Word Study #78 — “Meek” is not “Weak”

“Meek” is another word which, despite Jesus’ placing a high value upon the trait it describes (Mt.5:5, 11:29), is often used today rather scornfully or disparagingly, even by people who claim to be his followers. In modern parlance, “meek” has come to denote a subservient, doormat-type of individual, easily kicked-around and abused, lacking either the ability or the backbone to protest or retaliate. Such a characterization could hardly be farther from the actual meaning of praos / praus (adj.) and praotes / prautes (n.). (The different spellings are artifacts of different Greek dialects, the former in each pair being Attic and the latter Ionic in origin.)

The words imply an attitude of courtesy (Bauer), gentleness (L/S), or a mild and considerate disposition – but not as a result of weakness! “Meekness” can only exist where great strength is under strict control! It describes a domesticated animal that has been carefully trained for its master’s purposes, or even the taming of wild beasts!
Such an understanding meshes well with the Mt.11:28-30 passage discussed in W.S.#77. The “meekness” with which Jesus describes himself is not the unhappy lot of the subjugated, but the deliberate choice of the almighty God, for the benefit and the education of his people!

None of these words are ever translated in any other way in the traditional versions. However, the words with which they are sometimes paired can cast considerable light upon their intended meaning. In the passage noted above, for example, Jesus characterizes himself as “meek and lowly”, using the word tapeinos, often rendered “humble” (W.S.#14), also a deliberate choice on his part. Paul also juxtaposes those two words in Eph.4:2 and Col.3:12. Similarly, he combines “meekness” with “gentleness” – epieikeia – classically defined as “reasonableness, equity, fairness, virtue, tolerance, or capability” – in II Cor.10:1 and Tit.3:2, and with both “longsuffering” (makrothumia) – Col.3:12 – and “patience” (hupomone) – I Tim.6:11. Please refer to W.S. #63 for the distinction between these words. Prautes appears between “faithfulness” and “self-control” on the list of the “fruits” (produce – W.S.#64) of the Spirit in Gal.5:22-23, a very appropriate association.
Peter holds up the ideal of a “meek and quiet spirit” (I Pet.3:4), using hesuchia, more commonly translated “calm, tranquil, cautious, or of gentle character”. The adjectival form, hesuchios, is also the word chosen to describe the tranquil characteristic of the life desired by the beleaguered faithful in I Tim.2:2.

Perhaps the most vivid example of “meekness” as a deliberate choice rather than a helpless default is to be found in Paul’s admonition to people and/or groups involved in administering discipline to erring members (I Cor.4:21, Gal.6:1, II Tim.2:25). In each case, “meekness” is to characterize an attempt to correct or restore a person to faithfulness and to the brotherhood. Please note, in no instance is an error to be ignored, overlooked, or minimized. There is no hint of an apologetic “I might be mistaken, but…” The offense is to be confronted plainly, but not arrogantly. The goal is not exclusion, but restoration.

In a similar vein, James urges his readers to “receive the word with meekness” (1:21), and to demonstrate their faithfulness (3:13) by their behavior “with meekness” – both of which could as accurately be rendered “without arrogance.” This is also the attitude which Peter advocates (I Pet.3:15) in explaining one’s “hope” (W.S.#36) to challengers — meta prautetos kai phobou, “with gentleness and respect” (see treatment of phobos in W.S.#16). This is not a “plan of attack”, but a calm and respectful explanation.

The ultimate paradigm, of course, is the Lord Jesus himself (Mt.21:5), who chose a lowly beast of burden, rather than a regal steed, for his arrival in Jerusalem. That choice was not only a deliberate fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zech.9:9), but also an identification with his own statement (Mt.5:5) of who will “inherit the earth”!  But do not forget that immediately after this event, he proceeded to emphatically clear the cheating profiteers out of the temple!  This was NOT a violation of his “meekness”!  His power was carefully controlled, and not destructive!

For too long, those who presume to “teach” have acted as if all the gospel references to Jesus “knowing” what lay ahead for him, referred only to his impending death. Such an assumption is seriously in error. He was indeed well aware of that prospect. But please note that in nearly every place that Jesus mentioned his death, he also foretold his resurrection, and often his subsequent glorification! (W.S.#34 and 35)!
Re-read Jesus’ prayer in John17, and notice his supreme confidence in the inheritance into which he was moving! Absolute security in that expectation is what enabled the “meekness” with which he lived, taught, – and departed.
His is the ultimate definition of “meekness” – the gentleness of incredible power, under strict control, deliberately rejecting both personal aggrandizement and self-defense. Such an attitude can only be inspired by total confidence, in one’s identity, his destiny, and to whom he belongs.

Blessed indeed, are the meek!

5 Responses to Word Study #78 — “Meek” is not “Weak”

  1. Ginny says:

    I enjoyed reading your post!
    Great statement:”His is the ultimate definition of “meekness” – the gentleness of incredible power, under strict control, deliberately rejecting both personal aggrandizement and self-defense. Such an attitude can only be inspired by total confidence, in one’s identity, his destiny, and to whom he belongs.”

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Thank you. Please feel free to add to the thoughts.

  3. Adiaha says:

    Thank you for giving a true study of the word “meek”. People do confuse it with “weakness” or “passiveness”. The explanation you gave is the same explanation I learned when I was a student at a Christian college.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Rev Jason Allen says:

    Great job and very much needed. I spent the last 8 months translating the four Gospels back to the original Greek. Extremely eye opening and something I recommend to all Christians and theologian. I was trying to remember the exact definition of praos and used my Gboard keyboard because it’s quick and it brought me here. Awesome brother

  5. ruthpmartin says:

    What in the world do you mean by “back to the original Greek”? Careful study STARTS with the original Greek.

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