Husbands, In the Same Way – 1 Peter 3:7

After lengthy instructions to slaves and wives, Peter simply tells husbands to “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_7Unlike the slaves and the wives, the husband is told to live with their wives in an “understanding way.” The way this is stated makes is sound as though the husband is to have a kind and tender heart toward his wife, and that is certainly part of the point. But Peter is saying that the husband must live with his wife fully aware of who she is and with full awareness of his responsibility toward her.

If the context throughout this passage has been living in a way that attracts an unbelieving spouse or master to Christ, then perhaps that is the case here as well. If a Christian husband is married to a wife who is not a believer, the culture would dictate that she ought to convert as well. But this might not be a willing submission to her husband’s new religion, the Christian husband has to be aware that his wife might not be fully in agreement with his religious choice!

The instructions are given to believing husbands, and it is at least possible “women” refers to all the women living within a household. If a man converted to Christianity, the whole household would be effected. Women typically “converted” with their husbands and slaves would now be working in a Christian household. But it is unlikely all members of a household were actually now Christians. A Christian husband must live his new life in a way which draws his wife and all others in his household to Christ.

Calling women the “weaker vessel” is troublesome to many modern readers, and sometimes Peter is dismissed as a pre-modern he-man woman hater. But Peter’s words here are in keeping with the Greco-Roman belief that woman are weaker than men, both physically and sometimes emotionally. Tacitus called women “a sex naturally weak” and if left to themselves will be “at the mercy of its own voluptuousness and the passions of others” and a marriage is preserved only by a “husband’s personal vigilance” (Annals, 3.34).

Wife Working Lazy HusbandPeter’s words cannot be taken as an endorsement of misogyny, however. In fact, Peter tells the husbands to honor (τιμή) their wives, the same word he used for “honor the emperor” (τιμάω) in 2:17. Imagine that a husband gave his wife the same honor demanded of the Roman emperors!

As Karen Jobes concludes on this section, Peter’s purpose in the whole household code is evangelistic and apologetic (1 Peter, 210). Peter recognizes the common problem of one member of a household becoming a Christian. If they are slaves or wives, then submission to a non-Christian master or husband is required in order to draw them to Christ. But if the head of the household has become a Christian, then he must live even more carefully in order to bring those who were part of a Christian household unwillingly to Christ.

Jobes also points out this is a different strategy than Paul, who rooted his similar teaching in the order of creation (see Eph 5:21-33, and my comments on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here). Peter is thinking of the practical ramifications of the conversion of members of a household, Paul’s teaching is rooted Jewish wisdom thinking that bases behavior in the orderliness of creation. This is why Paul is far more difficult than for modern readers than Peter!

The problem is how this teaching is applied in a modern context. Modern Christians look to these kinds of passages for guidance for modern marriages between spiritual equals in the Body of Christ. Our marriages are made because of love not arranged for social or economic reasons. Peter is not thinking of a couples retreat in a modern mega-church! Imagine how a Muslin woman who converted to Christianity might read 1 Peter, or a Buddhist husband, or a child in a Hindu family?

1 Peter is far more applicable in those situations, but how can 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 be used in a Western Christian context?

15 thoughts on “Husbands, In the Same Way – 1 Peter 3:7

  1. Frankly, I don’t think “Peter’s” (I think you know my position on likely authorship) words here make much of a difference on modern people’s thinking or actions. (Nor do those in Eph. and I Tim., except in terms of women in church leadership… altho conservative Pentecostals have seen viable ways “around” seeming prohibitions for over a century now, as have an increasing number of denominations.)

    I was a marriage and family counselor for a decade, taking a lot of interest in the Bible on gender roles in marriage, etc. (e.g., wrote on it in Masters’ work, studied it a lot after and wrote a book on Christian parenting). Basic conclusion: Women are really in charge anyway! (There’s good reason there are so many jokes to that effect :).

    In a more serious vein, outside of the pathological controlling spouse (usually the man, but not always), most couples in current American society operate pretty “egalitarian”, even if conceptually they say they don’t (if sophisticated on it, they may say they are “complementarians”). I think it’s one of the positive developments of modern culture, both Christian and secular. And you have to give both Jesus and Paul (more than the Jerusalem “church” and the historical James, Peter and John – in that “pecking order”) credit for some vision and leadership in that direction.

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    • Setting authorship aside (since someone wrote the book, let’s call him/her Peter for the sake of convenience), I think you might be right that Peter’s admonition is not often ignored, but if I am right about the “point” he is making (converts to Christianity within larger pagan households), I think there is a clear application to the majority of the world where a conversion to Christianity is a dangerous anomaly.

      I am fairly confident the west tends to do what they want with respect to marriage and family and then (if they are on the evangelical side of things) look for verses to support it. There are some bad applications drawn from Ruth, for example.

      I fixed your typo and deleted the other message, FWIW.

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      • Good points… I know we have real trouble putting ourselves “into” the real world of the 1st century (or early 2nd, etc.). Both by lack of trying and by ignorance of it… even we who study it I think have trouble grasping what things may have been like in various areas (and they did vary by region, one’s class, etc.) One reason the NT is so tough to interpret well is that different locales and times, decade-to-decade, made a lot of difference in one’s social, economic, religious, etc. conditions. And, of course, the standpoint of the authors. We see it even within the 3 Synoptic gospels and that of John, before even coming to the Epistles, Revelation.

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  2. All scripture is equally inspired but not all scripture is equally applicable in our lives, as John Lynch would say. I think this is a verse, however, that is just as applicable in our lives today as it was back then and I think it points back to the responsibility that a man has. When Adam and Eve first sinned, the repercussions of sin were the opposite of their actions in the garden. Adam’s sin was a failure to take responsibility and Eve’s was to take control. God now gives men the command to be responsible and a women to be submissive, not because of inequality. I think God calls men to be the leaders of a household and there is a certain responsibility that comes with that, including a responsibility to live an influential Christian life. Men should live in a way that inspires their wives and families. They shouldn’t just “not sin.” Rather, they should completely alter their lives and let it flow out of them in a more powerful way. Obviously, forcing your wife to convert would not mean a change of heart, which is the important part. It is the responsibility to do all he can to help that change. It means being proactive instead of passive. Jobes makes a good point that the role is evangelistic. It is a different role than forcing someone into what you think. A person has to actively live the Christian life.

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  3. No, he’s the author of one of my favorite books, “The cure.” I think that mutual submission can be a means of evangelizing because it is a way of living by example. Evangelization is effective if it is backed up by actions rather than just words. In this way, living out mutual submission is evangelizing the true way to live out God’s love in a marriage relationship. I’m seeing the sections on household laws but can’t find where she talks about evangelism? I used my own interpretation of how submission can be evangelism.

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  4. In a modern western society this is just as applicable as it was when it was written by Peter. This can be applied in our modern western society by allowing husbands to lead us and “submitting” to them as both Peter and Paul say here and in Ephesians. Men are meant to be the Christian leaders of a household and as wives we need to allow that to happen as well as coming along next to them while allowing them to lead us. Men and husbands are supposed to set the Christian example and be the spiritual leader of a home and that can still be applied today as it is within many families and relationships. It is important to allow a husband to spiritually lead a family and that is what is spoken of through Peter ad Paul. This can also be applied today in not becoming “unequally yoked” as Jesus would say and making sure to be with someone who is a Christian so that this passage of Peter can be applied in life today as can be seen in healthy Christian homes as well seen today in healthy Christian marriages and relationships.

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  5. With 1 Peter placing a great deal of emphasis on Christian living, the household codes given in chapters 2 and 3 are another teaching that we can apply to our lives today. Karen Jobes explains the actual function of this teaching to be instruction for Christians in fulfilling their sociopolitical duty within society. Under Roman rule, this meant that Christians must comply with the elements of social order and silence any Greco-Roman criticism against the gospel (Letters to the Church, p. 290). Today, we remain Christians set apart as God’s possession, and our allegiance must still be to Him. Any argument with applying 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 comes from our own selfishness. These words can be just as much of a reminder and an encouragement to us today as they were to the people of the early church.
    Slaves are called to submit to their masters; in the same way, we can show Christlikeness in our submission to authority, in respect for elders, and in teaching these much-needed skills to today’s younger generation. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Our society accepts women in many leading roles today, but we must not forget the importance of our role as helpmeet. A woman’s success lies in helping her husband succeed. Men are instructed to be considerate and treat their wives with respect. In seeing a woman as weaker, a man does not need to place himself as superior to her; he is simply being reminded to care for her needs.
    Today’s Christians would do well to keep the teachings of 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 as a guide in our relationships and our interactions with others. We, too, would be able to silence any criticism against the gospel in this aspect of our lives.

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  6. I personally believe the application to this verse in western modern times leads to the fact that marriages need to have commitment to each other. Women must love their husbands through the hardships of jobs, military etc. husbands must honor their wives in ways of showing them mutual support. If they choose careers, support them. If they choose to stay with the children, support them. When one side lacks this honor and support the marriage turns faulty and is not what God has intended. We now know that women aren’t weaker in all the ways they once were believed to be, but it shows that through changing times scripture is still relevant. I hope this makes as much sense as it did in my head!

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  7. I think the big thing here to recognize the principles that can be taken out of this passage. regardless of the religious situation or how the couple came to be together, a few principles remain the same. The husband is to be a spiritual leader to his wife and family, the husband is to honor his wife like he would an emperor and he has a huge responsibility towards her, an even bigger responsibility than that the wife has toward the husband. These things can all be applied to the western christian marriage. Husbands are the head of the house hold not to be a domineering spouse and to trump his wife in everything, but to lead, provide spiritually and physically, care and support his wife and family. Christ is the ultimate model for this and husbands have a job that must be taken seriously.

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  8. I think that throughout all of I Peter, particularly his passages on what Jobe’s calls the “household codes” it is highly prudent to be aware of what the culture at the time dictates. At the time, women were seen as weaker vessels. However, although this is what the passage calls them, Peter still insists on husbands treating them as if that is not how culture at the time viewed them- yet another example of Peter calling Christians to be countercultural. I struggle looking past the phrasing of “weaker vessel”, as it it hard to explain away as not being sexist to me. However, although this is how society viewed women at the time, their husbands were still praying for them as shown in seven. Peter commands them to treat them well so as not to hinder their prayers. Based on the idea that this passage is written to husbands whose wives were not also believers, these men still loved their wives and wanted them to follow in their conversion footsteps.

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  9. Marriage is a beautiful thing to be in once you find that right person that not only accepts your values but respect them. This application of the verse speaks to what we are taught throughout our lives in the western culture. In the bible, the women are suppose to love there husband, even though rough periods of time. As husbands, we must support and provide for our family. But one of the most important value that husbands have to honor in there marriage is to honor their wives. That could mean multiple different things, but I think of being faithful to your wife throughout the marriage is one of the important keys. Biblically and just living life, husbands are the head of the household, this mean that husbands are the leaders and suppose to keep the family intact. If the husband stray away from the marriage then the wife will do the same. Vice versa, a marriage is a partnership that everyone has to respect and do there part to make the marriage work and last. In the book, Jobes states fact about the different social norm from our time to Peters. She points out that in our society, both husbands and wives are allowed to have friendships outside the marriage. Both parties are allowed to be in different religions without causing any friction between the two. Back in Peters time, the wife was supposed to worship the same God as her husband (Jobes, 292). If a wife decided to rebelled against Christianity, then her husband status in the public’s eye would change.

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