Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The adjective ταπεινος (tapeinos) means low. In the classics it's used to describe geographic depressions (valleys, rivers), as opposite of mountains, or the position of stars close to the horizon, as opposed to those near the sky's zenith. It's also used to describe the social status of people, specifically a being humble or humbled: not-proud, not-powerful, not-intelligent, not-famous, not-important (which makes our word an opposite of μακαριος, makarios, which describes the higher-uppers, the powerful elite). Spirits described by our word are downcast or dejected (which makes our word an opposite of χαιρω, chairo, to rejoice), and morals described by our word are base and lawless (which makes our word an opposite of ελευθερια, eleutheria, freedom-by-law).
In the New Testament, our adjective is used predominantly to forward the anti-intuitive idea that not the rich, powerful and successful alphas of society will ultimately win and inherit the earth, but rather the low, the poor in spirit and the meek. The rich don't want things to change, which is why the celebrated "innovations" of the Elons, Jeffs and Bills of our world don't really change things and only fortify the structures that solidify the position of them and their buddies. Any real change and thus real progress comes not from the world's billionaires but always from the world's bungled and botched.
In the animal world, the alphas sit perched at the center of their territory, and their interest is in the continuation of the status quo. And for this they reward the obedient and useful, and reject the disobedient and useless. When ape-dom begat the Naked Ape (for argument sake, let's use this often told story for the story it is), the Naked Ape was weaker, colder, slower and generally a total failure (the story of Tarzan is nonsense). By sheer competition and market pressure, the Naked Apes were forced out of the centralizing presence of the alpha, and driven to the outer periphery of the alpha's realm.
Thus dispersed and vulnerable, driven by sheer need and despair, and while nobody including the alphas had any idea of what was really going on, the Naked Apes began to invest in vocal expression and began to meet up with the outcast of neighboring tribes (even the similar outcasts of wolf tribes: see κυων, kuon, dog). Soon the outcasts from all tribes gathered like refugees at Rick's Café Américain, and merged into a motley crewed Third Tribe called humanity, invented ελευθερια (eleutheria) or freedom-by-law, and began to live happily ever after in fabulous cities, where lawless animals couldn't enter (Revelation 22:15). The burly alphas who had once rejected them (Psalm 118:22), are now in cages, zoos and parks, where they still, utterly inanely, worry about competing with neighboring alphas.
This surprising evolutionary principle of Survival of the Weak — that eluded even the great Charles Darwin and effortlessly explains the punctuated equilibrium mystery first discussed by Stephen Jay Gould and friends — was wholly known and understood by the ancients. The name Lamech, belonging to both fathers of the last generations of both great lines of descent (from Cain and Seth) up to the flood of Noah, may be derived from the verb מוך (muk), to make low or to humiliate.
It's not clear where our adjective ταπεινος (tapeinos) comes from, but it's probably pre-Greek and thus perhaps Semitic. Here at Abarim Publications we don't know either, but a Hebrew word that leaps to mind, particularly after contemplating the origin story of us Naked Apes, is the noun תפוצה (teposa), meaning dispersion (Jeremiah 25:34 only), from the verb פצץ (pasas), to break apart or scatter. We only bring this up because we additionally surmise that the name Nazareth is a Niphal form of the verb זרע (zara'), to scatter or disperse.
Our adjective ταπεινος (tapeinos), low, is used 8 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the noun φρην (phren), the rationalizing mind: the noun ταπεινοφροσυνη (tapeinophrosune), meaning low-mindedness. This word obviously does not glorify ignorance or intellectual laziness but rather promotes intellectual kindness and discretion: a meekness and modesty in the desire to explain things, eagerly avoiding any kind of competition (Joel 3:10, Micah 4:3) or lust for domination (1 Corinthians 15:24), whilst conveying a mature patience in allowing others to formulate their thoughts and even make an error or two without having to fear immediate violent corrections and derision. This excellent noun is used 7 times; see full concordance.
- The verb ταπεινοω (tapeino), meaning to make or bring low. In the New Testament, this verb often describes a making oneself low, which is actually a very difficult thing to do and arguably even more difficult than elevating oneself. Being low takes no effort because lowness (being broke, disenfranchised, voiceless) is like falling as a result of social gravity and only requires a failure of holding on or staying on one's feet. Getting back up again and rising through the ranks takes some more effort, and most of us are able to achieve a minimum level of elevation off rock bottom. But then, reaching the kind of power than enables one to truly assume the status of a lowly fumbler, that takes considerable character and huge self-sacrifice (Philippians 2:7). Obviously, "getting low" in a virtuous sense is not the same thing as betting everything on black until the ball lands on red. Getting low is not about ruining oneself, but about a controlled descent into the underbelly of our world, to find and rescue those low-ones who themselves lack the strength to get up (1 Peter 3:19).
This magnificent verb is used 14 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- The noun ταπεινωσις (tapeinosis), which describes the act, condition or situation of being low: lowness. This noun is used 4 times; see full concordance.