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Home > Weekly Columns > Greek Thoughts > Archives >
Article for May 10, 2009

Greek Thoughts Archives
First available on May 10, 2009

TAPEINOO* - To humble, to make low, to level - PART 2


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Author Bio

Bill Klein has been a pastor, counselor, and educator for the past 36 years. He has had extensive training and education in biblical languages, and has authored a Biblical Greek course.

He is currently serving as Professor of Biblical Greek at Master's Graduate School of Divinity, and president of BTE Ministries - The Bible Translation and Exegesis Institute of America, a non-profit organization located in California that provides Bible study tapes and Greek study materials through their website


Please note that all Biblical quotes are presented from the Literal Translation.

This week we continue our study of the Greek word tapeino/w (Strong's #5013), a verb expressing the action of humbling rather than the condition of humbleness.

Last week we studied the primary meaning of tapeino/w as found in Luke 3:5. We saw that this verse is part of a quote from the Septuagint version of : : "Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low (the future passive of tapeino/w); and the crooked will become straight paths and the rough into smooth ways." We understood this prophecy to be using figurative speech (valleys and mountains, etc.) in reference to people. Its use here showed us that, in order for John to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah, those who exalted themselves must be made low and those who were lowly would be exalted through repentance. We noted the use of the passive voice for the verb tapeino/w, which dictated the meaning that the mountains and hills would be the recipients of the leveling; they were not directed to humble or level themselves. This application of the mountains and hills being made low or level to the ground is the best example in the Bible of the actual meaning of the verb tapeino/w.

We also studied the promise of the humbling process. In both Luke 14:7-11 and Luke 18:10-14, Jesus establishes this promise. Both scriptures read: "…because everyone who is exalting himself will be humbled (the future passive voice of tapeino/w); and the one humbling himself will be exalted." Again, the verb tapeino/w is in the passive voice showing that the person exalting himself will be the recipient of the humbling process; he will not produce it himself.

This week, we are studying the two primary commands given believers concerning the humbling process. The first is found in James 4:10. In this section, James is calling for sinners to cleanse their hands and for the double-minded to purify their hearts. He expresses that it is not a time for laughter and joy, but that their laughter should be turned into mourning and their joy should be turned into heaviness. Then he says in 4:10:

Be humbled (the aorist passive imperative of tapeino/w) before the Lord and He will exalt you.

Most English translations begin this verse: "Humble yourselves..." But notice that the passive voice is used in this command. Because of it, we understand that this verse does not give command for people to carry out the humbling of themselves; instead, sinners and double-minded people are to submit themselves to God's humbling process.

The second command concerning the humbling process is found in 1 Peter 5:6. In context (1 Peter 5:5-10), Peter is warning that believers are to be in submission to one another and to be humbled because their adversary, the devil, is walking around looking for someone to devour. He says:

Likewise, you younger, be submitted to the elder; and everyone bind on humble mindedness while being submissive to one another; because God is resisting the proud, but is giving grace to humble ones (the adjective form tapeino/v, Strong's #5011).

Be humbled (the aorist passive imperative of tapeino/w) therefore under the mighty hand of God, in order that He may exalt you in time;

In verse 5, Peter uses a quote from Proverbs 3:34: "God is resisting the proud, but is giving grace to humble ones." Using this truth as his basis and putting the verb in the passive voice, Peter, in verse 6, commands every believer to submit to God's humbling process. He also specifically names the agent of the humbling process, God's mighty hand. Therefore, these scriptures tell us that the believer is to submit to the humbling process of God's mighty hand bringing or leveling him to the ground, so that God can then minister His grace to him. Only when the believer is brought low can he receive God's grace. By contrast, those whom God resists are u¿perh/fanov (Strong's #5244), self-sufficient, arrogant, and proud.

God's Word clearly teaches that people must be humbled before they can receive God's grace. And the commands we studied today show the Word of God stating that both the sinner and the believer are unable to produce the lowliness or humbleness necessary to be able to receive God's grace. However, because of His love, the Lord provides the process (and the circumstances) through which we are humbled – His gift, assuring the otherwise unattainable state in which we can receive His grace in times of need.

Next week we will study, from Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus Himself as the prime example of humbleness.

*TAPEINOO is the English font spelling of the Greek word tapeino/w.

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