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

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

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 (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 use of underlining.)

There is no main verb in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7, but by using the adverb “likewise” (homoiōs), Peter links verse 7 with the previous verses about submission. It is not uncommon for Greek sentences to borrow the meaning of a main verb from a previous sentence, or passage, without restating the verb (e.g.Eph. 5:21-22).[2] However, Peter may have intentionally left out the word for “be submissive” in verse 7 to slightly soften its impact and avoid offending the sense of male honour which was part of the culture of Greco-Roman society. Nevertheless, the meaning of submission remains.[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 advises 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 and be considerate of 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 and even honour. [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 in the church of Asia Minor this may have seemed an extraordinary request of Peter. The teaching of the New Testament, however, unlike some other religious writings, show that women are to be treated with honour and respect. 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 writes that if husbands do not give their wives honour as co-heirs, or equal partners, their attitude and behaviour will hinder their prayers.

Harmony and Humility

Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8The 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.

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 1st-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]; living together with [your] wives with the understanding that they are weaker than you [and] assign honour to them as co-heirs of the gracious gift of life [or, life of grace] 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 Ephesians 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)


Related Articles

(1) Submission and Respect from Wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6
A “Weaker Vessel” and Gender Justice in 1 Peter 3:7
Double Standards in the Promotion and Practise of Submission
The Trinity and Marriage
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 
Likewise Women . . . Likewise Husbands

Posted September 11th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , ,

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25 comments on “Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8

  1. Yes, submission means indeed cooperation, thus making mutual submission more than a possibility – it is an ideal in all relationships. What is of interest is that in 1 Peter 5, Peter actually tells elders and laity (those younger in faith, not years) to submit to each other, for you can’t wear submission as a cloth, only humility. Even elders must cooperate with their flocks, serving as examples, instead of demanding to be served as lords.

    One point that is often missed is: why does Peter talk about Abraham and Sarah, the great heroes of faith, in a passage that talks about suffering in the hands of the unbelieving? I have to come to believe Peter gives Sarah as an example of patience before an obstacle that seems unmovable. Sarah had waited for a child all her married life. Now they were both too old; her hope had been vanquished. Here comes God with a promise that she would have a child. Sarah laughs, wonders to herself how Abraham, being old, could give her a child. Dead would rise before it. Nevertheless, Isaac is born 9 months later and Sarah’s joy is fulfilled.

    If we look at 1 Peter 3 from this view point, we see Christian married women desperate for the conversion of their husbands who have rejected the spoken word. In hagiography we find evidence of Christian women leaving their unbelieving husbands rather than continue to sin with them. Note that Peter tells them to cooperate, but to remain themselves pure and undisturbed by fear. If they will trust in God, in due time they also might see their joy fulfilled.

    The Greek word “obey” means also “to listen attentively” and Sarah is said to have listened in the tent while Abraham spoke to the guests – the text Peter is referring to – but nowhere is she said to have obeyed. This is only natural, for submission is not the same as obedience, for while obedience removes free will, submission depends on our free will.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Susanna!

    I have also read from early church sources that some saved wives were leaving their unsaved husbands, and so Peter and Paul’s instruction for submission can be interpreted as “don’t leave your husband but stay loyal, supportive and cooperative”.

    I completely agree with your comment, “I have to come to believe Peter gives Sarah as an example of patience before an obstacle that seems unmovable.” I’ve written something along those lines in footnote 7 of the previous article; but not as succinctly as you have done here.

    This comment of your’s is interesting: “. . . submission is not the same as obedience, for while obedience removes free will, submission depends on our free will.” Still thinking about this.

    🙂

  3. […] (2) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  4. […] (2) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  5. […] Submission 101  […]

  6. […] I have written about Submission in 1 Peter 3:1-8 here. […]

  7. […] Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  8. Nanci says:

    I have a question which was not addressed in your writings here. What are the various uses and iterations for the word translated “weaker” in the global context of period Greek literature? For example, does this word come up in descriptions of fine and delicate art? And does the original contain a grammatical construction of “as unto” the same as in the KJV?

    It seems to me that there are many places in the Bible which make similes, and that this verse carries an entirely different meaning if one considers that a man should treat his wife as if she were a Ming Vase or the fragile Mona Lisa. Whether she is “strong” or “weak” (for I have known both kinds of women) is irrelevant to the command. If he is commanded to treat her as if she is breakable, it is merely a command to be gentle in his words and deeds. Not a bad thing in any human relationship!

  9. Marg says:

    Thanks for your comment Nanci.

    Other people have contacted me and commmented on my lack of explanation about the work “weaker” (ashthenēs). For some this word is problematic, as though it implies inferiority, but I’ve never seen it that way.

    I like your last comment. I think we should all treat each other as though we are breakable.

    Here are some other uses of the word in the New Testament.

    In 1Co 1:25-27 we are told that “… the [asthenēs] of God is stronger than men.” and “God hath chosen the [asthenēs] of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”

    When Paul lists his “credentials” in 1Co 4:10, he includes this term: “… we are [asthenēs], but you are strong …”

    In 1Co 12:22 we learn that “… those members of the body, which seem to be more [asthenēs], are necessary …”

    And in 2 Cor 12:10 Paul writes, “When I am weak [asthenēs], then I am strong.”

    In Matthew 25:43, Jesus tells us that He was the [asthenēs] that some ministered to and others overlooked.

    I’m haven’t made note of the word outside of the New Testament, but I’ll try and be on the look our for it.

    You might be interested in this article about “Protecting the Weaker Sex” here.
    .

  10. ProveAllThings says:

    Is this written by a feminist? I mean, I think I get the heart of the matter, but reality is, one can only submit to the other. One submitting implies the other is the leader. The man is clearly the leader in the Bible. As marriage is equated to Christ and the Church, so the is the method. Jesus submitted to the Father, so the wife submits and does the will of the husband. There is order. Terrible interpretations like these, only cause confusion and chaos. It would be better to rather explain what it means for the man to be the leader, how he should love his wife as Christ loves the Church and gave himself for up, instead of confusing and mixing up roles.

    Women are in-equal in their weakness sense, at least that is how this faulty egalitarian society would view such claims, they are also more easily deceived as 1 Tim 2 points out. Acknowledging this reality is not a bad thing. Since women are weaker, the husband must bite the bullet so to speak when dealing with the woman’s potential emotional nonsense. Realizing she is more sensitive and easier to offend on various topics and thus should deal with her as the fragile creature that she is. Wanting the best for her though, knowing that being such a way, she is able to generally have more compassion in different scenarios, especially towards children. Such differences give strengths in other areas, so that each person in the marriage compliments each together in the necessary way.

    Did it work? The submission for this site, appears to be saying it is in error, so I will submit this last time.

  11. Marg says:

    Hi ProveAllThings, Nice title: I’m glad this is something that you do.

    I’ve responded to your main points in order as follows:

    I do not call myself a feminist. Here is a definition of feminist, you can decide for yourself if I fit the description, but I personally don’t like the label.

    “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” (Source)

    Submission does not necessarily imply leadership, especially in Christian relationships. There is no leader in Ephesians 5:21. Other verses, about submissive and humble behaviour, also do not mention or imply leadership. [More on this here.]

    The concept of man being the leader of his wife (or in society) is not as clear as you might think. There are many Greek words for leader, ruler, governor, authority, etc. None of these words are ever used for husbands except in Genesis 3:16 and Esther 1:22. (“Head”-kephalē does not mean leader in original, untranslated Classical and Koine Greek, including New Testament Greek. More about this here.)

    “In Genesis 3:16 it says that one of the consequences of sin was that the husband would rule the wife, but this is far for God’s ideal. In Esther 1:20-22 (esp. v22) the Persian king Xerxes decreed that husbands should rule their wives. Christians, however, should not take their cues for living from the curses and consequences of the Fall or from decrees of pagan kings.” [From endnote 8 here.]

    The unity and care of Jesus for his church is a picture of what we should strive for in our marriages. Jesus’ lordship and authority is never mentioned in Ephesians 5:22-33, only his sacrificial love and care. Leadership is not mentioned in 1 Peter 3:7-8 either. (Context is vitally important in determining what Scripture means.) [More about Paul’s main point in Ephesians 5:22-33 here.]

    If two intelligent, capable adults can’t get along without one always being the leader and the other always being the follower, then that is a very sad state of affairs indeed. My husband and I manage and share our home and life together as equal partners without any problems whatsoever. There is no chaos, no confusion. In fact there is a lot of peace and contentment.

    Giving yourself up for someone sounds a lot like submission. I believe Peter and Paul are telling husbands to be submissive to their wives, they just don’t use the word submission. Wives were used to being submissive to their husbands, so Peter and Paul speak plainly about this. Men in Greco-Roman society viewed humility and submission as undignified, so Peter and Paul used other words to make it sound more dignified for men.

    Most women are physically weaker than men. However, the Bible nowhere states that women are more easily deceived than men. Nowhere. You are assuming this is what 1 Timothy 2:12 says, but it doesn’t.

    It seems that you have a low view of women. “Emotional nonsense”, being “more sensitive”, “easier to offend”, “a fragile creature”: my goodness! No wonder you think men should be the leaders if that is how you view all women. The Bible doesn’t say such negative things about women. [More about the biblical portrayal of women here.]

    Many women are not nonsensical, sensitive, easily offended or fragile. On the other hand, some men have immature, offensive and harmful personalities. Should these men be leaders?

    I’m glad you are continuing to prove all things. I hope these comments have been helpful.

    [Your comments did work. They need to be “approved” before appearing. I approved your last comment.]

  12. […] (2) Submission and Respect from Husbands: 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  13. […] Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  14. […] [This section adapted from "Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8" here.] […]

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

  16. Erica Tate says:

    This is a very late comment to this article… but then, I’ve only just discovered your website.
    In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter doesn’t say that women are weaker than men. He says that the husband must honour the wife AS a weaker vessel. So one way of looking at this verse is that he is to treat her as if she’s made of china, not plastic. This has already been mentioned above, and I heartily agree that we should treat all people as if they are ‘breakable.’
    It seems to me that another way of interpreting this is as follows: I am married (happily, for over 14 years now, to my best friend), and I am definitely vulnerable to my husband in a way that I am not to any other man on the planet, simply because of my emotional connection to him. I deeply care about what my husband thinks of me, but as far as other men are concerned, it’s no big deal what they think of me. So perhaps Peter is making the point that a Christian husband is to cherish and respect this vulnerability of his wife towards him, rather than exploit it (which has been the norm ever since the Fall). What do you think? Is that an over-interpretation?

  17. Marg says:

    Hi Erica,

    I think it is an excellent point you make that we should treat all people as though they are breakable. I would even take it a step further, in that, we should recognise that people are already broken to some extent. So, we don’t want to add to that damage, but bring healing.

    I don’t have a problem with Peter describing the wife or woman as “weaker”. Most women are physically weaker than men. And when Peter was writing, they were weaker and more vulnerable in other ways too as they had less rights, freedoms, and opportunities than men.

    The NIV translation leaves out a bit, but, in the Greek, it does seems that Peter is saying – when addressing the husbands in verse 7 – that women are weaker vessels (i.e. weaker than men).

    The Greek word for “weaker” and the word for “woman/wife” are grammatically linked. They are both (neuter dative singular) adjectives of “vessel” (which is the neuter singular noun.) So it could be translated “weaker, womanly vessel.”

    “Weaker” is a comparative adjective, and I believe it is comparing the relative physical weakness of a woman to her husband.

    I’ve arranged the Greek (with a literal English translation) as a chiasm to emphasise the focus on how husbands should treat their wife:

    A. Οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως The husbands likewise
    B. συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν, living together according to knowledge (understanding)
    C. ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει as with a weaker vessel
    X. τῷ γυναικείῳ with the woman/wife (or, womanly)
    C1. ἀπονέμοντες τιμήν, assigning honour
    B1. ὡς καὶ συγκληρονόμοις χάριτος ζωῆς, as also coheirs of [the] grace of life
    A1. εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐγκόπτεσθαι τὰς προσευχὰς ὑμῶν. so that your prayers may not be hindered.

    It’s very difficult to get inside the mind of a 1st century wife living in Asia Minor, but I think it’s fair to say that they did not think of their husbands in deeply emotional ways.

    Most marriages were were alliances made for family, economic and political reasons, and primarily to beget legitimate children. That’s not to say that some couples did not love each other deeply in ways we would recognise, but this type of love was not the norm.

    I hope some of this makes sense.

  18. Erica Tate says:

    Hi Marg
    Thanks for your prompt reply. Upon reflection, I think you’re right about my second point. I guess I was trying to fit Peter’s comments into our modern culture, which is not very good hermeneutics.
    The problem I have with the translation “the woman is the weaker vessel” as opposed to “the wife,” is that it is only in one obvious area – muscular strength – that most women are weaker than most men. In every other parameter (health, emotional strength, longevity, intelligence, etc), it’s debatable which of the sexes is stronger. To me, this would make “the woman IS the weaker vessel” at odds with what actually goes on in the ‘real world.’ Since God is both the author of Scripture and the Creator, I would expect to see the truth of Scripture borne out in the real world.
    For this reason, given that the Greek word for ‘woman’ and ‘wife’ is the same, “treat YOUR woman AS you would a weaker vessel” makes more sense than “the woman IS a weaker vessel.”
    I think this is supported by the fact that this passage is written to husbands, not all men, and by what you pointed out in your reply of the cultural disadvantages that wives had at the time Peter wrote his epistle: less rights, freedoms, and opportunities, thus putting them in a place of weakness that God never intended them to be in.
    Regards
    Erica
    PS Sorry for the capitals – I don’t know how to do italics; I’m definitely not trying to shout at you.

  19. fs says:

    1 Peter 3:1 et seq makes it clear that wifely submission is of a different quality than the husbands. To ignore those verses is disingenious. It also requires obedience.

    • Marg says:

      It is different. One of the main reasons it is different is because the instructions to wives are to women with unsaved husbands. Their submission is so that their unsaved husbands may be “won over without as word”. The instructions to husbands are to men with saved wives who are “co-heirs of the gracious gift of life”.

  20. […] Submission and Respect from Husbands (1 Peter 3:7-8) […]

  21. […] Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8 […]

  22. […] I’ve previously written an article about 1 Peter 3:7-8, which includes the phrase “a weaker vessel” [here]. Since writing this article I’ve come across a few references in Greek papyri where women are called “weak”. In these papyri, women use the adjective for themselves hoping to elicit pity, or hoping to ingratiate themselves, while seeking justice from men. A.L. Connolly comments on several of these legal petitions and notes that appealing to a woman’s frailty (asthenēs) “had become commonplace in the rhetoric of petitions.” […]

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

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