In a day like ours, you could scarcely ruffle more feathers than by suggesting that women should be quiet. To many, the words squeal and crunch like a car wreck. They caw like birds from some barbarous past. Many would prefer the sound of a foghorn at close range.
The recoiling isn’t entirely unjustified. In many places and times, quietness has been forced upon women unkindly, undeservedly, indefensibly. Women, who share the sex of lady Wisdom herself (Proverbs 9:1–6), have often had their words muffled, their intelligence hushed, their needed counsel dismissed. The world has known (and still knows) many Nabal-like men, who live foolishly beside an Abigail unheard.
Yet at some point, even in a day like ours, we find ourselves confronted with the words of Peter and Paul:
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)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. (1 Timothy 2:11)
I write, of course, as a man — a fact perhaps frustrating to some. But I write as a man who has spied glimmers of this hidden beauty and has understood in such moments why God calls it “very precious.” I find myself falling quiet before this heavenly hush, this imperishable calm. I am, in short, an admirer of quietness, hoping with a few words to win more.
Consider with me, then, the endangered virtue of womanly quietness.
Explore the Bible’s teaching on quietness, and you may notice some surprising features.
You may notice, first, that despite female-specific applications in 1 Peter 3 and 1 Timothy 2, God commands and commends quietness for both sexes. In the Old Testament, for example, we read of the mighty David calming and quieting his heart (Psalm 131:2), of sages urging quietness as the way of wisdom (Proverbs 29:11; Ecclesiastes 4:6; 9:17), and of God’s whole people clothed with quiet strength (Isaiah 30:15).
The apostles likewise lay quietness on both men and women. “Aspire to live quietly,” Paul tells the Thessalonians; he later exhorts the idlers in the church “to do their work quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:12). And then, a few sentences before his command that women “learn quietly,” Paul offers the following reason to pray for the powerful: “that we [men and women] may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2). As with submission, both men and women are called to be quiet, even if the call takes different shapes.
And then, second, you may notice that the adjectives adorning quietness in Scripture differ greatly from those our society might use. Ask many today to list words they associate with quietness (especially female quietness), and you get the impression of gray aprons and baggy blouses: weak, passive, inert, insignificant, marginalized, oppressed. But when you consider Scripture’s own associations, you find a different dress indeed:
- fearless (1 Peter 3:6)
- hopeful (1 Peter 3:5)
- peaceful (Isaiah 32:17–18)
- precious (1 Peter 3:4)
- imperishable (1 Peter 3:4)
- strong (Isaiah 30:15)
- content (Ecclesiastes 4:6)
“Quietness is not first about the mouth but about the heart.”
In the hush of a growing garden, some may hear only the sound of aching silence, while others hear the pulsing of quiet life. Which brings us to a third observation, less obvious than the first two but just as crucial: quietness is not first about the mouth but about the heart.
Calm and Quiet Heart
No doubt, when Peter and Paul called women to learn quietly and adorn themselves with a quiet spirit, they had the mouth in mind. Paul expounds “learn quietly” with the words, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). And Peter describes a quiet woman as winning an unbelieving husband “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1). So, quietness certainly has implications for speech: in some situations — under the preaching of the word, in wise submission to a husband — quietness will lead a woman to speak little or not at all.
Yet quietness goes deeper than decibels — far deeper. In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul’s “peaceful and quiet life” means not a silent life, but a life calm and well-ordered, “godly and dignified,” a life that advances God’s kingdom without clamor. Peter likewise speaks of “the hidden person of the heart” and a “quiet spirit” — the inner outfit of a woman who hopes in God and fears him only (1 Peter 3:4–6). Quietness concerns a woman’s spirit more than it concerns her speech.
In the scriptural background, Isaiah describes quietness as the sound of a soul returning and resting in God (Isaiah 30:15), while Zephaniah attaches it to a heart hushed beneath God’s song of love (Zephaniah 3:17). And then, in Proverbs, we catch the nature of quietness by contrast, as we listen to the voice of a woman decidedly unquiet: woman Folly.
Loud and Wayward
When Solomon tells us woman Folly “is loud and wayward” (Proverbs 7:11), he’s showing us a woman not merely brash in mouth, but disordered, rebellious, and unsubmissive in heart — hence why the NIV renders loud as “unruly.” Her noisy tongue wags from her noisy spirit; her shouting words offer the transcription of her shouting soul. Close her mouth, and woman Folly remains loud.
By contrast, we hear quietness in the figure of lady Wisdom — despite the fact that she speaks, and sometimes loudly (Proverbs 1:20–21; 9:1–6). For her words, measured and wise, are so many streams flowing from a heart that fears the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). She speaks “noble things,” for her heart is noble; she utters “what is right,” for her soul is right with God (Proverbs 8:6). Even as she opens her mouth, she remains quiet.
We might describe quietness, then, as the atmosphere of a heart at peace with God and its place in his world. Calm and well-ordered, a quiet woman hopes in God and knows herself cared for by him. And then, from that place of spiritual strength and repose, she decides when to remain silent and when to speak.
Her actual volume will be shaped, in part, by her personality and culture (and not wrongly). But whoever she is and wherever she lives, a quiet woman seeks to adorn her words with the same gentle glory that clothes her hidden heart. From a meek and quiet spirit, she breathes out Godward beauty.
Loudest Kind of Quiet
Lady Wisdom has many quiet daughters throughout the biblical storyline, “holy women who hoped in God” (1 Peter 3:5) and who silenced sin and Satan through the beauty of a quiet life. Peter points us to Sarah, whose quiet submission to Abraham made her the mother of many nations (1 Peter 3:6). Alongside her, we might mention Ruth and Hannah, Abigail and Esther, Elizabeth and Mary, among others — women whose quietness spoke a louder word than the voice of woman Folly.
Study such women, and you will not come away with a sense of sniveling inferiority, as if they were any less mighty than the men beside them. Ruth joined meekness with a bold request to Boaz — and became David’s great-grandmother as a result. Hannah mixed quiet love for Elkanah with a mighty life of prayer — and under God, her secret words shook the world.
Abigail, tactful and reserved toward a most unworthy man, quietly rescued his life and won a name among the wise. And then, of course, we dare not forget how our Lord entered the world through a woman who answered the angel with a quietness more commendable than Zechariah’s: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
“A quiet life under God is itself a weapon, a danger, a threat to the kingdom of darkness.”
Such women suffice to show that quietness does not mean standing on the sidelines of life, walking through the world without making a whisper of difference. It means, rather, refusing to believe that the noise of self-assertion is the best way to get God’s work done. It means trusting that a quiet life under God is itself a weapon, a danger, a threat to the kingdom of darkness ever blaring with the uproar of sin.
Her Hidden Beauty
Perhaps till now we have heard the word quietness and thought only in negative terms: Quietness means not speaking, not teaching. Quietness is absence and hollowness, a vacuum and a hole. The apostle Peter could hardly have described quietness more differently: far from an empty nothing, quietness is an adorning: “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).
When we hear quietness, we ought to imagine not the absence of speech, but the presence of calm and peace, of fearless hope and endless beauty. And we ought to dress quietness in the brightest, most wonderful colors we have, for though hidden from our sight, the heart of a quiet woman holds the attention of heaven. The only voice that ultimately matters calls quietness “very precious,” imperishably beautiful.
And when one day God cuts the volume from this noisy and clamorous world, the quiet woman will remain, her beauty no longer hidden.