Great; Greatness


grat, grat'-nes:

"Great" occurs very often in Scripture. The chief words so translated are gadhol, rabh; megas, polus.

(1) In the Old Testament many other terms are employed:

(a) gadhol is used to express greatness in various senses, chiefly of magnitude, including excellence, e.g. "great lights" (Genesis 1:16); "the great city" (Genesis 10:12); "a great nation" (Genesis 12:2); "a great sight" (Exodus 3:3); "Moses was very great" (Exodus 11:3); "the great God" (Deuteronomy 10:17; Nehemiah 1:5); "great is Yahweh" (Psalms 48:1). It is sometimes translated by "mighty" (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:21, "a mighty God," the Revised Version (British and American) "great"). It is also used to designate the high priest (literally, "great," Leviticus 21:10; Zechariah 3:1, etc.); also to express the "elder" of a family, e.g. Genesis 27:1, "Esau his eldest son," the Revised Version (British and American) "elder"; probably also of great stature:

"a great man among the Anakims," the Revised Version (British and American) "the greatest" (Joshua 14:15).

(b) rabh denotes, rather, quantity, number, therefore, often, "many" (Genesis 21:34, etc.; Exodus 2:23 the Revised Version (British and American), etc.); "abundant" (Exodus 34:6, the English Revised Version "plenteous"), and similar terms; thus we have "a great people" (Joshua 17:14); "His mercies are great," the Revised Version, margin "many" (2 Samuel 24:14; 1 Chronicles 21:13); "Great was the company," the Revised Version (British and American) "a great host" (Psalms 68:11); "great reward" (Psalms 19:11); "Mine iniquity .... is great" (Psalms 25:11); "exceedingly" (Psalms 123:3). In the Septuagint rabh is, for the most part, translated by polus. But it is used for "great" in other senses, e.g. "the great (God)" (Proverbs 26:10), the Revised Version (British and American) "as an archer," margin "master worker; Hebrew text obscure"; "a saviour, and a great one," the Revised Version (British and American) "defender," margin "or a mighty one" (Isaiah 19:20); "Great shall be the peace" (Isaiah 54:13), etc. It is sometimes translated "mighty" (Psalms 89:50, the Revised Version, margin "many"; Isaiah 63:1).

(c) Other words thus translated are kabhedh, "heavy," e.g. "so great a people," the Revised Version (British and American) "thy great people," margin "heavy" (1 Kings 3:9); me'odh, implying force, might, e.g. "with all his might" (2 Kings 23:25). 'El and 'Elohim are sometimes used to express greatness. In Psalms 36:6, we have "Thy righteousness is like the great ('El) mountains," the Revised Version (British and American) "mountains of God"; in Genesis 30:8, "with great ('Elohim) wrestlings," the Revised Version (British and American) "mighty," margin "wrestlings of God"; and in 1 Samuel 14:15 "a very great ('Elohim) trembling," the Revised Version (British and American) "exceeding great," margin "a trembling of God."


(a) Megas denotes magnitude, in its various aspects, physical, moral, etc., e.g. "great joy" (Matthew 2:10); "a great light" (Matthew 4:16); "the great King" (Matthew 5:35); "great in the kingdom" (Matthew 5:19, etc.); "Great is thy faith" (Matthew 15:28); "The greatest is charity" (love), the Revised Version, margin "greater" (1 Corinthians 13:13); "a great high priest" (Hebrews 4:14); "the great shepherd" (Hebrews 13:20); "a great voice" (Revelation 1:10); in Re megas is very frequent.

(b) Polus denotes properly number, multitude, e.g. "great multitudes" (Matthew 4:25); "a great company" (Luke 5:29, the Revised Version (British and American) "a great multitude"; frequent in the Gospels); "great possessions" (Mark 10:22). But also "great" in the sense of magnitude, e.g. "great plainness of speech," the Revised Version (British and American) "boldness" (2 Corinthians 3:12; 7:4); "a great trial of affliction," the Revised Version (British and American) "much proof" (2 Corinthians 8:2); "great love" (Ephesians 2:4).

(c) Among other terms we have telikoutos, "so great" (in degree), "so great a salvation" (Hebrews 2:3); tosoutos, "so great" (in quantity), "so great faith" (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9); "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1); hosos, "how great" (in quantity) (Mark 3:8; 5:19); helikos, "how great" (in degree) (Colossians 2:1; James 3:5, "how great a matter," the Revised Version (British and American) "how much wood," margin "how great a forest"); pelikos, "how great" (in degree) (Hebrews 7:4); posos, "how great" (in quantity) (Matthew 6:23), etc.

(3) In His person and teaching, Jesus introduced into the world a new conception of greatness. It was to be found in humility and self-forgetting service:

"Whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister (the Revised Version, margin "servant"); and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant (the Revised Version, margin "(Greek) bond-servant"): even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28; compare also Matthew 18:1-4; 23:11; Philippians 2:5-11 ).

W. L. Walker

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'GREAT; GREATNESS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.