Studies in Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter

37. 1 Peter 3:1-12 - For Wives and Husbands

In chapter 2 Peter advised readers to have such good behavior that unbelievers will have nothing bad to say about the gospel. To set a good example, Christians should submit to civil authorities, and slaves should submit to their masters. In both cases, Peter uses terms that are appropriate to the first century, such as emperor and slaves. He now continues this theme by addressing wives and husbands.

Exhortation for wives

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2).

When Peter says “in the same way,” he means that women are to submit just as men should, each to the appropriate authorities. Citizens submit to government offices, slaves to their masters and wives to their husbands. However, this does not always mean obedience. If a husband told a wife to sin, she should not obey. Peter is speaking generally, not making an absolute rule.

The point is that women should set a good example. When husbands see that Christianity causes wives to be cooperative rather than rebellious, they will be more willing to listen to the gospel, and eventually follow their wives into the faith.

Peter’s next advice is also found in non-Christian writings: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (verses 3-4). Peter does not require women to wear ugly clothes and have unkempt hair, nor to avoid jewelry. Rather, he is saying that women should not see external things as their source of beauty. Real beauty is in a person’s attitude, for it is “of great worth in God’s sight.”

Peter supports this point with biblical examples: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves” (verse 5). They had inner beauty whether or not they had external beauty and jewelry, as some no doubt did. “They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master” (verse 6; see Genesis 18:12).

Abraham sometimes obeyed Sarah (Genesis 16:221:12), but Peter is here focusing on Sarah as an example for women. Peter tells the women, “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Peter 3:6). If husbands demand that wives worship Zeus, wives should do what is right, and not submit to fear.

Advice for husbands

Peter gives less space to the responsibility of husbands, but what he says was unusual advice in that culture: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives” (verse 7). In the same way as what? In context, it is submission.

Peter encourages husbands to treat their wives “with respect as the weaker partner.” In that society, women were almost always weaker. Men were often 15 years older than their wives, more educated and more experienced. Women often married in their early teens, dropped out of school and stayed at home.

Although men in that Greco-Roman culture rarely treated women with respect, Peter tells husbands to respect their wives, not be condescending. Why? Because they are equal when it comes to salvation — they are “heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.” Their value to God should make a difference in the attitude that husbands have toward them. Peter adds another reason that husbands should respect their wives: “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (verse 7). The way we treat others affects our prayers.

Responding to evil

In verse 8, Peter gives a general appeal to all the believers: “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (verses 8-9).

If someone treats us wrong, we are to respond by doing good, not by getting revenge. God set the example for us by doing good to us even though we had done evil to him. Peter supports this advice by quoting Psalm 34:12-16: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11).

Michael Morrison