Today: [1 Peter 3:] Does the Bible Teach that Women should Obey Men? In ch. 3 of 1 Peter the apostle writes at length describing how women should conduct themselves in marriage. The considerations Peter stipulates seem very antiquated for modern believers. Are these warnings outdated injunctions we are right to ignore or do they in any way advise us as to our conduct in the enlightened day we live in?
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[1Pe 3:1-22 KJV] 1 Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation [coupled] with fear. 3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 8 Finally, [be ye] all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, [be] pitiful, [be] courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord [are] over the righteous, and his ears [are open] unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord [is] against them that do evil. 13 And who [is] he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [are ye]: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17 For [it is] better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. 18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
In this chapter, Peter continues his admonition to believers calling upon them to live in subjection to those in authority. Chapter 2 dealt primarily with the believer’s relationship to governmental authority. In chapter 3 the matter of personal subjection in the family unit is addressed. In v. 1 Peter maintains that wives should be in subjection to their husbands even those that obey not the word in the hopes that the unbelieving husband might be won over by the godly behavior of a believing wife. The godly behavior of a believing wife is defined in the following verses.
This brings us to the question of submission in the home. Both Paul and Peter address this issue of a wife’s subjection to their husbands. Are these passages making only a cultural reference to an ancient people as many suggest or are these injunctions obligatory for the modern woman and the husbands they are married to? Most husbands in today’s world even believing husbands have no interest in addressing this issue as they don’t want the responsibility and they don’t want the tension that often accompanies this discussion. There are other passages in the New Testament enjoining slave to obey their masters that we would rank today as condoning human trafficking and therefore held by most as not relevant to 21st-century believers.
What passages such as this? As a husband do you think that your wife has any obligation according to God’s word to be in subjection as Peter commands in this chapter? As a wife to what degree do you find yourself to be accountable to obey your husband as Peter defines for us in this passage? The word subjection used here by Peter is defined as follows:
Subjection: to be subordinate; reflexively, to obey: — be under obedience, put be put under, to be subdued unto, to make subject, to be put in subjection to, to submit one’s self to. A Greek military term describing a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.
It would be scandalous today for any Christian leader to impose such an injunction upon a wife. These scriptures however exist, and they show up often enough in scripture as to constitute at least one of the minor themes of the New Testament. The choice for a Christian spouse would be either to summarily dismiss them (the more popular option today) or to at least consider them in light of their inclusion in the scripture we claim to believe in and to answer individual for one’s self to what extent they are applied even relating to wives whose husbands are not born again.
Verse three goes on to encourage women to exercise themselves to be at least as preoccupied with a devout character as they are with outward appearance. Conservative groups insist that Peter is proscribing certain hairstyles or wearing of jewelry, but that is not the case. He merely states that a believing woman should consider the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit at least as valuable as the latest fashion. Here again, this begs the question is godliness for a woman defined as being meek and quiet? Peter says in the sight of God that is an attribute of great value.
Peter goes on to give the example of godly women such as Sarah who went so far as to call Abraham lord even though he gave her many occasions to be afraid and amazed at his lack of good judgment. Could you ever see yourself following Sarah’s example and calling your husband lord? How would your friends respond to that if you did so in their hearing?
Having sufficiently scandalized any modern reader in Western culture Peter turns his attention now to husbands in v. 7. Husbands are admonished to dwell with their wives according to knowledge. What does this mean? It means men that you are to act like you have some sense when it comes to your spouse. You are to honor your wife as a weaker vessel. Are women weaker? Other translators demur on this point rendering this description as suggesting the woman is not necessarily weaker – just more refined. Regardless, the husband is to see his spouse as a co-heir together with him of the grace of life. However, you might disdain some or all of these cautions Peter frames their proper understanding and application as a basis of whether or not your prayers are to be effective or hindered. In other words if you aren’t getting answers to prayer before you adopt some glib assumption that God decided for some esoteric reason to deny you for a higher purpose perhaps you should give at least a perfunctory consideration to the fact that your prayers are going unanswered because of departures in your marriage from the description that Peter gives of what a marriage should look like. Indeed few if any couples today would submit to any scrutiny on this level but at least self-examination is warranted.
In v. 8 Peter moves on urging the believers to be of one mind having compassion for one another. When others suffer or do something you do not agree with is your response congenial or denunciatory? Even when we are treated in an evil way or railed against (Peter is talking now about how believers might treat one another) we to bless in the expectation that in so doing we will inherit a blessing. If we love life (v. 10) and want to see good days, Peter stipulates we are to hold our tongue disallowing all guile or contention even when we are wrongfully treated. We are to turn aside from all depraved and clamorous behavior and seek peace above all. Why would we want to do this? Because (v. 12) the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and his ears open to those that adopt the kingdom response to ill-treatment, but the face of the Lord is in opposition to all other considerations. In other words, you don’t want to enter into strife because in so doing Peter is insisting that not only will the other party oppose you but God himself will be against you if you render evil for evil.
We often retaliate with the excuse we are only defending ourselves, but in v. 13 Peter excludes this rationalization saying that no one can harm the one who chooses the better part. Even if you do suffer for righteousness (v. 14) we are to sanctify (give honor) to God on our hearts by responding with meekness and godly fear. In other words, fear God more than you fear what is coming against you. In so doing (v. 16) you maintain a good conscience before God.
Peter admits if we refuse to render evil for evil that suffering may result (v. 17), but we are to remember that Christ also suffered as the just for the unjust as part of the work of redemption. He goes on to describe that because Jesus did not call 10,000 angels it was made possible for him to proceed in the afterlife to preach to the departed saints and escort them from their holding place in paradise into the presence of God. How much more then we are to conclude will God open kingdom opportunities for us to do the work of God we are called to if we are willing to suffer patiently the maltreatment that so often comes to us even at the hands of fellow Christians? The end result for Jesus in setting this example for us (v. 22) was to ascend to heaven. By extension, Peter is saying we should at times be willing to endure the unendurable as a means of amplifying our authority as believers in the heavens. When we are subject to God, we take our place as seated with Christ in heavenly places that we might experience what the authority of the believer looks like in the earth.
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