1 Timothy 2 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, primarily because of the potential abusive applications of the second half of the chapter. Paul’s words have been used to silence the voice of women in the church despite the very clear Pauline teaching that in Christ there is neither male to female. Perhaps the situation is clouded by American political debate over feminism and the role of women in the church. Before getting to the controversial section, I want to set the context of the chapter.
Paul says the Christian community should be seen by outsides as dignified and worthy of respect (v. 3-4). Paul wants his churches to be models of a dignified “quiet life.” What is a peaceful (ἤρεμος) and quiet (ἡσύχιος) life? This sounds like Paul is telling the reader to go live in a cabin in the woods. This might sound a little too Amish for most Christians! But these two words are often found in lists of Greco-Roman virtues. Socrates was a model of calm in the face of peril for the Greeks (Theon, Progymnasmata, 8; Rhet. Graec., II, 111, 27 f.). For the Greeks, rulers were to be calm and have a quiet demeanor (Xenoph. Ag., 11, 2. 6. 20; Isoc. Or., 2, 23; see TDNT 6:646).
In a Greek papyri dated to the sixth century A.D. (P Oxy I. 1298) a father repudiates a betrothal because he wishes his daughter would “lead a peaceful and quiet life” (εἰρηνικὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάξαι, MM, 281). While this letter is dated well after the writing of 1 Timothy, a similar use of the word appears in PsSol 12:5: “May the Lord protect the quiet person who hates injustice; may the Lord guide the person who lives peacefully at home.” This is a Jewish text, probably reflecting the Pharisees, predating Paul by about 100 years. The writer parallels one who is quiet (ἡσύχιος) and lives peacefully (although the more common εἰρήνη is used).
Paul also describes this idea life as “godly and dignified in every way.” Both words would be idea virtues in the Greco-Roman world as well as the Christian or Jewish. The word “godly” is the common word εὐσέβεια, and was used by Diogenes Laertius (third century A.D.) for “the pious follow sacrificial custom and take care of temples” and was common used in the Aeneid to describe “pious” people (BDAG).
The word translated dignified (σεμνότης) is often translated with the Latin gravitas (a Latinism used in contemporary English for someone who has power). It is often associated with “denotes a man’s visible deportment.” When Josephus retells the story of Saul and the witch of Endor, she recognizes the king because he carries himself like a king; in retelling the story of Pharaoh’s first encounter with Joseph, Philo comments that the king was impressed with Joseph’s dignity (Philo, Jos. 257, cf. 165).
This command is not unusual in the Pauline letters. “Live a quiet life” is similar to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonica 4:1-12. In that context, there were individuals who were not working to provide for their own needs. The ultimate motivation for living in a quiet, dignified manner is that the outsiders will see this and “come to a knowledge of the truth.” As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul is concerned with the public reputation of Christians. Their lifestyle needs to be worthy of respect and attractive to outsiders. Christians were a strange superstition to the Greco-Roman world; as the church grew Christians came under increasing scrutiny for their practices and beliefs.
Since the quiet, dignified life was a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, any chaos or discord in the church would drive people away from the Gospel. With this “quiet dignified life” in mind, Paul then turns to a problem in the Ephesian churches which is disrupting that kind of life and potentially bringing shame on the church. This problem appears to center on some women in the Ephesian churches who are not living a “quiet dignified life.”
The quiet life has unfortunately become a hipster clothing line that a way to live out one’s Christian life. In fact, it is hard to look at the typical evangelical as presented by the media as loving a quiet life that earns the respect of outsiders. Is the ideal of a quiet life for individuals only, or does Paul see this as a model for the whole church to follow? How can the contemporary church live out this ideal of a quiet life so that it can earn the respect of outsiders and (perhaps) attract them to the Gospel?