The Bible has little positive to say about pride, and vigorously condemns it in every instance or virtually every instance (it depends on whether you use the Protestant or Catholic Bible). In Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) a usual synonym for pride is arrogance (Prov 8:13; Isa 9:9, 13:11; 16:6; Jer 48:2) or haughtiness (Jer 48:29; Zeph 3:11). Its opposite is humility (Job 22:29; Prov 3:34; 29:23; 2 Chron 32:26), which God honors (Prov 22:4; 2 Chron 7:14, 12:7). I only found two positive statements about pride in the Catholic Old Testament (Judith 15:9; Sirach 50:1).
In the New Testament pride (alazoneia, 1 John 2:16)1 is condemned, as is its synonym (uperēphaneia, Mark 7:22), which is defined in the lexicon as "a state of undue sense of one's importance bordering on insolence, arrogance, haughtiness, pride."2 These two words in the New Testament describe completely negative character traits (Luke 1:51; Rom 1:30; 2 Tim 3:2; Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).
A severely negative view of pride has persisted in Western culture—without doubt because of the influence of the Bible in Western culture. For example, near the end of the 14th century in the "Parson's Tale" Chaucer listed pride as the first of the seven deadly sins, and the root of all the others (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust), noting that the only remedy for pride is humility or meekness, a virtue in which a person "considers himself worthy of no esteem nor dignity."3 In the 17th century Milton traced the beginning of the woes of humankind to the pride of Satan.
The infernal serpent, he it was, whose guile stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived the mother of mankind, what time his pride had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring to set himself in glory above his peers, he trusted to have equaled the Most High" ("Paradise Lost," Book One: lines 34-40; see lines 27-58).
Keeping the biblical attitude toward pride in mind, it is surprising to learn that self-respect is considered a synonym of pride. In fact, one definition of pride is "a sense of one's own worth and abhorrence of what is beneath or unworthy of oneself: lofty self-respect."4
Here are a number of sayings that recognize pride's positive character (even Paul seems to acknowledge it in Gal 6:4, but without using the word "pride"):
Take pride in your work. A job well-done is a meaningful accomplishment/ Take pride in your appearance/ Civic pride should be encouraged/ Pride is a personal commitment—it is an attitude that separates excellence from mediocrity/ There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. "Good pride" represents our dignity and self-respect/ Be proud of who you are instead of wishing you were someone else/ Pride is holding your head up when everyone around you has theirs bowed—courage is what makes you do it.
Viewed from the biblical perspective, pride is firmly condemned by God, but from a secular perspective pride may well be an essential positive trait of being human. If pride or being proud can often be positive, the biblical view of pride appears to be inadequate and misleading in that it masks the true nature of pride.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1In Classical Greek alazoneia is translated as pretension, imposture, boastfulness, a piece of humbug: Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed.), 59.
2F. W. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon (3rd ed.; University of Chicago, 2000), 1033.
4Webster's Third International Dictionary Unabridged (2002), 1799.