Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8

These Bible study notes have been taken from a previous article.
1 Peter Bible Study Notes, Week 11

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  1 Peter 3:7-8 (NIV 2011)

Many Christians believe that submission in marriage is the duty only of wives. These Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives.[1]  In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.

In the same way . . .

In his first letter, Peter uses the Greek word homoiōs – which means “likewise” or “in the same way” – three times (1 Pet 3:1; 3:7; 5:5).  Each occurrence of this word is in the context of submission or, at the very least, respect.

Keeping in mind Peter’s use of homoiōs, let’s look at 1 Peter 2:13–3:8 which is the main passage where Peter gives instructions to certain groups of Christians to be submissive:

    • Firstly, Peter tells all his readers to submit to every secular authority, or institution (2:13).
    • Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (2:18).
    • Then he says, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your own husbands” (3:1).
    • Then he says, “Husbands, in the same way live together with your wives . . .” (3:7).
    • In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter brings up the subject of submission again and says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” (My underlines.)

The NIV uses the words “be considerate” in 1 Peter 3:7a: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives”. The NASB uses the word “understanding”. Being considerate is a good thing, but Peter had not been talking about being considerate in the preceding verses – his theme was submission. The Greek does not use the word for submit in verse 7, but it is implied by Peter’s use of the adverb homoiōs (“in the same way”) which links verse 7 with the other verses about submission.

Ephesians 5:21-22 is similar, in that the Greek word for submit is mentioned in verse 21 when addressing all the believers – “Submitting to one another” – but the word does not reappear in the better, older Greek texts of verse 22 when speaking just to wives, it is merely implied, just like in 1 Peter 3:7.[2]

The context of 1 Peter 3:1-8 is of submission and respect, not just consideration and understanding. Having said that, submission in marriage is very much like being considerate, although it is also akin to loyalty and cooperation.[3]

Living Together with Understanding

Peter’s instruction: “Husbands, in the same way [be submissive] as you live together with your wives . . .” is a radical statement considering the typical Greco-Roman view of women and wives. Apollodorus[4], in his oration Against Neaera (ca 340 BC), revealed the common sexual roles of women in the Greek world:

“We have hetaerae (mistresses/courtesans) for pleasure, pallakae (concubines/prostitutes) for the daily [sexual] service of our bodies and gynaekes (wives) to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” Against Neaira 59.122

There are numerous references in Greco-Roman literature about the sexual freedom of men, often with no hint of censure. In his Advice to the Bride and Groom, Plutarch (b. 46 AD) condones husbands having sexual liaisons with other women (except married women); but then he advises husbands to not provoke or upset their wives with the knowledge of these affairs. Plutarch also advices women that they must accept their husband’s extra-marital affairs.

Christian morality, on the other hand, encouraged monogamy and marital fidelity. Peter’s instruction that  Christian husbands “dwell together” (or “cohabitate”) with their wives would have been a significant statement to some of the newly-converted Greco-Roman Christian men who may not have viewed their wives as true companions and partners in life. Peter wanted husbands and wives to truly share their lives together. He wanted the husbands to view their legal wives as more than just the mothers of their legitimate children.

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter also makes the point that women are weaker than men. Women were greatly disadvantaged in Greco-Roman society. They had considerably less privileges and rights than men. Women are also, usually, physically weaker than men. Peter wanted husbands to acknowledge the more vulnerable situation of their wives – their “vessels” – so that they would take care not to exploit them (cf 1 Thess. 4:3-6).[5] Many times, people in positions of privilege are not fully aware of the disadvantages of those in weaker positions. Instead of exploitation, Peter wanted husbands to treat their wives with respect. [More about Peter’s phrase “weaker vessel” here.]

Respect or Honour?

Peter instructs the Christian husbands to give their Christian wives respect, or, more accurately, honour (timē).  For some (many?) in the church of Asia Minor this may have seemed an extraordinary request of Peter. Peter tells the husbands to assign honour to their wives because, in Christ, men and women are coheirs of the life of grace. The Greek of 1 Peter 3:7 uses language which unmistakably highlights the mutuality and equality of Christian husbands and wives.[6]

The NLT captures this meaning in their translation:

. . . you husbands  must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live  together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. 1 Peter 3:7

Peter also gives a warning to husbands. He suggests that if husbands do not give their wives honour as coheirs, or equal partners, their attitude and behaviour will hinder their prayers.

Harmony and Humility

The insistence of many Christians, that submission in marriage is the sole responsibility and duty of wives, is not biblical. Peter strongly implies that husbands are to be submissive to their Christian wives (1 Pet. 3:7).  In Ephesians 5:21, Paul urged all Christians to be mutually submissive to one another.[7] Submission in Christian relationships is not to be understood in the military sense of subordination, but more in the sense of loyalty, cooperation, support, deference, humility, and consideration.[3]

Peter sums up his passage on submission by saying, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pet. 3:8)  This is what submission between husbands and wives looks like. Moreover, this is what Christian submission between all of God’s people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status – or church status – looks like.


Endnotes
[1]  As pointed out in the previous article, God told Abraham (literally): “. . . in everything, whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her voice.” (Genesis 21:12b, translated from the Septuagint LXX).  And in Genesis 16:2 (LXX) it says that Abraham (literally) obeyed Sarah’s voice.
[2] Ephesians 5:24 is another example where “being submissive” is mentioned in the first clause in the Greek, and not repeated, but implied, in the second.

[3] Also from the previous article: The Greek word for “submit” (hupotassō) has a military usage and meaning of “subordinate”, and a non-military usage and meaning of “cooperate”.  Thayers Bible Dictionary makes the distinction between the military and non-military usage of hupotassō.

Hupotassō: A Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader’. In non-military use, it was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden’.
http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html

[4] This quote from Against Neaira has been traditionally attributed to Demosthenes. While this quote dates from 340BC, the view of women described in this speech was also prevalent in the first-century Greco-Roman world. For more on marriage in New Testament times read G.W. Peterman’s paper, Marriage and Sexual Fidelity in the Papyri, Plutarch and Paul, Tyndale Bulletin 50.2 (1999) 163-172 here.

[5]  In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 Paul used similar language, including the words: vessel (skeuos)  and honour (timē).

The exact metaphorical meaning of vessel (skeuos) is disputed. In Greek usage, it is a common term for the body as the container of the soul. A Hebrew equivalent of this term was used in rabbinic teaching for “wife” or “sexual partner”. This uncertainty of interpretation applies to 1 Thessalonians 4:4 as well as to 1 Peter 3:7. Edwin A. Blum, ”1 Peter”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12, Ed: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 238.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 that Christians should abstain from sexual immorality (cf 1 Pet. 2:11) and instead each person should “procure their own vessel”; as in, their own marital partner (cf 1 Cor. 7:2). Christians are to treat their “vessels” with “holiness and honour”.  They are not to behave like the gentile pagans; neither are they to take advantage of their brothers and sisters sexually. (An alternate interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:4 is that each person is to “control his own vessel”; as in, his/her own body.)

[6]  My translation/paraphrase of 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way [be submissive]; live together with [your] wives with the understanding that they are weaker beings [and] assign honour to them as co-heirs of the gracious gift of life so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

[7] In Ephesian 5:25-31, the apostle Paul gave advice to Christian husbands.  He told them to give themselves up for their wives.  He told them to care for their wives as they care for themselves.  “To love your wife as you ‘love your own body’ is to love her as your equal”. (MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok)  Nowhere does this passage in Ephesian 5 mention or imply male leadership or authority. This passage is about sacrificial love and care. [My article on Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters is here.]

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  Ephesians 5:25-31 (NIV 2011)


< < < Week 10: Submission and Respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6
> > > Week 12: Pursue Peace – 1 Peter 3:8-16


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Likewise Women . . . Likewise Husbands

Posted April 26th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: 1 Peter, Bible Study Notes, , , , ,

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10 comments on “Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8

  1. […] Week 11: Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Yes, exactly.

    One aspect is that a whole lot of people are told to submit to another group, these FORMS of submission simply cannot be identical, so there is a range of meaning that is larger than simply obedience, contra the comp equating of the 2.

  3. Marg says:

    I agree that “submission” has a range of meanings and has different applications depending on the situation and relationship.

    That is why it is both ludicrous and dangerous for Christians (or anyone else) to insist on a military-kind of subordination in the precious and intimate relationship of marriage.

  4. Sophie says:

    Ah, but ‘complementarians’ will never admit that there is a miltary kind of subordination implied. That’s why they disguise ‘subordination of women’ with the term ‘complementarian’.

  5. Marg says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sophie.

    I agree that the term “complementarian” is a bit of a disguise.
    Christians who usually call themselves complementarians are hierarchical complementarians. They see men as leaders and women as responsive followers, and thus perpetuate a caste system in the church..

    I am a complementarian in that I believe that men and women complement each other. I am a non-hierachical complementarian. (It is obvious that not all men are capable leaders, whereas some women are very capable leaders, etc.)

    Personally I think it is ridiculous to make a distinction between men and women purely on the basis of leadership and following. And the insistence that there needs to be one leader and one follower in a marriage of two equals, sounds unhealthy and impractical.

  6. […] Marg Mowczko makes a compelling argument from Scripture in support of mutual submission here.  While equal, mutual, “vice versa” submission sounds like a great way to run a […]

  7. Charis says:

    Very good points about 1 Peter mutuality!

    You said:

    Submission in Christian relationships is not to be understood in the military sense of subordination, but more in the sense of loyalty, deferrence, humility, support, cooperation and consideration. -Marg

    In the Ephesians 5 “body life” marriage metaphor, I don’t think this works since wives are told to “submit in EVERYTHING” so using your definitions, you would have a wife who is deferring and supporting in EVERYTHING with no vice-versa anywhere stated for the husband. BTDT and its a demeaning and draining way to conduct a marriage (contributing to the high divorce rate among Christians IMO).

    I wrote about how I see a wife’s subjection in EVERYTHING here: The Elephant in the Egalitarian Room “wives submit in everything” Ephesians 5:24

  8. Marg says:

    Thanks Charis. Have you seen my latest post? It’s on Ephesians 5:22-33; however it doesn’t answer your objection. (I’ll get around to that one day.) http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/pauls-main-point-in-eph-5_22-33/

    As you know, it is important not to take one verse such as Ephesians 5:24 and focus on it at the exclusion of other verses. Peter and Paul do tell husbands to be submissive to their wives, they just use different words. In 1st century Greco-Roman society wives were used to being told to be submissive, so Peter and Paul could speak plainly about this, and qualify it. They had to express things more carefully, though, for the husbands.

    All of Paul’s instructions for wifely submission have a clause about Jesus. This qualified and limited the submission of Christian wives.

    I take Ephesians 5:24 to mean that, just as the Christian community is submissive to the Lord in every area of life, and not just submissive here and there in isolated, select areas, wives are to be submissive to their husbands, in every area of their lives (i.e. they are to share their lives with their husbands). Peter and Paul wanted to foster real relationships in marriage.

    As I wrote above, in 1st century society husbands and wives did not always share their lives. It was not unusual for a man to marry a woman so that he could have legitimate offspring but at the same time continue, or pursue, relations with other women.

    Submitting to one another in Christian love does not mean putting up with foolishness or wickedness. And it does not mean that wives abdicate being responsible (or intelligent) for themselves or their family, etc. I have mentioned many examples of Bible women who chose when it was appropriate to be submissive and when it wasn’t here http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/1-peter-3_1-6/
    God wants women and wives to be wise.

  9. […] Week 11: Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  10. […] ~  ”Husbands, in the same way [be considerate as you](1) live with your wives, and treat them with respect(2) as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” ~1 Peter 3:7 (For more about this verse and a husband’s submission, see Margaret Mowczko’s blog, newlife.) […]

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Submission and Respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6

In 1 Peter 3:1-6, Peter resumes the theme of submission. This time he addresses wives. Continue reading»

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