Question: "What is the definition of piety?"

Answer: The term piety usually refers to godliness or reverence for God. A person who shows great devotion to God through religious observance is said to be “pious.”

Today, piety often carries a vaguely negative connotation, evidenced by the secondary definition provided by one dictionary: “a belief that is accepted with unthinking conventional reverence—the accepted pieties of our time.” It’s the “unthinking” part of this definition that does disservice to true piety. Historically and technically, piety still indicates the quality of being holy, religiously devout, or reverent.

Various translations have used piety in different ways:

- The NIV translates a Hebrew idiom that might otherwise be translated “the fear [or reverence] of the Lord” as “piety” in Job 4:6; 15:4; and 22:4.

- The NRSV uses “piety” for a Greek word usually translated “righteousness” in Matthew 6:1. It is also the translation for eusebeia, a Greek term for “reverence,” in Acts 3:12.

- The NASB also translates eusebeia in Acts 3:12 as “piety.” It does the same in Hebrews 5:7. In 1 Timothy 5:4, piety is used to refer to one’s duty of caring for elderly family members.

Piety implies aspects of reverence, external action, and religiosity, any of which may be well-intended or used in a showy, inappropriate manner. Jesus warns against ostentatious shows of piety in Matthew 6:1–18. Proper piety is characterized by godly behavior, and the end result is that God is glorified: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).