Matthew 5:5 is the fifth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It is the third verse of the Sermon on the Mount, and also third of what are known as the Beatitudes.
In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:
- Blessed are the meek:
- for they shall inherit the earth.
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- Blessed are the gentle,
- for they shall inherit the earth.
This well known verse is perhaps the most famous of the Beatitudes. Unlike the previous two, however, this one has no parallel in Luke's Sermon on the Plain. Luke's Sermon contains four Beatitudes and four Woes. There is considerable debate over whether this Beatitude was in Q, and Luke left it out, or if it is an original addition by the author of Matthew. Gundry's theory is that the author of Matthew wanted to remove the woes for later use against the Pharisees in Matthew 23, however he wanted to keep the same eightfold structure and thus needed to create four new sayings. He sees this verse as essentially just a rephrasing of Matthew 5:3, this same wording is also found at Psalm 37:11. Meek and poor, which can also be translated as humble, mean essentially the same thing. Schweizer feels "meek" should be understood as meaning powerless.
The 19th century theologian James Strong argued in his Strong's Concordance #4239 that the Greek word praus (πραεῖς) means mild or gentle, but it is not suggesting weakness but instead the way power is handled. It is "strength under control". It is demonstrating power without undue harshness. The English language does not have a word that translates conveying both gentleness and power together.
The phrase "inherit the earth" is also similar to "theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" in Matthew 5:3. Schweizer notes that two terms reflect the two different views of the end times current when Matthew was writing. One view was that the end of the world would see all the believers brought up to join the Kingdom of Heaven. The other view was that the end times would have God come down to directly rule Earth, and the chosen people would then be given dominion over the entire world. Hill does not see the two verses referring to different things. He does not feel that word "earth" means the physical world. Rather he notes that Deuteronomy 4:1 and Deuteronomy 16:20 both use the word inherit to refer to the Israelites taking possession of the Holy Land. Hill feels that earth, which can also be translated as land, is an allusion to the new Holy Land, which might not be on Earth. A refined meaning of this phrase has been seen to say that those that are quiet or nullified will one day inherit the world.
Meek in the Greek literature of the period most often meant gentle or soft. Nolland writes that a more accurate interpretation for this verse is powerless. Clarke notes how important and revolutionary this elevation of meekness was in the Mediterranean's societies of the time that placed enormous stock in honour and status. This verse has been much praised, even by some non-Christians such as Mahatma Gandhi. Some have seen it less favourably. Baron d'Holbach felt that this verse, and those around it, reflected the interests of Christians when they were a small and powerless sect. He felt that whenever Christians gained power these views were inevitably abandoned. Friedrich Nietzsche was harshly critical over this verse, which to him embodied the "slave morality" of Jesus. It has also been criticized by James Joyce, William Blake, and Theodore Dreiser who all rejected a life without striving.
As one of the most famous of Beatitudes, the meek shall inherit the earth has appeared many times in works of art and popular culture:
- The title of a song ("The Meek Shall Inherit"), and the overall theme, of the Little Shop of Horrors musical
- The title of a song on the Frank Zappa album You Are What You Is ("The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing")
- The songs "Visions of the Night" and "Walking in your Footsteps" by The Police each contain the line, "They say the meek shall inherit the earth"
- The theme of the Rush album 2112
- An episode of the War of the Worlds television series
- J. B. Priestley's Midnight of the Desert contains a discussion of this verse by the characters as does Arnold Bennett's Anna of the Five Towns.
- A rendering of the Beatitudes in Monty Python's 1979 film Life of Brian includes the verse - "How blest are those of gentle spirit. They shall have the earth for their possession."
- Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, when reminded that the "meek shall inherit the earth", replied, "Only after the violent have tamed it."
- A line rapped by Jay-Z in the song "Lucifer" from The Black Album.
- A line spoken by Rev. David Marshall Lee in the Larry Shue play The Foreigner.
- A line in the song "The Geek" by German band Wir sind Helden.
- The Simon & Garfunkel song "Blessed", from their album Sounds of Silence.
- "Try not to forget that the meek inherit earth" is a quote from Staind's song, "How About You".
- A line in the song "Anything for Jah" by Easy Dub All-Stars.
- In the episode of The Outer Limits, The Vaccine, "The meek shall inherit the Earth" was used as the end quote.
- Welsh Indie Band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci has a song titled "Blessed are the Meek" on their 1992 album Patio.
- A line in the song "The Grind Date" by De La Soul from their album The Grind Date.
- The title of a poem by Charles Bukowski.
- Title of 1980s album by jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson.
- In the song "1000 More Fools" by Bad Religion in their album Suffer.
- Comedian Eddie Izzard describes a scenario in his show Circle, in which the meek conclude that it's about time they actually did inherit the earth, and proceed to do so in an organised, armed revolution.
- The poem "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath contains the lines "we are meek...we shall by morning, inherit the earth."
- The Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" contain the following line in a deleted scene, spoken by Mal Reynolds encouraging Saffron to act decisively: "More than 70 earths spinnin' about the galaxy, and the meek have inherited not a one."
- In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, John Keating (Robin Williams) says to the character Stephen Meeks "Mr. Meeks, time to inherit the earth".
- J. Paul Getty once quoted "The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights."
- Used in the Lost episode "The Moth".
- Was spoken by Pridcilla Lapham portrayed by Luana Patten in the 1957 movie Johnny Tremain
- Referenced to in the song "Ready Or Not" from rapper Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 2 mixtape: "The meek shall inherit the earth, so I'mma own this bitch till I'm buried in dirt."
- Spoken by the High Lama in the film Lost Horizon (1937).
- Morley Callaghan's novel, They Shall Inherit the Earth (1935).
- The band Creature Feature used the line "The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth" as a song title.
- The opening lyrics to the song "Valley of Death" off of rapper Rick Ross's 2009 album Deeper Than Rap are "The meek shall inherit the earth, that's what the bible says"
- In the Community episode "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" Donald Glover (as Troy Barnes) raps a rhymed variation of the verse, beginning with "Blessed be the peacemakers, word to the meek / The kingdom of heaven is open all week" as a gesture to his devout Christian friend, Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown).
- In the My Morning Jacket song "Victory Dance" from the album Circuital (2011), the lyrics state "Power, hey do you know how it works / Hey do you know that the meek, They shall inherit the earth".
- In Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a daily quest is named "The Meek Shall Inherit".
- The band Silent Planet has a song called "Inherit the Earth" on their 2016 album Everything Was Sound.
- Spoken by Apocalypse in the film X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
- The title of the Creature Feature song "The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth".
- Boring, Eugene "Gospel of Matthew." The New Interpreter's Bible, volume 8 Abingdon, 1995 pg. 176
- Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
- Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
- Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 201
- Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
- Davids, Peter H. "Meek Shall Inherit the Earth." A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
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