Text: 1 Peter 3:1-7 | Listen to Message
This passage on marriage has prompted more eye rolls, groans, and snide remarks than perhaps any other in Scripture.
“What right does a man have to tell a bunch of women to submit to their husbands?”
“How unbelievably close minded, primitive, sexist, chauvinistic, and patriarchal!”
“See, this is one of the big problems with Christianity: it’s so condescending to women.”
But are those accusations and complaints even accurate?
The 21st Century reader sees words like submit, obey, and weaker, interprets them through a postmodern lens, and automatically assumes the Bible is crude and bigoted toward women – without taking even 30 seconds to understand how the 1st Century reader would’ve heard these words.
This is what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” where the current culture automatically assumes our way of seeing things (like gender roles and marriage) is the right way, and that all preceding viewpoints are hopelessly ignorant. We call our views progressive and honestly believe no one has ever had thoughts and opinions as advanced and reasonable and informed as ours.
It might surprise you to know that 1 Peter 3:1-7 is basically the most countercultural, most liberating, most empowering thing anyone had ever said about marriage up to this point in history – and that was especially true for the wife!
First, Peter addressed women directly. He didn’t say, “Men, go tell your wives . . . ” as the rabbis and philosophers did. He elevated the woman’s worth and made her man’s equal by talking to her directly.
Second, Peter told women they had intrinsic and imperishable worth. They were precious and valuable wholly apart their physical attributes.
Third, Peter acknowledged the natural anxieties a woman faced in a difficult marriage, and he responded with compassion to their emotional and psychological needs. He gave them resources that would enable them to be at peace, even if a husband had a different worldview and worshiped different gods.
Fourth, Peter made the point that, no, every woman did not have to submit to every man. She owed this special respect only to the one man who was her husband.
Finally, Peter commanded husbands to show reciprocal honor and respect to their wives. He didn’t say, “Wives, submit; husbands, control.” He said likewise. That is, husbands were called to honor their wives in much the same way that wives were called to honor their husbands. Peter told them to live with their wives in an understanding way – that is, with knowledge about them and attentiveness toward them. He told men their wives were their ontological and spiritual equals, intrinsically worthy of attention, compassion, and care.
Again, no other religion or philosophy of the ancient world spoke this way about or to women and wives. It was Christianity that called for this kind of social transformation that affirmed and empowered women. And it did so on the basis of the Gospel itself: Jesus lived and died for men and women just the same.
I’d venture to say if men actually honored women the way that Scripture commands them to, women would thrive and flourish. They would experience the kind of Christlike love and care that makes respect an easy task.
If you want to criticize a harsh and controlling husband on the one hand, or a husband who abdicates his responsibility on the other, we agree! Just understand you’re using the teachings of Christianity as the foundation for your belief that something’s wrong with both of these situations. Maybe the Bible isn’t quite as regressive as you think it is; maybe it deserves a closer look.