Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  1 Peter 3:7-8 (NIV 2011)

Many Christians believe that submission in marriage is the duty only of wives. These Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives.[1] In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.

In the same way . . .

In his first letter, Peter uses the Greek word homoiōs (which means “likewise” or “in the same way”) three times (1 Pet. 3:1; 3:7; 5:5).  Each occurrence of this word is in the context of submission or, at the very least, respect.

Keeping in mind Peter’s use of homoiōs, let’s look at 1 Peter 2:13–3:8 which is the main passage where Peter gives instructions to certain groups of Christians to be submissive:

    • Firstly, Peter tells all his readers to submit to every secular authority (2:13).
    • Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (2:18).
    • Then he says, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your own husbands” (3:1).
    • Then he says, “Husbands, in the same way live together with your wives . . .” (3:7).
    • In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter brings up the subject of submission again and says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” (My use of underlining.)

There is no main verb in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7, but by using the adverb “likewise” (homoiōs), Peter links verse 7 with the previous verses about submission. It is not uncommon for Greek sentences to borrow the meaning of a main verb from a previous sentence, or passage, without restating the verb (e.g., Eph. 5:21-22).[2] However, Peter may have intentionally left out the word for “be submissive” in verse 7 to slightly soften its impact and avoid offending the sense of male honour which was part of the culture of Greco-Roman society. Nevertheless, the meaning of submission remains.[3]

Living Together with Understanding

Peter’s instruction: “Husbands, in the same way [be submissive] as you live together with your wives . . .” is a radical statement considering the typical Greco-Roman view of women and wives. Apollodorus[4], in his oration Against Neaera (ca 340 BC), revealed the common sexual roles of women in the Greek world:

“We have hetaerae (mistresses/courtesans) for pleasure, pallakae (concubines/prostitutes) for the daily [sexual] service of our bodies and gynaekes (wives) to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” Against Neaira 59.122

There are numerous references in Greco-Roman literature about the sexual freedom of men, often with no hint of censure. In his Advice to the Bride and Groom, Plutarch (b. 46 AD) condones husbands having sexual liaisons with other women (except married women); but then he advises husbands to not provoke (or upset) their wives with the knowledge of these affairs. Plutarch also advises women that they must accept their husband’s extra-marital affairs.

Christian morality, on the other hand, encouraged monogamy and marital fidelity. Peter’s instruction that Christian husbands “dwell together” (or “cohabitate”) with their wives would have been a significant statement to some of the newly-converted Greco-Roman Christian men who may not have viewed their wives as true companions and partners in life. Peter wanted husbands and wives to truly share their lives together. He wanted the husbands to view their legal wives as more than just the mothers of their legitimate children.

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter also makes the point that women are weaker than men. Women were greatly disadvantaged in Greco-Roman society. They had considerably less privileges and rights than men. Women are also, usually, physically weaker than men. Peter wanted husbands to acknowledge and be considerate of the more vulnerable situation of their wives – their “vessels” – so that they would take care not to exploit them (cf. 1 Thess. 4:3-6).[5] Many times, people in positions of privilege are not fully aware of the disadvantages of those in weaker positions. Instead of exploitation, Peter wanted husbands to treat their wives with respect and even honour. [More about Peter’s phrase “weaker vessel” here.]

Respect or Honour?

Peter instructs the Christian husbands to give their Christian wives respect, or, more accurately, honour (timē). For some in the church of Asia Minor this may have seemed an extraordinary request of Peter. The teaching of the New Testament, however, unlike some other religious writings, show that women are to be treated with honour and respect. Peter tells the husbands to assign honour to their wives because, in Christ, men and women are coheirs of the life of grace. The Greek of 1 Peter 3:7 uses language which unmistakably highlights the mutuality and equality of Christian husbands and wives.[6]

The NLT captures this meaning in their translation:

. . . you husbands  must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live  together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. 1 Peter 3:7

Peter also gives a warning to husbands. He writes that if husbands do not give their wives honour as co-heirs, or equal partners, their attitude and behaviour will hinder their prayers.

Harmony and Humility

Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8The insistence of many Christians, that submission in marriage is the sole responsibility and duty of wives, is not biblical. Peter strongly implies that husbands are to be submissive to their Christian wives (1 Pet. 3:7). In Ephesians 5:21, Paul urged all Christians to be mutually submissive to one another.[7] Submission in Christian relationships is not to be understood in the military sense of subordination, but more in the sense of loyalty, cooperation, support, deference, humility, and consideration.

Peter sums up his passage on submission by saying, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Pet. 3:8)  This is what submission between husbands and wives looks like. Moreover, this is what Christian submission between all of God’s people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status – or church status – looks like.


Endnotes

[1]  As pointed out in the previous article, God told Abraham (literally): “. . . in everything, whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her voice.” (Genesis 21:12b, translated from the Septuagint LXX). And in Genesis 16:2 (LXX) it says that Abraham (literally) obeyed Sarah’s voice.

[2] Ephesians 5:24 is another example where “being submissive” is mentioned in the first clause (in the Greek) and not repeated, but implied, in the second.

[3] Also from the previous article: The Greek word for “submit” (hupotassō) has a military usage and meaning of “subordinate”, and a non-military usage and meaning of “cooperate”. Thayer’s Bible Dictionary makes the distinction between the military and non-military usage of hupotassō.

Hupotassō: A Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader’. In non-military use, it was ‘a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden’.
http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/hupotasso.html

[4] This quote from Against Neaira has been traditionally attributed to Demosthenes. While this quote dates from 340BC, the view of women described in this speech was also prevalent in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world.

For more on marriage in New Testament times read G.W. Peterman’s paper, Marriage and Sexual Fidelity in the Papyri, Plutarch and Paul, Tyndale Bulletin 50.2 (1999) 163-172 here.

[5] In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 Paul used similar language, including the words: vessel (skeuos)  and honour (timē).

The exact metaphorical meaning of vessel (skeuos) is disputed.  In Greek usage, it is a common term for the body as the container of the soul. A Hebrew equivalent of this term was used in rabbinic teaching for “wife” or “sexual partner”. This uncertainty of interpretation applies to 1 Thessalonians 4:4 as well as to 1 Peter 3:7. (Edwin A. Blum, ”1 Peter”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12, Ed: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 238.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 that Christians should abstain from sexual immorality (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11) and instead each person should “procure their own vessel”; as in, their own marital partner (cf 1 Cor 7:2).  Christians are to treat their “vessels” with “holiness and honour”. They are not to behave like the gentile pagans; neither are they to take advantage of their brothers and sisters sexually. (An alternate interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:4 is that each person is to “control his own vessel”, as in, his/her own body.)

[6] My translation/paraphrase of 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way [be submissive]; living together with [your] wives with the understanding that they are weaker than you [and] assign honour to them as co-heirs of the gracious gift of life [or, life of grace] so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

[7] In Ephesian 5:25-31, the apostle Paul gave advice to Christian husbands. He told them to give themselves up for their wives. He told them to care for their wives as they care for themselves. “To love your wife as you ‘love your own body’ is to love her as your equal”. (MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok)  Nowhere does this passage in Ephesians 5 mention or imply male leadership or authority. This passage is about sacrificial love and care. [My article on Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters is here.]

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  Ephesians 5:25-31 (NIV 2011)


Postscript

Since writing this article, I have come across others with similar  interpretations of 1 Peter 3:7 which take into account Peter’s use of the Greek word homoiōs, which means “in the same manner” or “likewise”. For example, Gilbert Bilezekian, on page 147 of his book Beyond Sex Roles, writes this:

The transition from wives to husbands is again made with the important word translated “in the same manner.” The servant attitude modelled by Christ and required of slaves and wives is also the compelling standard for husbands.

And Peter H. Davids writes:

. . . there is no main verb in this sentence. The husbands are “likewise” to do something (parallel to 1 Pet 3:1, which picks up on 1 Pet 2:13, 18) by means of the participial clauses (i.e., showing consideration for and paying honor to wives). Is the implied verb “be submissive to” (cf. 1 Pet 3:1; 2:18; and 2:13)? Likely so . . . “

This quotation is taken from page 237 of Davids’ essay “A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1-7” which is chapter 13 of the book Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy. (I have the 2004 edition.)


Related Articles

(1) Submission and Respect from Wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6
A “Weaker Vessel” and Gender Justice in 1 Peter 3:7
Double Standards in the Promotion and Practise of Submission
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Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 
Likewise Women . . . Likewise Husbands