I guess we could have discussed 1 Peter 3 yesterday, but it deserves some time of its own. Here’s the passage in question:
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:1–7)
Let’s look at immediate context. Following an admonition to live good lives “among the Gentiles” (2:12), Peter lays out a series of “submit yourself to” instructions: everyone submit to governmental authorities (2:13-17), slaves to masters (2:18-25), and wives to husbands (3:1-6). This final instruction is tempered by a warning to husbands to be understanding and show honor to their wives. Two reasons are given for that:
- They are co-heirs of salvation
- Mistreating one’s wife will be a hindrance to prayer
In Buried Talents, Jay Guin argues that this passage is specifically directed to women with unbelieving husbands. I don’t think that’s the case. Peter does feel that this behavior could lead to the conversion of non-believers, but note that he thought only some would be in a mixed marriage (vs. 1). Much of the language is similar to Ephesians 5, speaking of a relationship of submission and respect (the same word used in Ephesians 5:33). And the following instructions seem to be given to believing husbands (vs. 7); why wouldn’t we see them included in the discussion about wives living in submission?
Guin also points to the reference to Abraham and Sarah, reminding us that their marriage had a lot of problems. While I think that’s true, it’s no reason to disregard Peter’s point. Think about Abraham being continually held up as a person of faith. What if we merely focused on his weak points: moments of doubt, times of sin, disobedience to the Lord’s call, even falling on his face laughing at God. We could say, “Abraham is no model of faith; look at his failures.” I’d suggest instead that we trust that Peter (and Silas – 5:12) were guided by the Holy Spirit as they wrote these words.
Husbands are again warned not to treat their wives in a domineering way. Family leadership does not include high-handed, despotic behavior. That’s part of the curse in Genesis 3, not part of God’s original design. Women may be “weaker vessels” (Peter’s words, not mine), but they are by no means inferior. They are co-heirs with us and with Christ. No one can mistreat his wife and be right with God.