Regular readers of my blog know that there’s a book I quote perhaps more than any other (excepting the Bible itself.) That book is Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters by Philip B. Payne. It’s a 500+ page, deep theological study of the writings of Paul concerning women, written by a theologian who has been studying the Biblical languages since his youth. I was very grateful, therefore, when a mutual friend put me in touch with Phil. Since then, I’ve been pestering him with questions, to which he has very graciously and patiently responded.
One of the questions that has come up recently several times in the comment section of my blog concerns 1 Peter 3:1-8. It’s one of those passages that, at first sight, appears to insist on women submitting to men unconditionally. I wrote to Phil, asking if he has anything written on these verses. The following comes from a forthcoming (and as yet untitled) book by Philip B. Payne, Vince Huffaker and Tim Krueger. Phil’s portion summarizes the exegetical case in his Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan, 2009).
1 Peter 3:1–8 Courageous Submission to Win over Unbelieving Husbands.
Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers suffering unjustly. In the previous paragraph he writes,
“18 Slaves submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and considerate but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if anyone out of consideration for God bears up under the pain of unjust suffering. 20 … if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God … 21 because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example….”
“Similarly,” in 1 Peter 3:1 explicitly associates the unjust suffering of submissive slaves to wives: “Similarly, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that some, even though they do not believe the word, may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives. … 6 let nothing terrify you.”
Peter encourages wives of unbelievers to be courageous like Christ was and to live out the Gospel. It is not a call to weakness but to Christ-like strength in the face of adversity. This no more affirms a hierarchical model of marriage than the parallel previous paragraph affirms slavery.
Peter chose Sarah as an example of courageous submission. Genesis 12:11–20 and 20:2–18 (and the parallel regarding Isaac in Gen 26:7-11) shows that Abraham put Sarah in threatening situations that even the heathen regarded as pernicious. Accordingly, this passage concludes in v. 6, “you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.”
It is clear that according to both Paul and Peter, women are to submit to their husbands, and that this is praiseworthy. As Paul argued in Ephesians 5, however, God’s desire for Christian marriage is for the wife’s submission in the context of mutual submission between husband and wife. Peter’s following two paragraphs likewise affirm mutual respect and mutual submission between husband and wife.
Peter’s words to husbands in v. 7 challenge them to repudiate the macho model of their culture’s repression of women and disrespectful view of women. He commands, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate of your wives’ physical limitations as you live with them, bestowing honor on them as joint heirs of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” “Joint heirs” implies the wives’ equal spiritual standing and inheritance with their husbands. That wives are joint heirs contrasts to typical Greek and Jewish customs that gave women smaller inheritances than men. Peter emphasizes how important it is for Christian husbands to bestow honor on their wives as joint heirs of salvation. Not to do so could hinder their prayers.
Peter immediately affirms in 3:8–12, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. … For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears hear their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Thus, in order to be “righteous” and not “evil,” husbands must be considerate, like-minded, sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble toward their wives, bestowing honor on them as joint heirs of the gracious gift of life. This is one of the Bible’s strongest statements of how essential it is for Christian husbands to treat their believing wives with respect as equal in spiritual standing.