Submission in Marriage

Text: I Peter 3:1-7

Study Questions:

  1. I Peter 3:1 says “in the same way” or “likewise.” In the same way as what?
  2. Does submission mean wives are inferior to husbands?
  3. If the husband is an unbeliever, why must the wife take care in how she behaves?
  4. What does God find to have great value in His eyes?
  5. I Peter 3:7 says “in the same way” or “likewise.” In the same way as what?
  6. How is a husband to live with his wife?
  7. What are the three reasons given for how husbands ought to behave?

Wives be submissive to your husbands - I Peter 3:1-2

Notice how this section starts out: “In the same way, ...” The submission of a wife to her husband is no different from the submission of a citizen to the government or a slave to a master, or Christ to God’s will. Where citizenship and slavery are usually involuntary, a wife’s submission to her husband is like Christ’s submission to the Father, it is completely voluntary because the wife chooses her husband. And like the citizen or the slave, a wife’s submission reflects upon God and His Word (Titus 2:5).

Husbands are not the ultimate authority. Christ is the head of every man (I Corinthians 11:3). Thus, a wife serves Christ through her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18). As with the slave or the citizen, this means that service to Christ comes first, period (Luke 14:26). If a husband wants to do something that violates God’s law, then God’s will comes first as the higher authority. However, his rebellion against God is not an excuse for the wife to rebel against her husband in other matters. Notice that Peter is focusing on wives submitting to their unbelieving husbands as a way of winning them to Christ. You can’t win someone to a way of living that you aren’t following yourself. Living proper Christian life attracts others to also imitate that same life.

Sometimes the concern is that the husband isn’t doing his part, so the wife doesn’t see the need to give of herself. But you have to remember that the husband will answer to God for his sins. The wife doesn’t make matters better by adding sins of her own. You cannot use the sin of another person as an excuse to sin. Each will answer to God solely for what he or she alone did.

Proper adornment - I Peter 3:3-6

Wearing jewelry has been a long-standing custom. Though used for a wicked purpose (to make an idol), we do find mention that men and women wore earrings. "And Aaron said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." " (Exodus 32:2). Later we find the men and women donating some of their jewelry to God. "They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to the LORD" (Exodus 35:22). Other passages are Numbers 31:50; Judges 8:24-26; Proverbs 25:12; and Ezekiel 16:12.

Phrases don't always translate well between two languages. There is a particular phrasing that is sometimes called the "not-but" ellipsis. In Greek, when you have a phrase containing "not" followed by a "but" where the two share a common verb, though it is implied in the second phrase, then you have this special form. It should be understood as "not only" or "not merely" and "but also" or "but more importantly." The Greeks used this phrasing to say that what comes after the "not" isn't very important but what comes after the "but" is very important. Unfortunately, in English, we use a similar phrase for mutually exclusive ideas.

Let me give you an example that makes this clear:

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him" (John 6:27).

The common verb is "labor" which appears after the "not" but not after the "but." If we read this the English way as a mutually exclusive phrase, you would say that Jesus is commanding people not to work for their physical food. Yet such an understanding would contradict, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). However, a Greek speaker would understand that Jesus is saying that working for physical food isn't nearly as important as working for spiritual food because physical food doesn't last but spiritual food will last into eternity.

Thus, in I Peter 3:3-4, Peter is saying that outward adornments, such as hairstyles, the jewelry worn, or the clothing put on is not nearly as important as the character of a woman as far as God is concerned. It is not a mutually exclusive statement. Peter is saying that these things are unimportant and should not be emphasized by a Christian. Christians should be noticed because of who they are and not because of what they are wearing.

To illustrate his point, Peter refers to Sarah. Sarah was a beautiful woman, even in her late sixties (Genesis 12:11). Peter makes a significant point about submission from a small fact that could easily be overlooked. Sarah called Abraham "lord." There is only one place where this is recorded: "Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" " (Genesis 18:12). The fact that Sarah thought of her husband as her lord, tells us more than a mention of her calling him "lord" verbally. We know that people's words don't always match their thoughts. But here we have Sarah's thoughts and so we know that they govern how she behaved.

Peter's point is about submission, not about calling husbands "lord." Sarah's unvocalized consideration of her husband sets the example of how women should be submissive to their husbands. It isn't just an outward obedience, but a submission born first in the heart. When a wife reaches that point in her own thoughts, regardless of how she might verbally express herself, she has become a daughter of Sarah as she submits to her husband.

Implied here as well is that the secret of Sarah’s beauty lied in her character more than her physical features.

Husbands are to honor their wives - I Peter 3:7

Once again, Peter leads off with “in the same way.” The rules given here are no different than what was said about the citizen, the slave, Christ, and the wife. A husband is to live with his wife in a way that shows an understanding of her position in life.

What is meant by honoring your wife? The Greek word behind "honor" is timen. It briefly means "price, value, honor, recognition, or respect." The word basically means giving or acknowledging the value or worth belonging to someone. For example, we are to give God glory and honor (I Timothy 6:16; Revelation 4:11). God's value is far greater than all of creation, so we offer Him worship. (Interestingly, our word "worship" comes from "worth-ship.")

All people have value and thus, all are to be valued for who they are (I Peter 2:17). If for nothing else, we honor people because each person is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God saw the value in us because He bought us at a price (the Greek word timen again), "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:20).
When a person is in a position of authority, they deserve honor for the position they hold. Thus we are to honor:

  • Rulers (Romans 13:7; I Peter 2:17)
  • Masters (I Timothy 6:1)
  • Elders (I Timothy 5:17)

Others we give honor because of their personal importance in our life.

  • Friends in the church who labor for us (Philippians 2:29)
  • Widows who have served others (I Timothy 5:3)

Thus, the concept in I Peter 3:7 is that husbands are to treat their wives in a way that demonstrates the value they see in their wives. Peter states that a wife is to be treated as "a weaker vessel." By that, he is referring to a delicate piece of pottery, such as a piece of fine china. You don't handle a piece of expensive china the same way you treat a clay flower pot. A husband is to treat his wife in a way that shows the importance and value she has in his life. Secondly, he is to give her respect because she is an equal partner in salvation. She should be treated minimally the same as every other Christian is treated.

If a husband fails to honor his wife, his prayers may be hindered. There are two variant readings to the word "hinder," but most seem to think the Greek word enkoptesthai is the proper word here. It means to hinder, prevent, or weary. In classical Greek, this word was used to refer to obstacles used by the military to slow down an advancing army. Thus, Paul uses it to refer to his being prevented from reaching Roman (Romans 15:22). He eventually got there, but not when he wanted or in the manner he wanted. Paul also used this word in reference to Satan putting stumbling blocks in the way of Christians (Galatians 5:7; I Thessalonians 2:18). Again, the idea is not absolute prevention, but a slowdown that might lead to a complete halt if something wasn't done.

Another usage of enkoptesthai is in "Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us" (Act 24:4) as the word "tedious." It refers to being so boring or overbearing that it hinders someone from listening to what is being said.

Greek is a precise language and the "your" in this passage is in the second person, genitive case. It is not a direct reference back to the husbands; otherwise, it would have been in the masculine case. Many commentators see this as a reference to the joint prayers of the husband and wife. In other words, if a husband doesn't have proper respect for his wife, his joint prayers with her to God are not going to be appreciated by God because they are going to appear insincere and hypocritical. He might pray, but God might choose not to answer because of his attitude. "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:1-4).

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