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.
The human potential movement of the 2nd half of the 20th century associated with the founding fathers of psychology such as Rogers and Maslow had to do I think with 'feeling good about oneself' as contrasted with 'pride in work/accomplishment." The idea was to find what perspective and activities in life allowed for one's best attributes to come forth. Rogers even thought that there was an organismic-valuing-process that allowed that to happen in interaction with others. This way of thinking about life is so steeped in our culture that it is automatic for those of sufficient hope and means to pursue education and training. At the end of the process, not understanding the nuances of what has happened, one could experience pride in the accomplishment. Feeling good about oneself is sufficient, however, given how many others contributed to the end result along the way. On a more primitive level perhaps the contributors to the Bible realized the mutual dependency in life and the misrepresentation that placing oneself in the forefront of accomplishment represents.
Good afternoon Charlie,
I can only tell you what I was taught regarding "pride." And the best way to illustrate this is by contrasting it with "grace." I was taught that humans are incapable of obeying God out of their own effort, and to even think of following God through your own will or effort or ability- is completely false and evil in the sight of God. To do anything righteous from your own effort is considered prideful. We can only do good things because God gives us the grace to do so... So only he gets the credit. To take credit for anything good is to automatically become like Lucifer and "steal" God's glory.
This is the main reason that our Christian church fathers hated Judaism so much- how dare they think that they can obey God on their own? That is the essence of pridefulness! It led to the great debate between Pelagius and St. Augustine. I highly recommend that you google that debate- very enlightening. Anyway, Pelagius ended up being branded a heretic because he dared to suggest that if God gave humans the commandment to love and obey him (and to love other humans as well)... Then he must have at the same time given humans the ability to obey & love him too... And the free will to choose between the two. (i.e., no such thing as Original Sin or sin nature) Oh no, no, no said Augustine. God gave the command to obey and love him in order to show us miserable and depraved humans that we are incapable of loving him... And that we need his grace to do so. (i.e., total depravity)
1) Aren't Pelagius and Augustine saying the same thing? One says God gives us an ability to obey him- the other says God gives us grace in order to obey him. What's the big deal about grace?
2) Is it prideful to say that I can please God on my own? If so, why?
3) Why does being dependent on God make us more spiritual? Is there some virtue in being dependent? If so, why?
That is what I was taught about pride. Were you taught any of this?? Elizabeth
I for one can agree that "feeling good about oneself" is a good thing. But how do you rate pride. Is the Bible correct that pride is the equivalent of arrogance or haughtiness or do you see pride as something positive for human beings to cultivate? Or put another way should we teach our children to be proud of themselves?
I'm thinking that you don't need more than feeling good about yourself. Pride simply takes away from the credit others should be given for one's accomplishment.
Pride is a normal human emotion, and in itself not bad. Rather the action/s one takes with his/her emotion of pride may be good, bad, or perhaps neither. If humans' pride results in actions that contributes to benefit for themselves or others, and not at the expense of harm to others, one's pride is good.
Humans are emotional being. Emotions are indicators of how people and events are effecting each of us. How we react to our emotions greatly affects the well being of others or our own well being. Your discussion along with the readers' responses are attempts for rational considerations for human reactions to the human emotion of pride. Rational consideration of human response to their emotions may well be the primary determination of the well being of the human race. Consider for example the reactions by Jesus and by Hilter to their emotions.
Let me push back a bit: Is "feeling good about oneself" a character trait or emotion (as Jim insists), which most people experience at one point or another. Do you rate pride as positive or negative?
Good Morning Elizabeth,
#1 I have not read the debate between P and A, so I cannot comment.
#2 and 3: your questions are framed within a Christian world view, or more generally within a "religious" worldview. In order to answer them one must accept the assumed view of the questions that God is and is concerned about both humankind and the world. I have gone on the record that such a view is highly questionable.
I was trying to come at the question from another angle: all of us experience pride as a normal human emotion--we all have it at one time or another. (I call it normal because we all experience it; in Christian thought it is considered sinful, however.) So I raised the question what is wrong with pride in itself as a human emotion or trait? I am asking Christians to think outside the box of the Christian worldview for a moment.
That pride is sinful is what I was taught from Childhood in the church--I was not taught that at home.
If there are positive aspects to pride, how can those good things be considered sinful?
I don't think that "being dependent on God makes us more spiritual," and am not really sure what you mean by "being dependent on God."
I have had to do for myself throughout my life as I suspect that you have done as well.
What specific reactions by Jesus to his emotions do you have in mind?
That's exactly right Charlie... I don't think any of us were taught that pride in and of itself was sinful. "I'm so proud of you little Johnny! You did a great job!" Many children were told how proud they made their parents- it was something to be aspired to. What about "Gay Pride Parades" and "Civic Pride," etc... None was that was sinful. So the question is: why does the church stand alone in condemning pride as a sinful act towards God? I already set forth my thesis- that humans are completely depraved and to think positively of one's self is an affront to God.
Why do you think the church condemns any form of pride?
When I say being dependent on God makes us spiritual- what I mean is this: We can't do anything good by our own will. We have to depend on God to help us do good deeds, think good thoughts, act righteously, etc. To say "I can do it on my own, I don't need God's help" is the essence of pridefulness according to most church's teachings. So in the eyes of the church- dependency must be a virtue. "Though I be weak, he is strong." "I can do all things through Christ"... Have you ever heard a sermon on "I can do all things myself?" No you have not, and you never will. That is why I say dependency and weakness are extolled as virtues. Does that make sense? Elizabeth
I suggest that the discipline of psychology points to six basic feelings (strong subjective states) that are reactions to one’s environment, from which all other feelings are derived: joy, anger, fear, sadness, shame, guilt. The first four are probably initially primitive innate capacities, while the last two are learned socially.
I think that pride needs to be separated out between self-pride and the pride others feel about us.
A parent expressing pride in his/her child can mean a life time of encouragement and feeling good about oneself, which at that point could probably qualify as a character trait. This type of parental pride and the resulting feeling good about oneself I would classify as derivatives of joy.
Self-pride I would classify not so much as a feeling but as a defense mechanism, compensation for all the negative feelings resulting from the perception of insufficient support and encouragement from others; could be called a "fallen" state of being, part of the interpersonal hell of humanity, I guess.
Or perhaps this is just all language mush!
Re: ...what specific emotions by Jesus did you have in mind?
I am not the student of the Bible as you, so I feel sure you can better answer a question about Jesus' reactions to his emotions than I. I do recall Jesus becoming angry and aggressively "driving the money changers out of the temple" on an occasion. In addition I have always been amazed at Jesus' lack of emotional reactions to the events surrounding his betrayal, trial, and eventual execution.
My view about all the inner views of Jesus reflected in the gospels is that they are part of the evangelists' personal theology and authorial creativity. They simply could not have known his inner feelings or emotions since they did not know him personally and even if they had known him personally, no one ever knows for certain what is going on inside another person--even if they tell you. In the latter case one would only know what they had been told--not what was actually going on inside them. The gospels are romantic fiction narrative, See my article "Realism in Western Narrative and the Gospel of Mark," Journal of Biblical Literature 126.2 (2007), 327-39.
I understand your comment about the depravity of humanity to be a description of what you regard as the view of the church. Is that correct? I also understand your third paragraph in the same way. That is you are describing an ecclesiastical view not your own personal view. Is that correct?
I think the church's view of pride arises from "believing" what the Bible says.
Most of what you say about pride comes from what you personally think the Bible teaches- I don't. Very few people have an opinion about what the Bible teaches on pride (or any other subject) because most people get their opinions from preachers and teachers. They listen to sermons in order learn what the Bible "really" means. I've read many scriptures about pride. I really don't have much of a reaction to them- I guess they seem irrelevant and outdated to me. You say the church view of pride comes from believing what the Bible says- my questions is where did they get those beliefs? They come from people like St. Augustine and Justin Martyr and the other theologians. Almost no one reads the Bible purely from their own point of view, so when you ask "What's wrong with pride?" The only thing I can tell you is what I was taught about it from teachers and preachers. The words of the Bible are practically irrelevant when you have to go hear a sermon to be told "what it really means." I don't even know what it means anymore- it contradicts itself all over the place. Do I personally think there's anything wrong with pride? Moderation in all things- a healthy dose of pride is very healthy and productive. As with any subjective emotion, too much is never a good thing. Elizabeth
Charlie, can you explain to us how you think the Bible masks the true nature of pride? You say the biblical view is misleading- how so?
Yes, I understand the view of depravity to be a description of what I regard as the view of the church. Is the church's view of human depravity somehow different than the bible's? I don't see how it can be- unless you believe the Jewish bible (and the King James) which clearly states that God created evil. Isaiah 45:7.
Thank you, Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I had thought that my last statement on the blog about pride answered the question, but here is a more extensive statement:
The Bible masks the true nature of pride in that it overwhelmingly condemns human pride in harsh language as an attitude opposed to all that the "value" we call God stands for. Only two verses in the Catholic Bible find anything good about pride--the Protestant Bible finds nothing positive about human pride! But people in general know that pride has positive aspects, as we all teach or have taught our children. Hence the Bible does not reflect the true nature of pride, and by its unusually severe condemnation of pride masks its positive aspects.
One more thing Charlie... My son recently started attending a Catholic boys high school and received a Catholic bible. I had never read one before! It's really interesting. And I was able to look up the scriptures you quoted from Judith and Sirach... I do wonder why those books were cut out of the Protestant bible.
Another thing that the church taught as being sinful is riches/prosperity. There are positive aspects to that as well, but the church teaches that being rich is sinful and that poverty keeps us dependent on God. They don't come straight out in their condemnation of riches in the same way they do as pride, but it is implied in a more subtle manner.
Thank you as always, Elizabeth
The Bible used by the early church was the Septuagint, which contained the books that later were called apocryphal. These books were in Greek and intermingled among the books in Hebrew. Martin Luther was the first to take the books written in Greek and put them at the end of the books of the New Testament, and The first edition of the King James Bible contained them. Later they were dropped.
Looking at self-pride in a positive way, pride can be more akin to one's (subjective) frame of reference than a defense mechanism.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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