Two Shall Become One: A Biblical Perspective on Husbands and Wives

Hope Lutheran Church, Fargo, ND - Pastor Mark Vitalis Hoffman - 4/96

Should a Wife Be Submissive?

A Study of 1 Peter 3.1-7

For Openers:

For Your Information:

Read 1 Peter 2.11-12

Note how this provides the background for the whole section in 2.11-4.19 on Christian responsibilities in time of suffering.

Read 1 Peter 3.1-7

The ancient world was a highly patriarchal society where women were indeed regarded as the "weaker sex" (see verse 7 - on such weakness, though, read 1 Corinthians 1.26-29!). Note that this passage envisions a situation where there are women who have become Christians whose husbands have not. (A similar situation is described in 1 Corinthians 7.12-16.) It is assumed in 3.7 that the husbands all have Christian wives. The presence in the early Christian church of so many slaves and women, people low on the social scale, is an indication that life among Christians was found to be a liberating experience that acknowledged greater equality than the prevailing non-Christian culture.

The instructions about husbands and wives given in 3.1-7 are representative of "Household Rules" which were common in 1 Peter's time and culture. For more on husbands and wives, read Ephesians 5.21-33; Colossians 3.18-19; and Titus 2.3-5. For examples of how non-Christian Jews and Greeks expressed similar thoughts, see the excerpts on the back page of this handout.

For Your Consideration:

  1. How is the Bible like or unlike the following? What difference does your initial understanding of the Bible make in how you interpret it?
  2. What other factors are involved in your interpretation of the Bible? What texts are more important for you: Old or New Testament? Words of Jesus or those of Paul? How do your own reasoning and experiences influence your understanding of Scripture? What is the role of the Church and the Christian tradition?
  3. 3.1 - What does it mean for a wife to "accept the authority" of one's husband or to "be subject to" or "be submissive to" him? What are some examples of how this could work out well in a marriage relationship? What are the problems with it?
  4. 3.1-7 - Is this description of how women are to be submissive to the authority of their husbands given as advice specific to that time and community or as a perpetual command? Is it Christian counsel given in light of the culture of that time or is it a description of how culture ought always to be and how women are to act within it? Note that the goal given in verse 1 why women are to act in the specified way is an evangelistic one: to win converts to Christ. If this goal remains our foremost consideration, how ought women (and men) act today in our culture?
  5. 3.1-7 - Does this passage indicate that women should remain submissive even in a relationship where the husband is abusive? What advice would you give to a woman whose husband was abusive?
  6. How do you reconcile verses 1-2 with verse 8 or 1 Peter 4.8? Read again Ephesians 5.21 and 22 and 33. Explain how these passages are relevant. How do passages like 1 Corinthians 7.3-4 and Galatians 3.28 fit into the picture?
  7. 3.3-4 - How do you deal with this passage which says that women ought not to braid their hair or wear gold ornaments or fine clothing? Do the Amish women in their plain dressing have it right? What is really at issue in the warning against women outwardly adorning themselves? How does that compare with the issues women face today? How does the way we dress make a social statement? A religious statement?
  8. 3.7 - How does a relationship with a spouse affect one's prayers to God?
  9. What would the relationship of a husband and wife be like in an ideal marriage where sin was not a factor?

For Later:

What other people were saying about husbands and wives in the first century:

Plutarch (a late first century Greek biographer and essayist), Moralia, "Advice to Bride and Groom"

Josephus (a first century Jewish historian and apologist), Against Apion 2.201

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Key Texts Used in this Study (NRSV)

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.Return to Bible Study

1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4 rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight. 5 It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you. 7 Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life--so that nothing may hinder your prayers. Return to Bible Study