Applied to persons, the term “degree” means social or official rank, order, estate, grade. The KJV uses it in this sense in 1 Chronicles 15:18 (RSV “order”), 1 Chronicles 17:17 (here the Heb. text is bad and the RSV has a different reading), Psalm 62:9 (RSV “estate”). Both the KJV and the RSV use “degree” in the sense of “rank” in Luke 1:52. In James 1:9 where the KJV has “brother of low degree,” the RSV has “lowly brother.” In 1 Timothy 3:13, the KJV trs. bathmòn kalón “a good degree,” whereas the RSV has “a good standing,” but there is uncertainty regarding what Paul had in mind. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, where Paul says that the Christian is changed progressively into Christ’s image apò dóxēs eis dóxan, the KJV renders the Gr. words literally, “from glory to glory,” but the RSV trs. them, “from one degree of glory to another.” The RSV interprets the words of Paul to mean that the Christian goes forward from one stage of glory to another, but it is possible that Paul meant that the glory seen in Christ creates a similar glory in the Christian.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
By derivation it should mean "a step down" (Latin, de, down, gradus, step). It is used, however, of any step, up or down; then of grade or rank, whether high or low.
(1) In its literal sense of step (as of a stair), it is used in the plural to translate Hebrew ma`aloth ("steps"), in the parallel passages 2Ki 20:9-11 the King James Version (5 t); Isa 38:8 the King James Version (3 t), where we read of the "degrees" (the Revised Version (British and American) "steps") on the "dial of Ahaz" (Hebrew "steps of Ahaz"). See Dial of Ahaz. It seems to mean steps or progressive movements of the body toward a certain place in the phrase "A So of Degrees" (the Revised Version (British and American) "Ascents"), which forms the title of each of the Psalms 120-134, probably because they were sung on the way up to the great feasts at Jerusalem. See PSALMS
(2) The secondary (but now the more usual) sense of rank, order, grade is found in the following passages:
(a) 1Ch 15:18, "their brethren of the second (degree)," literally, "of the seconds" (Hebrew mishnim; compare 2Ch 28:7, "Elkanah that was next to the king," Hebrew, "the king’s second," i.e. in rank);
(b) 1Ch 17:17, "a man of high degree" (Hebrew ma`alah, "step");
(c) Ps 62:9, "men of low degree .... men of high degree," a paraphrase of Hebrew "sons of man .... sons of man," the first "man" being Hebrew ’adham ("common humanity"; compare Greek anthropos, Latin homo, Welsh dyn), and the second Hebrew ’ish (man in a superior sense; compare Greek aner, Latin vir, Welsh gwr) ;
(d) "of low degree" for Greek tapeinos in Sirach 11:1; Lu 1:52; Jas 1:9;
(e) In 1Ti 3:13 the King James Version "a good degree" (Greek bathmos kalos, the Revised Version (British and American) "a good standing") is assured to those who have "served well as deacons." Some take this to mean promotion to a higher official position in the church; but it probably means simply a position of moral weight and influence in the church gained by faithfulness in service (so Hort).
D. Miall Edwards