Slaves and Wives – 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 (Part 3)

When Peter begins to address wives in the congregation, his focus is on how the outsiders understand the Christian wife. The situation in view in 3:1 is of a wife who has come to Christ, but her husband is not a Christian. While there are many examples of this sort of thing in our modern experience.

In the Roman world, the wife is expected to adopt the gods of her husband’s family when she marries. The same would be true of a Jewish family, although it is less likely that a Jewish man would marry a Gentile woman. In either case, the ancient world did not really have religiously “mixed marriages.” If a husband became a believer, then the Roman world would have expected the wife to also convert. It is possible that a husband converting was not as socially disruptive as a wife.

Messalina, Roman Empress, Wife of Claudius

Messalina, Roman Empress, Wife of Claudius

Like the slave, the wife is to have respectful and pure conduct so that an unbelieving husband may believe (v. 2). The same language is used for the wife as for the slave (ὁμοίως, likewise). This does not mean that the woman is socially like a slave, but within the Greco-Roman or Jewish household, the wife did in fact defer to the husband.

Peter has already commanded the reader s to live honorable lives so that the Gentiles will see and honor God (1 Peter 2:12), but here he narrows the application to a believing wife who is under the authority of her husband.

The goal of this respectful behavior is missional. Perhaps the husband will be “won” to Christ. This is a common way for modern evangelicals to express evangelism, but the use of this verb (a future passive form of κερδαίνω) is unique in the New Testament.

As Karen Jobes points out, if a woman began to worship Jesus and reject her husband’s family gods, she would be in a socially dangerous position (1 Peter, 202-3). Both Greco-Roman and Jewish society would see this as a kind of rebellion against proper family values. Since she is rejecting the family gods, she would be seen as a rebellious wife, and perhaps could be seen as a kind of “home-wrecker.” The husband could potentially find himself in socially embarrassing situations. A wife that rejected the community gods would be a shame for the husband to bear.

Attendance at Christian worship would mean that the wife had social connections outside of her husband’s friends and family. This too was a strange behavior in that culture and would be viewed suspiciously by Romans or Jews. This would be the case for a Jewish woman as well, especially if Jewish followers of Jesus were being persecuted in the synagogue.

To avoid the appearance of rebellion, the godly wife should strive to maintain a true, “imperishable” beauty (3:3-4). For the most part there is nothing unusual about this description of true beauty even in the Greco-Roman world. Similar statements are made in secular Greek concerning modest dress and appropriate adornments. The principle is modesty; a woman would not want to be confused with a courtesan!

The temperate, freeborn woman must live with her legal husband adorned with modesty, clad in a neat, simple, white dress. . . She must avoid clothing that is either entirely purple or is streaked with purple and gold, for that kind of dress is more by a hetarae (courtesan) when they stalk the masses of men . . . You should have a blush on your cheeks as a sign of modesty instead of rouge, and should wear nobility, decorum and temperance instead of gold and emeralds. (Pseudo-Melissa, Letter to Kleareta, 160-162, Witherington, Letters and Homilies, 2:164)

True beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit, not unlike the woman described in Proverbs 31. In contrast, the woman who has an obnoxious, loud spirit will not be a good witness to her unbelieving husband.

14 thoughts on “Slaves and Wives – 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 (Part 3)

  1. As God created woman for man, females most naturally look to the male to lead. This can be scary to submit to someone and trust that they will provide protection and treat you in a loving way. This human relationship demonstrates how we, the church, submit to God’s loving kindness and trust in his protection. When 1 Peter 3:5 references holy women of the past who put their hope in God….and did not give way to fear, it is showing how a woman’s relationship is supposed to reflect God’s nature. A woman who has a loud and obnoxious spirit will not be able to listen or submit to the husband’s leadership or allow a good relationship to occur because she is not behaving as Christ would. This is much like how we as Christians do become proud and loud and do not submit to God’s guidance. In the same way, when we have this spirit, we cannot witness to other’s because we are not reflecting God’s nature. “The basis for Peter’s reworking of social expectations is the example of Jesus Christ as the suffering servant of God, in whose footsteps all Christians, including slaves, wives, and husbands are to follow,” (Jobes 292).

    • Apart from Sarah, who were these holy women of the past?

      Many of the women mentioned in the Hebrew Bible don’t seem especially submissive to their husbands.

    • “As God created woman for man, females most naturally look to the male to lead.”
      According to Genesis 3, isn’t this a consequence of sin entering the world through the disobedience of the man and woman? The ramifications of sin may be “natural”, but Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 3 NOT to act like “natural” (carnal) unbelievers.

      • Muzjik, I think your comment may be in the wrong spot, but allow me to echo your thoughts.

        God created the woman because it wasn’t good for the first (hu)man to be alone. She was created for companionship. Leadership isn’t part of the Genesis 2 creation story.

    • >This can be scary to submit to someone and trust that they will provide protection and treat you in a loving way

      I trust people who have proven themselves trustworthy. Period.

  2. A woman was created so that a man could lead her to live a wholesome Christian like lifestyle as we see in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. Someone to do life with is always a wonderful thing but some times it can be scary to commit your whole life to someone and let them take over dominance in the relationship. The human relationship shows how we are to love and submit to the loving God in which we are to serve with all our minds and our beings. (1 Cor. 6:19-20). A woman who disobeys her husband is also in a sense disobeying the God in which we are to honor because I would say that she is performing acts that are far from the way Christ would want to see us act. The expectations of this world is to set an example for others to follow that show off the glory that Christ has provided for us and it is a command that all of us, slaves, wives, and husbands are to follow (Jobes 292).

    • Are you saying that woman was created just so a man could have a human being to lead?

      Also, the wives Peter refers to, in most cases, were married to pagans. Do you think Peter wanted the Christian wives to be led and guided by their pagan husbands?

  3. What I love about Peter’s advise to those that might be living within a difficult marriage or under a difficult master is that He invites those that suffer to bring Christ INTO the suffering to instead experience His joy within the sorrows by living in Him.

    Over and over Jesus takes the power and the sword from our hands in most every situation to make our happenstance better or to take action against the offender and offensive; instead placing us directly into a secure and present position of peace – if not externally, at the very least internally with Him.

    He knows that by the un-natural acceptance of the misery, His followers will be seen as an un-natural beacon to the unbelieving spouse – a spiritual and physical difference that cannot be explained in human terms.

    Most every man-made religion or humanistic approach to living has in its forefront and wake the convenient human gains of the corrupt human heart; evil usually masked in pious or self-righteous gain.

    Living with Christ and for Christ in any environment is a thunder clap of power to those with open eyes and honest hearts; from husband to wife or wife to husband, slave to master or master to slave – the holy power of the one that has the courage to take Christ’s words to heart and to live His words in the doldrums of day to day life no matter the outcome or persecution is a gift from God and a joy to His heart….and amazingly, between sometimes tears, a joy to our own worth more than anything.

  4. Whenever this topic comes around, it is easy for me to have an emotional response without thinking through or researching the content. With the newly rising “feminist movement” upon us it is easy to give an emotional response to the idea of comparing wives to slaves. It is also easy to take any verse or concept like “wives submit to your husbands” and misinterpret it. This is why interpreting scripture with scripture and in the right context is so important. I appreciate what Karen Jobes has to say in her book, “Letters to the Church.” While she is comparing a slave to a wife, she explains that the slave is equally important as their master. Without the slave there would be chaos. She says, “The slave’s loyalty to the master’s gods assured economic stability” (Jobes, 2011, pg. 291). The slave was just as important in the relationship, just as the wife is just as important as her husband.

  5. I find it interesting that the Christian idea of ‘sharing the gospel, when necessary use words’ is encouraged, except when it is in reference to something one doesn’t want to do. I think that this passage really reflects this concept, the idea of sharing the gospel through one’s actions, however based on the topic it is often brushed over. The idea of submission is not a popular one in today’s modern world. This goes for the general population, but I think it is especially relevant in many women’s groups. The reason being that Paul directly calls out the wife in this passage to submit. Why is it that so often we say that we are ready to share the gospels through our actions and then when this passage is brought up we tend to sit back and be like ‘never mind’? The reality is that Peter has called all believers to submit to some extent, just as Jesus submitted. In the passage before the call is to salve to submit and be respectful to their masters even if it meant suffering, as it might provide an opportunity to share the gospel. In the Greco-Roman culture a wife is also called to submit under the authority of her husband in the same. Peter used Jesus as the peak example as the ‘suffering servant’. Jobes says, “…the Son of God came into this world as God’s suffering servant (or slave; the Greek can be translated either way). Jesus, the Suffering Servant is the example for Christian life…” (2011, p. 305) If Jesus the Son of God, was called into submission, how much more should we as women – even more importantly believers- be willing to do the same for the sake of Christ.


    Jobes, K. H. (2011). Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Zondervan.

  6. This passage in 1 Peter is interesting to me because at first glance, it looks like an example of wives always submitting to husbands. Even though it uses words like “submit” and “be subject”, it actually assumes that the wife will not be submitting to the husband in every sense. Peter recognizes that husbands are not the highest authority, but that Christ is. Therefore, the wife is allowed to (and must!) go against her husband’s religion to truly follow Christ. But she needs to do this carefully, which is why Peter needs to write this specific code of conduct. She submits to her husband, as you (P. Long) say by living an “honorable li[fe]” and by being pure in her conduct. Christianity has been criticized for being anti-woman because of verses like this. However, this passage actually shows a lot of respect and worth to women during that time; more than was normal. Jobes says that these verses “elevate … the wife with unparalleled dignity” (291). It assumes she has a choice and has responsibility for herself. It assumes that a wife’s purpose is not to be the servants of their husbands but servants of Christ. Surely that comes in the form of serving others, especially their husbands, but not if doing so would hinder their relationship to Christ.

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