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

By Margaret Mowczko 

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, 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.)

The NIV has added the words “be considerate” in 1 Peter 3:7a: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives”.  However in the Greek, the words “be considerate” are not there; it simply says “in the same way live together with your wives”.  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 adjective 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 merely consideration.  Having said that, submission in marriage is very much like being considerate; although it is more akin to loyalty and cooperation.[3]  Despite the NIV choosing to include a “softer” and potentially less controversial word than “submit”, it does seem as though Peter was really saying that Christian husbands should be submissive to their wives in verse 7.

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 (c340BC), 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 (b46 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 and even honour.

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 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, deferrence, humility, support, cooperation 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 Peter 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]; 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)

© 11th of September, 2011; Margaret Mowczko

This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here.

Previous article, Submission and respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6 is here.

submitted for “A Week of Mutuality: June 4-10, 2012″

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

  1. krwordgazer says:

    Wonderful exegesis, Marg. I didn’t know that the NIV had added that “be considerate.” Thank you for your in-depth analysis.

  2. Pingback: Submission and Respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6 | Christian Egalitarian Marriage

  3. Pingback: Double Standards in the Promotion and Practise of Submission | Christian Egalitarian Marriage

  4. Pingback: RHE – the mutuality 2012 synchroblog: a re-blog | Morven's Blog

  5. Sandy says:

    This is excellent. Thank you so much.

  6. Linda T says:

    You said – “Peter had not been talking about being considerate in the preceding verses; his theme was submission.”

    Some good points throughout here. However, in my meditation and study of this passage over the years, I have found the theme of I Peter 2:13 – 3:9 to be Christ’s example to us as found in I Peter 2:21-25. Our calling as wives, husbands, free-born citizens, slaves/servants, and Christians is to suffer as Christ did, taking it patiently, enduring grief and suffering with a clear conscience before God. When we are reviled and mistreated (including mistreatment by a husband or wife), we should not respond in kind (I Peter 3:9), but “likewise” follow Christ’s example of enduring grief and suffering for one another – for the purpose of bringing one another to God and facilitating our fellowship with Him (2:25; 3:1; 7:1).

    I believe God is giving practical teaching to Christian citizens, slaves, and wives who were/are often mistreated in life. Hope – if you will – proffered from a different perspective and different motivation, with a beautiful example to follow. Not so much telling husbands to submit to their wives, but encouraging, again, the same perspective and motivation which wives are to have – Christ. And, yes, if the teaching given to Christian husbands in 3:7 was emphasized more, life would be more gracious indeed.

  7. Marg says:

    Thanks for your comment, Linda. Peter wrote his letter to Christians in Asia Minor who were being slandered and persecuted. We also see in the letter that many Christians were fearful, and I get a sense that some others may have been on the point of retaliating against their unjust treatment. I also see that Peter was continually reminding the Asian Christians of their hope as a way of getting through their trials. It is important to understand the background if we want to get the most of the text. http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/1-peter-introduction/

    Our background is very different to the Christians in Asia Minor. We are not disadvantaged in society. We do not give Christianity a bad name by refusing to put up with mistreatment from an employee or spouse.

    While I think we should always be gracious, and never “repay evil with evil, or insult with insult” (1 Pet 3:9), I don’t think it is in anyone’s best interest to put up with abuse.

    If there is suffering in a Christian marriage, something is wrong. Neither my husband or myself suffer in our marriage; nor do we feel that we have been called to suffer in our marriage. Instead we feel very blessed. We may suffer because of other things in life, but while both of us are healthy and rational, and while we continue to honor and prefer the other, and live selflessly, there is no suffering in our marriage.

  8. Pingback: God wants women to be happy in marriage

  9. Thank you-wonderful!

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