Word Study #139 — Quiet, Silence

This study was supposed to supplement #136, but the intervening subjects were more pressing. So please review that one as a prologue to this subject. For words that are so rarely used in the New Testament, these have received an inordinate amount of attention, primarily among those who want to demand the “subordination” of others. This study is neither an offensive nor a defensive weapon. I don’t have a dog in that fight. My advocacy, as you should have seen by now, is for the mutuality of both attitudes and behavior in the Kingdom. As we have seen, the “submission” called for in the New Testament is first to Jesus and his Kingdom, and secondly to one another – an entirely mutual situation.

We are concerned here primarily with four different words, which have sharply different connotations, but which are similarly translated in traditional versions, . Three of them are used 11x each, and the fourth (and harshest) only 8x. Distinguishing among them is critically necessary for understanding.

Hesuchazo, with its counterpart, hesuchia, is the most gentle of the terms, and always voluntary. Trench connects it with prautes – great strength under strict control – which we have treated in #78, “meekness”. L/S defines hesuchazo/hesuchia as “at rest, tranquil, calm”, as well as ‘being at rest from warfare.” Bauer adds “abstaining from work on the sabbath”. Thayer contributes “minding one’s own business, not meddling in the affairs of others.” It describes the tranquility of life deeply desired by the beleaguered, persecuted disciples addressed in I Thes.4:11, II Thes.3:12, I Tim.2:2, and the cessation of arguments (Ac.22:2, Lk.14:4, Ac.11:18), including, (amusingly) Ac.21:14, where his companions gave up on trying to change Paul’s mind!

Remember these contexts when you encounter hesuchia in Peter’s advice to sisters (I Pet.3:4) and when Paul, writing to Timothy, uses the same word both in admonition to the whole group (I Tim.2:2) and in describing women’s participation (v.11,12). In v.11, it is paired with hupotasso – see #136 – and in v.12 it is contrasted to authentein – a word used only once, and referring to a violent coup d’tat. This would suggest that it is orderly courtesy, rather than any form of exclusion, that is in view.

Next along the spectrum is probably sipao – L/S “to keep silence at the behest of another, to keep a secret, to gesture rather than speaking.” Most of its New Testament uses involve stopping a protest or argument (Mk.3:4), Mark’s version (4:39) of Jesus commanding the wind and sea to “be still”; or insisting that another “calm down” (Mt.20:31, Mk.10:48, Lk.18:39). It is also used of Jesus’ refusal to reply to situations that were an obvious trap (Mt.26:63, Mk.14:61), and the disciples’ being too embarrassed to reply (Mk.9:34) to him about their dispute. In contrast, Jesus uses it to encourage Paul in a vision not to be intimidated into silence (Ac.18:9), and retorts to his critics (Lk.19:40) that if they succeed in silencing the children’s praises, the very rocks will take up the cry. In no instance does sipao require, demand, or request the silence of any member of a faithful brotherhood. Gabriel’s word to Zachariah in Lk.1:20 is simply a statement of fact – not at all a “curse” as some imagine.

Sigao / sige, on the other hand – L/S “to whisper, to keep a secret, to be silent (as both a positive quality and as a fault!), to be mystical or unknown”, while used in some parallels with sipao, especially in the gospels (Lk.9:36, 29:26) and Acts (12:17, 15:12,13; 21:40), appears in several other contexts as well. Paul uses it in Romans 16:25 of the revelation of God’s intention to include the Gentiles having been “kept secret (doesn’t say by whom) since the world began”. John, in Rv.8:1, marvels that “there was silence in heaven for half an hour!” in contrast to all the rejoicing that had been going on.
Of particular interest, in view of frequent controversy among some church groups, are the three occurrences of sigao in I Cor.14. It has been common for a “leader” to choose one of these as a flag to wave or a cause upon which to take a stand – the choice depending whether he prefers to forbid (1) the use of prayer in tongues (v.28), (2)the exercise of prophetic gifts on the part of everyone in a congregation (v.30), or (3) the participation of women (v.34), and ignore any of which he approves. But sigao is not about prohibitions!!! The same word is used in all three situations. Paul’s concern is an orderly meeting, where “all may learn, and all be encouraged”(v.31), and where an outsider may see the Kingdom in action (v.25). This requires that each of the mentioned contributions be carefully and considerately controlled, but not summarily forbidden. This becomes abundantly clear if you read the whole chapter, rather than selected, isolated “verses”. The instructions are to facilitate and regulate, not to prevent, participation. Please refer to the treatment of I Cor.14 in the Translation Notes, for a more detailed discussion.

Finally, less frequently used, and much more abrupt, phimao can be a peremptory demand that someone “Shut up!!”. L/S points out that the derivation of the word is the use of a muzzle or any device to keep the mouth of an animal shut! This is borne out in I Cor.9:9, and I Tim.5:18.
was Jesus’ command in exorcising demons (Mk.1:25, Lk.4:35), and used together with sipao in quieting the storm (Mk.4:39). Matthew conveys a sense of satisfaction (22:12) when Jesus bested the Sadducees at their own game of intricate arguments (he “shut them up!”). And Peter (I Pet.2:15) advocates achieving a similar victory over critics by exhibiting indisputably excellent behavior. Matthew (22:12) also uses it to represent the stunned speechlessness of an intruder upon being discovered unprepared, at a feast.

So there you have it. Four discrete words: each has its own “flavor”, and each has its usage confined to a rather narrow range of situations and relationships. We need to take care not to confuse them, or to assume any coercive tone among fellow disciples seeking for faithfulness. The mutuality described in both these studies (136 and 139), and the coaching / encouragement described in #138, can occupy our attention much more productively than can exclusionary efforts. Only together can we become a credit to the Kingdom.


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