Jesus’ Ethic of Humility -- By: Craig A. Evans

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 13:2 (Fall 1992)
Article: Jesus’ Ethic of Humility
Author: Craig A. Evans


Jesus’ Ethic of Humility

Craig A. Evans*

In volume one of his recently revised study of the moral message of the New Testament, Rudolf Schnackenburg has rightly emphasized the early church’s fundamental indebtedness to Jesus’ teachings.1 In most respects this is a satisfying study, treating such important topics as Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God (the understanding of which formed the very basis of the moral claims that Jesus made), Jesus’ moral teaching in comparison to that of the OT and early Judaism (though novel in places, there is much overlap), the Sermon on the Mount (which contains Jesus’ claims in their extremest form), and Jesus’ pronouncements touching on human relations and matters of every day life (such as the state, employment, economics, family, women, and children).2

Curiously, however, the one topic that one should expect to hold a prominent place in the discussion receives only minimal treatment. Only in the discussion of Jesus’ attitude toward justice and power does the theme of humility appear.3 What is said there is helpful, to be sure, and will be taken into account in the balance of the present study, but it fails to do justice to the foundational role that it plays in Jesus’ ethic. In fact, the evidence suggests that humility constituted not only an essential aspect of Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of God but was an equally essential aspect of his understanding of messiahship.

This study will briefly review Jesus’ principal statements about the kingdom and about his messiahship, comparing him to other views and other “messiahs,” and then will attempt to trace the origin and understanding of “humility” in Jesus’ ethic.

* Craig A. Evans is Chair of Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia.

I. Jesus’ Understanding of the Kingdom

When Jesus said, “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt 23:12 = Luke 14:11; 18:14),4 he said nothing that had not been heard before. Hillel, an older contemporary, is remembered to have said, “My (self-)abasement is my exaltation, and my (self-)exaltation is my abasement” (Lev. Rab. 1.5 [on 1:1]). A century after Jesus, Rabbi Yose is reported to have said something similar: “Whoever exalts himself above the ...

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