It seems to require miraculous intervention to get through such overt fortification that is characteristic of so many women today. Because if you’re a man who attempts to teach something about a single word written to women you are automatically disqualified. Disqualified by virtue of being a man. “You are not allowed to speak to that because you are a man”, the rhetoric goes. I’ve heard it many times. Even in attempts to ask women questions for research purposes I have been told not to write anything for women. I have no right. Or, my views are ‘outdated’. Because of this it could be argued that women are needed to speak for the truth of the scriptural precedents of womanhood. Unfortunately there are very few. My ongoing research into books on Biblical womanhood—written by women—turn up almost nothing that address these most crucial passages in the Bible. That is, unless they are against them.
The apostle Peter teaches the women,
“but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:4
Two key words are used by Peter to describe that which has “imperishable beauty” and is of “very high value”. The word “precious” is poluteles in the Greek which is the same word used of the expensive alabaster box (Matt. 26:7) and the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46). These are the two words:
Praus. Praus is translated gentle. Generally, Greek words are straight forward and reliable. This is because the Greek language has the longest documented history of all the Indo-European languages spanning 34 centuries. Greek was the lingua-franca of the ancient Mediterranean world much like English is of the modern world. Yet, suspiciously, whenever we come to a biblical verse that has something to teach the woman we must immediately arrange committees, recruit professors and scholars of antiquity, spend tons of money and resources, and search to the furthest reaches of time and space to find whatever we can to come up with an alternative meaning of the words that are used. A meaning that, suspiciously, fits with a particular modern narrative—one that says women need to be hard, dominate, fist-raising, lone wolves because they are oppressed. So it’s no surprise that the words are not much liked, and even woefully resented. Such is the case with the word kephale (head/headship) for which one could sift through thousands of documented instances in the ancient Greek. These words of the Apostle Peter cannot be so easily twisted. They are too basic.
This doesn’t mean that praus doesn’t apply to men. This word is found in three other places in the NT. “Blessed are the meek [praus], for they shall inherit the earth…” (Matt. 5:5), “Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle [praus] and humble…” Matt. 11:29, and “See, your King comes to you, gentle [praus] and riding on a donkey…” (Matt. 21:5). At first it doesn’t appear there is any overt definition given of what this ‘gentle’ means exactly, but looking at the immediate context in which the word was used I think we can get a really good idea. Praus-gentleness infers non-violent or non-aggressive. For another word that it sometimes translated ‘gentle’ see ἐπιεικής.
If you replace each of the instances with the term “non-aggressive” or “not violent”, it fits pretty well with the context and the message:
Blessed are the non-violent, for they shall inherit the earth…
Take my yoke upon you, for I am not aggressive…
Behold your king is coming to you, non-violent, mounted on a donkey…
let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a non-aggressive and quiet spirit
Consider in the case of the first how those who have the earth, essentially have it by way of brute force—whether in defense or by stealing. Also in the case of a king coming and ushering in a reign… what king can do that non-violently?
Consider that this is not the same as delicate. Women are not being taught to be delicate, soft, mild, weak, or faint-hearted. In Luke 7:25 Jesus says about John the Baptist (a rugged man), “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft (delicate, Grk. malakos) clothing?”
Later the Apostle Paul is heard saying that the “delicate” or “malakoi” will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Because malakoi is in the masculine form it explicitly refers to men who are “soft” or “effeminate”. For a more in-depth look into this word see the Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon entry for malakos. If women are the “weaker” vessels as the Apostle Peter says elsewhere (1 Pet. 3:7), they are clearly not instructed or called to be weak. The Bible holds men accountable for their weakness. It does not accept it. Women, however, are off the hook. What women are not off the hook for is the gentle and quiet spirit.
Hésuchios. This is translated quiet spirit. It speaks of tranquility. Don’t overlook that this refers to the spirit. A tranquil spirit makes you think of a still lake in the morning and not a tumultuous river. It will be peaceable. While peaceableness and peacemaking is necessary for all Christians, tranquility is something women are specifically instructed in. If men were instructed to have tranquil spirits, how can they be instructed to have a fighting spirit, to stand firm and be strong (1 Cor. 16:13), at the same time? If women were instructed to have a fighting spirit, why is it that the tranquil spirit is so much more valuable (think rare pearl and the alabaster box) to God? These are real questions that have to be reckoned with. What if it was due to the fact that men are generally not prone to that fighting spirit—to standing firm—but are prone to passivity and giving in? What if it was because women are not prone to that gentle and tranquil spirit as seen in Mary, but prone to the restless disorganization complex as seen in Martha? If we were, would we need the instruction? If we were not prone to sin, would we need to be persuaded relentlessly to flee it from cover to cover?
This Greek word is used in one other place in the NT:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet [hesuchios] life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
This describes the ideal life—one that is peaceful, undisturbed (Grk. eremos) and quiet (Grk. hesuchios). The NT concurs that this is appropriate for humanity, but that it must be prayed and interceded for. As we want things to be for us in life, under the authority of those in high positions, so God wants things to be for the women he made. That doesn’t sound oppressive at all. God, as always, seeks our good.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”