Biblical meekness is not weakness
[May 9, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Biblical meekness is not weakness that lacks courage or resolution. It is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness not in weakness but in power; a balance born in strength of character. It is strength that gets angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason.
In modern English the work ‘meek’ connotes humility, quietness, lack of courage and resolution. It suggests weakness, timidity, someone who is easily imposed on and thus contemptible. But the Greek word which is translated as meek does not have any sense of spinelessness or weakness.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart:…. (Matthew 11:29 KJV)
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.
The Greek word praǘtēs has no exact parallel in English so it is usually translated as ‘meekness’. This has given rise to a stumbling block for Christian victims of abuse.
Praǘtēs is a quality that is not in a man’s outward behaviour only, nor in his relations to his fellow man or his mere natural disposition. Rather, it is an inwrought grace of the soul, and the expressions of it are primarily toward God.
The word ‘wrought’ is an adjective that means:
- (of metals) beaten out or shaped by hammering.
- (in combination) made or fashioned in the specified way: well-wrought prose.
Therefore, if praǘtēs is an inwrought grace of the soul it is a quality that can develop more and more in the believer in the process of sanctification.
Praǘtēs is that attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.
The quality of praǘtēs will lead a person to respond in certain ways because their behaviour flows from their inner attitude. But as we know, people can fake similar behaviour without having an inner attitude of praǘtēs. For example, it is easy to do that on Facebook. You can be a sociopath and quote a few scriptures at your Facebook account about enduring persecution….and many folks who use Facebook will think you are godly because you are quoting scripture.
Some English translations use the word ‘gentle’ instead of ‘meek’ when translating praǘtēs. But praǘtēs is primarily a condition of mind and heart, whereas ‘gentle’ is appropriate rather to actions. So the word ‘gentle’ may in fact be even less satisfactory as a translation.
What kind of behaviour might a believer show if they have this inwrought grace of the soul?
According to Aristotle, praǘtēs is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason (orgilótēs), and not getting angry at all (aorgēsía). Therefore, having praǘtēs means getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason.
Therefore lay apart all uncleanness, and all lingering evil and vice, and receive with meekness [praǘtēs] the word that is grafted in you, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 NMB)
If any be wise and learned among you, let him show the works of his good living in humility [praǘtēs] that is coupled with wisdom. (James 3:13 NMB)
Getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. Yikes! — I know I’ve failed at that often. But with the help of the Word and the Holy Spirit I seek to cultivate the inwrought grace of the soul which will enable me to do that better.
When a person is being abused she / he is often in the position of having to make micro-moment decisions about picking battles. What bits of my abuser’s behaviour do I overtly resist and what do I let pass? When is it wise to appear to capitulate, or to contest, or to draw boundaries? And when is it prudent to play gray rock / grey rock? In all those micro-decisions I think victims of abuse can develop and exercise the quality of praǘtēs. Learning how to get angry at the right time for the right reasons.
To resist the temptation to blame God and cast Him aside is to exercise biblical meekness.
To resist the temptation to take vengeance into your own hands is to honour and respect God’s law, majesty, power, justice and authority. Believers who do this are expressing praǘtēs in their relation to God. They are inviting / allowing God to develop in their souls this inwrought grace of biblical meekness.
The meek-spirited shall possess the earth: and shall be refreshed in the multitude of peace.
— Myles Coverdale’s translation of Ps 37:11 in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
[May 9, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to May 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 9, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 9, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
I wrote a post about biblical meekness in November 2014. Today’s post in January 2018 is, I hope, an improved version.
You might like to read the comments at the 2014 post. Go here to find that post and its comments (the link will open in a new tab).