What does James mean by “humiliation” (ESV), “low position” (NIV) or “made low” (KJV)?
The Greek word used is tapeinosis. It appears 4 times in scripture. This is a form of the same Greek word used in Jas 1:9 to characterize the status of the brother as lowly. (Tapeinos, the form of the word used in James 1:9, was covered by question 9.1.) After expanding my research, I learned KJV always translates tapeinosis as some form of “low.” NASB, however, renders tapeinosis as either “humiliation” or “humble state” each time it is used in scripture. Grammatically, “humiliation” or “low position” are adjectives which modify the rich man via the preposition translated “in.”
In context, its seems obvious the abundant resources of the rich man are at best a strike against him. From lessons learned through earlier questions we know the rich man will have more difficulty laying hold of salvation than a man of humble means (Luke 18:25). The more of anything a person has, the more God will expect of that person regarding what they’ve been given. This is true of all gifts from wisdom and knowledge (Jas 3:1) to money (1 Tim 6:17-19), just as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Talents (Mt 24:14-30).
To actually answer the study question, though, the humiliation or low state to which the rich man is brought could be metaphorical just as easily as physical. Each person is unique and special, so to each person God may uniquely apply this wisdom, I think. Certainly the best thing is when the heart is humbled and the attitude of the rich man is brought into alignment with the will of God. When a man’s material wealth is taken, a humbling before God may be the result. I think the Lord would be more pleased, though, if we humble ourselves first and submit to give God what is His first.
This post is an excerpt (Question 10.11) from my book Ask James one.