Search Bible
Click for Help   Click for QuickNav   Click for Advanced Search Options
Search KJV
Your Bible Version is the KJV
Go to Top
Link to This Page Cite This Page
Share this page Follow the BLB
Printable Page
The Blue Letter Bible

Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

Choose a new font size and typeface

xliii. πραότης, ἐπιείκεια.

Ταπεινοφροσύνη and ἐπιείκεια, though joined together Clement of Rome (1 Ep. § 56), are in their meanings too far apart to be fit subjects of synonymous discrimination; but πραότης, which stands between, holds on to both. The attempt has just been made to seize its points of contact with ταπεινοφροσύνη. Without going over this ground anew, we may consider the relations to ἐπιείκεια in which it stands.

The mere existence of such a word as ἐπιείκεια is itself a signal evidence of the high development of ethics among the Greeks.1 It expresses exactly that moderation which recognizes the impossibility cleaving to all formal law, of anticipating and providing for all cases that will emerge, and present themselves to it for decision; which, with this, recognizes the danger that ever waits upon the assertion of legal rights, lest they should be pushed into moral wrongs, lest the ‘summum jus’ should in practice prove the ‘summa injuria’; which, therefore, urges not its own rights to the uttermost, but, going back in part or in the whole from these, rectifies and redresses the injustices of justice.2 It is thus more truly just than strict justice would have been; being δίκαιον, καὶ βέλτιόν τινος δικαίου, as Aristotle expresses it (Ethic. Nic. v. 10. 6); ‘es ist nämlich nicht das gesetzlich gerechte, sondern das dasselbe berichtigende’ (Brandis); being indeed, again to use Aristotle’s words, ἐπανόρθωμα νόμου, ᾗ ἐλλείπει διὰ τὸ καθόλου:3 and he sets the ἀκριβοδίκαιος, the man who stands up for the last tittle of his legal rights, over against the ἐπιεικής. In the Definitions which go under Plato’s name (412 b) it is δικαίων καὶ συμφερόντων ἐλάττωσις: it is joined by Lucian (Vit. Auct. 10) to αἰδὼς and μετριότης, and in a fragment of Sophocles is opposed to ἡ ἁπλῶς δίκη. Correctio ejus, Grotius defines it, in quo lex propter universalitatem deficit. Εὐγνωμοσύνη in its meaning approaches very closely to ἐπιείκεια, but has not as completely been taken up into the scientific language of ethics. This aspect of ἐπιείκεια, namely that it is a going back from the letter of right for the better preserving of the spirit, must never be lost sight of. Seneca (De Clem. ii. 7) well brings it out: ‘Nihil ex his facit, tanquam justo minus fecerit, sed tanquam id quod constituit, justissimum sit;’ and Aquinas: ‘Diminutiva est poenarum, secundum rationem rectam; quando scilicet oportet, et in quibus oportet.’ Göschel, who has written so much and so profoundly on the relations between theology and jurisprudence, has much on this matter which is excellent (Zur Philos. und Theol. des Rechts und der Rechtgeschichte, 1835, pp. 428–438).

The archetype and pattern of this grace is found in God. All his goings back from the strictness of his rights as against men; all his allowance of their imperfect righteousness, and giving of a value to that which, rigorously estimated, would have none; all his refusals to exact extreme penalties (Wisd. 12:18; Song of Three Children, 18; 2 Macc. 10:4; Ps. 85:5: ὅτι σύ, Κύριε, χρηστὸς καὶ ἐπιεικὴς καὶ πολυέλεος: cf. Clement of Rome, 1 Ep. § 29: ἐπιεικὴς καὶ εὔσπλαγχνος Πατήρ: Plutarch, Coriol. 24; Peric. 39; Coes. 57); all his keeping in mind whereof we are made, and measuring his dealings with us thereby; all of these we may contemplate as ἐπιείκεια upon his part; even as they demand in return the same, one toward another, upon ours. Peter, when himself restored, must strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32). The greatly forgiven servant in the parable (Matt. 18:23), having known the ἐπιείκεια of his lord and king, is justly expected to shew the same to his fellow servant. The word is often joined with φιλανθρωπία (Polybius, v. 10. 1; Philo, De Vit. Mos. i. 36; 2 Macc. 9:27); with ἡμερότης (Philo, De Car. 18; Plutarch, De Vit. Pud. 2); with μακροθυμία (Clement of Rome, 1 Ep. § 13); with ἀνεξικακία (Wisd. 2:19); often too with πραότης: thus, besides the passage in the N. T. (2 Cor. 10:1), by Plutarch (Peric. 39; Coes. 57; cf. Pyrrh. 23; De Prof. Virt. 9). It will be called ἀνανδρία by as many as seek to degrade a virtue through the calling it the name of the vice which is indeed only its caricature (Aristides, De Concord. i. p. 529).

The distinction between πραότης and ἐπιείκεια Estius (on 2 Cor. 10:1) sets forth in part, although incompletely: ‘Mansuetudo [πραότης] magis ad animum, ἐπιείκεια vero magis ad exteriorem conversationem pertinet;’ compare Bengel: ‘πραότης virtus magis absoluta, ἐπιείκεια magis refertur ad alios.’ Aquinas too has a fine and subtle discussion on the relations of likeness and difference between the graces which these words severally denote (Summ. Theol. 2a 3oe, qu. 157): ‘Utrum Clementia et Mansuetudo sint penitus idem.’ Among other marks of difference he especially presses these two: the first that in ‘clementia’ (== ἐπιείκεια) there is always the condescension of a superior to an inferior, while in ‘mansuetudo’ (πραότης) nothing of the kind is necessarily implied: ‘Clementia est lenitas superioris adversus inferiorem: mansuetudo non solum est superioris ad inferiorem, sed cujuslibet ad quemlibet;’ and the second, that which has been already urged, that the one grace is more passive, the other more active, or at least that the seat of the πραότης is in the inner spirit, while the ἐπιείκεια must needs embody itself in outward acts: ‘Differunt ab invicem in quantum clementia est moderativa exterioris punitionis, mansuetudo proprie diminuit passionem irae.’

It is instructive to note how little of one mind our various Translators from Wiclif downward have been as to the words which should best reproduce ἐπιείκεια and ἐπιεικής for the English reader. The occasions on which ἐπιείκεια occur are two, or reckoning τὸ ἐπιεικές as an equivalent substantive, are three (Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; Phil. 4:5). It has been rendered in all these ways: ‘meekness,’ ‘courtesy,’ ‘clemency,’ ‘softness,’ ‘modesty,’ ‘gentleness,’ ‘patience,’ ‘patient mind,’ ‘moderation.’ Ἐπιεικής, not counting the one occasion already named, occurs four times (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 3:2; Jam. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:18), and appears in the several Versions of our Hexapla as ‘temperate,’ ‘soft,’ ‘gentle,’ ‘modest,’ ‘patient,’ ‘mild,’ ‘courteous.’ ‘Gentle’ and ‘gentleness,’ on the whole, commend themselves as the best; but the fact remains, which also in a great measure excuses so much vacillation here, namely, that we have no words in English which are full equivalents of the Greek. The sense of equity and fairness which is in them so strong is more or less wanting in all which we offer in exchange.

1 No Latin word exactly and adequately renders it; ‘clementia’ sets forth one side of it, ‘aequitas’ another, and perhaps ‘modestia’ (by which the Vulgate translates it, 2 Cor. 10:1) a third; but the word is wanting which should set forth all these excellencies reconciled in a single and a higher one.

2 In the words of Persius (iv. 11),

‘rectum discernit ubi inter
Curva subit, vel cum fallit pede regula varo.’

3 Daniel, a considerable poet, but a far more illustrious thinker, in a poem addressed to Lord Chancellor Egerton very nobly expands these words, or the thought in these words; indeed, the whole poem is written in honour of ἐπιείκεια or ‘equity,’ as being

‘the soul of law,
The life of justice, and the spirit of right.’

Soo too in Spenser’s Fairy Queen the Legend of Artegal is devoted to the glorifying of the Christian grace of ἐπιείκεια.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G1932,G4236.]

Return to the Table of Contents

BLB Searches
Search the Bible
Search KJV

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval
Search KJV

Let's Connect
Daily Devotionals

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

Donate Contact

Blue Letter Bible study tools make reading, searching and studying the Bible easy and rewarding.

Blue Letter Bible is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization