A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Meek does not mean weak, but a special strength that does not pay back evil for evil.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. (Matthew 11:28-9, KJV)

In the Bible, the word we translate as meekness — praǘtēs — does not connote weakness. Nor does it convey a submissiveness that is easily imposed on by others. Meekness is a Christian virtue that is a special kind of strength which does not pay back evil for evil.

The Greek word πραΰτης  [praǘtēs] has a meaning that does not exactly translate into English

We have no word in English that is an exact parallel to the Greek word praǘtēs. This has caused another stumbling block for Christian victims of abuse.

Praǘtēs is usually translated as ‘meekness’. But here’s the rub: in the English language, the word ‘meek’ connotes quiet, gentle, easily imposed on, submissive. Sir Thomas Brown explained: “Meekness takes injuries like pills, not chewing, but swallowing them down.”  But praǘtēs means something rather different.

The word praǘtēs means a quality that is not in a man’s outward behavior 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 (James 1:21; 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:15; Septuagint Ps. 45:4). It is that attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.

Praǘtēs, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason (orgilótēs), and not getting angry at all (aorgēsía). Therefore, praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. Praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.

The meaning of praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, as commonly used in the English language, suggest weakness and pusillanimity — lack of courage or resolution, marked by a contemptible timidity —whereas praǘtēs does nothing of the kind.

As an alternative to ‘meekness’ the word ‘gentleness’ is sometimes used in English translations,  but since prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, wheras ‘gentleness’ is appropriate rather to actions, the word ‘gentleness’  is no better than ‘meekness’ and may in fact be less satisfactory.

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.

How do victims of abuse excercise biblical meekness?

What application does all this have to victims of domestic abuse? By aspiring to and cultivating this inwrought grace of the soul meekness/praǘtēs, the victim can aim to be getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. And the victim can demonstrate gentleness, not in weakness, but in power.

For example, when we walk on eggshells with our abusers and their allies, making micro-moment choices about picking our battles, deciding what to overtly resist and what to let pass, when to appear to capitulate to (for safety’s sake) and when to contest, when to shake the dust off our feet, when to draw boundaries, when to play gray rock/grey rock *, etc., we are excercising this virtue.

Equally importantly, when we resist the temptation to blame God or to cast Him aside, we are excercising praǘtēs — biblical meekness. Likewise when we resist the temptation to take vengeance into our own hands, we are honouring God’s majesty, power, justice and authority. We are therefore expressing praǘtēs in our relation to God and are inviting/allowing Him to develop in our souls this inwought grace of meekness.

An inwrought grace

For logophiles, that word ‘wrought’ is interesting too.

wrought  (adjective)

1 (of metals) beaten out or shaped by hammering.

2 [ in combination ] made or fashioned in the specified way: well-wrought prose

ORIGIN Middle English: archaic past and past participle of ‘work’.

God works His good will in us as believers, developing our characters and making us more like Christ as we walk according to His word and His ways. We are not saved by our works; but as we follow our Lord we enjoy the fruit of His work in our souls. And that fruit includes praǘtēs — not weakness that lacks courage or resolution, nor contemptible timidity, but strength that gets angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. A condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness not in weakness but in power. A balance born in strength of character.

Praise the Lord!

the color is spelled grAy in America, but grEy in England.

10 Comments

  1. Katherine

    Great post! I have had the wrong idea of meekness. I know I get angry for the right reasons at the right time but I don’t have the maturity, yet, to know what to do with that anger. I feel extremely frustrated in certain situations and unable to appear less vexed than I am. Then of course I can’t express in any good way what is bothering me. As I think about it I can’t change it, why get so angry.

    Recently I’m becoming angry more often again. I’m sure this isn’t the right meekness.

  2. Seeing Clearly

    “the Lord was meek because he had the infinite resources of God at his command”
    a beautiful picture to gaze at and ponder. Thank you

  3. cindy burrell

    Great work, Barb. I too have always kind of cringed with the interpretation of the word “meek,” as it has always felt like a diminishment of Jesus’ inert strength. As you explained it, it makes perfect sense, not only with regard to His nature, but also with the appropriateness of righteous anger.

    • soldiergirl

      A well timed post that is an encouragment to many of us who have endured alot at the hands of our abusers.
      I have allways understood meekness to be a type of controlled strength given by God through trial.
      Moses had it; A man with many tests and trials in his life before his mission from the Lord to lead Gods people out from Egypt.

      Joseph had it; Another man that endured many difficult trials, before his appointed time came to deliver the people through the 7 year famine in Egypt.

      And Jesus had it; our Lord faced the greatest trial of all to deliver us from our sins by enduring the cross.

  4. Still Reforming

    I saw Kirk Cameron’s sister (I forget her name) give a talk once on her marriage – and she defined meekness as “strength under control.” That made me think of Christ, for Scripture describes Him as meek, and yet He had all strength available to Him, yet controlled it, for the sake of His Father and His Kingdom. For the sake of His people. And for His own Name’s sake.

  5. bright sunshinin' day

    Thank you, Barb, for the encouragement in this post. You said: “…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.”

    God has given us access to His wellspring of resources as we make necessary decisions for life and godliness such as you mentioned: “…picking our battles, deciding what to overtly resist and what to let pass, when to appear to capitulate to (for safety’s sake) and when to contest, when to shake the dust off our feet, when to draw boundaries, when to play gray rock, etc.”

  6. Karen

    Excellent post and very well written. Greek definitions always provide clear, concise, clarity to God’s Word. Thank-you Barbara for the extra bit of research.

  7. StandsWithAFist

    I love the story & movie of the race horse, “Secretariat”, winner of the Triple Crown of horse racing. Then I heard “meekness” described like Secretariat: “strength under control”. Secretariat was a gentle, graceful horse, which belied his speed, strength & power. Part of the lore is that he always held back in every race, in last place, as tho he would certainly lose. He ran each race like he was assessing the other horses, waiting for the right moment to break out of last place & thunder to the finish. That was until the final race of the Triple Crown. His trainer believed if he kept training him hard and not resting him (which was the accepted practice) that he would “grow wings”. So they trained him hard, facing the criticism of the equine world, & when the last race began, Secretariat burst out of the gate at full speed, then went faster & faster–so fast that people thot he would die & that his trainer & jockey were making a huge mistake. But they weren’t. That beautiful “meek” horse won the final race with the fastest time ever recorded, with the biggest margin of victory. It has yet to be matched & his record stands to this day. No other horse has ever matched Secretariat for his sheer power, and when he ran, it seemed like his destiny. When I think of meekness, I envision Secretariat, and ask God to bless me with that kind of spirit & power.

  8. joyisnowfree

    I so much appreciate this topic. I have asked God to give me self control because I had the urge to take revenge on my soon to be x, for what he did to me. But God took me to Psalms 37. And I’m glad that I listen to Him because vengeance belongs to the Lord, and now God is blessing me for my obedience to His word and teaching me how to practice true meekness.

    I have set healthy boundaries and just as I suspected, he started coming around looking for reconciliation. But because God is awesome, He has helped me learn so much that I can be a step ahead of the perpetrator. I can see now that he was punishing me by cutting me off completely financially, because I demanded a separation. Now that I’ve been ignoring him for a whole month, he has realized that he lost control and can’t exercize his brutality on me, so now he is trying everything in the book to come back. Any thoughts out there on how to keep boundaries consistently? God already showed me not to waste my time in explaining myself to him, nor engage in negotiations.

  9. Dear Barbara, thank you so much for this! This article is very helpful for victims of abuse as well as those who care about them and want to help. I love your definitions of meekness, especially in these contexts,
    “Meekness is a Christian virtue that is a special kind of strength which does not pay back evil for evil.”
    “The word praǘtēs means a quality that is not in a man’s outward behavior 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 (James 1:21; 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:15; Septuagint Ps. 45:4). It is that attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.”

    These two definitions clearly express our Christian responsibility towards God and man, i.e., meekness does not resist the revealed will of God and does not avenge one’s self.

    Because of how it relates to our response to God, I wonder if we could accept meekness to also include ‘voluntary submission,’ especially when looked at from the perspective of Jesus’ submission to God’s purposes and will for His life.

    On the other hand, I wonder if it would be appropriate to use the term ‘meekness’ to the abused. Whatever the definition of meekness, because it involves some level of ‘submission’ (consider Jesus’ going to the slaughter as meek as a lamb), it could be easily misconceived. Therefore, meekness would not be a quality I could speak of/recommend in speaking with an abuser. I think I would confidently encourage a ‘resistance,’ (as you have already recommended) which is a condition clearly negated by meekness, as the only resistance present in ‘meekness,’ is that which the ‘meek’ person exerts upon his or her own responses to ‘resist’ the prevailing situation. So whereas the abused might resist his or her own inclinations to strike back, he or she should not resist the urge to ‘resist’ the abuse (all of which you’ve already addressed).

    I just wonder, if we could teach abused people to resist abuse without using the word ‘meek,’ so as to avoid confusion of the victim’s appropriate and safe response? On the other hand, I guess in counseling victims who are Christians, it would be really helpful to address them as you have already outlined, because such people would be struggling with misplaced guilt about resisting abuse (I was such a person in my marriage, and it took years for the LORD to make me see that He does not condone abuse and that I was/am correct to speak up and resist it).
    Again, thank you for your article. It is very helpful. God bless you!

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