It does not take long to discover that the author of 1 Timothy has a penchant for lists. One such list occurs in 1 Timothy 6:11 where the writer, Paul, urges his protégé, Timothy, to flee some things and pursue other things. Included in the list of six things Timothy should embrace is something Paul calls praupatheia. This term only occurs here in the New Testament and only rarely in non-biblical literature before 1 Timothy was written. It is the last in a series of spiritual attributes that define a Christian, and in particular a Christian leader — righteousness, piety, faith, love, endurance and praupatheia. But what spiritual virtue is being described by this rare term?
Philo, a Jewish writer contemporary with Paul, is the only other writer in whose works we find the noun, as well as the cognate verb and adjective. In his commentary on Abraham’s life Philo mentions the episode where Lot’s herdsmen began quarreling with those of Abraham because their wealth and herds had increased so much (Gen. 13:5-11). The biblical text describes how Abraham took the initiative to defuse the situation and propose a solution. Philo is not complementary to Lot whom he describes as “an unreliable and hesitating person….therefore his servants too were quarrelsome and turbulent” (Abr. 212-213). In response Philo says that Abraham’s servants “gave way to them because of their master’s gentleness (dia…despotou praupatheian).” The context suggests a measured, controlled response to provocation and this response expresses a certain demeanour.
The cognate verb occurs in Philo’s treatise on “Fugitives.” His first example is Hagar. He argues that the motive for her flight is shame. If it was fear, then he presumes the angel would have worked in Sarah’s heart to generate “a gentler frame of mind (praiopathein)” (Fug. 6). Again the context is one of discord that precipitates Hagar’s decision to flee. Philo thinks that Sarah’s disposition could alter from harshness “to a gentler frame of mind” if the angel of the Lord would have encouraged this.
Philo used the cognate adjective when he discusses the nature of the soul and its three components — reason, high spirit and desire (logos, thumos, epithumia). “High spirit” is located in the chest area, near reason, so that reason can “use good sense to charm it [high spirit] into gentleness (praupathē)” (De Spec. Leg. 4.93). The other occurrence is in Philo’s account of the Embassy to the Roman Emperor Gaius on behalf of the Jewish population of Alexandria. He recounts how Agrippa wrote a letter to Gaius urging him to rescind his order to place a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple. Gaius reluctantly agrees, but does permit people outside the capital, Jerusalem, “to set up altars or temples or any images and statues in honor of him” (334). Philo observes that if this were to occur, it would provoke Jewish people to take action “even if they were the mildest of men (praiopathestatoi)” (De Leg. 335). In both of these contexts we discern the adjective used to describe a calm, controlled response, in contrast to rash and rancorous action, when faced by various provocations.
These represent the only occasions where this term appears prior to the use in 1 Timothy 6:11.
This compound noun praupatheia is related to two other Greek terms. The first part comes from the adjective praos which describes someone who is “gentle, mild, meek.” Animals who are praos are tame. The second part is related to the noun pathos which describes “emotion, passion.” The combination of these terms suggests that the compound noun characterizes the taming of passion or emotion, i.e. someone who exercises self-mastery. A by-form prauthumos occurs in Proverbs 14:30 (Septuagint) with the sense “of gentle mind.”
It seems that Paul in using this term is advising Timothy as a leader in the church to exercise self-mastery such that he responds to difficult situations and provocations with mild gentleness, keeping his own emotions in check. This trait of gentleness or mildness becomes particularly common in the description of Hellenistic political leaders.