1 Peter 5:5-7 (ESV):

5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

James 4:6-10 (ESV):

6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

  • First of all, what do Peter and James mean by being proud and humble? What are the Biblical definitions of pride and humility?

  • Why does God oppose the proud but give grace to the humble? What is the logic behind this principle/law?

  • Is there something inherently wrong about being proud? Why is pride a bad thing?

  • Is there something inherently good about being humble? Why is humility a good thing?

Note: I don't intend this question to be opinion-based, so I would rather encourage answers that draw on reputable sources, e.g., the works of reputable Christian philosophers or theologians that have discussed this question before, etc. Alternatively, if a denomination has an official denominational answer to the question, it would be great to know about that.

Note 2: I reworded this question to match the style of this one: Are there theological explanations for why God allowed ambiguity to exist in Scripture?

  • 1
    You called it! If a question start with "Why does God ..." it needs to be answered by God, so you need to wait a while and ask Him.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 10, 2022 at 15:44
  • @PeterTurner - would that same argument render this question off-topic on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange as well?
    – user50422
    Jan 10, 2022 at 16:18
  • There you're inherently talking about hermeneutics, here you're talking about doctrine. The question is whose doctrine? Paul, Apollos?
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 10, 2022 at 18:19
  • Pride is favourably comparing yourself to others; Humble is unfavourably comparing yourself to God. Jan 10, 2022 at 21:42
  • 2
    Oooh, nice workaround. I'll unclose and let the community decide whether they like that, you sly dog!
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 10, 2022 at 22:58

2 Answers 2


Short answer

Commensurate with their creatureliness and their need for salvation, the humble will ask and receive gratefully what they need from God. But the proud will not ask and will not receive. Moreover, the proud will oppose God and his laws, and in so doing they will inevitably oppress the humble. When opposition is combined with power and wealth, it's even more dangerous, hence the cry of the orphans and widows. That's why God needs to oppose the proud to protect the humble.

Long answer

First of all, what do Peter and James mean by being proud and humble? What are the Biblical definitions of pride and humility?

Like in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the proud don't think they need God or God's mercy. In contrast, the humble know their status before God as CREATURE and their deficiency as SINNER.

Both 1 Peter 5:5-7 and James 4:6-10 quoted Proverb 3:34: "He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble" (NIV). Let's look at a few other connotations of "proud" in the Old Testament, especially in our relationship to God:

  • Ps 119:81-88: The proud hate God's instructions, and in fact try to trap and hunt down the psalmist (v. 85-86) who in contrast refused to abandon God's commandments (v. 87) and who is waiting for God to protect him (v. 86, v.88)
  • Ps 138:6: In this verse, God keeps his distance from the proud. Why? Possibly in response to them keeping God away from their lives (cf. Ps 10:4: "The wicked are too proud to seek God"). Thus James 4:8 advise us to draw near to God.
  • In 2 Kings 18:28-30,33 the Assyrian chief of staff boasted that the Assyrian god is more powerful than the gods of nations Assyria has already defeated, and why not the God of Israel too. In response, Isaiah called this "arrogance" (2 Kings 19:28) because they thought their power came from their own gods instead of from the God of Israel who allowed them to defeat those nations (2 Kings 19:25-26). The connotation here is that the proud forget that their achievements ultimately came from God.

In contrast, the humble acknowledge that:

  • they are grateful beggars before God (needing God's sustaining their very existence), since they are mortal creatures like dust, grass and wildflowers (cf. Ps 103:14-16)
  • they are dependent on God's wisdom (needing God's revelation), since they realize the limit of their knowledge and thus value God's revealed laws (cf. Ps 19:7-11) , and
  • they are penitent sinners before God (needing God's mercy), since they realize their nature as law breakers (cf. Ps 19:12-13)

Why does God oppose the proud but give grace to the humble? What is the logic behind this principle/law?

Imagine a teenager that doesn't think she still need to learn from her teachers/parents, that she knows everything she needs in order to live in the world, that she can create her own rules, etc. This teenager has an unrealistic view of herself, and thereby closes herself from people who want to help her. Moreover, this "I don't need you" attitude turns off even those who want to disabuse her (for her own good) of this conceit. In the end, she will gravitate toward bad people around her who instead of correcting her they flatter her and thus making her susceptible to being used, leading to her ruin.

THE LOGIC: God honors human's free will. If we declare our independence from God, He will likewise maintains his distance from us. He doesn't give us grace if we don't want it. But the proud usually will do more than declaring independence. The proud will set up their own rules that are not Godly, and will end up persecuting the humble. Therefore, God will need to oppose the proud to protect the humble.

Is there something inherently wrong about being proud? Why is pride a bad thing?

Remember that 'proud' has several meanings in English. An example of an OK proud (meaning 2b) is when we are satisfied with our hard work in producing good, quality work such as raising a kid well, performing a piano piece well, etc. If it remains as satisfaction of a work well done, then all is well.

It is also OK to be pleased when we are praised for our accomplishment (meaning 1b, 1c). Don't confuse pride with vanity. Vanity is a much lesser sin in wanting excessive praise. Actually if we think receiving praise (when praise is due) is beneath us, it can be a sign of pride (see C.S. Lewis's insight on this in Mere Christianity).

This good-pride in our achievement becomes a sin-pride (meaning 1a, or 'prideful' meaning a) when:

  • we become haughty, belittle, or refuse to associate with those who are beneath our achievement instead of helping them succeed
  • we don't acknowledge the help we receive to get to where we are. That's why Oscar award ceremonies are replete with acknowledging parents, mentors, colleagues, etc.
  • we refuse to accept defeat to a better competitor, especially in sports (lacking sportsmanship)
  • we are jealous or envious to those who are better than we are

C.S. Lewis also points out that sin-pride is never just about satisfaction with ourselves, but always in competition with another. Why sin-pride is bad? If the other person is God, this pride results in our competing with God! It is both ridiculous and terrifying; ridiculous since as creature everything good we do God can do better, terrifying since God can quash us like a gnat. The higher one's achievement, the bigger the risk of forgetting that God is better, like the Assyrian chief of staff or like the Jerusalem proud and wealthy. That is also why Lucifer fell, as he is one of the higher ranking angels.

Is there something inherently good about being humble? Why is humility a good thing?

Humility is not lowering ourselves unnecessarily, but about

  • having the correct assessment of oneself, including as creature before God, and
  • being able to recognize and praise excellence in other people without being envious or jealous, including praising God.

Biblical humility before God has been described in my answer to your first question. It's a good thing because it opens ourselves to what we need, which God only gives to those who want them. Remember the beatitudes. More specifically:

  • realizing we are mortal and frail like grass, we pray for protection
  • realizing we cannot find the whole truth by ourselves, we obey God's revealed wisdom and law in the Bible instead of setting up our own moral laws or theology that doesn't give a place to God according to what He deserves
  • realizing we continue to sin, we repent, which is the prerequisite for forgiveness

Another good thing for being humble is exaltation mentioned in the 2 passages you cited, which will happen when we are given our glorified bodies and reward in heaven (1 Pet 5:4). In the meantime, as a practical application of our humility before God:

  • Peter reminds us to accept the authority of our church elders (1 Pet 5:5)
  • James reminds us NOT to entertain evil desires coming from the world (James 4:1,4)

Resources for further study

  1. C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity Book 3, Chapter 8
  2. C.S. Lewis Institute web article Pride and Humility (pdf version)
  3. crosswalk.com web article 6 Insights from C.S. Lewis on Why Pride is the Greatest Sin

A very simple answer is that humility before God opposes the sinful nature that we all have from Adam. God will resist that which appeases our sinful inclinations and be graceful towards even our feeblest opposition of it.

The heart of Satan's temptation in the garden was "In the day you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When Adam decided that being like God (in that specific way of knowledge) was something that he desired and then acted upon that desire he was essentially usurping the singular prerogative of God as the one determining what is and is not good and evil.

As indicated by the answer of @GratefulDisciple this was a deliberate overstepping of the bounds of creatureliness. As creator, God alone can make such a determination and it was Adam's righteous responsibility as a created being to acquire all such knowledge from God.

Adam shrugged off a righteous and reasonable humility before God and grasped, in vanity and pride, at that to which only God has the right. We all, from our father Adam, have this same disposition.

And that saying, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." finds it's genesis there, in Genesis, in the heart of the first Adam, for, as the Apostle Paul summarizes:

... for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. - Romans 14:23b

You must log in to answer this question.