What does James mean by “lowly” brother?

James 1:9-11 ESV 9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation

The Greek tapeinos is rendered “low degree” (KJV), “humble circumstances” (NIV), or “lowly” (ESV). Tapeinos literally means not rising far from the ground and metaphorically means: a condition of being lowly, of low degree, brought low with grief, depressed, low in spirit, or humble. Tapeinos is used 8 times in the New Testament and in each case has a fundamentally similar rendering in English.

In context, James appears to be speaking of one’s societal or economic status more than their state of mind, particularly when you see James go on to contrast against the rich man in verse 10. When you step further back and look at this statement in context with the whole of the New Testament and consider the audience (Jas 1:1), the societal status of being rejected by the Jewish leadership places the vast majority of the believers in the category of lowly brothers. If you think of it this way, the rich might also mean those rich in religion, but poor in spirit whereas the lowly Christian brother who is beneath the contempt of the Sanhedrin is rich in spirit.

This post is an excerpt (Question 9.1) from my book Ask James one.

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About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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