Humility - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


tapeinophrosyne (G5012) Humility
praotes (G4236) Meekness
The mission of Christ's gospel involves putting the mighty down from their seats and exalting the humble and meek. In accordance with this mission, the gospel dethroned the heathen virtue of megalopsychia and replaced it with tapeinophrosyne, the despised Christian virtue. The gospel stripped the former of the honor it had unjustly assumed and delivered the latter from the unjust dishonor that previously had attached to it. One Christian writer has called tapeinophrosyne the treasure house that contains all the other virtues. Tapeinophrosyne is a fruit of the gospel. No Greek writer employed it before the Christian era, and apart from the influence of Christian writers, it was not used later. In the Septuagint, tapeinophron(Prov. 29:23) and tapeinophronein (to humble; Ps. 130:2) each occur once, and both words are used in an honorable fashion. Plutarch also employed tapeinophron, though in a bad sense. The ways in which heathen writers used tapeinos (G5011), tapeinotes, and other words of this family indicate how they would have employed tapeinophrosyne. There are few instances where tapeinos signifies anything other than grovelling, slavish, mean-spirited behavior. Tapeinos is associated with aneleutheros, andrapododes, agennes, katephes, adoxos, doulikos and douloprepes, and chamaizelos. Similarly, the German Demuth (humility), which originated in the heathen period of the language, originally referred to "a slavish spirit"and attained its present honorable position through Christian influence.
The exceptional uses of tapeinos, however, are more numerous than some will admit. Plato related tapeinos to being "orderly," and Demosthenes spoke of "moderate and humble [tapeinoi] words." On more than one occasion, Xenophon contrasted the tapeinos with the "arrogant." According to Plutarch, the purpose of divine punishment was so that the soul might become "thoughtful and humble [tapeine] and fearful toward God." In addition to these earlier intimations of the honor that one day would be associated with the words for humility, a passage in Aristotle vindicates the Christian use of tapeinophrosyne. Having confessed how hard it is for a man "to be truly magnificent," Aristotle observed that to think humbly of oneself, where that humble estimate is the true one, is not a culpable meanness of spirit but a true prudence. If that is correct, then since one's humble self-estimate is true for everyone, Aristotle unconsciously vindicated tapeinophrosyne as a virtue that every man should possess. Even according to his standard, Aristotle confessed that "to be truly magnificent" was difficult. But the Christian, convinced by the Spirit of God and having God's perfect standard of righteousness, knows that it is not merely difficult but impossible. The Christian definition of tapeinophrosyne is not merely modesty or the absence of pretension that the best heathen writers referred to; it is not a self-made virtue. By characterizing pride as making ourselves small when we are great, Chrysostom brought pride in under the disguise of humility. Bernard's definition is truer and deeper: "Virtue exists when a person through a most genuine self-evaluation deems himself worthless." Tapeinophrosyne involves evaluating ourselves as small because we are so; it requires us to think truly, and therefore humbly, of ourselves.
How is this Christian view of tapeinophrosyne as that which derives from a sense of unworthiness compatible with Christ's claim to this virtue, since he is sinless? The answer is that for the sinner, tapeinophrosyne involves the confession of sin (because this is the sinner's true condition); but for the unfallen creature, it is not an acknowledgment of sinfulness (which would be untrue) but of creatureliness, of absolute dependence, of possessing nothing and of receiving all things from God. And thus because he is a creature, the virtue of humility belongs to the highest angel before the throne, and evenit is trueto the Lord of glory himself. In his human nature, Jesus must exemplify true humility, true creaturely dependence. It is only as a man that Christ claimed to be tapeinos, for his human life was a constant living on the fullness of his Father's love, as becomes the creature in the presence of its Creator.
The gospel of Christ did not rehabilitate praotes as completely as it did tapeinophrosyne because praotes did not need rehabilitating to the same extent. Praotes did not need to be transformed from a bad sense to a good one but needed only to be lifted from a lower level of good to a higher one. Based on Aristotle's portrait of the praos (G4235) and of the praotes, it is apparent that praotes needed such an elevating. When the heathen virtue is compared with the Christian one, it is obvious that revelation has given to these words a depth, a richness, and a significance they did not previously possess. Aristotle, the great moralist of Greece, defined praotes as the "mean concerning anger" between the two extremes of irascibility and the lack of irascibility. And in Aristotle's view, praotes leaned more toward the latter and easily ran into this defect. Aristotle praised the virtue of praotes primarily because it helps a man to retain his own equanimity and composure, rather than for any more noble reason. Plutarch associated praotes with metriopatheia acholia, anexikakia, megalopatheia, eupeitheia and eukolia.Plutarch's graceful little essay, Concerning Lack of Irascibility (Peri aorgesias), does not contain a more noble concept of praotes than that found in Aristotle, though we might have looked for something higher from him. Plato contrasted praotes with agriotes, Aristotle with chalepotes and Plutarch (or some other writer using his name) with apotomia. Apparently, all of these writers attached a somewhat superficial meaning to Praotes.

Certain modern expositors who rule out the possibility that the New Testament writers modified the meaning of classical Greek words restrict the meaning of praotes in the New Testament to the meaning it had in the best classical writings. By doing so, however, they deprive themselves (and those who accept their interpretations) of much of the deeper teaching in Scripture. The Scriptural praotes is manifested not only in a man's outward behavior, nor merely in his relations with others, nor in his natural disposition. It is an inwrought grace of the soul that is exercised primarily toward God (Matt. 11:29; James 1:21). It is a quality of spirit that accepts God's dealings with us as good, without disputing or resisting them. It is closely linked with tapeinophrosyne and follows directly upon it (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; cf. Zeph. 3:12), because it is only the humble heart that is also meek, that does not fight against God or struggle with him.
This meekness exists first of all before God, but it is also to be exercised before meneven evil menknowing that the insults and injuries they inflict are permitted and employed by God to chasten and purify his elect. This was the root of David's praotes when Shimei cursed and flung stones at him. David realized that the Lord had bidden Shimei (2 Sam. 16:11) and that it was just for him to suffer these things, however unjustly Shimei might inflict them. True Christian praotes must spring from similar convictions. The one who is truly meek acknowledges himself as a sinner among sinners, and this knowledge of his own sin teaches him to meekly endure the provocations of others and not to withdraw from the burdens their sins may impose on him (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:2).
Praotes, or meekness (if more is meant than mere gentleness of manner, that is, if the Christian virtue of meekness of spirit is referred to), must rest on the deeper foundations of tapeinophrosyne, on which alone it can subsist. Praotes, though not more precious than tapeinophrosyne, is a grace in advance of it and one that presupposes it and that is not able to exist without it.

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