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Gentleness in First Peter

I have heard Christians say that gentleness is a feminine virtue—a quality for women, especially, to cultivate.[1] Is this what the New Testament teaches? In First Peter, gentleness is mentioned in connection with wives, but later, in the same chapter, it is mentioned without specifying gender.[2] Let’s take a look.

1 Peter 3:4 is about the conduct of wives towards their, mostly, unbelieving husbands. Here Peter writes that “the unfading beauty of a gentle (praus) and quiet spirit … is precious in God’s sight.” Like other verses that apply to women, this text has been overemphasised by some Christian teachers, and the disposition of “a gentle and quiet spirit” has been described as something uniquely or essentially feminine. [“Quiet” (hēsychios) is briefly discussed in footnote 7 and in some postscripts below.]

1 Peter 3:15–16 is about the conduct of Christians, both men and women, as they respond to people asking them about their hope in Christ. In this context, Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness (prautēs) and respect (phobos)” (1 Pet. 3:15 NIV).

In both these situations, Peter advises a gentle demeanour.[3] Considering his use in verse 15, it seems he did not regard gentleness as an especially feminine virtue.

Gentleness in Other New Testament Books

The adjective praus occurs four times in the New Testament, once in 1 Peter 3:4 (about wives) and three times in the Gospel of Matthew where it is sometimes translated as “meek.” It seems Jesus did not regard gentleness, or meekness, as a feminine virtue or disposition.

  • In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says of himself, “I am gentle (praus) and humble in heart.”
  • In Matthew 5:5, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the meek (praus) for they will inherit the earth.
  • In Matthew 21:5, Zechariah 9:9 is quoted and applied to Jesus: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle (praus) and riding on a donkey …'”[4]

The noun prautēs, which is related to the adjective praus, occurs twelve times in the New Testament: once in 1 Peter 3:15, nine times in Paul’s letters, and twice in James’s letter. None of these verses primarily address women. In fact, a few of these verses refer to certain men.

  • In 1 Corinthians 4:21, Paul indicates it is preferable if he comes to Corinth “with a spirit of gentleness.”
  • In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul refers to the gentleness, or meekness, of Christ, and prautēs is paired with epieikeia (forbearance or fairness).
  • In Galatians 5:23, gentleness is listed as one of several fruit of the Spirit, immediately before enkrateia (self-control).
  • In Galatians 6:1, Paul again uses the phrase “with a spirit of gentleness.”
  • In Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 3:12, gentleness is one of the traits of leading a life “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and of being God’s chosen. In Ephesians 4:2, gentleness is mentioned with humility and patience. In Colossians 3:12, gentleness is mentioned with humility, patience, and also kindness.
  • In 1 Timothy 6:11 [5] and in 2 Timothy 2:25, gentleness is a quality for Timothy to pursue and employ.
  • In Titus 3:2, gentleness is one of several traits that Titus must remind the Cretans of.

In James’s letter, the noun prautēs occurs in James 1:21 and 3:13.

Importantly, the contexts of every verse in the New Testament where the noun and adjective appear shows that being meek or gentle has nothing to do with being shy, demure, passive, or weak. Rather, it involves both self-control and humility when dealing with others.[6] It also involves cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit.

The gentleness that Jesus and the apostles taught and demonstrated has little to do with gender. They taught that a gentle and quiet[7] spirit is a Christ-like or Christian virtue, and not just a feminine virtue. The quality of gentleness is for all followers of Jesus to pursue and cultivate.

Footnotes

[1] For example, Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author of Lies Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free) states, “Meekness is especially, in Scripture, commended to women.” (Source) Meekness or gentleness, however, is commended especially to married women only once in the New Testament. In comparison, it is commended to Timothy twice (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:25), and is associated with Jesus a few times (Matt. 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1). I hope this truth will set women free from the guilt and second-guessing that comes with an undue emphasis on 1 Peter 3:4.

Martha Peace (author of Becoming a Titus 2 Woman) observes, “Counselling ladies to have a “gentle and quiet spirit” is a common problem. In fact, most of the ladies you talk to will probably struggle somewhat in this regard.” Sadly, Martha is contributing to this problem, because she also states, “All Christians are to be gentle with others and not contend against God, but the ladies have a special mandate in 1 Peter 3:3–4.” (Source) Married women, and not women in general, are specifically addressed in 1 Peter 3:3–4, but Peter’s instruction about having a gentle spirit does not constitute a special mandate. Rather, it is in keeping with other directives in the New Testament about how we are to relate to one another (e.g., Col. 3:12ff).
Furthermore, Martha’s phrase “and not contend against God” is unhelpful and potentially misleading. 1 Peter 3:1–6, including verse 4, is not about contending against God, but about the conduct of believing wives towards their mostly unbelieving husbands that involved, among other things, avoiding unnecessary conflict. These wives were relatively powerless in their marriages, so Peter encouraged and comforted them by saying that behaving with modesty, quietness, and gentleness towards their husbands “is precious in God’s sight.” (See also footnote 3 for the social context of Peter’s words to wives.)

[2] The Greek adjective for “gentle, meek” (praus-πραΰς) is used in 1 Peter 3:4 and the related noun for “gentleness, meekness” (prautēs-πραΰτης) is used in 1 Peter 3:15b (or verse 16a, depending on what translation or Greek text is used).

[3] Paul advises quietness because the Christian wives in Asia Minor were in a difficult situation. They were part of the fledgling church that was being slandered, and at least some of the women were afraid of what their husbands might do to them. It was expected that wives would worship the same gods as their husbands, but these women were not doing that. They were following Jesus. 1 Peter 3:1–6 is about “damage control.” But Peter also offers hope. If the wives don’t make waves and continue to abide by cultural standards of respectability, including submission to their husbands, perhaps some husbands may even be won over to the Christian faith. This is the context of Peter’s words to the wives.

[4] Apart from the reference in 1 Peter 3:4, the Greek adjective praus occurs three times in the New Testament, all in Matthew’s Gospel: Matthew 5:5; 11:29; 21:5. The noun prautēs occurs 11 or 12 times, depending on the Greek text: 9 or 10 times in Paul’s letters, twice in James, and once in 1 Peter.

[5] In better Greek texts, the cognate compound noun praupathia occurs in 1 Timothy 6:11, rather than prautēs.

[6] With a couple of exceptions, gentleness is brought up in Paul’s letters and in 1 Peter in contexts where there is the threat of conflict:

  • the context of Paul and his relationship with the church at Corinth where there were arrogant people who were opposing him (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:1–2);
  • the context of not allowing grievances to spoil the unity and peace of the church (Col. 3:12–13; cf. Eph. 4:1–3);
  • the context of correcting those who disagree (2 Tim. 2:25; cf. 1 Tim. 6:11–12);
  • the context of believing wives with unbelieving husbands (1 Pet. 3:1–6);
  • the context of explaining the Christian hope to unbelievers (1 Pet. 3:15).

[7] The Greek adjective meaning “quiet, tranquil, peaceable, still” (hēsychios) occurs once more in the New Testament, in 1 Timothy 2:2, in a verse that applies to Christian men and women. The related noun hēsychia occurs four times: in Acts 22:2 and 2 Thessalonians 3:12; and in 1 Timothy 2:11 and 2:12 which address the behaviour of a woman in the Ephesian church. (More on 1 Timothy 2:11–15 here.) Quietness, like gentleness, is not an especially feminine virtue. (See postscripts below.)

© Margaret Mowczko 2017
All Rights Reserved


Postscript 1: Abraham Lived in “Quietness” and “Gentleness”

In the Testament of Abraham, a Jewish work written at roughly the same time 1 Peter was written, Abraham is described as having lived all the years of his life “in quietness (en hēsychia) and gentleness/ meekness” (praotēs-πρᾳότης) and justness/ righteousness.” There are a few clues that indicate the author of 1 Peter was either familiar with Test Abr or that he was familiar with some traditions that are recorded in Test Abr but not the text itself. (Here’s a link to the English text and a link to the Greek text.)

Here’s a screenshot showing the Greek nouns meaning “quietness” and “gentleness” in the Testament of Abraham 1.3.

gentle quiet spirit 1 Peter 3

Postscript 2: Esther and Mordecai and “Quietness”

I read the book of Esther in the Septuagint in January (2020) and Queen Esther uses the word “quietness” (hēsychia) in a prayer when she tells God that she doesn’t wear her crown on her quiet days (i.e. on the days when she has no royal duties): ἐν ἡμέραις ἡσυχίας μου/ en hēmerais hēsychias mou (Greek Esther C 16).

The related verb of hēsychia is used when Mordecai is resting quietly in the courtyard: καὶ ἡσύχασεν Μαρδοχαῖος ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ/ kai hēuchasen Mardochaios en tē aulē (Greek Esther A 12).

Similarly, when the men entering the promised land are circumcised under Joshua’s leadership, they were quiet (hēsychia) (i.e. they rested) until they healed: περιτμηθέντες δὲ ἡσυχίαν εἶχον αὐτόθι καθήμενοι ἐν τῇ παρεμβολῇ ἕως ὑγιάσθησαν (Joshua 5:8 LXX).

The noun hēsychia occurs six more times in the canonical books of the Septuagint: 1 Chronicles 4:39–40; 1 Chronicles 22:9; Job 34:29; Proverbs 7:9; Proverbs 11:12; Ezekiel 38:10–11.

Postscript 3: Meek Warhorses (July 20, 2020)

While some Christians claim that the adjective praus (“gentle, meek”) is a feminine quality, a few others are using their concept of praus to promote a masculine expression of Christianity. I recently became aware of dozens of blog posts that use the example of warhorses when attempting to explain and redefine the sense of praus. I’ve investigated the ancient evidence for this idea of meek warhorses in a blog post, here.

Postscript 4: “Gentle” and “Quiet” in the Didache (September 15, 2020)

I saw today that “gentle/ meek” (praus) and “quiet” (hēsychios), the same two Greek words that occur in 1 Peter 3:4, also occur in a verse in the Didache, the circa AD 100 church manual. These words are addressed to all Christians, men and women, again showing that a gentle and quiet spirit is not just a feminine virtue.

But be meek (praus), since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be patient, merciful, innocent, quiet (hēsychios) and good, trembling at the words that you have heard. Do not elevate yourself, or let your soul become overconfident. Your soul must not be joined with the lofty, but abide with the just and lowly. Didache 3.7 (my translation)

Postscript 5: “Gentleness” and “Quietness” in the Acts of Thomas (March 26, 2023)

In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, written in the 220s or 230s, gentleness (or, meekness) and quietness are mentioned several times as cardinal virtues, and women aren’t singled out. In chapter 85, gentleness and quietness are mentioned side by side.

But become well-pleasing to God in all good things, in gentleness and quietness (πρᾳότητι καὶ ἡσυχίᾳ). Acts of Thomas, chapter 85.

Commenting on chapter 85, A.F.J. Klijn notes that in ancient Christian literature, the adjectives praus and hēsychios, and the nouns prautēs and hēsychia, were often used together, and he cites 1 Peter 3:4. He further cites the Shepherd of Hermas: Mandates (Commandments) 5.2.6 and 11.8.1, and Visions 523 and 623, as well as 1 Clement 13:4 and Barnabas 19:4.  Klijn, The Acts of Thomas: Introduction, Texts, and Commentary, 2nd revised edition (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2003), 166. (A pdf of this book is here.)

Postscript 6: “Quiet” in Isaiah 66:2 LXX (August 10, 2023)

The adjective hēsychios which occurs in 1 Peter 3:4 and 1 Timothy 2:2, occurs once in the (canonical) books of the Septuagint. In Isaiah 66:2 LXX God says: “… who will I look upon? but upon ‘the one who is lowly/ humble and quiet and who trembles at my words'” (τὸν ταπεινὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον καὶ τρέμοντα τοὺς λόγους μου).

Hēsychios here is an imprecise translation of וּנְכֵה־רוּחַ in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 66:2. וּנְכֵה־רוּחַ seems to mean a “dejected, afflicted, or contrite spirit” rather than “quiet.” The NASB translates Isaiah 66:2b as, “But I will look to this one, At one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

Postscript 7: “In Quietness” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (May 4, 2024)

In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul uses the phrase en hēsychia (“in quietness”) twice, at the beginning and at the very end of these two verses, forming an inclusion, a kind of literary unit. These two verses belong together.

N.T Wright translates 1 Timothy 2:12 as, “I’m not saying women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather that they should be left undisturbed.” I find this translation problematic in a few ways. (I don’t like the way N.T. Wright handles 1 Tim. 2:11-15. For starters, Paul uses the word for “woman” in the singular, not plural, in verses 11 and 12.) But I will comment here on Wright’s translation of the phrase en hēsychia as “left undisturbed.”

Hēsychia (“quietness”), and the cognate verb and adjective, typically refer to the quiet or restful demeanour, activity, or life of the subject. This family of words is not usually used in a passive sense. That is, these words are not typically used for something “done” or “not done” to someone.

This active sense commonly occurs when hēsychia is used in the New Testament and in Greek texts outside of the New Testament. For example, see Postscript 1 where Abraham is described as having lived all his life “in quietness” (en hēsychia) and meekness, etc (cf. 1 Tim 2:2; 2 Thess. 3:12). And Proverbs 11:12b in the Septuagint says that a sensible man keeps “quiet” (hēsychia). However, in 1 Chronicles 22:9 and Job 34:29, God is clearly the one who gives quietness or rest to his people.

With an active sense in mind, I understand that an Ephesian woman needed to calm her behaviour and learn (1 Tim. 2:11) and not teach, and not domineer a man, probably her husband; instead, she needed “to be” (einai: present active infinitive) “in quietness” (en hēsychia) (1 Tim. 2:12). She needed to chill.

Being “in quietness” (en hēsychia) is the main point in these two verses, or at least, Paul is emphasising quiet, peaceful, calm behaviour from a woman. For more, see my article 1 Timothy 2:12 in a Nutshell.

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Explore more

Fear or Respect in Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:33)?
The Greek Word Praus and Meek Warhorses
“Come to Me”: A Commentary on Matthew 11:28–30
Submission and Respect from Wives (1 Peter 3:1–6)
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women 
The Kingdom of Heaven in the Here and Now and Future

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

14 thoughts on “A Gentle and Quiet Spirit is not just a Feminine Virtue

  1. Hi Marg, Thank you for this. I’m wondering if you have any written documents, or know of other authors, dealing with elders and women? We are looking at the early church and eldership/leaders and I’m wanting to arm myself to share.

    1. Hi Lorena,

      Are you asking whether women were elders in the early church?

      The word “elders” is used in the New Testament for certain women in the Ephesian church, but most people do not think the word refers to real elders, and they explain this reference away. I suspect this is because they don’t understand the role of real elders (i.e. capable older people) in the first century. (I mention the women elders in Ephesus in articles listed below.) Some also believe women elders are mentioned in the letter to Titus.

      Most of the difficulties in accepting that women such as Priscilla were elders, and/or leaders of house churches, is because, when most people read Acts or the New Testament letters, they interpret them with their own ideas from their own experience of church-life, rather than having an appreciation of the dynamics of the very early church.
      This article provides some basic information about church life in the mid to late first century: https://margmowczko.com/the-first-century-church-and-the-ministry-of-women/

      Here are some more articles that may be useful:

      Part 1 of a look at women elders in the NT:
      https://margmowczko.com/women-elders-new-testament/

      Part 2 is more technical:
      https://margmowczko.com/elders-in-new-testament/

      This article, about women leaders in the NT, doesn’t use the word “elders”.
      https://margmowczko.com/new-testament-women-church-leaders/

      This article looks at certain aspects of the qualifications of supervisors (overseers) in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
      https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

      This article discusses the idea that since the Twelve were all male, women can’t be leaders.
      https://margmowczko.com/the-twelve-apostles-were-all-male/

      I have little doubt Philip’s daughters functioned as elders. Non-biblical texts tell us they were highly respected.
      https://margmowczko.com/philips-prophesying-daughters/

      All the best

      1. Hi there,
        I love your website.
        If we teach women to be disciples of Christ first, I think the quiet spirit will come out of that, but the church is trying to do the opposite; Seek the kingdom of God first….. well you get the point.
        Thank you for obeying God and doing this ministry because we are a lot of women that are watching and listening to you. We know that we know that God has plans and great things for his daughters. love the Spanish sección. Thank you.

        Lucy Barr

        1. Hi Lucy,

          I agree that the church is too noisy and clamorous in some regards. 🙁

          If you see any odd sentences in any Spanish articles, please let me know. My Spanish articles are among the most read on this website.

          Blessings
          Marg

          1. Hi Marg,

            Have you written about “ Why did women follow Christ in the NT? I’m doing a study about that, and I know you always have great observations.

            Thanks for all you do.

            Lucy Barr

          2. Hi Lucy,

            I’ve mentioned briefly why I believe people, but not women specifically, followed Jesus in this article: https://margmowczko.com/motivation-for-ministry/

  2. We humans are such “funny” creatures (e.g. peculiar). It seems to me the teachings of Jesus are centered on developing the image and likeness of Christ (God) within us….those virtues, as you rightly point out here, are for all people. Whenever I read, I notice the fruit of the Spirit is simply the character of God. All Christians are being transformed hitherto (we hope)….so when apostles or a writer in the Bible teaches those principles, they apply them…to either men or women in situational context…..why should this be either surprising or exasperating? I say exasperating because to me, when people lift the trait and make it uniquely a gendered trait…it is like saying one is more responsible for developing that character…..than another based on biology. It is spiritual fruit…the empasis is the fruit and its development…..it is a fullness thing to me….when men FAIL to develop genetleness they are lacking the fullness of their identity. We shrift one group while heavily burdening another and for what reason? To me, this is true gendered confusion…thank you for writing and pointing out the broad path for all of humanity in being gentle and quiet….being quiet means you are placed to listen and placed to listen one is able to serve according to the leading of the spirit and not their flesh! Keep going Marge. Your writing is always excellent and thought provoking.

    1. “We shrift one group while heavily burdening another . . .”
      Nicely put, Apryl. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this in depth article!

    1. This article is one of my personal favourites. 🙂

  4. […] The Greek word hēsychia which is translated in the NIV (1984) as “silent” really means “calmness” or “quietness,” with the allusion of “keeping one’s seat.” This same word is more correctly translated as “quiet” a 1 Timothy 2:11. (The related adjective occurs in 1 Timothy 2:2.) Paul wants a woman (or women) to learn quietly. (More on hēsuchia here.) […]

  5. […] The context of Peter’s first letter shows that Peter was thinking of upper-class women with unsaved husbands when he wrote 1 Peter 3:1-6. Only upper-class women could have had the gold jewellery and the fine clothes that Peter refers to in 1 Peter 3:3. Peter wrote this whole letter to people experiencing slander, persecution and fear, this included the wives of unsaved husbands. Peter was trying to encourage the wives to remain faithful and courageous and live lives that would show their husbands the beauty of Christ-like spirit.
    Peter, however, did not directly tell the wives that they were to obey their husbands. The norm in first-century Greco-Roman society was that wives were to worship the same gods as their husbands. Peter does not tell the wives to abandon their Christian faith because of loyalty or obedience to their husbands. There are limits to wifely submission. […]

  6. […] Quietness (hēsuchia) was a virtue in the ancient world for men and for women, and is mentioned in several early Christian and Jewish texts. (See postscripts here.) Just as quietness is a character trait, I suggest hypotassō is used in these verses as a character trait or disposition rather than as a behaviour directed to someone. […]

  7. […] In a previous article, I looked at all the New Testament verses that use the Greek noun and adjective that refer to meekness: prautēs and praus.[1] These words are used in Matthew’s Gospel and by the letter writers Paul, James, and Peter. In Matthew 11:29, for example, Jesus says of himself, “I am meek (praus) and humble in heart.”
    In my previous article, I argued that meekness was not an especially feminine virtue despite how more than few people interpret “a gentle (praus) and quiet spirit” in 1 Peter 3:4. But I’ve recently come across some Christians who use their concept of praus to promote a masculine expression of Christianity. […]

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