Dr. Jordan Peterson claims that the appropriate interpretation of Matthew 5:5 is:

"He who has a sword, and knows how to use it, but keeps it sheathed shall inherit the earth."

Is Dr. Peterson's interpretation a reasonable interpretation and justifiable from the context of Matthew?

  • 1
    This is the site Peterson cited on the Rogan interview.... biblehub.com/greek/4239.htm
    – ngali
    Feb 13, 2018 at 4:23
  • 2
    Please cite the interview with a link so his precise claim can be examined.
    – Dan
    Feb 13, 2018 at 5:10
  • This question is in my ever 'umble opinion a bit of a mess. Reworked it would be a decent question but as posed it is doomed to be variously construed and will lead to confusion. There is the title that asks one question and a translation proffered and then a question of interpretation. Pleeeez clean up the question.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 27, 2018 at 1:54

5 Answers 5


Besides looking only at the Greek definition of (prah-oos) you can look at Psalm 37:11 which is what Jesus is quoting. This was not a new saying and his first-century Jewish audience most likely would have known the reference. That said, the Hebrew (anav) means humble. See the description of Moses Num 12:3. If you look at a number of different English translations you will find the use of both meek and humble. The Septuagint uses (prah-oos) in both Ps 37:11 and Num. 12:3. The NT writers rely heavily on the Septuagint.

Derek Kinder has a commentary on Psalms 1-72. His description of Psalm 37 is excellent. He notes that it is a wisdom psalm from David to people (rather than to God) on how to act in the face of evil (v. 1 "do not fret"). There is no sense of weakness. Rather, that you watch your emotions - (v. 8) "refrain from anger and turn from wrath" - and trust that God will, in time, take care of those who are wicked. Psalm 37 is both psychologically and theologically correct. Psychologically because anger will eventually turn on the person who is angry and make matters worse. Theologically, b/c God will deal with evil people so you don't need to "fret" - which only makes matters worse.

On v. 11 Kinder writes, "The context gives the best possible definition of the meek: they are those who choose the way of patient faith instead of self-assertion." Again, no mention of weakness. The focus is on the strength to choose appropriately.

We turn meek into weak rather than humble. One aspect of humility is exactly what Peterson is describing - you know your strengths but you choose to refrain from a negative action (action driven by anger or wrath). You trust in God. This is the exact description of Jesus. Jesus was strong but in the face of evil, he chose to be humble.

God wants you to be strong but humble. Know your strengths and your limitations and do not overemphasize either. Evil loves to devour weak people. A Christlike character is a character of strength in the face of evil. God gave us a spirit of "power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7).

Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 168). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


πρᾶος is a very ordinary Greek word meaning "soft, gentle, mild-mannered", also, referring to animals, "tame, broken in". Peterson's so-called translation is an arbitrary distortion of the text.



From wikipedia:

'The 19th century theologian James Strong argued in his Strong's Concordance #4239 that the Greek word praus (πραεῖς) means mild or gentle, but it is not suggesting weakness but instead the way power is handled. It is "strength under control". It is demonstrating power without undue harshness. The English language does not have a word that translates conveying both gentleness and power together.'

  • 1
    This is Wikipedia at its worst. The quotation is not from Strong (who anyway was not a theologian and did not "argue" anything) but from something called "HELPS Word Studies", as pasted onto Strong's entry here: biblehub.com/greek/4239.htm
    – fdb
    Feb 28, 2018 at 17:48
  • ....copied here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_5:5
    – fdb
    Feb 28, 2018 at 17:59

I'm been looking into this for a while and while I have't come across JBP translation the word seems to derive from the concept of "Praus", a greek military term was used to define a horse trained for battle. I kind of wish Peterson would pick up this translation as well as it seems highly relevant to what he's talking about and it really encapsulates what I think the message in the bible is aiming at.

"The Greek word “praus” (prah-oos) was used to define a horse trained for battle. Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles per hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked.

As centuries went by the secret of training such animals was passed from the Greeks to the Roman legions, then to the Moors, the Spanish conquistadors, and finally the Austrian Empire. We see a few war horse descendants today in the Lippizanner horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.

To be meeked was to be taken from a state of wild rebellion and made completely loyal to, and dependent upon, one’s master. It is also to be taken from an atmosphere of fearfulness and made unflinching in the presence of danger. Some war horses dove from ravines into rivers in pursuit of their quarry. Some charged into the face of exploding cannons as Lord Tennyson expressed in his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

These stallions became submissive, but certainly not spineless. They embodied power under control, strength with forbearance."

There are many articles relating to this, and I find the image of a broken in war horse more colourful than the sheathed sword. I'm still digging into this and will let you know if I come across the sword translation, even though this other translation holds similar meaning

  • The above long quotation is not referenced. Please list the source. Sep 28, 2018 at 18:03

Yes, the individual being considered "meek" can be considered "meek" after an episode of anger as the full definition cited by @fdb suggests: (bold text added for emphasis here).


2 of persons, mild, gentle, meek, πραῢς ἀστοῖς Pi.P.3.71; πᾶσιν ἵλεώς τε καὶ πρᾶος Pl.R. 566e; πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους π. ib.375c; π. τὸ ἦθος Id.Phdr.243c; π. ἐν τοῖς λόγοις Id.Euthd.303d; esp. after having been angry, Hdt.2.181 (Comp.); ὁ θὴρ ὅδ' ἡμῖν π., of Dionysus, E.Ba.436; of a horse, gentle, ἀλλήλοις πραότεροι X.Cyr.2.1.29; of other animals, tame, ἰχθύων μεγάλων καὶ πραέων Id.An.1.4.9, cf. Arist.HA488b22; ζῷα . . πραέα πρὸς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους X.Oec.15.4: prov., πραΰτερος μολόχας Epich.153; also, τόπος ἡμερώτερος καὶ πραότερος Isoc.9.67.

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