relation to other men, but with our relation to God, and springs from an intellectually true view of that relation’ (Illingworth, Christian Character , 1905, p. 27), yet its importance in regulating men’s ordinary conduct and intercourse did not escape Christ’s notice. His striking lessons on this subject were called for at the time, and are far from being exhausted, for it is still true that ‘the really humble man is as great in the moral world as he is rare’ (Bruce, Expos. Gr. Test . on  Matthew 18:4).

( a ) The child, the unconscious type of humility ( Matthew 18:1-4,  Mark 9:33-37).—This was Christ’s object-lesson on the question that caused frequent heartburning among the disciples, ‘Who then is greatest?’ etc. Their assimilation of their Master’s mind proceeded slowly. As He went on absorbed in the thought of His approaching cross, His followers walked behind and stirred each other’s worst passions by raising questions of place and precedence. At their next interview the Master of men set a child in the midst of His disciples, and shamed them out of their unworthy temper. This is our Lord’s rebuke of pride, rivalry, and ambition in their thousand forms, His reversal of our ordinary and selfish ideas of greatness, and His warning against the world’s spirit of exclusiveness, intolerance, and class distinctions. The truly great is he who considers the claims of others and is slow to give offence ( Matthew 18:6), and who on all occasions appears simple, teachable, unpretending, indifferent to questions of rank and superiority, and willing to humble himself ‘as this little child.’ It is only the childlike heart that is capable of knowing God ( Matthew 11:25), and of finding the way into His kingdom. This image has stamped itself on the mind of Christendom, and this pattern of greatness is still fresh. Human character is once for all taught to mould itself after this original and lovely type. Christ first saw the hatefulness and unworkableness of a world without a child!

( b ) The servant, the practical example of humility ( Matthew 20:20-28;  Matthew 23:1-12,  Mark 10:35-45,  Luke 22:24-27,  John 13:1-17).—This ideal of service was presented on two distinct occasions: the one when the sons of Zebedee came forward with their request for the leading places in the Kingdom; and the other when the same love of dignity, and the jealous exclusion of each other’s claims, gave rise to the strife that marred the Last Supper. In rebuking this spirit, Christ had in view not merely the mistaken tendencies of His disciples, who were already fired by the promise of individual ‘thrones’ ( Luke 22:30) dear to the Israelitish imagination, but also the popular and prevailing standards of the time. The rulers of the Gentiles aimed at supremacy, and, in the exercise of a harsh authority, delighted to ‘lord it over them’; and equally the scribes and Pharisees, in their fondness for places and titles of honour, coveted influence and recognition as the ‘great ones’ of Jewish society. Christ required a new standard and line of conduct from His followers. ‘Not so shall it be among you.’ Henceforth, greatness lies in conformity to a higher than the heathen or Jewish type: ‘but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister,’ etc. The principle of this law is not impersonal, but personal; the seat of authority in the Christian religion and in Christian morals is Christ: ‘even as the Son of Man came,’ etc. ( Matthew 20:28). Finally, in one concrete act, Christ gave an illustration of the great principle He enunciated, when, at the Passover meal, He rose and ‘took a towel and girded himself,’ and washed the disciples’ feet. This astonishing incident left an ineffaceable impression ( 1 Peter 5:5), and warranted the literal saying: ‘I am in the midst of you as he that serveth’ ( Luke 22:27). Such an ideal and example of service have slowly effected a revolution in the moral sentiment and practice of mankind. We may add, if Christ’s setting forth of the child was evidence of His originality as a teacher, the substitution of the servant for the ruler was a no less striking proof of the uniqueness of His insight and methods.

‘It is one of the achievements of Jesus that He introduced into the world a new ideal of greatness, such an ideal as men had never dreamed of’ (D. Smith, The Days of His Flesh , 1905, p. 442. Cf. Herrmann in art. below: ‘Im NT ist ohne Zweifel der Eindruck wiedergegehen dass Jesus in dieser Beziehung seinen Jüngern etwas vollig Neues gegeben hat’).

Some ideals are too airy and remote to come into touch with actual experience and practice, but Christ’s Law of Service is capable of daily realization, and is within the reach of every one. It is open to all to do some simple deed of kindness, helpfulness, and self-denial, and no action inspired by Christ-like love and humility will pass unnoticed or unrewarded by the gracious Master and great Servant of all ( Matthew 25:40).

iv. Characteristics and Relationships.—A few further points of general and practical interest are suggested by this subject, and may be briefly touched on.

1 . Humility and character .—In ordinary experience, humility is related to sin and penitence, and marks the feeling of unworthiness in the light of the illimitable moral ideal. In presence of the holy revelation of the Son of God, conscience becomes sensitive, and the sense of guilt, as in the case of Peter ( Luke 5:8), weighs men down. ‘This, however, is not one of the essential conditions of humility, for we know that humility was also an element in Christ’s character’ (Ritschl). The greatness of the Baptist was rooted in his humility and utter freedom from jealousy ( John 3:27;  John 3:30), and this grace has been the soil and safety of saints ever since. Keble treated others with a ‘humbling humility’ (Lock’s Life , p. 233. Cf. MacEwen’s Life of Cairns , p. 600: ‘The first personal impression that he made on all who met him was one of wonder at his humility’). The child, to which Christ pointed, represents humility as part of the essence and permanence of Christian character, and remains an immortal type, preserving the wonder and bloom of the moral world.

2 . Humility and kindred virtues .—No Christian grace is isolated or thrives alone. Humility is ‘part of a great moral whole. Instead of proscribing, it promotes the growth of virtues unlike yet not unfriendly to itself’ (Liddon on ‘Humility and Action’ in University Sermons ). Thus it is closely connected with Truth , for humility or confession that does not rest on the recognition of facts is insincere and worthless. It is inspired by Love  ; ministering love appears always in the guise of humility. Meekness rests on humility as its foundation (Trench), and Patience expresses along with humility the practical virtue of the Christian religion, especially called for and tested in the world (Ritschl).

3 . Humility and self-consciousness .—It has been the tendency of certain schools of theology and piety to make humility the result of self-contemplation, arrived at by the soul’s reaction upon itself. This gives rise to artificial and extreme methods of discipline, and misses the healthy objectivity of the life that forgets self in the consideration and service of others (see Herrmann’s art. for vigorous criticism of this tendency and ideal of asceticism, derived from Angustine and Bernard. Cf. Harnack’s History of Dogma [English translation], vi. p. 10, note). Humility is ‘the eye which sees everything except itself’ (quoted in Ritschl). Work and the school of life are the best discipline of humility, as of the other virtues.

‘We are to respect our responsibilities,’ wrote Mr. Gladstone, ‘not ourselves. We are to respect the duties of which we are capable, but not our capabilities simply considered. There is to be no complacent self-contemplation, beruminating upon self. When self is viewed, it must always be in the most intimate connexion with its purposes’ (Morley’s Life , i. 214).

On the other hand, the externalizing of humility and the danger of parading it in rules and ceremonies that lead to self-humiliation must equally be avoided. Christ and His Apostles discountenanced all needless self-consciousness and show of virtue ( Matthew 6:1 ff.,  Colossians 2:23. Cf. Ritschl: ‘Even in ascetic forms of worship there is no particular form of expression necessary to humility’).

4 . Humility and individuality .—This virtue is not to be cultivated to the neglect of manliness or at the expense of loyalty to religious and moral principle ( Matthew 10:32). Christ honours the spirit of energy and enterprise in us, and blames the hiding of our talents and the misuse of our opportunities through diffidence or cowardice ( Matthew 25:14 ff.). The manly and energetic character of the centurion, as shown in his faith, was doubtless as pleasing to Jesus as the soldier’s reverence and humbleness of address ( Luke 7:6). Humility or the fear of God should banish all unworthy fear. Christ’s unflinching exposure of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23) calls us to be courageous in adherence to truth and righteousness, and in view of evil and opposition, however powerful. It was a wholesome saying of the Rabbis: ‘The disciple of the wise should have sufficient pride to stand in defence of the Law he represents.’ Self-assertion has therefore its legitimate sphere, and the ‘salt’ of individuality in religion and in society should in nowise be lost. There is the danger, however, of exaggerating our own view and importance: ‘it always needs much grace to see what other people are, and to keep a sense of moral proportion’ (Denney, Expos. Gr. Test . on  Romans 12:3). In the adaptation of the Christian Church to society, and to reconcile conflicting interests, it requires humility ‘to adjust men in due order for the purposes of life’ (T. B. Strong’s Christian Ethics , Bampton Lect. 1895, p. 127).

5 . Humility and science .—Christ’s interview with Nicodemus teaches that the assumption of knowledge (‘we know,’  John 3:2) may cover only ignorance and confusion. The ‘wise and understanding’ ( Matthew 11:25) receive no new light: self-satisfied pride and prejudice are the foes of spiritual enlightenment and intellectual advance. The true student and investigator of nature must still feel, like Newton, that, notwithstanding his progress and attainments, the great ocean of truth lies undiscovered before him. Docility, not dogmatism, is the mark of the inquirer, and the means of intellectual development. In this important and ever-changing region of science, R. H. Hutton has well observed that humility ‘means the docility of learners towards a teacher infinitely above them,’ and that it requires wisdom to see the true relations between different kinds of knowledge, and to keep physical knowledge from being turned to a false and dangerous use in the sphere of moral truth. Here also the master of truth and knowledge must take the place of a servant, and illustrate his greatness by his humility—‘and science is humble only when it uses its knowledge and its ignorance alike to help other men and not to lord it over them’ (Essay on ‘The Humility of Science’ in Aspects of Religious and Scientific Thought , 1901). So manifold is the function of this indispensable and crowning grace.

Literature.—Besides works above named, Grimm-Thayer’s Lex.  ; Moulton-Geden’s Concord. to Greek Test .; art. ‘Humility in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible vol. ii.; Herrmann in PR E [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (‘Demut, Demutig’—an art. characteristic in its Ritschlian standpoint and criticism); E. Schreiber, art. in Jewish Encyc . 1904 (interesting and suggestive); B. Weiss, Bib. Theol. of NT , pp. 116, 117, and Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justif. and Reconcil . ch. ix. § 65 (both in Clark’s translation); A. B. Bruce, Training of the Twelve , chs. xiv. xxi.; Professor J. Seth, A Study of Ethical Principles 4 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 264; Rothe, Sermons (‘The Humility of the Lord’—Clark’s translation); Liddon, Some Words of Christ (‘True Greatness’); Church, Cathed. and Univ. Sermons (‘the Condescension of our Lord’); Dante, Purgatory , Cantos 10–12; R. Browning’s exquisite little poem, ‘Humility’ ( Asolando ); Kip. ling’s Recessional .

W. M. Rankin.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

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 ( Matthew 11:29;  Acts 8:32-33;  Philippians 2:5-8 ). The dual usage of "meek" (Gk. praus [   Matthew 20:28;  Mark 10:45;  Luke 22:27 ) and his submission before God. Humility and meekness are often inseparable (2Col 10:1;  Ephesians 4:2;  Colossians 3:12 ).

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

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

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

The Lord exalts the humble ( Matthew 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 ( Proverbs 25:6-7;  Luke 14:7-11 ) but have an unassuming attitude ( Romans 12:3 ). Jesus' teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant ( John 13:1-16 ), even unto death ( Isaiah 53:7-8;  Acts 8:32-33 ) in obedience to the Father ( Philippians 2:5-8 ), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11).

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

The Christian ought to emulate Christ's example ( Matthew 11:28-30; 2Col 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 Timothy 1:15 ) and the least saint and apostle ( 1 Corinthians 15:9;  Ephesians 3:8 ) he gloried in the grace of God ( 1 Corinthians 15:10; cf.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ) and in the cross of Christ ( Galatians 6:14; cf.  1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 ) rather than self-righteousness ( Philippians 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.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

The words ‘humility’ and ‘humble’, which are from the same basic word, have a variety of meanings. In some cases they are associated with ideas of poverty or affliction ( 1 Samuel 2:8;  Psalms 37:11;  Psalms 37:14;  Isaiah 29:19;  Philippians 4:12;  James 1:9), in others with ideas of embarrassment or shame ( Isaiah 53:3;  Isaiah 53:8;  Acts 8:33;  2 Corinthians 9:4;  2 Corinthians 11:7;  2 Corinthians 12:21;  Philippians 3:21;  James 1:10). Their most common usage, however, is in relation to attitudes of modesty, selflessness, gentleness, grace, meekness and forbearance. Humility in this sense is one of the virtues most pleasing to God. Its opposite, pride, is one of the evils most hateful to him ( Numbers 12:3;  Proverbs 6:16-17;  Daniel 5:22-23;  Micah 6:8;  James 4:6;  1 Peter 5:5; see Pride ).

Jesus Christ is the great example of humility. In an act of total self-denial, the eternal Son of God humbled himself to the extent of taking human form and in the end dying to save sinners ( Philippians 2:5-11). He was never boastful and never acted in a way that advanced his own interests. Always he submitted to his Father’s will, so that he not only served God but also served those among whom he lived ( Matthew 12:19-20;  Matthew 20:28;  John 5:30-32).

Just as Jesus humbled himself in living and dying for sinners, so sinners must humble themselves in repenting of their sins if they are to receive God’s forgiveness. God gives sinners no cause to boast in anything they might achieve. They can do nothing but acknowledge how helpless they are before God and humbly accept God’s mercy ( 2 Chronicles 7:14;  2 Chronicles 12:6-7;  2 Chronicles 34:27;  Luke 18:9-14;  Romans 3:27;  Romans 10:3). Humility characterized Christ’s kingship ( Matthew 21:5), and only through humility can anyone enter his kingdom ( Matthew 18:1-4).

Christians have a responsibility to develop humility in their lives. It is part of the life to which God has called them ( Ephesians 4:1-2;  Colossians 3:12), it is a characteristic of life in God’s kingdom ( Matthew 20:20-27) and it is the product of the Spirit’s work in the life of the individual ( Galatians 5:23). If they are to learn humility, they must be willing to take the lowest place and serve others ( Luke 22:24-27;  John 13:3-17). Such humility will help produce genuine fellowship in the church. It will prevent Christians from competing with each other to see who is the greatest among them ( Mark 9:33-37;  Romans 12:16;  2 Corinthians 10:12;  Galatians 6:3;  Ephesians 4:2;  Philippians 2:3).

Those who look for status and praise may gain what they seek, but their reward will be short-lived ( Matthew 6:1-5;  Matthew 6:16). God exalts those who humble themselves, but humbles those who exalt themselves ( Proverbs 3:34;  Proverbs 15:33;  Proverbs 18:12;  Isaiah 2:11;  Isaiah 5:15;  Matthew 23:12;  Luke 1:48-53 :  James 4:10;  1 Peter 5:6).

Holman Bible Dictionary [4]

Old Testament The Old Testament connects the quality of humility with Israel's lowly experience as slaves in Egypt—a poor, afflicted, and suffering people ( Deuteronomy 26:6 ). The Hebrew word translated as humility is similar to another Hebrew word meaning “to be afflicted.” In Old Testament thought, humility was closely associated with individuals who were poor and afflicted (  2 Samuel 22:28 ).

What God desires most is not outward sacrifices but a humble spirit ( Psalm 51:17;  Micah 6:8 ). Such a humble spirit shows itself in several ways: (1) a recognition of one's sinfulness before a holy God ( Isaiah 6:5 ); (2) obedience to God ( Deuteronomy 8:2 ); and (3) submission to God ( 2 Kings 22:19;  2 Chronicles 34:37 ).

The Old Testament promised blessings to those who were humble: (1) wisdom ( Proverbs 11:2 ); (2) good tidings ( Isaiah 61:1 ); and (3) honor ( Proverbs 15:33 ).

The experience of many kings indicated that those who humble themselves before God will be exalted ( 1 Kings 21:29;  2 Kings 22:19;  2 Chronicles 32:26; 2Chronicles 33:12; 2 Chronicles 19:1 ). Those who do not humble themselves before God will be afflicted ( 2 Chronicles 33:23;  2 Chronicles 36:12 ). The pathway to revival is the way of humility ( 2 Chronicles 7:14 ).

New Testament Jesus Christ's life provides the best example of what it means to have humility ( Matthew 11:29;  1 Corinthians 4:21;  Philippians 2:1-11 ). Jesus preached and taught often about the need for humility ( Matthew 23:12;  Mark 9:35;  Luke 14:11;  Luke 18:14 ). He urged those who desired to live by Kingdom standards to practice humility ( Matthew 18:1;  Matthew 23:12 ).

The person with humility does not look down on others ( Matthew 18:4;  Luke 14:11 ). Humility in the New Testament is closely connected with the quality of “meekness” ( Matthew 5:5 ). While God resists those who are proud, He provides grace for the humble ( James 4:6 ). Primary in the New Testament is the conviction that one who has humility will not be overly concerned about his or her prestige ( Matthew 18:4;  Matthew 23:12;  Romans 12:16;  2 Corinthians 11:7 ).

Paul believed that quality relationships with other people, especially those who had erred spiritually, hinged on the presence of meekness or humility ( 1 Corinthians 4:21;  Galatians 6:1;  2 Timothy 2:25 ). The New Testament affirms, as does the Old Testament, that God will exalt those who are humble and bring low those who are proud ( Luke 1:52;  James 4:10;  1 Peter 5:6 ). The Greek world abhorred the quality of meekness or humility, but the Christian community believed these qualities were worthy ( 2 Corinthians 10:18;  Colossians 3:12;  Ephesians 4:2 ).

Gary Hardin

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

HUMILITY . Trench defines ‘humility’ as the esteeming of ourselves small, inasmuch as we are so; the thinking truly, and because truly, therefore lowlily, of ourselves. Alford, Ellicott, Salmond, Vincent, and many others agree. It is an inadequate and faulty definition. A man may be small and may realize his smallness, and yet be far from being humble. His spirit may be full of envy instead of humility. He may be depressed in spirit because he sees his own meanness and general worthlessness, and yet he may be as rebellious against his lot or his constitutional proclivities as he is clearly cognizant of them. Low-mindedness is not lowly-mindedness. The exhortation of   Philippians 2:3 does not mean that every man ought to think that everybody else is better than himself in moral character, or in outward conduct, or in natural or inherited powers. That would be impossible in some cases and untruthful in many others. It is not an exhortation to either an impossibility or an untruthfulness. A better definition of the Christian grace of humility is found in the union of highest self-respect with uttermost abandon of sacrifice in service. A man who knows his own superior worth and yet is willing to serve his inferiors in Christian love is a humble man. The classic example in the NT is   John 13:3-15 . The Lord, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came forth from God and would go again unto God, knowing His incomparable superiority to every one in that company, was yet so meek and lowly in heart, so humble in spirit and ready for service, that He girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. The consciousness of His own transcendent worth was in no respect inconsistent with His humility. Genuine humility leads the strong to serve the weak. It never underestimates its own worth, but in utter unselfishness it is ready to sacrifice its own claims at any moment for the general good. Genuine humility loses all its self-conceit but never loses its self-respect. It is consistent with the highest dignity of character and life. Hence we may rightly call the Incarnation the Humiliation of Christ. He stood at the head of the heavenly hierarchies. He was equal with God. There was no dignity in the universe like unto His. Yet He humbled Himself to become a man. He made Himself of no reputation. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. He was the servant of all. There was no humility in the universe like unto His. He never forgot His dignity. When Pilate asked Him if He were a king, He answered that He was. He stood in kingly majesty before the mob, in kingly serenity before the magistrates; He hung as King upon the cross. Yet He never forgot His humility. Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. St. Paul exhorts, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ (  Philippians 2:5-11 ). God giveth grace to all who are thus humble (  James 4:6 ).

When Augustine was asked, ‘What is the first article in the Christian religion?’ he answered, ‘Humility.’ And they said, ‘What is the second?’ and he said, ‘Humility.’ And they said, ‘What is the third?’ and he said the third time, ‘Humility.’ Pascal said: ‘Vanity has taken so firm a hold on the heart of man, that a porter, a hodman, a turn-spit, can talk greatly of himself, and is for having his admirers. Philosophers who write of the contempt of glory do yet desire the glory of writing well, and those who read their compositions would not lose the glory of having read them. We are so presumptuous as that we desire to be known to all the world; and even to those who are not to come into the world till we have left it. And at the same time we are so little and vain as that the esteem of five or six persons about us is enough to content and amuse us.’

D. A. Hayes.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

A disposition of mind wherein a person has a low opinion of himself and his advantages. It is a branch of internal worship, or of experimental religion and godliness. It is the effect of divine grace operating on the soul, and always characterises the true Christian. The heathen philosophers were so little acquainted with this virtue, that they had no name for it: what they meant by the word we use, was meanness and baseness of mind. To consider this grace a little more particularly, it may be observed,

1. That humility does not oblige a man to wrong the truth, or himself, by entertaining a meaner or worse opinion of himself than he deserves.—

2. Nor does it oblige a man, right or wrong, to give every body else the preference to himself. A wise man cannot believe himself inferior to the ignorant multitude; nor the virtuous man that he is not so good as those whose lives are vicious.—

3. Nor does it oblige a man to treat himself with contempt in his words or actions: it looks more like affectation than humility, when a man says such things in his own dispraise as others know, or he himself believes, to be false: and it is plain, also, that this is often done merely as a bait to catch the praises of others.

Humility consists,

1. In not attributing to ourselves any excellence or good which we have not.—

2. In not over-rating any thing we do.—

3. In not taking an immoderate delight in ourselves.—

4. In not assuming more of the praise of a quality or action than belongs to us.—

5. In an inward sense of our many imperfections and sins.—

6. In ascribing all we have and are to the grace of God.

True humility will express itself,

1. By the modesty of our appearance. The humble man will consider his age, abilities, character, function, &c. and act accordingly.—

2. By the modesty of our pursuits. We shall not aim at any thing above our strength, but prefer a good to a great name.—

3. It will express itself by the modesty of our conversation and behaviour: we shall not be loquacious, obstinate, forward, envious, discontented, or ambitious.

The advantages of humility are numerous:

1. It is well pleasing to God,  1 Peter 3:4 .—

2. It has great influence on us in the performance of all other duties, praying, hearing, converse, &c.—

3. It indicates that more grace shall be given,  James 4:6 .  Psalms 25:9

4. It preserves the soul in great tranquility and contentment,  Psalms 69:32;  Psalms 33:1-22

5. It makes us patient and resigned under afflictions,  Job 1:22

6. It inables us to exercise moderation in every thing.

To obtain this excellent spirit we should remember,

1. The example of Christ,  Philippians 2:6-8

2. That heaven is a place of humility,  Revelation 5:8

3. That our sins are numerous, and deserve the greatest punishment,  Lamentations 3:39

4. That humility is the way to honour,  Proverbs 16:18

5. That the greatest promises of good are made to the humble, Is. 57: 15, 56: 2.  1 Peter 5:5 .  Psalms 147:6 .  Matthew 5:5 .

Grove's Mor. Phil. vol. 2: p. 286; Evan's Christian Temper, vol. 1: ser. 1; Watts on Humility; Baxter's Christian Directory, 5: 1. p. 496; Hale's Cont. p. 110; Gill's Body of Div. p. 151, vol. 3: Walker's Ser. 4: ser. 3.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [7]

 Romans 12:3 15:17,18 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 2 3:5 Philippians 4:11-13 1 Peter 3:4 Psalm 69:32,33 Job 1:22

Christ has set us an example of humility ( Philippians 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 ( Psalm 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."

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [8]

The opposite of pride, in its nature and in the degree of its prevalence. It is often extolled in the Bible,  Proverbs 15:33   16:19; and the Savior especially exalts it,  Matthew 18:4 , and ennobles and endears it by his own example,  John 13:4-17   Philippians 2:5-8 . Every created being, however holy, should possess it; but in the character of the sinful sons of men it should become a fundamental and allpervading trait, to continue forever.

King James Dictionary [9]

HUMIL'ITY, n. L. humilitas.

1. In ethics, freedom from pride and arrogance humbleness of mind a modest estimate of one's own worth. In theology, humility consists in lowliness of mind a deep sense of one's own unworthiness in the sight of God, self-abasement, penitence for sin, and submission to the divine will.

Before honor is humility.  Proverbs 15

Serving the Lord with all humility of mind.  Acts 20

2. Act of submission.

With these humilities they satisfied the young king.

Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection [10]

Wise men know their own ignorance and are ever ready to learn. Humility is the child of knowledge. Michael Angelo was found by the Cardinal Earnese walking in solitude amid the ruins of the Coliseum, and when he expressed his surprise, the great artist answered, 'I go yet to school that I may continue to learn.' Who among us can after this talk of finishing our education? We have need to learn of all around us. He must be very foolish who cannot tell us something; or more likely we must be more foolish not to be able to learn of him.

Webster's Dictionary [11]

(1): ( n.) The state or quality of being humble; freedom from pride and arrogance; lowliness of mind; a modest estimate of one's own worth; a sense of one's own unworthiness through imperfection and sinfulness; self-abasement; humbleness.

(2): ( n.) An act of submission or courtesy.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [12]

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."