by Sewell Hall
From the Roswell Family Report, March 18, 2012
Fifty years ago, it was easier to remember the names of Christians than it is now. Every man’s first name was “Brother” and every woman’s name was “Sister.” Now, most people are known by their given names almost exclusively. We must return, however, to the old custom in designating the wife of Peter because we have no clue as to her personal name.
Peter’s wife is only mentioned in connection with her mother being healed by Jesus (Matthew 8:14-15), and in Paul’s defense of his own right to be married. Paul says, “Do we have no right to take long a believing wife, as so also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (I Corinthians 9:5). The only other possible reference to her is Peter’s statement in closing his first epistle: “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you” (I Peter 5:13), but the identity of that woman is uncertain.
Do you suppose Peter’s wife resented the fact that she is only mentioned in connection with her mother and her husband? Somehow we doubt it. In fact, it may be that Peter thought of his wife as he wrote, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing golf, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quite spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:3-4) A “gentle and quiet spirit” does not resent being identified primarily as the daughter of a serving mother or the wife of a godly husband.
First, according to Paul, she was a believer or, as the King James Version puts it, “a sister.” That is significant. Had she been otherwise it would surely have limited Peter’s usefulness.
She must have remained at home while Peter followed Jesus around the country. Peter said to Jesus, “See, we have left all and follower You” (Mark 10:28). This surely does not mean that Peter totally abandoned her, contrary to the teaching of I Corinthians 7:2-5.
She and Peter lived in Capernaum, the very town where Jesus lived (Matthew 4:13). This would mean that, even while accompanying Jesus, Peter would have been often in Capernaum with his wife, perhaps having Jesus as their guest. It does mean, however, that there were times when she had to remain at home without him, perhaps caring for her mother or for her children, in doing this she was serving Jesus as surely as those women who traveled with Him and “provided for him from their substance” (Luke 8:2-3).
After the church began, Peter was an elder (I Peter 5:1). Few people outside an elder’s family realize the strain this places on his wife. Once again, she most certainly did not have her husband to help her as often as many other women had their husbands. And it is too much to suppose that when Paul remained with Peter for fifteen days (Galatians 1:18), she helped provide the hospitality expected of every Christian (I Peter 4:9) and especially of elders (I Timothy 3:2)? Think of the pain she must have suffered when Herod had Peter arrested intending to put him to death as he has James (Acts 1:1-4).
The pain would not have come from outsiders only. She must have heard the “complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1), and her husband was one of the men being criticized. We might wonder, too, if she was present with Peter when Paul “withstood him to his face” (Galatians 2:11) and rebuked him “before then all” (Galatians 2:14). Such complaints against a husband are often more difficult for the wife than for him, and if she is not possessed of a “gentle and quiet spirit” she can be disruptive to the peace of a congregation and an embarrassment to her good husband. But there is no hint of such misconduct from sister Peter.
Paul’s rebuke of Peter took place in Antioch, but as noted above (I Corinthians 9:5), Peter’s wife accompanied him on his travels in later years. We rather like the King James translation that says that Peter led her about. That well describes what preachers often do, and Peter was no exception. The wife of a preacher, who is eager to serve where she is most needed, may well be led about into some pretty strange and unpleasant places. Some preachers are prevented from going there they feel they should go because of a wife who is unwilling to be led about where she does not wish to go. Apparently such a wife did not hinder Peter.
In listing important women in God’s service, we may well forget the “gentle and quiet” woman who lovingly supports her husband in the work that she does. Sister, we may not know your name; by many you may only be known as “the preacher’s wife.” “But God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).