Wives and Husbands
1 If you are a wife, you must put your husband first. Even if he opposes our message, you will win him over by what you do. No one else will have to say anything to him, 2because he will see how you honor God and live a pure life. 3 Don't depend on things like fancy hairdos or gold jewelry or expensive clothes to make you look beautiful. 4Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special.
5Long ago those women who worshiped God and put their hope in him made themselves beautiful by putting their husbands first. 6For example, Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her true children, if you do right and don't let anything frighten you.
7 If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honor, because she isn't as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers.
“Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet” (3:4).
This passage is troubling in these egalitarian times, for it appears to give biblical sanction to a patriarchal view of women. Indeed, complementarian Christians often cite it as a mandate to keep women in their place. It casually refers to women as the “weaker” sex (3:7 KJV, NIV, where the CEV has “she isn’t as strong as you are”).
Does this really mean what it appears on the surface to say? To some extent “yes,” but not entirely. It certainly does reflect certain social and physical realities. Women are typically smaller and less strong than men; women in that culture were legally subject to the authority of men; wives were expected to adopt the religious beliefs of their husbands.
It’s on that point that Peter is mildly subversive. He counsels wives to be loving and gentle towards their non-Christian husbands, to be so winsome in their home life that they are free to believe what they want on the religious front. In this way he is undercutting the social order, moving it in a more egalitarian direction.
To call women “the weaker sex” is to call attention to both the general physical disparity between the sexes, and the relative status of women in that society. It is descriptive, and doesn’t suggest that any particular behaviour is demanded.
What is commanded is the esteem, the honour that couples are to accord each other, the consideration for each in their situation. The instructions for women to respect the authority of their husbands are balanced with a charge to husbands to consider their wives “in the same way”.
This means that wives are to be honoured and esteemed, and husbands are to conduct themselves with purity and reverence (3:2). Husbands too are to “be beautiful in [their] heart by being gentle and quiet” which is very precious in God’s sight (3:4).
O God, What you want from me is to acknowledge how lost I am without you. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV). May your great mercy fill me with a gentle and quiet inner spirit. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Doug Koop is a writer currently serving as a Spiritual Health Practitioner at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. From 1987 to 2012 he worked as an editor with ChristianWeek newspaper, covering Christian faith and life in Canada. He and his wife, Margaret, are the parents of two adult sons and two daughters-in-law. http://www.christianweek.org http://www.promisekeepers.ca/seven/ http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20121112#pg1