Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quiet? Silence? Or something else...

When it comes to the question of whether a woman should be allowed to preach to men in a church context the key verses have to be 1 Tim 2: 11-15.   
I've been thinking a bit about the specific Greek words in these verses and here is what I've found out so far:
I've looked at the word which is often translated "quietly" or "in silence": ησυχια  (apologies, I don't yet know how to add the breathing marks etc.)  and it doesn't seem to mean what lots of English translations translate it as.

I've searched for this word as a noun, adjective and verb and here are the places it's found in the New Testament. Bible text is from the NRSV.




Acts 22:2

"When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet."

1 Thess 4:11

"to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands,"

2 Thess 3:12

"Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."

1 Tim 2: 11, 12

"Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."



1 Tim 2:2

Pray "for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity."

1 Peter 3:4

Do not adorn yourselves by braiding hair … "rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight."



Luke 14:3-4

""Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?"  But they were silent."

Luke 23:56

"On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment."

Acts 11:18 

"When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.""

Acts 21:14

"Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, "The Lord's will be done."." (Note: "except to say" is literally ειποντες).

1 Thess 4:11

We urge you… " to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you,"

I think this gives a sense of how the words in 1 Tim 2:11 and 12 should be understood. I don't think it's talking about "not talking" at all. See, for example,  the verbs in Acts where they were silenced, but were still able to speak praising God!
It seems to me that here it is argumentative speech -  that speech which is not submitted to God - which is silenced. But speech praising God is not inconsistent with the use of ησυχαζω. But rather it's about a state of not arguing, and about being orderly, and restful.


  1. Hi Donna,

    1 Timothy 2 has more interpretation issues than "hesuchia"!
    Is it "women and men" or "wives and husbands"?
    Is it speaking about the household (marriage relationship)? Or the Church leadership structure?
    Does the restriction even apply today? Or just the Ephesian church?
    To whom is the "woman" meant to submit Every "man" (every bloke over the age of 14)? Why don't we enforce a "literal" reading of 1 Tim 2:9?
    Heck, what does "being saved by chibirth" actually mean?!!

    This passage is rife with interpretation issues.

    I think the 1 Timothy 2:8-12 passage is best understood when interpreted alongside Paul's parallel passage in 1 Peter 3.

    I look forward reading about your quest in this area! Good luck!

    Dan Connor

  2. Hi Dan,

    I agree there is much blog fuel in this verse.

    I think I'll attack each issue one at a time (so each post isn't book length...)

    And thanks, I'll think about the 1 Peter 3 link.