Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gentle, Not Meek

Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5 AV)
Christian men are taught not only to be meek, but that it is a sin to act otherwise. The problem is the modern definition of meek. Look up meek in a recent dictionary, and this is what you find:
Easily imposed on; submissive in disposition or nature; spineless or spiritless; compliant; tame; humble and not likely to complain, argue, or react strongly; deficient in spirit and courage; an obsolete word for gentle.
Notice the last definition: “an obsolete word for gentle.” The 1828 version of Webster's dictionary defines meek in this way:
1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.

2. Appropriately humble in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self-sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations.
That's a very different definition of meek than you would find in modern dictionaries. Nowhere do you find the negative connotations (spineless, tame, compliant) that you find in the modern meaning of the word. When the Bible was first being translated into English (about 500 years ago) meek was a synonym for gentle. The Biblical Greek dictionaries also agree on the meaning of the underlying Greek word.
Strong's: 4239 πραΰς praus prah-ooce’, mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness

Vine's: Greek:   praus | praos, denotes "gentle, mild, meek;
The meaning of the English word “meek” has changed over the last 100 years, but the meaning of the Greek word “praus” hasn't. That's why you are seeing recent translations (like the NASB, WEB, and HCS) break from tradition and translate “praus” as gentle. And make no mistake, the translations that are still using the word meek are doing it out of tradition, and not due to a dedication to accuracy, because the modern definition of meek no longer reflects the meaning of the underlying Greek.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5 WEB)
When placed in context with the rest of the Beatitudes, the use of the more accurate word gentle paints an entirely different picture.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:3-12 WEB)
“Poor in spirit” is not a negative term. It refers to people that understand that, from a spiritual standpoint, they need Christ. This is the opposite of someone that is proud and believes they are a “good person,” so they don't need Jesus. All who have placed their faith in Christ can be said to be poor in spirit.

“Peacemakers” is a word that is only found once in the New Testament. The Greek word simply means “loving peace.” Unfortunately, many today want to twist the term to mean avoiding conflict at all costs. The poster boy for that approach would be British prime minister Neville “peace in our time” Chamberlain who believed a policy of appeasement would avoid war. History is clear that if Chamberlain had taken a hard line with Hitler the size and scope of WWII in Europe would have been greatly reduced. But he didn't, and millions paid the price for Chamberlain's refusal to confront evil. Avoiding conflict with evil is not peacemaking.

The poor in spirit (those who need Christ); those who mourn; the gentle; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those persecuted for righteousness’ sake—that's a pretty good list. There's nothing on that list that screams not masculine. Actually, it's a pretty good start for a Biblical definition of masculine.

Back to our original subject: gentle, not meek. By now you should realize that the modern practice of teaching Christian males to be meek—conflict avoiding, submissive, spineless tame little kittens—is not Biblical. Gentle is the attribute we should be teaching, and there's nothing unmasculine about being gentle.

1 comment:

  1. "praos" can be used for violent but trained animals such as hunting falcons and guard dogs. I'll try to post a bit about ancient Greek later - meanwhile, thanks for the good post on this topic.