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Wives And Husbands  (ch. 3:1 - 7)

 

Chapter 3 continues on Peter's theme of how Christians live while suffering grief as we seen back in chapter 1.  Chapter 3 is the third of Peter's admonishments to submit.  In chapter 2 he spoke about Christians submitting to government and slaves submitting to their masters.  In both cases submission is required even if the government and the slave masters are despots and ungodly men.  Now Peter will speak to wives submitting to their own husbands.  In all three instances submission is to a form of evangelizing or at least a demonstration of godliness to ungodly people.    

 

In our western world where the individual is king, talk about submission does not concur with our culture, but it is a main theme in the Bible.  Of course, our priority is to submit to God for it is He to whom we will eventually give account.  We, even as Christians, struggle over the issue of submission. 

 

Concerning wives submitting to non-Christians as seen here in verse 1, some have suggested that this means a Christian can be wed to a non-Christian if the Christian views it as an opportunity to share Jesus with the one he or she claims to love.  More often than not, this is simply a way of giving into one's hormones instead of the Word of God.  This verse is speaking specifically to an already married wife where her husband is not saved while the wife is saved.             

 

Peter now turns from slaves submitting to masters, to wives submitting to their own husbands.  There is a very important historical point to be made here.  Roman culture was a male dominated society.  Women were on a lower social scale than men.  You might call women second class citizens because they weren't actually Roman citizens.  That being said, unlike Jewish wives who were not permitted to divorce their husbands, Gentile wives were permitted to legally divorce their husbands.    

 

Verse 1 begins with; "wives in the same way."  The words "in the same way" refer back to how slaves should submit to their masters even if their masters were not nice men.  So, Peter is saying that the principle he has just set forth for slaves and masters also applies to wives and husbands.  

 

The Greek word that is translated as "submit" is "hupotasso."  It is derived from two other words, "hupo," meaning "under," and "tasso," meaning to arrange or rank."  Hupostasso thus means to rank under or to arrange under.  It was very much a military word in the first century Roman society.  A soldier for example would rank under his superior officer.  Peter is telling Christian wives to align themselves under their own husbands.  Modern men and women may struggle over this point, but this is what Peter is saying.

 

The Greek verb tense here to submit is a Greek present passive participle.  This means that submission must be a present reality.  The middle part of this verse means that the husband must have some authority over the wife.  The participle part of this verse means that the wife is a submitter. 

 

One thing we should know, and this is a matter of hermeneutics, is how the New Testament actually uses and views the cold, harsh-hearted word "hupotasso."  In Roman culture it was very much a dictatorial word, but that is not always the case when the New Testament uses it.  When hupotasso is used in connection with Christians submitting to each other, Christians submitting to elders, and here, wives submitting to husbands, the New Testament softens this cold-hearted word.  Christians submit to each other out of genuine love, concern, and care for each other.  It's not a matter of one person being a dictator over another person. When Peter tells wives to submit to their own husbands he understands this submission to be based on a godly love and care that a wife has for her husband, even if her husband is an ungodly dictator to her.  

 

At this point, if you want a further and more detailed discussion on how the New Testament speaks to husband and wife relationships I suggest you read Ephesians 5:22 and following.  The Apostle Paul says things about this issue that Peter does not say.  I won't elaborate on that here since I've done so in my commentary on Paul's letter to the Ephesians.  

 

We should also remember that if an ungodly husband demands the wife to do something ungodly, the wife must respectfully decline because she must obey her God.  If that causes her husband to divorce her then so be it.             

 

In Peter’s day, if a man became a Christian, the chances that his wife becoming a Christian would be good, but, the reverse is not always the case.  If a woman became a Christian, because of the nature of their marriage and their culture, a man would not necessarily follow his wife's lead in this matter.  Again, a bit of history helps us understand this Bible verse.  History is often overlooked in today's post modern church.

 

In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul elaborates on the idea of a mixed marriage.  That is, a believer being married to an unbeliever.  We do need to know that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 should be taken from the standpoint that the believer becomes a believer after being married. Again, it's quite clear in the Bible that a believer should not marry an unbeliever. 

 

Peter goes on to speak to the issue of a believing wife married to a non-believing husband.  If the wife submits to her husband and behaves as a believer should, then it is quite possible that the husband might be won over to Jesus without words, without the wife preaching to him.  Thus you have the reason why the believing wife should stay married to an unbelieving husband.  Thus also, is the reason why the believing wife should submit to an unbelieving husband.  Paul says the same in 1 Corinthians  7:15 and 16.

 

One thing to note here is that the good behaviour without words might win the unbeliever over.  The idea of one's good behaviour only, without preaching the gospel, is not the norm in Scripture, but Peter understood the nature of marriage, especially in his day.  A wife preaching to her husband, attempting to win him over to anything back then would not go over very well.  It would probably be a reason for divorce.  That being said, what one preaches must be evident in the way one lives or else his preaching is useless.  Actions say a lot, especially bad actions.  

 

Note the words "your husband” in verse 1.  There might be the temptation, especially if one's husband is not a Christian to submit to a Christian brother who is teaching her the Word of the Lord.  Although Christian brothers, and that includes elders, do have input into Christian wives, the wife must submit to her husband.  In the Charismatic Movement of the 1960's and 1970's, on some occasions, I saw Christian wives who had non-Christian husbands, submitting to Christian men they looked up to at the neglect of submitting to their husbands.     

 

Verse 2 says, "when they see the purity and reverence of your lives."  You must remember, back in those days there was much sexual impurity.  The husband in many cases would not be faithful to his wife.  Many felt that it was a right and even a privilege to have other sexual partners, which included both men and women.  In many cases this sex with both men and women was a part of pagan worship.   Temple prostitutes were just a part of pagan worship at the pagan temples.  The purity of the wife was meant to speak volumes to her husband.

 

The Greek word "hagnos" is translated here as purity.  It is related to the Greek word "hagios" that is translated as holy in the New Testament.  

 

Being reverent towards your husband would also speak to him as well.  I would suppose at times this might have been a very difficult thing for a wife to do, but the goal of such reverence is the salvation of the husband.  The Greek word "phobos" is translated here a "reverence."  It is also translated as "fear" in many New Testament verses, but here, the word "reverence" might well be more appropriate.  I think Peter is speaking of a wife freely reverencing her husband.  I don't think he is saying that a wife should submit to her husband out of fear.   

 

Think this through.  A wife becomes a Christian and the husband doesn't.  You're in an anti-Christ culture that is persecuting Christians.  Your husband is very upset.  He is angry over the fact that his wife is a Christian.  He could now be persecuted, even killed, because his wife is a Christian.  This would have been a major problem back then.  It would be very easy for a wife to divorce her husband, and in Roman culture, unlike Jewish culture, a woman could divorce her husband.  This same kind of thing is taking place in Muslim countries today.  If a Muslim wife becomes a Christian and if her husband knows it, the family will disown her.  She will be out on the street in no time. Often, the Muslim wife who has become a Christian will attempt to be a secret Christian and try to follow Peter's admonition by submitting to her husband as best as she can without violating the truth of the gospel.       

 

Concerning the concept of submission, we need to think about what Peter taught and how he lived about submission to government.  We've said that Christians should submit to government the best they could, but, when government refuses to submit to God and makes you submit to something that is ungodly, then you don't submit.  As I've said earlier, I believe the same is true here when it comes to a wife submitting to her husband.  Wives should submit to their husbands as best they can without violating their submission to the Lord.  If the husband, like government, demands ungodly submission by making her do ungodly things, then wives don't submit.  They have a higher authority to whom they must submit.  

 

Verse 3 has been greatly misrepresented by certain legalistic groups over the years.  It says that the wife's beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry, and fine clothes."  Some have taken this verse in a legalistic sense and told the women of their church not to braid their hair and not to wear jewelry.  Then beyond that, they have added other rules as well pertaining to how women should dress.  Peter isn’t really saying not to wear jewelry or braided hair.  He is simply saying that a woman’s beauty should not come from such things alone.  If that is all that makes a woman beautiful, then obviously the beauty is skin deep.  I would suggest that braided hair is one example that Peter is using because braided hair was often worn by prostitutes. The same applies with all of the jewelry.    This would apply to the things Paul said about women's clothes, which are the same as Peter says here.

 

This doesn't mean that a woman can't or shouldn't make herself look nice.  I don't see anything wrong with that.   The same would apply to men.  The point to be made here is modesty, a modesty that does not take pre-eminence over the quality of a person the wife is.  As it has often been said, "beauty is skin deep."  There are many beautiful women who are very nasty in their nature.  The same is true with men.

 

Concerning braided hair in some legalistic churches who believe women must wear their hair long because of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11, you will often see these women braid their hair and put their braided hair in what is called a bun on top of their heads.  This practice is illogical.  If these women believe they should have long hair, why then ware their hair in a bun that makes it look short, you lose the look of having long hair.  It makes no sense.  In one sense of the word, you are not following the command you think you should be following.  One point Peter is making here is that women should not look like a prostitute.  Another point he is making is that a woman's outward appearance is not more important than he inward appearance.  The outward should not detract from the inward.  People should see Jesus' beauty in a woman more than they see a woman's bodily beauty.  Again, this certainly does not mean that a woman can't look nice, because I believe she should look nice.  It simply means that she needs to keep things in proper perspective.  

 

In verse 5 Peter makes what I'd call a generational point, maybe not like many of us would say today.  For example, we might say, "your grandmother never dressed that way."  Obviously, the child to whom you are speaking might suggest that there is no relevance between her and her grandmother.  This kind of statement might not go over well, but Peter makes the case anyway.  Women of old let their godly character be the source of their beauty.  I would think that they women of old Peter is speaking of are clearly Jewish women.  Gentile women might not have lived as Peter is telling Christian women to live.  

 

Verse 6 tells us that Sarah, Abraham's wife, was an example of her submission to her husband that God considers holy. For those who believe Peter is writing to Jewish believers, this would be one point in their favour.  Gentile women could not relate to what Peter said about Sarah.  The point Peter is making here is that Jewish women respected Sarah. That being the case, they should respect their husbands as Sarah respected Abraham.        

 

What Peter says in verse 6 is pretty far fetched in today’s feminist world.  He says, "like Sarah who obeyed Abraham and called him her master" is just unacceptable in today's world.  What else can be said here than what is said.  Wives in the western world do not call their husbands their masters or lords, but Sarah did, and Peter commended her for that.  This is a simple matter of complete respect for the husband, a respect that we should all have for each other.   I'm not saying that Christian wives in today's world should call their husbands lords or masters.  This terminology or wording is cultural, just the wording people used in Abraham's day.  We word things differently today.  The bottom line here is a healthy respect for one's husband, no matter what you call him.  

 

I believe in today's western world fathers and husbands are not respected as they should be.  Women have complained for decades for not being respected by men, but now the pendulum has swung the other way.  The disrespect has shifted against the men.  I guess it's hard to keep things in a godly balance.      

 

Peter ends his encouragement to women by telling them that if they view their husbands as Sarah viewed Abraham, then the women to whom Peter is writing are daughters of Sarah.  In one real sense of the word, Christian women are daughters of Sarah because they are also daughters of Abraham since as Paul puts it; they have the faith of Abraham.    

 

Peter says that wives do good and not give way to fear.  Just what Peter means by not giving way to fear is somewhat debatable.  Giving way to fear might mean giving into ungodly demands by the husband out of fear of reprisal.  There would be much for a Christian woman married to a non-Christian husband to fear in Peter's day.    

 

After all of the verses Peter devotes to Christian wives, in 1 Peter 3:7 he leaves only one verse for the Christian husband, but there is a lot in this verse.  He tells husbands to treat their wives with "consideration."  The KJV puts it this way.  "You husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife."    The KJV does a bit better job in my opinion translating certain words here.  The Greek word "gnosis" is the word that the KJV translates as knowledge and the NIV translates as consideration."  Gnosis simply means knowledge.  That is its basic meaning.  I believe this means that husbands must know their wives, something that takes effort and good communication.  They must know how their wives think, feel, react, and really, every part of whom their wives are.  In the era in which Peter wrote this letter, especially Gentile men, were not all that interested in knowing their wives in this way.  In many respects, their wives were baby machines to carry on the family lineage.  As a matter of fact, men in general, had other sex partners, many of which were men. 

 

Once knowing their wives, then, as Peter says, in the same way, meaning as wives submitted to husbands, husbands were to treat their wives with "respect," as the NIV puts it.  The Greek word "time" is translated as "respect" in my version of the NIV.  This word means "value."  Husbands are to value their wives because they are the most valuable thing to them.  Wives are indeed of great worth, more than money can buy.            

 

Again, in first century Roman and Greek culture men did not value their wives.  They valued other things as being much more valuable.  So, when Peter instructs men as he did here, he was going against the cultural norm of his day.  Many non-Christian men would have thought Peter to be way off base.  Peter was not being culturally correct, that is for sure.      

 

The word "value" must be emphasized here at this point.  In God's sight, the value of both men and women are equal.  One is not more valuable than the other.  So, when we talk about wives submitting to husbands, it's not a matter of worth or value.  It's a matter of one's roll or place within the family structure.  The same, I believe, applies to the roll and placement of men and women in the church.  

 

We should note the words "weaker partner."  These words refer to physical weakness, not social or any other kind of weakness.  The context itself should tell us that because Peter says that the wife is "heirs with" the husband "of the gracious gift of life."  Simply put, when it comes to the gift of salvation and all that goes along with that, the wife ranks right beside the husband.  There is no difference between male and female when it comes to salvation and participation in the Kingdom of God .  This too would have been revolutionary in both the Roman and Jewish world of Peter's day.  Both cultures viewed women on a lower social scale.  It is the gospel of Jesus that elevates women to a place of equality, not above him, but beside him, as was the case in the creation account.  

 

When it comes to salvation there is equality between the sexes.  When it comes to ministry within the church, both sexes have a place of ministry.  Both sexes have their realm of responsibility.  Each ministry has its place of importance in the church, and when it comes to leadership, the Apostle Paul says that a woman must not usurp authority away from the man, as seen in 1 Timothy 2:12.  This last statement has become highly debatable in church circles these days, but we do have to admit, these words are in the Bible and we have to deal with them in a proper hermeneutical way.     

 

What we see Peter saying here is very much like what the Apostle Paul taught in Ephesians 5.  However, there is one big difference.  Paul told Christian men "to love their wives as Christ loved the church."  Jesus gave Himself completely, even unto death, for the church.  Paul expects such love from Christian husbands directed towards their wives.  Just why Peter doesn't repeat these words is unknown, other than Peter was married and Paul wasn't.   It would have been much easier for Paul to say "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church than Peter.  Peter being married would have known the difficulty in maintaining Biblical love in marriage.  That being said, I'm sure Peter would have agreed with Paul.  He does not have to repeat everything Paul wrote.  

 

Peter says something interesting concerning husbands and their prayers.  If the husband doesn't treat his wife as she should be treated, the husband's prayers might well be hindered from being answered.  This tells us something about praying.  Things can hinder our prayers, and in this case the things are relational between the husband and his wife.  I would suggest also, even though Peter did not say this, that a wife's prayers might well be hindered if she did not properly submit to her husband.   I would also suggest that our prayers might be hindered because of other relational problems as well.  Discord and relational problems in the church would be a primary example today.   

 

I often hear people question why we don't see more of the miraculous in our churches today.  I believe what Peter says here is one reason.  When there is division in the home between husband and wife, prayers are hindered from being answered.  On any given Sunday morning in any given congregation, there might well be much family dysfunctional relationships.  This would in turn quench the presence of the Holy Spirit in the meeting.         

 

In the last three sections of Peter's letter we have seen the word "submit" used in terms of government, slaves to masters, and wives to husbands.  The Greek word "hopotasso", as I've said, means "to rank under".  Submission is therefore seen in light of social order.  It doesn't mean the one doing the submission is of any lesser value.  Value and worth is not what Peter is talking about here.  All human life is valuable.  I believe that is clearly seen in the Genesis account.  God created Adam, and then from Adam, He created Eve, and as the text states, "to stand along side of him".   Adam had his role in life, and so did Eve.  They had different roles, but equal value.    

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