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Did Jesus experience humiliation prior to His crucifixion? Or is “humiliation” a poor word choice in this context?

In my current Bible study in John, we have just covered the arrest, trial, and mistreatment of Jesus prior to His crucifixion. One question in the study is, “Describe the grief and humiliation that Jesus, as a Jew, would have experienced in having to go outside the city of Jerusalem to die.” I do not like the assertion that Jesus was humiliated because it implies the human weakness of pride. My perspective is that Jesus experienced pain and suffering, endured insults, mocking and all manner of “intended” humiliation, yet was never humiliated.

I recognize that the question was pointing to the “Gentile” nature of crucifixion and the Levitical reference to the unceremonious disposal of the remains of Temple sacrifices being made outside the city. I think the author is making some interesting points through this question; however I felt this issue was a relevant side discussion because of its implication of the human flaw of pride. With that introduction, my question remains: Did Jesus experience humiliation? Is humiliation an accurate word in this context, or is it a poor word choice? (07/24/2010)

Well, my first reaction is that lots of Jews died outside the city of Jerusalem, so I'm not sure I understand the premise of the author's question. If the author is referring to the disposal of sacrificial ashes, etc., notice that all the animal sacrifices (except the scapegoat) died inside the city, so that doesn’t really apply, either. As to the Gentile nature of crucifixion, it's a ghastly way to die, but you end up just as shamed and just as dead if you are stoned, which is nice and Jewish. For this reason, I’m mainly going to consider the question of whether humiliation is an appropriate word to be using in the context of the crucifixion.

Let’s think about this sentence: That black cat is really hot. Before you read on, think for a second about what that means.

Here are some possibilities:
And so on. The point is that when we take words out of context, sometimes we don’t know what they mean in our own language, let alone in somebody else’s. On the rare occasions that I might use the word humiliated, I probably would mean embarrassed or mortified, but other people might very well mean degraded, disgraced, or shamed, since all of these are synonyms of humiliated. If I read or hear the word in context, I probably know what the writer or speaker means.

Having said all that, let’s move on to tapeinosis, which is the only Greek word translated as humiliation in the King James Version, according to Young's Analytical Concordance, 22nd ed. Tapeinosis is used only four times in the New Testament and is translated differently every time in the King James Version:
Now, of these four occurrences, only one refers to the crucifixion. Acts 8:32b-33 is quoted verbatim from Isaiah 53:7-8 in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament (I checked), so I think we are safe in assuming that whatever tapeinosis means in this sentence, it means the same thing in both places. Thus I am astonished to find that the KJV, American Standard Version, Contemporary English Version, Good News Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Darby, New English, and The Bible – An American Translation ALL translate tapeinosis differently in Isaiah and Acts! They all use “humiliation” or something like that in Acts, and they all use “denied justice” or something like that in Isaiah. So I checked again – in case I had read it wrong – and it is still the exact same sentence in Greek in both places. Here’s how the KJV translates Isaiah 53:8:
So the word that comes out humiliation in the NT comes out oppression in the same exact sentence in the OT? What’s up with that?

At that point I was thinking that humiliated isn’t a very good English word to translate tapeinosis, but I thought, well bummer, tapeinosis is used another 23 times in the Septuagint (not counting Apocrypha and a couple that didn’t make it into the New English), so maybe I better look at them. In the New English, we get the following:
In a couple of these, humiliation, which in English means embarrassed, mortified, degraded, disgraced, or shamed, might make sense, but in most of them it doesn’t. In particular, no translation I looked at thinks it makes sense in Isaiah 53:7-8. Therefore, I don’t see how it can possibly be the correct word to use in translating Acts 8:32b-33.

Furthermore, tapeinosis, as we saw above, is never used in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion. Tapeinosis and some other related words – tapeinvophrosune, and tapeinoo – come from the basic word tapeinos, so I also checked them. Tapeinos means humble or lowly. Tapeinooh means to abase, bring low, or humble. Tapeinvophrosune and tapeinvophron have to do with humbleness or humility of mind. These other words are used a total of 27 times in the NT. In twenty-six cases, they have nothing at all to do with the crucifixion, and they are clearly held up as virtues. Only one use, in Philippians 2:8, might conceivably be stretched to have something to do with the crucifixion:
This says that that Jesus tapeinoo was humbled, but since he humbled himself (and that is in the Greek), I don’t see how humiliation would apply. In any case, he humbled himself by his obedience, not by his death.

So my conclusion is that our fellow-reader is correct. There is no scriptural basis for the idea that Jesus either was or felt humiliated – i.e., embarrassed, mortified, degraded, disgraced, or shamed – by his ill-treatment and crucifixion, even though the Roman soldiers and religious leaders tried their best. Probably the question in the study our fellow-reader refers to was drawn from Acts 8:32b-33, which seems to be translated in a rather peculiar way.


Copyright 2010, 2012 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by Deanna Rains.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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