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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Grave Gravity

(σεμνός, σεμνότης, 1 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:4; 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:11, Titus 2:2; Titus 2:7, Philippians 4:8)

The translation is, as a rule, ‘grave,’ ‘gravity’; but in Philippians 4:8 the Authorized Version has ‘honest,’ ‘venerable’ (marg. [Note: margin.] ) (Revised Version ‘honourable,’ ‘reverend’ [marg. [Note: margin.] ]), and in 1 Timothy 2:2 ‘honesty’ (‘gravity,’ Revised Version ). The Vulgate has pudicus, except in 1 Timothy 3:4 (castitas) and in Titus 2:7 (gravitas). ‘The idea lying at its root (σεβ) is that of reverential fear, profound respect, chiefly applied to the bearing of men towards the gods’ (Cremer, Lexicon3, 1880, p. 522). It is akin to the Latin serius, severus, and the Gr. εὐσέβεια.

1. The word was used in a local sense of places haunted by supernatural powers-of caves,* [Note: Pyth. ix. 50.] of the boundary† [Note: Hippol. 746.] of heaven and earth-as pointing to the Divine guardianship of the world. In the Septuagint the word is used in this sense of the Temple at Jerusalem, because it possessed a τινα θεοῦ δύναμιν which miraculously thwarted Heliodorus when he sacrilegiously tried to rob it (2 Maccabees 3). In an inscription of the 2nd cent, Berœa is called σεμνοτάτη because it was a Temple-guardian (νεωκόρος).

2. Akin to this was the religious application of the word to Divine persons-a usage which is common in early Christian literature. In Hermas, Mand. iii. 4, it is used along with ἀληθές of the Holy Spirit. It is used of the name of the Deity (2 Maccabees 8:15), just as in classical Greek the word was applied to the gods, Ἐρινύες-αἱ σεμναὶ θεαί.

In the NT, while the word has not lost its religious meaning, it is used mainly in a moral sense. It occurs only once outside the Pastorals (Philippians 4:8), and probably was familiarized in common speech through the influence of popular Stoicism. The sophist claimed this title (Luc. Rhet. Prœc. i.). In Hermas, Vis. iii. viii. 8, Σεμνότης is one of the daughters of Πίστις, and thus has a place among the Christian virtues. The word is applied to persons or personal qualities in two senses-either subjectively, of a conscious moral attitude of gravity, or objectively, indicating the influence produced on others by such a grave, decorous behaviour. The best translation seems to be ‘gravity.’ Vergil (aen, i. 151ff.) speaks of a ‘pietate gravem ac meritis virum.’ At his approach a seditious mob stands still, waiting silently to hear him; and he rules their mind and calms their passions by his word.

This gravity of behaviour eminently becomes Church officials-bishops (Titus 2:7), deacons (1 Timothy 3:8), deaconesses (1 Timothy 3:11), and the aged in general (1 Timothy 3:4, Titus 2:2). They are to act, in all their official duties, with a sense that they are dealing with holy things; they are to teach with grave impressiveness (Titus 2:7). It is thus the opposite of light-hearted flippancy or frivolity. It implies dignity, and in this sense Aristotle uses it of the high-souled man (Eth. Nic. iv. iii. 26).

The home is a nursery for the training of gravity (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4). Hence it is not altogether right to say that ‘gravity is hardly a grace of childhood’ (see N. J. D. White in Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1910, on 1 Timothy 3:4). It is the ‘ “morum gravitas et castitas” which befits the chaste, the young, and the earnest, and is, as it were, the appropriate setting of higher graces and virtues’ (C. J. Ellicott, The Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul3, 1864, p. 27). It befits all in the home-children and women as well as the heads of the household, and all Christians as well as Christian officials (1 Timothy 2:2). This aspect of gravity is referred to by Clement more than once in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (ch. 1). In an inscription it is found applied to a wife (see J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan in Expositor, 8th ser. i. [1911] 470). Regard for becoming conduct must be fostered in the home, and women and youths, as perhaps more open to frivolity and disobedience, must live σεμνῶς.

So, in the Church, gravity is the opposite of disorder, of shamelessness of behaviour. It is the opposite of ἀπόνοια (see Theophrastus, Char. xiii.). In 1 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle inculcates gravity as a Christian attitude towards the State, and for this end prayer is to be made for kings and all in authority. Christians are not to imitate the Jews, who brought on themselves Roman hostility by their religious contempt of authority (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) II. xvii. 2). Because God wills all men’s salvation, and Christ gave Himself a ransom for all, Christians are to respect sincerely all authority as such.

‘Christian reverence … hallows to us everything in life. The Christian regards himself as a valued work of God. His body is a temple built through ages by the Almighty. His race is a divine offspring. He loves even in the unworthy the stamp of their Maker. Material nature, human history, daily Industry, the common intercourse of life gleam for him with the veiled light, and movement of the Omnipresent’ (G. G. Findlay, Christian Doctrine and Morals, 1894, p. 19).

Thus in Philippians 4:8 the word is very wide in meaning-whatever demands and commands respect as well as the ‘noble seriousness’ (M. Arnold, God and the Bible, 1884, p. xvi) which such objects produce. Christian gravity is not, however, ‘that sham gravity which so often discredits the word; not … the gravity of self-importance, or narrowness, or gloom; but … a free and noble reverence for ourselves (since God has made us and dwells in us), and for all that is great and reverend around us-the grace of thought that guards us from mere stupid flippancy’ (F. Paget, The Spirit of Discipline, 1891, p. 74).

There was a tendency in Greece to oppose the σεμνός to the, εὐπροσήγορος the ‘affable’; and thus grave persons got the reputation of being proud and unapproachable (Thuc. i. 130), of being indifferent to the public weal (ῥᾳθυμία), of being incapable of action, of looking superciliously on enjoyment, and of easting disdainful looks on those who did not philosophize (cf. Hadley’s note [1896] on Eur. Alcest. 773f.). The virtue of gravity easily passes into the vice of pomposity. Aristotle says of the high-souled man that he is dignified towards persons of affluence but unassuming towards the middle class. A dignified demeanour towards the former is a mark of nobility, towards the latter it is vulgarity (Eth. Nic. iv. iii. 26). In modern times gravity has been looked on as a flower that withers in the knowledge of natural law and in the change of social and political conditions’ (see W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals12, 1897, i. 141f.). St. Paul, however, adds προσφιλῆ to σεμνά. ‘By this the apostle seems to advert to that in which religious persons are too often deficient, who by an austere and ascetic demeanour not a little prejudice the cause of religion’ (S. T. Bloomfield, Gr. Test., 1832, 91855, on Philippians 4:8).

He also adds ἀληθῆ. ‘Truth is the basis, as it is the object of reverence, not less than of every other virtue’ (H. P. Liddon, Bampton Lectures for 18668, 1878, p. 268).

For the difference between the form and the reality of reverence see Augustine on Seneca in Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 1883, p. 248.

Literature.-See the relevant Commentaries and Literature referred to in the article; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Grave’; B. Whichcote has 13 sermons on Philippians 4:8 (4 vols., Aberdeen, 1751); Isaac Barrow, Sermons, London, 1861, i. 46. For a discussion on Reverence, see J. Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory3, Oxford, 1898, vol. ii.; E. Caird, The Evolution of Religion, Glasgow, 1893, Lectures vii. and viii.; W. Paley, Moral Philosophy, London, 1817, pp. 296-304. For Kant’s view, see The Metaphysic of Ethics, translation Semple3, Edinburgh, 1871; J. Kidd, Morality and Religion, do. 1895, Lecture iv.; H. Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics7, London, 1907; A. Bain, Mental and Moral Science, 1868, p. 249.

Donald Mackenzie.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Grave Gravity'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/g/grave-gravity.html. 1906-1918.

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