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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?

12

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.

  • 5
    From what I am reading meek and gentle have really bad connotations in English that did not exist in "praus". A War Horse would be "praus", but in English it would not make much sense to call one meek or gentle. It's not a meek horse, it is a horse that humbly works with all his skill and strength under his master's guidance. A lot of what I am reading is saying it denotes an inwards calm acceptance of gods will. In fact one of the sources I am reading says that the Greeks used a completely different word to denote physical gentleness, so praus definitely did not mean physical meekness. – Jonathon Mar 1 '17 at 14:52
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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.

  • Gentle fits well into the way I read the Sermon on the Mount. – Jon Ericson May 14 '12 at 23:31
  • 2
    @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 '14 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 '14 at 19:47
  • @Karzak Jesus went up the mountain in ch5 and down in ch 8, setting up a parallelism between what Jesus taught and what Matthew used to illustrate what he taught. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is parallel to healing of the leper, "blessed are the meek" is parallel to the centurion who serves his servant, and considers himself not worthy to have Jesus come home with him. – Bob Jones Jul 24 '18 at 14:07
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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.

4

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.

  • 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 '14 at 0:47
1

Matthew 5:5 is essentially a quote from Psalm 37:11 (36:11 LXX) about who will and will not inherit the Promised Land:

  11 οἱ δὲ πρᾳεῖς κληρονομήσουσιν γῆν, 
  καὶ κατατρυφήσουσιν ἐπὶ πλήθει εἰρήνης. 

Swete, H. B. (1909). The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Ps 36:11). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Notice the context:

Submit thyself to the Lord, and supplicate him: fret not thyself because of him that prospers in his way, at the man that does unlawful deeds. 8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself so as to do evil. 9 For evil-doers shall be destroyed: but they that wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the land. 10 And yet a little while, and the sinner shall not be, and thou shalt seek for his place, and shalt not find it. 11 But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Ps 36:7–11). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.

In the one column we have the ones who will NOT inherit the land:

  • the man that does unlawful deeds
  • the angry
  • the violent (wrathful)
  • those who solve their problems by evil means (fret themselves to do evil)
  • sinners

In the other column are the ones who WILL inherit the land:

  • those submitting themselves to the Lord
  • those who petition the Lord
  • those who are not envious of the prosperous
  • those who wait for the Lord (rather than turning to violence or evil schemes)

The ones who are "meek" are those who fit in the latter column. They are those who yield readily to God.

The irony here is that Moses was the meekest man on earth but because he momentarily slipped into the former column he was denied entrance to the land!:

Numbers 12:3 LXX And the man Moses was very meek [same word] beyond all the men that were upon the earth.

Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Nu 12:3). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.

Perhaps the implicit information is that if this is the fate of a green tree, what shall become of the dry?:

NASB Deuteronomy 32: 51because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel. 52"For you shall see the land at a distance, but you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving the sons of Israel."

NOTES:

πραΰς, πραεῖα, πραΰ (Hom.+; Crinagoras [I B.C. / I A.D.] in Anth. Pal. 10, 24, 4; 16, 273, 6; PGM 4, 1046; LXX; Jos., Ant. 19, 330; SibOr 4, 159 with v.l.) gen. πραέως (1 Pt 3:4; cp. W-S. §9, 5 p. 87; Kühner-Bl. I §126, 3 n. 9; B-D-F §46, 3; Mayser I/2 §68, 2, 1e p. 55f) and πραέος; pl. πραεῖς (on πραΰς and πρᾶος Kühner-Bl. I 532f; B-D-F §26 app.; Mlt-H. 160; Thackeray 180f; Crönert 290, 2.—But in our lit. πρᾶος [2 Macc 15:12; Philo; Jos., C. Ap. 1, 267] occurs only Mt 11:29 v.l.) pert. to not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek in the older favorable sense (cp. OED s.v. 1b; Pind., P. 3, 71 describes the ruler of Syracuse as one who is π. to his citizens, apparently the rank and file [Gildersleeve]), unassuming D 3:7a; Mt 21:5 (Zech 9:9). W. ταπεινός (Is 26:6) Mt 11:29 (THaering, Schlatter Festschr. 1922, 3–15; MRist, JR 15, ’35, 63–77). W. ἡσύχιος (and occasionally other characteristics) 1 Pt 3:4; 1 Cl 13:4 (cp. Is 66:2); B 19:4; Hm 5, 2, 3; 6, 2, 3; 11:8 (Leutzsch, Hermas 452, n. 122). Among the qualities required of church officials D 15:1. πρὸς τὰς ὀργὰς αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς πραεῖς gentle in the face of their wrath IEph 10:2 (cp. PLond 1912, 83f εἵνα Ἀλεξανδρεῖς πραέως καὶ φιλανθρόπως προσφέροντε [=προσφέρωνται] Ἰουδαίοις=therefore we affirm that the Alexandrines are to conduct themselves with kindness and goodwill toward the Judeans/Jews [41 A.D.]).—οἱ πραεῖς (Ps 36:11) Mt 5:5 (WClarke, Theology 47, ’44, 131–33; NLohfink, Die Besänftigung des Messias, Gedanken zu Ps. 37 [Mt]: FKamphous Festschr., ed. JHainz et al. ’97, 75–87; Betz, SM 124–27); D 3:7b.—LMarshall, Challenge of NT Ethics ’47, 80ff; 300ff.—DELG s.v. πρᾶος. M-M. EDNT. Spicq. Sv.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 861). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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