Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

The Greek Word ‘Praus’ and Meek Warhorses

Meekness in Discussions on Femininity and Masculinity

In a previous article, I looked at all the New Testament verses that use the Greek noun and adjective which refer to meekness: prautēs and praus.[1] These words are used by the Gospel writer Matthew and by the letter writers Paul, James, and Peter. In Matthew 11:29, for example, Jesus is quoted as saying of himself, “I am meek (praus) and humble in heart.”

In my previous article, I argued that meekness was not an especially feminine virtue despite how more than few people interpret “a gentle (praus) and quiet spirit” in 1 Peter 3:4. But I’ve recently come across some Christians who use their concept of praus to promote a masculine expression of Christianity. These Christians refer to blog posts that emphasise a nuance of “strength” in the words “meekness” (prautēs) and “meek” (praus).

Dozens of blog posts written by Christians mention warhorses while attempting to explain (revise?) the meaning of praus.[2] The argument in these blog posts is that praus has a military association and has a sense of might or toughness. These ideas appeal to some Christian men.

For example, a website with the name Praus makes these statements.

“The word praus comes from ancient military training. The Greek army would find the wildest horses in the mountains and bring them in. After months of training, they sorted the horses into categories: some were discarded, others were put into ordinary duty. The fewest of all graduated and were put into service. When a horse passed the conditioning required for service, its state was described as praus.”

Does the word praus come from, or originate with, ancient military training? If it does, I can’t find ancient evidence for it.

These thoughts written by Sam Whatley are posted on a website called River Region’s Journey.

“The Greek word praus (prah-oos) was used to define a horse trained for battle. Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles per hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked…. To be meeked was to be taken from a state of wild rebellion and made completely loyal to, and dependent upon, one’s master.”

Other articles on other websites make very similar statements, there’s plenty of plagiarising going on, but doesn’t “to be meeked” simply mean “to be tamed.”

Xenophon on “Meek” (Praus)

None of the numerous blog posts I visited cite ancient sources for the claims about meek warhorses, but a few mention Xenophon’s name. Xenophon (c. 430 BC–354 BC) was an Athenian military leader, historian, and philosopher. He loved all things equestrian and wrote two treatises on the art of horsemanship.

Xenophon lived centuries before the time the New Testament was written and he wrote in Attic Greek, not in Koine Greek which is the original language of the New Testament. Language evolves over time, and how an Athenian used Attic words in the early fourth century BC is not necessarily the same as how Jewish Christians used Koine words in the late first century AD. Nevertheless, let’s look at how Xenophon used praus and its close cognates.

I found several passages where Xenophon uses prau– words. The first three passages are about gently training horses (On Horsemanship 9.3, 9.5, 9.10), the fourth is about gentle farm animals (Economics 15.4), the fifth passage is about taming a growling sheepdog (Memorabilia 2.3.9), the sixth passage is about cosseted, tame fish (Anabasis 1.4.9), and the seventh is about amiability between soldiers and between warhorses (Cyropaedia 2.1.29).[3]

On Horsemanship 9:3 

“Accordingly, at the moment of mounting, the rider should take care to worry [the horse] as little as possible; and when he is mounted, he should let him stand still longer than is otherwise usual, and then direct him to go by the ‘most gentle’ (πρᾳοτάτοις/praotatois) aids. Then let him begin at a very slow pace and increase the speed with the same gentle help, so that the horse will not be aware of the transition to a quicker motion.”[4]

On Horsemanship 9:5

“If you want to correct a spirited horse when he is going too fast, do not pull him suddenly, but quietly check him with the bit, ‘soothing’ (πραΰνοντα/praunonta) him, not forcing him, to a quiet pace.”[5]

On Horsemanship 9:10

“It should also be known that a horse can be taught ‘to be calm’ (πραΰνεσθαι/praunesthai) by a chirp with the lips and to be roused by a cluck with the tongue. And if from the first you use with the cluck aids to calm him (τὰ πραέα), and with the chirp aids to rouse him, the horse will learn to rouse himself at the chirp and ‘to calm down’ (πραΰνεσθαι/praunesthai) at the cluck.”[6]

Economics 15.4

In Xenophon’s Economics, the character Isomachus makes this comment about domesticated farm animals, “As you know, we call those creatures noble that are beautiful, great, and helpful, and yet gentle (πραέα/praea) towards men.”[7]

Memorabilia 2.3.9

“Had you a sheep dog that was friendly to the shepherds, but growled when you [the master/owner] came near him, it would never occur to you to get angry, but you would try ‘to tame’ (πραΰνειν/praunein) him by kindness.”[8]

Anabasis 1.4.9

“After this Cyrus marched four stages, twenty parasangs, to the Chalus river, which is a plethrum in width and full of large, tame (πραέων/praeōn) fish; these fish the Syrians regarded as gods, and they would not allow anyone to harm them, or the doves, either.”[9]

Cyropaedia 2.1.21

“Cyrus also took care that [soldiers] should never come to luncheon or to dinner unless they had had a sweat. For he would get them into a sweat by taking them out hunting; or he would contrive such sports as would make them sweat; or again, if he happened to have some business or other to attend to, he so conducted it that they should not come back without having had a sweat. For this he considered conducive to their enjoying their meals, to their health, and to their being able to endure hardships, and he thought that hardships conduced to their being ‘more reasonable’ (πρᾳοτέρους/praoterous) toward one another, for even horses that work together stand ‘more quietly’ (πρᾳοτέρους/praoterous) together. At any rate, those who are conscious that they have been well drilled are certainly more courageous in the face of the enemy.”[10]

From these passages, we can see that prau– words may be translated into English as “most gentle,” “soothing,” to calm down/be calm,” “gentle,” “to tame,” “tame,” and “more reasonable/more quietly.”

I could not find any ancient source that mentions or alludes to ideas of strength or fierceness in the word praus or a source that indicates an intrinsic, or original, military sense. I could not find these ideas in modern books either, with one exception. In The New Testament Commentary – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, written by Max Anders and published by Holman in 1999, the author makes this comment:

“Warhorses in the ancient world went into battle trained to protect their master. They were under the total and instantaneous control of their rider. War horses were described as being meek. Their strength was under total control.” (Google Books)

Unfortunately, even in this book, a Bible commentary, there is no citation given.
(Update: The meek warhorse idea is also in the book Praus: A Parable for Winning the War Within by Hunter Lambeth.)

Good warhorses are strong and fearless in battle but also compliant and tame (praus) with their riders and handlers. In Cyropaedia, Xenophon uses the word praus for warhorses, but not in connection with toughness or in connection with fighting battles against enemies.[11] Rather the context is horses standing calmly with other horses when not in battle.

Aristotle on Praus and People

Xenophon seems to have used prau– words mostly for animals, for tame and gentle animals, but these words were commonly used in ancient Greek texts, including the New Testament, to describe the mild and gentle nature of people.

Aristotle wrote around the same time as Xenophon and in Attic Greek. In Rhetoric 3.2 (1380a), he uses prau– words several times in a discussion where he contrasts anger with the meekness or mildness of men, and he defines “making mild” as “the quieting and appeasing of anger.”[12]

In Nicomachean Ethics 4.1-5 (1125b-1126a), however, he says that meekness, or a mild temper (πραότης/praotēs), is the mean, or midpoint, between anger and an unnamed opposite extreme. For Aristotle, being praus was not about strength but about humility. Because of this humble element, he did not always regard meekness as a virtue as Christians do, and he thought that meekness had a tendency towards “deficiency.” Nevertheless, he observed,

“Now we praise a man who feels anger on the right grounds and against the right persons, and also in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time. He may then be called gentle-tempered (πρᾶος/praos), if we take gentleness (πραότης/praotēs) to be a praiseworthy quality—for ‘gentle’ (πρᾶος/praos) really denotes a calm temper, not led by emotion but only becoming angry in such a manner, for such causes and for such a length of time as principle may ordain although the quality is thought rather to err on the side of defect, since the ‘gentle-tempered man’ (πρᾶος/praos) is not prompt to seek redress for injuries, but rather inclined to forgive them.”[13]

Jesus somewhat fits with this description. However, unlike Aristotle, Christians see humility and forgiveness as good things, not defects.

“Meek” (praus) implies neither weakness nor strength

Gentleness and courage are not mutually exclusive—meekness is not to be likened to weakness—and this is evident in the way the word is used in the New Testament. (See here.) On the other hand, there is no implicit sense of strength in the word praus. And, unlike what the “meek warhorses” blog posts say, Xenophon does not indicate that praus has a military origin or military association any more than it has a farming origin or association (cf. Econ. 15.4). Moreover, there is not the slightest hint of either association in how the New Testament authors use prau– words.

Prau– words are not uncommon in ancient Greek. They typically refer to a gentle, mild, or regulated temper, and in the context of animals, including horses, praus typically means “tame.”[14] For Christians, the trait of meekness, like the traits of humility and submissiveness, are positive virtues. And while self-restraint may well be required on occasion, these three traits, plus a readiness to forgive, are essentially about putting aside or relinquishing power in relationships. Praus is not about exerting strength or power in relationships.

Furthermore, people with little or no strength can be meek. Many of the original audience of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, those who heard Jesus say, “The meek will inherit the earth,” had little political power or social clout.

Conclusion

Meekness is a quality of mild-mannered and self-controlled gentlemen and gentlewomen, and it is a quality of animals that are tame or gentle with humans. It is neither a masculine nor a feminine virtue, but is one of many Christian virtues. Being praus is not an expression of manliness or machismo, and it is the antithesis of arrogance, anger, and aggression.

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch and a native Greek speaker, understood what praus means. In around AD 110, while on his way to Rome to face martyrdom, he wrote about meekness, humility, and non-retaliation towards antagonistic unbelievers.

In response to their anger, be gentle (praeis)
In response to their boasts, be humble
In response to their slander, offer prayers
In response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith
In response to their cruelty, be civilized
Do not be eager to imitate them
Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters
And let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord … (Ign. Eph. 10:2-3a).[15]

(I hope to find the exact source, if there is one, of the “meeked warhorses” claim in the blog posts. If you know the ancient source, please let me know so I can add it to this article.)


Footnotes

[1] Prautēs is the noun (“meekness/gentleness”) and praus is the adjective (“meek/gentle”). Prautēs is pronounced “prah-oo-tays” or “prah-oo-tis.” Praus is pronounced “prah-oos.”

[2] The warhorse idea even appears in the Wikipedia entry on Matthew 5:5 here.

[3] Xenophon uses the related adverb in Anabasis 1.5.14: “Clearchus, however, was angry, because, when he had barely escaped being stoned to death, Proxenus was talking ‘lightly’ (πράως/praōs) of his grievance …” (Perseus Digital Library)

[4] “On Horsemanship 9:3” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 7. E. C. Marchant and G. W. Bowersock, transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1925) (Perseus Digital Library)

[5] “On Horsemanship 9:5” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 7. E. C. Marchant and G. W. Bowersock, transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1925) (Perseus Digital Library)

[6] “On Horsemanship 9:10” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 7. E. C. Marchant and G. W. Bowersock, transl. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1925) (Perseus Digital Library)

[7] “Economics 15.4” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 4. E. C. Marchant and O. J. Todd (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1979) (Perseus Digital Library)

[8] “Memorabilia 2.3.9” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 4. E. C. Marchant (Transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1923) (Perseus Digital Library)

[9] “Anabasis 1.4” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 3. Carleton L. Brownson (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1922) (Perseus Digital Library)

[10] “Cyropaedia 2.1.21” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 5. Walter Miller (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1914) (Perseus Digital Library)

[11] I include the following excerpt that mentions the tractability of warhorses, but Xenophon did not use prau– words here: “… you must see that the horses get enough food to stand hard work, since horses unfit for their work can neither overtake nor escape [in battle]. You must see that they are ‘docile’ (euchrēstoi: serviceable, useful, tractable), because disobedient animals assist the enemy more than their own side.”
“On the Cavalry Commander 1.3″ in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, Vol. 7. E. C. Marchant and G. W. Bowersock (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1925) (Perseus Digital Library)

[12] “Rhetoric 3.2” in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 22. J. H. Freese (transl.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, and London: William Heinemann, 1926) (Perseus Digital Library)

[13] “Nicomachean Ethics 5.4 (1125b.25-1126a.1)” in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 19, H. Rackham (transl.) (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, 1934) (Perseus Digital Library here and here.

[14] Here is the LSJ entry for πραΰς (Attic spelling: πρᾶος). The LSJ entries for the noun πραΰτης (Attic spelling: πραότης) and for the related verb πραΰνω are here and here.

[15] I’ve used The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition), edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 190-191, for this quotation but have formated the lines differently.

Like Ignatius, the author(s) of the Didache (the circa AD 100 church manual) also understood meekness:

But be meek (praus), since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be patient, merciful, innocent, quiet and good, trembling at the words that you have heard. Do not elevate yourself, or let your soul become overconfident. Your soul must not be joined with the lofty, but abide with the just and lowly. Didache 3.7 (my own translation)

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Images

1. Excerpt of a grave stele of Dexileus, an Athenian equestrian, who was born in 414 BC and who fell in battle near Corinth in 394. More about this stele on Wikimedia.
2. Marble relief circa 438 BC–432 BC from the north frieze of the Parthenon. The frieze shows the procession of the Panathenaic festival. # 613459729 © The Trustees of the British Museum

praus gentle meek war horses

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“A Gentle and Quiet Spirit” is not just a Feminine Virtue
All articles on 1 Peter 3:1-7 here.
“Come to Me”: A Commentary on Matthew 11:28-30

34 thoughts on “The Greek Word ‘Praus’ and Meek Warhorses

  1. The discussion of praus immediately made me go to perhaps the most famous verse about someone described as meek (actually ‘very meek’): Numbers 12:3. (Advert for http://www.stepbible.org which makes this easy). The LXX uses praus sfodra as the description of Moses. Praus is used in a number of places in the LXX, and the corresponding Hebrew word a.nav is translated as ‘humble’, ‘poor’ or ‘afflicted’ in those contexts.

    Then, of course, the one who is greater than Moses both described himself as praus and showed himself as that in the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah (again praus in LXX). The use of the donkey is a specific repudiation of the image of riding a warhorse.

    To be praus is an aspect of being Christ-like, and thus is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

    1. Thanks for this useful, extra info, David. Understanding praus is not as tricky as some people claim.

      1. The important question is why people feel the need to have ‘praus’ as something to do with might and toughness. Are men who promote this, paradoxically, afraid of seeming weak? In contrast, Paul , whose life demonstrates a significant level of real-world toughness, nonetheless witnessed to the truth that God’s strength is made perfect in his weakness.

        If I might add another couple of thoughts in this area. I recall a long time ago hearing it said of someone that “he was gentle in the way only a very big man could be.” Is machismo based on fear rather than real strength?

        The news came through in the last day or so of the death of Jim Packer. Like Eugene Peterson who died in 2018, I get the distinct impression that these great men of God were humble, i.e. ‘praus’.

        To be ‘praus’ should be the ambition of every Christian man (and woman), but it does not denote ‘might’.

        1. As I briefly mentioned in the article, it is worrying that some Christians are attempting to frame traits such as humility and meekness in terms of strength. While there may be times we need to draw on inner strength to be amicable and kind with people who rub us the wrong way or are downright mean, if we are truly “meek and lowly in heart” like Jesus, being gentle and humble shouldn’t be a huge effort. It should be who we are as people who have been conformed to the likeness of Jesus.

          Also, I think being humble and meek requires losing and relinquishing power. I think this is where some Christians have a problem, especially those in individualistic societies.

          I first came across the idea of meek warhorses in a twitter thread that began with the tweet “I don’t follow a meek & mild Jesus, I follow the bold, strong, & courageous Jesus.” Yikes!

          1. The way David describes meekness as “gentle in the way that only a strong man can be is exactly what I think of when someone describes a warhorse – strength but, restraint and control.

          2. Hi Jon, the point isn’t really what war horses are like, the point of the article is to investigate the meaning of praus. I could not find any source where an ancient writer uses prau– words with a sense of strength when speaking about horses.

            In this first comment, David says that the equivalent word in Hebrew means “humble, poor, or afflicted.” These are not desirable traits in warhorses. David doesn’t mention strength, restraint, or control.

            In his second comment, he says that tough men like Paul can also be meek. Both weak and strong people can be meek. But the word praus itself does not have a sense or implication of strength.

            David (and I) disagree with the statement, “he was gentle in the way only a very big [or strong] man could be.” This is not how praus is used in ancient texts including the New Testament.

  2. Right, what counts for the definition of meek is what can be discerned from its use in Scripture. The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to map the Hebrew to the Greek (and vice versa) and the LXX can come in very handy for this.

    P.S. Since all of the authors of the books of the NT were Jews, except perhaps Luke, I have seen (and agree with) the claim that it is helpful to think of the books of the NT as being written in Judeo-Koine Greek. That is, just using a Koine Lexicon can be misleading as many of the ideas are Hebrew concepts in Greek clothing, such as Hades in the NT not referring to the Greek concept of Hades but rather to the Hebrew concept of Sheol and the authors simply used the “closest Greek word” available.

    1. Context is always the key to working out the meaning of any word. In the New Testament, praus and prautēs occur alongside words that mean humble, quiet/calm, kind, patient, peaceable, forbearing, etc. Though it is also used with perseverance once and with self-control once which can require inner strength. I honestly don’t think praus is an enigmatic word.

      1. I do not either. I keep being surprised when some wearing blue glasses (masculinist worldview) see blue texts in Scripture in places I cannot imagine before they do it.

    2. There is no such thing as Judeo Koine Greek. It’s just Koine Greek and that’s all. Just because most of the NT writers were Jewish doesn’t mean they had a special dialect of Koine. Any scholar with his/her weight in gold that knows KG will tell you the same.

      1. James, you could have worded your comment more gently, dare I say, more πράως.

        Apart from a few semiticisms—the frequent use of ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν and of the impersonal ἐγένετο, Hebrew/Aramaic loan words, and constructions such as πληθύνων πληθυνῶ in Genesis 3:16, for example—I don’t see compelling evidence for a distinction between the Koine used by circa first-century Jewish authors and non-Jewish authors.

        Perhaps these observations of Daniel Wallace are useful:

        “Semiticisms affect the style of the NT, while the syntax is still Hellenistic Greek [of which Koine is a subset]. Syntax is something external to an author—the basic linguistic features of a community without which communication would be impossible. Style, on the other hand, is something internal to each writer. (p.27)

        Wallace goes on to say, “To a large degree, the style [of the NT] is Semitic, the syntax is conversational/literary Koine (the descendant of Attic), and the vocabulary is vernacular Koine.” (p.28)
        Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 27 & 28. (Wallace’s use of italics.)

      2. I am no scholar, but I think it unwise to assert that there is just Koine Greek. Ancient Greek had many dialects and it would be very surprising if KG did not have the same. As a largely spoken language, is was a lingua franca among diverse people. Inevitably it would have been flavoured by the mother tongues of its speakers. The equivalent today would probably be English. We know that this has lots of variations. In India there is ‘Hinglish’, and in the southern USA, ‘Spanglish’. The USA and the UK are famously “two nations divided by a common language”.

        For Jews, it is not unreasonable to think that how they used KG would be influenced by the LXX, its vocabulary and phraseology. This is true of English. Many scholars cite William Tyndale (rather than, e.g. Shakespeare) as having the greatest influence on modern English. That is because he translated the Bible into his English (from the Midlands, I think). The use of this in the KJV and other translations of the time have then shaped our use.

        There are, as Marg says, semitic influences in the NT – perhaps more than she cites. One was spotted in my NT class by a fellow student who knows Arabic. Hebrew will intensify an action by using an infinitive with a finite verb. You find the same in the NT (with a participle). We might translate literally, “rejoicing, he rejoiced”.

        There are some more interesting cases. A prime one is how the LXX translates the Hebrew word ‘chat..tat’. If you look at Leviticus 5:6 this word occurs as referring to ‘sin’ which is committed and as the ‘sin offering’ which is brought to the Lord. The LXX translates both as ‘amartia’. LSJ has no meaning of this word as ‘sin offering’, but the LXX clearly does. How does this affect 2 Corinthians 5:21? Was Paul thinking (as some say) in Aramaic and then translating into KG? The NIV thinks so – see its footnote to the verse.

        1. 🙂 The example I gave from Genesis 3:16 is a participle followed by a finite verb. This kind of verbal repetition is done in a few slightly different ways in the LXX and in a few New Testament books.

          There were different dialects of pre-Hellenistic Greek, dialects that developed over centuries in the functionally independent Greek city-states. But Koine was more standardised, thanks to the legacy of Alexander the Great. There were arguably local “flavours” of Koine (e.g., Alexandrian Koine) but not local dialects.

          1. Any time there is a new idea, a possible response is that it is preposterous. Once one has a way to understand a specific Scripture text, it can feel threatening to discuss a different way to understand that text.

            It turns out that there are many 1st Century Jewish idioms and technical terms used in the books of the NT, but since they are such, no one is required to believe that they even are such, they can continue to stick with the Greek meaning. An analogy would be if someone today says it is raining cats and dogs and someone in the future wonders why animals should be falling from the sky because they misunderstand the idiom!

            When this type of thing gets into religious areas, whoa! I gave the example of hades/sheol, as I thought that was easy to see, but there are many more I could give, each possibly goring someone’s ox. That seems to be a tangent to the original discussion, so I defer unless Marg wishes.

          2. I agree, Donald. The idea of a Jewish Greek is not as cut and dried as James seems to think it is.

  3. This was so enlightening! I love *real* stories about ancient customs and what we can learn from them. It is distressing to see how some stories are without merit, and are simply presented as fact. I am better equipped to ask teachers for their sources and references now; too many lies are perpetuated because they “sound good” and tickle the ears …. hmmmmmmm, maybe that warning is in the Bible someplace (2 Tim 4:3 comes to mind)?

    1. Hi Pauline, It disturbs me too that fanciful ideas are passed on as facts among Christians.

      While I was writing this post I kept thinking of the “bald prostitutes” idea. Once upon a time, someone was scratching their head over 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, a difficult passage to exegete. This person had a brain-wave and thought shorn or bald prostitutes explained 1 Corinthians 11:5-6. The “bald prostitutes” idea gained traction among Christians even though there’s zero historical evidence for the prostitutes being bald in Corinth or anywhere else in ancient world.

      In his commentary of 1 Corinthians, Gordon D. Fee writes, “It was commonly suggested that short hair or a shaved head was the mark of the Corinthian prostitutes (cf. e.g., Grosheide, 254). But there is no contemporary evidence to support this view. (It seems to be the case of one scholar’s guess becoming a second scholar’s footnote and a third scholar’s assumption.)”
      Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 511 fn80.

      On the other hand, there is evidence that Roman wives who committed adultery could have their hair cut short as a humiliating punishment. (I’ve written about this here.)

  4. I always love your articles and the comments.
    Any one who has studied linguistics, translation and exegesis knows that all words have a range of meaning. The English word “fire” has a different technical meaning when associated with a firing squad vs when shouted in a crowded movie theater. Equestrian Konia vocabulary’s technical nuances probably have little in common with the meaning of words in other contexts as you have pointed out.
    One of the truly unfortunate biases of most high tech communication is that in the lack of face to face non-verbal cues tends to make comments appear harsher and aggressive. James could have been more gracious to David but maybe he was in a rush.. It is always important as brothers and sisters that we demonstrate our love for each other in word and deed.
    Having said that and not wishing to “pile on David” I think that the goal of understanding the scriptures exegetically is to try to understand them as their first intended audience would have. The NT with the possible exception of the gospel of Mathew and the epistle of James was undoubtedly written to non-Jewish believers and should be understood in that context.
    I have seen well meaning preachers use a Strongs concordance to try to define the nuance of a word based on the Hebrew word that the LXX translators used to figure out the underlying words that Jesus used in the gospel accounts. Hebrew and Aramaic although similar are distinct languages and Hebrew was a dead language to the Jews who wrote most of the NT. If you think of other similar languages say Greek and Latin you can see what I am getting at. although I struggle with all languages (I’m dyslexic) I can read the NT and LXX in Kona Greek I’m lost if I pick up the Vulgate. There is linguistically at least the same amount of difference between Hebrew and Aramaic.
    So although his comment was not as gracious worded as I would have liked in the end James is correct stick to the Konia, it was the language that the intended audience of the NT understood.

    1. Thanks, Billy.

      In the quotations given above, Xenophon is not using praus in a technical equestrian sense. He is telling trainers, handlers, and/or riders to be gentle and soothing when training horses. And in Cyropaedia, Xenophon uses exactly the same word for “more reasonable” soldiers as he does for horses who stand “more quietly.” (Perhaps take another look at the examples.)

      Unfortunately, I don’t understand your comment about Koine. I don’t disagree with James, just with his tone. And his pedantry isn’t warranted. I want people to be kind in their comments. Still, my response somewhat backs up what James has said. Also, we are all talking about Koine in our comments.

      I agree that we need to understand what the books and letters of the New Testament, written in Koine, meant to the original audiences. The purpose of my article is to expose the unsubstantiated “meek warhorse” claim in order to understand how the New Testament authors use praus. (Xenophon is the only author I could find who uses prau– words when speaking about horses.)

      In my previous article, here, I focus more on the Koine of the New Testament.

      1. I’m sorry I guess I should of worded my response/comments better. Thank you for your prompt reply.

    2. Although it is somewhat of a sideline, might I defend myself. I object to the idea that KG is a single thing. Just as Greek in the classical period had many dialects, so KG must have had the same – if not more so. There would have been variations in space and time. This could include understandings of words. In comparison, consider how the adjective ‘smart’ is understood on either side of the Atlantic. Or how the British student, who had some pencil to erase, raised eyebrows among his American fellow students in asking for a ‘rubber’. So, when reading KG we need to allow for dialect.

      A second point to make in response to Billy is that it is probably the case that the Church in the NT period was a thorough mix of Jews and Gentiles. Many of the Jews would have been Hellenised Jews, as evidenced by the Greek names of those who were clearly Jews. Many of the people specifically named in the letters are Jews. Rodney Stark (“The Rise of Christianity”) asserts (with arguments) against “scholarly opinion” that Hellenised Jews continued to be a source of converts to the fourth Century. Hellenized Jews who attended synagogue would have heard the LXX every Sabbath.

      The NT frequently quotes the LXX. More interesting is when allusions to the OT are made. Revelation has no direct quotations, but I am told its 404 verses contain over 600 allusions to the OT. That would be unlikely if its main audience were Gentiles with no exposure to the OT.

      The relation beween Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and the language spoken in 1st century Judea/Galilee is an interesting one. I think you are incorrect to see a huge difference between the Biblical language and the language of ordinary people. Although the NIV uses ‘Aramaic’ to refer to the language of, e.g. The inscription on the cross or Jesus to Paul in the vision, in the Greek, these are actually Ἑβραϊστί and Ἑβραΐς. If one goes to the OT for references to ‘Aramaic’ as a language, in the LXX the reference is to ‘Συριστί’ – ‘Syrian’ (a.ra.mit in Hebrew).

      I think Hebrew and Aramaic are more closely related than Greek and Latin. In particular, they share the same word-root basis. I have started the long journey of learning Biblical Hebrew (which has given me, by the way, very significant sympathy for those with dyslexia, as I sit with the letters swimming on the page!). As you look up vocab. in Strongs, you come across that from the parts of the OT written in ‘Aramaic’. They are almost identical.

      Two more points:
      – the Alexandrian Jews did find the need to translate their Scriptures into Greek. However, they did this perhaps 400 years (less for some) since the Hebrew was written. They did have a good knowledge of both the original and the target language.

      – however, the non-Greek speaking Jews did not feel the need to preserve how the Hebrew text should be read until the 8th century when the Masoretes developed the vowel pointings etc. I would be surprised if 800 years before the Hebrew text was not reasonably comprehensible.

      In short, I do think the LXX is a useful resource for understanding how a 1st century Jews used KG.

      Admittedly, the

  5. Marg, have you come across ‘Jesus the Meek King’ by Deirdre J. Good? I recommend it. Good makes the case that praus is a quality of controlled strength, the opposite of someone in a position of power playing the tyrant. In as much as an equestrian equivalent might be drawn (which is very limited), it is the notion of a disciplined and controlled stallion. However, of greater relevance is the application to an authority figure demonstrating restraint and avoids the exploitation of power. Humility, as you know, was a despised quality or situation in life, while praus was commended. The recent trend to translate praus as humility is very regrettable – meekness and humility are very different notions.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I’ll see if I can get a hold of it.

      Meekness may sometimes involve self-control, or strength, but not always. And I agree that meekness and humility are not the same, but both qualities are mentioned together in a few NT verses, including Matthew 11:29.

  6. I came across this article today:

    https://religionnews.com/2020/07/22/white-evangelicals-didnt-hold-their-noses-to-vote-for-trump-his-toxic-masculinity-is-what-theyve-been-defending-for-decades/

    It gives a clue as to why some would want to be able to find elements of militarism in the word ‘praus’.

  7. Thank you for the article! I have heard it as “bridled ferocity”, as though meekness in Jesus’ case was that stallion being restrained. The implication is great power and strength being controlled.

    You have caused me to consider that Jesus did not act with microagressions or barely restrained violence. And so there is nothing gendered about being meek.

    You have clearly done a lot of work to find the source of these angry militaristic horses. It’s shocking to me there’s no references in Holman’s commentary – it’s like this is some idea that has been plagiarised around for a ‘wild at heart’ gendered theology.

    1. Thanks, Lenny. I appreciate your comment.

      I’ve had a bit of pushback from both friends and critics who maintain that praus has a sense of restrained strength, or strength under control. This idea may be the context of a sentence or paragraph that contains a prau– word, but I can’t see that a sense of strength, let alone fierceness, is implicit in the word itself. I also can’t see that the ideas of strength or fierceness are behind the verses where prau– words are used in the New Testament.

  8. Thank you for the helpful article. I have heard Praus as strength under control. I think what everyone is missing is the source of strength.

    Meekness is being gentle, while have the strength of a living God inside of us. I would argue that the phrase is correct but miss interpreted. That strength is reflected in the fruit of His Spirit. Gentleness, patience self control etc

    Most theology goes astray when we place the object in ourselves instead of the God who we were created to Glorify.

    1. I agree, Josh. I still think that, like humility and submission, there is an element of putting aside strength and laying down power, but paradoxically that means relying on strength from God.

  9. First of all, I’d like to thank you for your thorough analysis. I haven’t read through all the comments and replies yet, but I intend to. I want to give a brief response before I lose sight of my thoughts or let them be swayed by other comments. It feels as though this is a passive attempt to right a potential wrong that ‘praus’ is being miss-labeled as inherently masculine by emphasizing the nuance of implied strength. I agree that this word is, in fact, a universal virtue that applies to both masculine and feminine. I believe in the biblical context, men needed to be corrected on their misunderstanding of the word more than women. I believe that could be true today, as well. I believe the nuance that can apply more accurately to each of your examples is in ‘control.’ But unlike self-control ‘praus’ has an essence of external impact. Meekness does not imply “no anger” it implies control of said “anger” based on external moral influence. If it were up to us we would retaliate but we place ourselves under the moral subjection of a greater power. In Christianity that greater power is the example and direction of Christ and His teachings. Strength is certainly a part of the example of warhorses because they are strong creatures. But as you mentioned the Jewish Christians had no “strength/power” in the context that they heard these words. This point shows that you are aware that that context in which this word is being used doesn’t mean physical strength or masculine power. And as indicated earlier I don’t believe it is an inner-strength either. ‘Praus’ can better be defined by “an obedience to a greater external strength”. In the case of horses, it’s their rider. In the case of men in a combat regiment, it is the code that they adhere to, spoken, and unspoken. In the case of the fish, it is the Syrians. In the case of the farm animal, it is their caretaker. In the first century, women had no choice but to accept a submissive role to an outside authority. Men on the other hand believed they were that authority. Men needed to know then and still need to be taught that God’s moral law is the authority and that we should be obedient to that law. And like one of your examples stated we need to be obedient to the slightest nudge of our Master’s voice, not be weak but be ready to do His will no matter how chaotic the world around us appears. I could be wrong but this is how I see the word ‘praus’ as needing to be understood today. This applies to males and females alike. Tame may be the best translation but not how we see tameness today. We see tameness as removing a wild nature. Tameness in the sense of meekness; is retaining the wild spirit while placing it under willing sudjection to an outside authority. In the Christain sense, the ultimate authority, God.

    1. Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, there are several things I don’t quite understand in it. It seems you have misunderstood a number of statements as well as the overall point of the article.

      My article has a narrow focus and is the result trying to find the basis for the idea that the ancient Greeks used praus when speaking about training wild horses to become obedient war horses. This idea is repeated in numerous articles written by Christians. To date, I still haven’t found a reference for this idea that continues to be confidently asserted by some.

      Also, I think you have misread or misunderstood the passages from Xenophon that I’ve quoted in the article. For example, it is not the Syrians who are described as praus by Xenophon. The purpose of my article is to show how the Greeks used the Greek word praus in the light of “war horse” claims.

      Also, I do not say this: “But as you mentioned the Jewish Christians had no ‘strength/power’ in the context that they heard these words.” It seems you have misunderstood the comment that I did make: “Language evolves over time, and how an Athenian used Attic words in the early fourth century BC is not necessarily the same as how Jewish Christians used Koine words in the late first century AD.”

      As with kindness, humility, and being submissive, I don’t think praus is a mystery. It seems some Christians are overcomplicating it. However, the purpose of my article is not to engage in a broad discussion on meekness; rather there is a narrow focus: It asks and answers the question, Does the word praus come from, or originate with, ancient military training of war horses?

      Shalom

      One more quick comment: The first-century Greco-Roman world was not just patriarchal. Society was stratified in various ways and there were plenty of men who had little to no authority, men who were slaves and paupers, for example. Conservative estimates are that a third of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves, and many members of churches were many slaves and paupers. Women with a degree of wealth, especially those from the upper classes and those who lived in Roman colonies and places such as Macedonia, had more power than most male slaves and paupers.

  10. A little off-topic, sorry, but the use of the word ‘patriarchal’ is itself an illustration of how words change meaning. If a current meaning might be ‘relating to or denoting a system of society or government controlled by men’, its origin is more precise in ‘rule by fathers’. This was a true state of affairs in the extended Roman household.. The ‘pater familias’ had significant power over the other members of that household even, in theory, the power of life and death. That autocratic authority extended to all,including adult children and the servants and slaves. Then that model was applied to the nation as a whole, with the ‘patrician’ class acting exerting authority as ‘fathers of the nation’. So, rule was not just only ‘by men’, but by a small set of men.

    This, incidentally, puts Ephesians 6:1-4 in an interesting light. ‘Children’ here are ‘offspring’ not ‘not yet adults’, so includes adult children – and the reference to the fifth commandment makes this clear. I don’t hear many who use Ephesians 5:22ff to say wives are subordinate also saying that adults need to obey their parents – including their mothers, which is not part of the patricarchal system.

    1. Thanks, David. I’m a person who points out that the household codes and the 10 Commandments require adult children (including grown men) to obey their fathers and their mothers. These texts weren’t speaking about young children. I also point out that the household codes require slaves (including grown male slaves) to obey their male and female slave masters.
      I write about this here and here.

      As you probably know, the pater familias did not have as much power (potestas) in the first century CE as in previous centuries. And more and more, women were marrying sine manu, so that they did not come under the legal protection and control of their husbands. This way they could retain any personal property or inheritance for themselves. On top of that, the reforms of Augustus gave citizen wives, under certain conditions, even more legal autonomy. There were several social dynamics, patronage is another, that enabled some women to have power and influence in the first century. We see some of these women in the New Testament. I write about this here.

  11. Marg,
    It appears there are misunderstandings on both sides. Please, continue to correct or clarify, as you see fit. I was reading this post as an attempt to correct an error (or potential error) in the use of the word ‘praus’ as a word used to describe war horses. I have read similar articles to the kind you have mentioned. I can’t remember if they had further citations. I will pay closer attention from now on. Where I feel like we are finding our disconnect is this: this article seems to deconstruct the Christian commentator’s interpretation of the word ‘praus.’ I agree with you that the word has carried a corrective masculine tone with an emphasis on strength under control. I also agree that these notions seem to be false in that they are not the primary nuance of the word. What I felt was missing from the article was a logical reconstruction of how the word was intended to be understood. Now, I know this can be subjective but it is worth discussing. My reply was an attempt to draw a link between the way this word was used in the contexts you provided. I did not intend to imply that the Syrians were being described as being praus, but the fish. Ironically this is the one usage that logically fits the least. Aside from maybe dolphines and some larger aquatic mamals, fish in general are not “tamed.” In this time culture they we likely similar to Koi fish. Even today we keep fish as pets but no one in their right mind would think they are actually “tamed”. That brings up the issue we are all discussing. It is nearly impossible to understand completely they intended nuances of various words. What will people think of the words “cool” or “groovy” in a hundred years. Is every usage a subjective messure of temperature or an uneven/wavy surface. If all these examples are from the same Kione-Greek era, they offer us an oppertunity to look for similar themes. The best way to do that is to remove the current interpretation and look for new alternatives that could fit in best into every usage. Much like in mathmatics when when create a formula to derive a particular answer we try multiple variations to test for consistently accurate answers. Unless you are a ancient language scholar you have to trust the integrity of the rest of the passage and assume your own inaccuracy but it can be very insightful.

    Where I find this most frustrating in scripture is when a word is translated into a particalar word one way until it is used in the same sentence as another word that fits better. The words ‘moichao’ and ‘porneia’ are often both translated adultry until they are put in the same sentence. Likewise, when the same English word is used when two different Greek words are used in the same sentence. The word love is used in John 21 the word love is used for both ‘agapao’ and ‘phileo’ making it nearly impossible for basic readers to see the variations in nuances that impact their intended meaning. It isn’t until we strip it back and look for an alternative that we can see the possibilities.

    So, I truly appriciate your diligence in seeking a more accurate usage of this word. I definitley see a need for this word to be rediscovered and more accuratley applied to our current understanding of the word meek. The only way to truly correct a logical error is to go back to the point of error, correct, and then move forward.

    1. Hi Nick. A few quick thoughts:

      ~ I have never seen a citation in articles that make the war horse claim, and I’ve looked hard for them. I suspect the claim is made up, a fabrication.

      ~ I don’t say this: “… the word has carried a corrective masculine tone with an emphasis on strength under control.” Or perhaps I am misunderstanding you. Praus has neither a masculine or feminine sense.

      ~ Xenophon gives the reason why the fish in the Chalus River are praeōn (“tame”). I’ve seen tame fish that are unafraid of people and can even do simple tricks. However, I make a distinction in the article between the use of praus words describing animals (“tame”) and people (“mild-mannered”), simply because we expect more of people and don’t usually call people “tame.” I make statements to that effect a couple of times in the article.

      ~ I think I’ve given a clear indication in the article about what praus meant in and around the first century, and therefore what it means in the New Testament. The quotation of Ignatius further demonstrates its meaning. Plus, I have other articles about meekness in the New Testament. The focus of this article is deliberately narrow.

      ~ Out of interest, which translations render porneia as “adultery”?

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