"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God...These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." (Colossians 2: 18-19, 23 NASB)
These verses have two instances where Paul speaks of "humility" or "lowliness of mind," yet not in a positive way, but in a negative way. In these words the apostle Paul alludes to an early Christian cult and one of the descriptions given of it is that it θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσύνῃ or is "delighting in humility." But, why would delighting in humility and lowliness of mind be viewed negatively, as a cult characteristic? Would not "delighting in humility" rather be characteristic of real Christians who are not cultic, aberrant, or heretical?
In order to convey the seeming negativity of "delighting in humility," translators have sought the need to add some additional word to "humility." So, the kjv translates verse 18 as "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility" (vs. 18 kjv). However, the word "voluntary" is not in the Greek text. Further, the translation omits the word "thelon" meaning "delighting." To the kjv translators, "delighting in humility" connotes "voluntary humility." But, this is an interpretation, not a literal translation. It may indeed connote such a humility, but it does not denote it. A literal translation is "delighting in humility." Interesting is the fact that the kjv translators do not translate ταπεινοφροσύνῃ as "voluntary humility" in verse 23, but as "a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility."
Other translators do the same as the kjv, adding adjectives to the word "humility" to convey the idea that the humility is not the good kind that the scriptures elsewhere promote. So Barclay's translation gives "walking in ostentatious humility" as the translation of "delighting in humility." In Lightfoot's translation - we have "an officious humility." In Wuest's translation we have "taking delight in a self-imposed humility." In this translation we at least still retain the Greek word "thelon" or "delight." Yet, it also adds the adjective "self-imposed" to the word "humility." In Young's translation, which seeks to keep to the literal and leave the interpreting to the Bible teacher, we have "delighting in humble-mindedness."
As noted, the word "humility" (kjv) or "self-abasement" (nasb) is from the Greek word tapeinophrosynē and is translated as follows in the kjv:
humility (3x), humbleness of mind (1x), humility of mind (1x), lowliness (1x), lowliness of mind (1x).
In the two passages in Colossians the word has a negative connotation and is unique in that respect. It is because "humility" in these verses is viewed negatively by the apostle, as a characteristic of a cult, that many translators translate the Greek word here as denoting "false humility." However, the word itself does not "denote" false humility, but humility, which is a positive thing. Here is an example where the denotation of a word is different from its connotation.
So, what is it, in the context of the Colossian verses, that makes us view the kind of humility promoted by the cult (that Paul is condemning) to be a false humility? Is it not in the fact that it is delighted in? If one stops and thinks about the matter, why would any one delight in humility and self abasement and self deprecation? Obviously, when one delights in humility it then ceases to be genuine humility and becomes pride instead. It is pride cloaked in humility.
As many Bible commentaries note, the Greek word for "humility" is literally, "lowliness of mind," and is set against the parallel words "puffed up by his fleshly mind."
Eadie says (emphasis mine):
We give thelo its common meaning. Let no man beguile you—wishing to do it by his humility...The preposition en ("in" self-abasement) denotes the means of deception, or the sphere in which the deceiver moves. The humility referred to, as may be seen from the last verse of the chapter, is a spurious humility (see Col 2:23-note). Fanatical pride is often associated with this humility, as when, for show, the beggar's feet are washed; and the friar in his coarse rags walks barefooted and begs. And men become proud of their humility—glory in the feeling of "self-annihilation". The spirit of the false teacher, with all its professed lowliness, would not bend to the Divine revelation, but nursed its fallacies with a haughty tenacity, and preached them with an impious daring, for he was “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” (A Commentary on the Greek Text)
When one delights in humility it ceases to be genuine humility and becomes pride. "The idea in context seems to be that the individual in question loves to talk on and on about his spiritual experiences, but in reality they are only coming out of his own sinful flesh..." (ibid)
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less" - C S Lewis
If you’re working hard at acting humble, you’re not actually humble. Putting humility on display is not true humility.
In the next concluding article I will show how the Hardshell cult, like the Colossian cult, possesses a false humility.