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Matthew 5:5 (NIV)
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

What does "meek" mean in the original language? Is "meek" a good translation for the original Greek word?

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4 Answers 4

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The Greek is πραεῖς, which has also been translated gentle.

According to this source, the word was used to describe a horse that had been broken-in among other similar usages.

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I noticed that none of the current answers explicitly address the question of whether meek is a good English translation. Given the modern connotations of the word meek, it is not a good translation (though it may have been at one time), because in the modern usage it has a sense of craven pandering—the word, at least in my mind, has a derogatory connotation. It's the sort of word I would use of someone whose demeanor is dominated by cowardice and people-pleasing.

However, if meek doesn't carry those connotations for you, it is indeed a good translation. Humble is a possible translation, but because the word often occurs next to another Greek word translated humble, it is often translated gentle instead, which is appropriate.

Two verses which are helpful for understanding the πρα- stem are Galatians 6:1:

Brothers, even if a man has been caught in any sin, you who are spiritual must restore such in the spirit of gentleness (πραΰτητος), watching yourself lest you also be tempted.

which shows the tie between gentleness and not thinking to highly of oneself; and 1 Peter 3:15:

Set Christ apart in your hearts as the Lord. Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks about the reason for the hope that is in you. But do this with gentleness (πραΰτητος) and fear.

Not that in contrast to people-pleasing, this is fear of God that is enjoined in conjunction with gentleness. As an expanded paraphrase based on the sense of these two verses, I would render the word the gentleness that comes from humility.

It is often noted that the word doesn't require a relinquishing of manliness. While this is certainly true, don't forget that it runs contrary to secular masculine bravado. There is something paradoxical about the character of a godly man in his strength/weakness dialectic. Gentle captures this well.

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Gentle fits well into the way I read the Sermon on the Mount. –  Jon Ericson May 14 '12 at 23:31
    
@JonEricson: I think the best definition of meek I've ever come across is that meekness is "strength under control." In other words, to be meek is not necessarily to be weak, either physically, or mentally, or both! Jesus was tremendously strong, morally and even physically (he was, after all, a builder for many years prior to His going public), yet He said clearly in Matthew 11:29 KJV, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." –  rhetorician Apr 17 at 22:12
    
@JonEricson, actually it doesn't have to do with gentleness, it's more about submission to the will of god, yielding to his will instead of your own. I'll try to come up with a good answer. –  Lance Roberts May 5 at 19:47

Matthew 5 has Jesus going up the mountain and chapter 8 has him coming down. These are followed by parallel passages which can be used to illuminate the meaning. The first thing Jesus says is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." And the first thing Jesus does is heal a leper.

The next parallel is blessed are the meek, and the Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant.

Just as the leper is an example of one poor in spirit, the Centurion is an example of one who is meek.

Structurally there are three blocks constructed with such parallelisms.

The word praüs is related to 'friend', denoting gentleness and pleasant, the opposite being rough, hard, violent. As an adverb it is used for a quiet and friendly composure which does not become embittered or angry at what is unpleasant. It is not a passive submission, but an active attitude and deliberate acceptance. As such, in the context of Jesus' words, it is one who actively turns the other cheek in a display of confidence in God. redacted from TDNT 6:645.

The Centurion knew the nature of authority, and it gave him the composure to speak with Christ in such a manner, recognizing that Jesus was the authority and being actively confident of a positive response.

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What word for friend is πραΰς related to? I'm skeptical. –  Kazark May 12 '12 at 0:50
2  
@Kazark The English word, 'friend'. Liddell and Scott mention this as well, though they give the Gothic cognate, not the English one (s.v. πρᾶος, fin.). Pokorny traces both, along with other words in other families, to an Indo-European root *prāi- (*prī- in AHD's IE dictionary). For pr- being related to fr-, see Grimm's Law. –  Muke Tever May 12 '12 at 14:53
    
A quick thought: I think the reference to authority above (the centurion) is the best example. Man is called to be passive towards God and active towards Creation. This qualifies him for dominion (an Adam governed by God is an Adam fit to govern.) Such a man is a Mediator between heaven and earth. So gentle doesn't imply this. It is simply a submission to authority, a willingness to be obedient (priestly) so that one might then minister the authority of God (kingly) and speak for Him (prophetic). –  Mike Bull Feb 15 '13 at 23:59
    
Regarding Jesus' teaching on "turning the cheek" . . .. Jesus mentioned the right cheek first, because when delivered by a person's right hand, a slap to the right cheek would be what we call today "a back-handed slap," which to this day is an insulting slap. If meekness is strength under control, then giving your left cheek to your smiter is a meek way of asserting your superiority and your unwillingness to admit you are deserving of an insulting back-handed slap. IOW, you're saying to your smiter, "So you think I'm deserving of an insulting slap on my left cheek? Then here's my left cheek." –  rhetorician Apr 18 at 0:47

Thayer's Lexicon gives the definition of πραΰς as "mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness."

Webster's defines meekness as "Softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injuries and provocations....In an evangelical sense, humility; resignation; submission to the divine will, without murmuring or peevishness; opposed to pride, arrogance and refractoriness."

Comparing the two, it seems relatively appropriate, though perhaps different connotations have evolved, making it less than ideal at conveying the thought here.

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