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Psalm 22:26 KJV — The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

Psalm 37:11 KJV — But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Psalm 147:6 KJV — The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.

Isaiah 29:19 KJV — The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. ... Colossians 3:12 KJV — Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

Titus 3:2 KJV — To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.

Galatians 5:22-23 KJV — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

This is a small sampling of the Scriptures that either praise meekness or command that we be meek.

"Meekness" is defined as "humility" and "submissiveness", with a sense of cowardliness. I see nothing wrong with submissiveness in certain cases and I certainly see nothing wrong with humility, but the text seems to suggest, based on the usage of the word meek, that we ought to be submissive to everyone in every case, thus allowing them to abuse us freely. In addition, cowardliness seems to me to almost be a vice, although I cannot prove that.

Is this what the texts mean when they say that we ought to be meek, or is the word "meek" an inaccurate translation?

Thank you.

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  • This question really ought to be split into two questions, one for the Hebrew and one for the Greek as they are two completely different source words.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:17

4 Answers 4

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The idea that virtue is always extreme 'goodness' as opposed to 'evil' at the other extreme is false. Aristotle used the term 'praotes' (meekness) to describe a virtuous balance between orgeasia (irascibility) and analgesia (indifference). This position is undefined because the level depends on what is deemed appropriate in each individual situation, but he also says that "the even-tempered man (praus) leans more towards forgiveness than anger".

'What matters, in [Aristotle's] opinion, is not that one should avoid anger as such, and not that one's temperament should be situated halfway between irascibility and a habitual absence of orges, but that one should be angry with the right people for the right reasons - with people who have truly done one some injury - and also in the right manner, at the right moment and for the right length of time.' Harris, William V. 2009 'Restraining Rage - the Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity', Harvard University Press.

So instead of 'meekness' in the sense of submissiveness, praotes may be more accurately translated as being 'even' or 'good' tempered. It is a virtue that requires humility and patience as well as integrity. It presents for the most part as gentleness, kindness and generosity without the submissiveness associated with 'meekness', and suggests a balance between the potential for action (the possession of agency/strength/ability) and the appropriate application of it. Where Aristotle's sense of praotes advises a rational approach for the good of the polis, the approach suggested by the Bible is one of unconditional love and compassion.

The use of 'meek' in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word anav: translated as meek, gentle or humble, as well as poor, lowly or oppressed. It is juxtaposed in both Psalm 37 and 146 with 'wicked', giving the mistaken impression that these terms are at opposite ends of a scale. But as Aristotle suggests, this virtue operates in between the harmful extremes of action and inaction.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil. Psalm 37: 7-8

This is not submissiveness. Submissiveness suggests inviting or even seeking oppression, but this is not what is meant in verse 11 by 'anav' (meek). We are asked to be patient, to trust in the ways of the Lord instead of fretting or retaliating over wrongs done to us, and to not be envious of those who appear to profit from the harm they cause. This doesn't mean we should always do nothing - only that we should do no harm. Psalm 37 describes not so much inaction as an agency that leans towards non-violence: the righteous 'refrain from anger and turn from wrath' (8), but they also 'give generously' (21) and 'seek peace' (37) as opposed to the 'wickedness' of those who 'draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright' (Psalm 37:14).

Everyone feels oppressed, humiliated or poor, to varying degrees - this is a part of life, and we are not going to avoid or eliminate it (Matthew 26:11; Deuteronomy 15:11). We are asked to wait when the alternative is to try and rectify the situation with violence, hatred or evil against others, including those we believe have wronged us or others. This is not the same as cowardice. To 'wait patiently' is not to submit, to give in or to hide, but to look for the presence of God - to wait for the right opportunity to act with love, to seek peace, to give generously of our time, talents and possessions, and in this way defy the effects of oppression, humiliation and poverty without harming others.

Violence and hatred as a response to oppression, humiliation or poverty 'leads only to evil' - it will not lead to generosity or to peace, but inflict harm. Submissiveness or indifference, on the other hand, achieves nothing.

But 'praotes' or 'anavah' (meekness) is demonstrated by people like Ghandi and Rosa Parks, for instance - it is an even-tempered courage in the face of oppression, without resorting to violence or hatred. It is effective agency with love instead of anger. This is the example set by Jesus, who by his courage, gentleness and generosity in the face of violent wrongs against him, conquered death itself and continues to impact strongly on lives today.

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  • Thank you for this answer, as it answers the question satisfyingly.
    – CMK
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 7:21
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You are right in saying that cowardliness is a vice. For it is written,

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Revelation 21:8 NIV

I believe meek should be interpreted as meekness in respect to God, not as cowardice. Standing up for God against those that don't believe him yet only when commanded or led by God to do so. Yet, as Jesus says about us servants...

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that, you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” Luke 17:7-10 NIV

to always be humble in our doings, not to boast in our works or our faith, but rather boast that we have an understanding of the one true God, the Lord Almighty.

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV

I would like you also to take a look at the interpretation of word "meek" here: http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Grady_Scott/matt5-5.htm


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  • Thank you for your answer and for reminding me abour Revelation 21:8, and for the reference. Your interpretation does seem to be possible based on the contexts in which the word appears in Scripture, but it isn't obvious.
    – CMK
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 22:38
  • @CMK No problem! Welcome to BHSE! I'm new as well and I hope we can both thrive in this community. Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 23:12
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Most people have the wrong idea when trying to define the biblical usage of meekness. Here’s how Vines Expository Dictionary explains the NT word prautes (meekness):

*“The meaning of pruates is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas prautes does nothing of the kind…It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because He had the infinite resources of God at His command.”*

So here we understand that the root of prautes is not weakness but power, ie when a person has the power but chooses not to use it!

Why was Moses the meekest man on earth: because he had the power of God behind him and chose not to call upon that power, offering himself in place of Israel when God wanted to wipe them out.

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  • Trying to find some kind of reference for this interpretation. I've heard it for a long time. But when I look at the Greek interlinear, blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4235/esv/mgnt/0-1, as well as the interlinear for ʿānāv in Psalms 37, that Jesus was quoting... I don't see anything there in the original languages to suggest "power under control" at all. Does anyone have any idea where the origins of this interpretation come from?
    – RavenHursT
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 19:41
  • I guess maybe, even if the word He chose to use, didn't denote "power" or "strength", but literally the opposite.. maybe, through X's own use of the word to describe Himself, in Matthew 11:29, we can deduce that "meekness", at least in the context of X's example, is actually "strength/power under control"? Still, it's odd that everywhere I read this interpretation, the authors just claim the interpretation prima facie...
    – RavenHursT
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 19:48
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Peace.

The Lord comes to open up the Scriptures to the understanding of mankind in the Spirit of Truth (the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters). Some will hear and others will not.

Notice in Matthew 5 that the Lord starts the Beatitudes by opening His mouth to teach those who are before Him.

Matthew 5:2-5 KJV (2) And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed (happy) are those who are poor in “spirit”….that is, poor in breath….poor in words…towards what they hear the open mouth of the Lord saying in the Spirit of Truth. Only those who are found by Him this way shall enter in to understand.

(3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4) Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

The meek are found humble towards what the open mouth of the Lord says. The meek use little strength…humbleness, humility… towards what they hear Him teaching (rather than use “strength” in pride, wrath, contention, strife, etc in resistance of the Spirit of Truth). They tremble at His Word. They do not resist the Spirit but drink in what is being said.

(5) Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

The meek shall “eat” and be satisfied…..that is, they shall “eat” of the meat of the Word of God and be satisfied with what they hear and will praise Him in thanksgiving.

Psalm 22:26 KJV — The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

The meek will hear and have an abundance of peace whereas those who will resist will not have peace.

Psalm 37:11 KJV — But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

The Spirit of God finds a place to rest in those who are of a “poor and contrite spirit”….that is, of a poor and contrite breath as they will use few words towards the hearing of His voice. They will not speak out in wrath and contentions or envy and strife. Their breath is "poor" in words. They tremble at His Word.

Isaiah 66:1-6 KJV (1) Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? (2) For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

Others will use “strength” (not be meek) as they will go about trying to kill the messenger sent by Him. They will not have peace.

(3) He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.

When He speaks, the proud will not hear. They will not tremble at His Word.

(4) I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not. (5) Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. (6) A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompence to his enemies.

The meek are swift to hear what the Lord says and are slow to speak....and slow to wrath.

James 1:19-22 KJV (19) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (20) For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

The meek "lay apart" all of the bad things that a man full of wrath might say in envy and strife and contentions towards what he hears. With meekness do the meek receive the Word and do it.

(21) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

The church in Philadelphia (brotherly love) had “little strength”…. as they were found of Him in meekness…in front of the “open door”. The open door is the open mouth….the open door of utterance that speaks His words. They keep His Word (His Saying: have love for one another). They were found holy as He is holy as they do lay apart all of the evil words that may come out in "strength" in the wrath of man who resists what they hear the Spirit saying.

Revelation 3:7-10 KJV (7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; (8) I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

Thanks for reading.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I believe that your interpretation is very likely correct.
    – CMK
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 17:52

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