Word of the Week
February 11, 2023
Praütēs: Does Jesus Want Wimps?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. . .
The typical NFL lineman is a 300-pound pile of muscle who spends his Sunday afternoons in bone-crunching combat, tossing people aside and flinging folks to the ground. Violence is his stock in trade.
But watch him come home to a wife and a new baby daughter. “Be gentle, honey,” his wife reminds him as he picks up this tiny person. He cradles this little girl tenderly, not using any of his massive strength.
That’s a more accurate picture of God’s kind of gentleness than the old Sunday School picture of “Gentle Jesus, good and mild” that portrayed a Savior who could barely hold up the lamb he was carrying in his arms.
People hear the biblical injunctions to be gentle and mistakenly assume that a follower of Jesus should be so mild and passive that no one ever notices their presence. To test that idea, let’s take a closer look at the Greek word for gentleness.
“Gentleness” in Greek is the word praǘtēs (occurs about 9 times). It’s also useful to look at the matching adjective praǘs, usually translated “gentle” (occurs 4 times).
What do these words mean?
Secular Greek used praǘtēs to describe mild words, soothing medicine, tame animals, and benevolent people. It was the opposite of unbridled anger, harshness, or brutality. They used it to describe the wise man who remains calm in the face of insults, the judge who is lenient in judgment, and the king who is kind in his rule. The philosopher Aristotle labeled it as the “golden mean” between bad temper and spineless incompetence.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Moses is described as the most gentle man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3), even though he had murdered a man, angrily beat on a rock in disobedience to God, and put up with the problems of two million grumpy Israelites for forty years. Moses was no wimp! The word also appears in Psalm 45:4 to describe a victorious king who rides for the cause of truth, gentleness, and righteousness.
Take a quick tour of the word’s use in the New Testament:
Jesus was gentle, even though He wielded infinite power.
- He invited people to yoke themselves to Him and learn from Him because He is gentle and humble (Matthew 11:29).
- When he entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds, he was fulfilling a prophecy that described the King coming to Zion, humble and mounted on a donkey (Matthew 21:5). He didn’t come as the head of an army, but as a Savior.
The apostle Paul was gentle, even though he wielded the authority of an apostle.
- When he discovered a flagrant case of immorality at Corinth, he asked, “How do you want me to come to you? Shall I come carrying a rod, or may I come with love and gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21). He had the clout to force the issue, but he preferred restraint.
- He began his address to a rebellious faction in the Corinthian church by claiming, “I am exhorting you with the meekness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). He would say some harsh things in the next chapters, but his blows were carefully calibrated to avoid harm.
Christians are supposed to be gentle.
- Paul tells us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, and the first specific instruction that follows is to be gentle (Ephesians 4:2). He does something very similar in Colossians 3:12, listing praǘtēs as one of the first symptoms of a person who has “put on the new self” in Christ.
- We should be gentle when we are correcting opponents (2 Timothy 2:25), aiming to win the person, not the argument.
- We should be gentle when we answer someone who asks us to defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15).
- James instructs us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. The next step in the following verse is to receive God’s word with an attitude of humility (James 1:21).
- Wives can win their husbands to Christ by adorning themselves with a gentle, quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).
- Jesus announced, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
When we look at Moses or Paul, we don’t see powerless wimps, unable to intervene forcefully when needed. We do see people who chose not to unleash their strength in the wrong way, at the wrong time. They cared enough about the people they encountered to avoid crushing their spirits. They knew how to set aside their own agendas and resist the temptation to preserve their egos and lash out in frustration.
When we look at Jesus, we see the One with infinite power who wields it with a tender hand. It’s hard to learn how to have just the right touch, but that’s why Galatians 5 lists it as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As I gradually develop the character of Christ, I will learn how to use His power with gentleness.
When you study a Greek word that is a character quality, often appearing in lists of other character qualities, it can be hard to get a clear picture of it. As you study a word like praǘtēs, pay attention to the other words that are connected to it. Look also for opposites. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 comes right after a list of bad traits that are called the works of the flesh. The fruit is in contrast the works. I also found some helpful information on the use in secular Greek this time by consulting larger works like the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. If you have access to bulkier volumes like these, you can find bonus information.
Q: What are those funny marks on this week’s word?
A: Praütēs has an unusual mark over the letter u. The two dots show something about the pronunciation of the word. Usually in Greek, a and u combine to make a single sound: “ow” as in “house.” But the two dots are a sign that you should pronounce a and u as two separate sounds: “prah-OO-tays.” In a standard Greek New Testament, there will also be an accent mark combined with these two dots. I don’t usually include accent marks in these word studies because they seldom make a difference in the meaning of a word, but it’s possible to do a deep study of the rules of accent marks if you’re really curious about them.
One more “fruit of the Spirit” to consider, and for some of us, it’s the most problematic of all: self-control. Join us next week for a consideration of this important concept!
©Ezra Project 2023
I love these studies of Greek words! It is just the right size meal for me. You don’t seek to delve so deep that I get lost in a lot of technical detail. On the other hand, I get accurate, applicable truth. Thank you. I will begin to sow into this ministry because I’m sure others are being benefited as I am.