1 Peter 3:7

Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker partner, showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble.  1 Peter 3:7-8 CSB

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, 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 appears to be used in the context of submission.

Homoiōs is used twice in 1 Peter 2:13–3:8, which is the main passage where Peter gives instructions to certain groups within the Christian community, and then he uses it again in 1 Peter 5:5. (My use of underlining.)

    • Peter first tells his whole audience to submit to every secular authority (1 Pet. 2:13).
    • Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (1 Pet. 2:18).
    • Then he says, “Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1; cf. 3:5).
    • Then he says, “Husbands, in the same way, live together with your wives . . .” (1 Pet. 3:7).
    • In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter reintroduces the subject of submission and says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” This is followed by a phrase that in some Greek texts has a clear exhortation for mutual submission: “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV).

In Greek, “likewise/in the same way” (homoiōs) is typically used to link together two or more similar ideas or consecutive entities (e.g., Matt. 22:25-26). So by using “likewise,” Peter links 1 Peter 3:7 with the previous verses that contain the verb (and participles) for “be submissive.”[2]

It is important to note that 1 Peter 3:7 does not contain a finite verb. (There are no verbs in the Greek words behind “living with your wife” and “showing honour.”) As in English, Greek sentences need a verb. Unlike English, however, Greek can borrow the sense of a verb from a previous sentence or a previous passage and not restate it. The sense of the unstated (elided) verb is understood.[3]

Even though it is not uncommon for Greek sentences to borrow the meaning of a main verb from a previous sentence and not restate it, Peter may have intentionally left out the word for “submit” in verse 7 to soften its impact and avoid unnecessarily offending the sense of male honour that was part of the culture of Greco-Roman society. Nevertheless, the sense of submission remains.[4]

If “likewise” does not refer back to the idea of submission, what does it refer to?

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,[5] in his oration Against Neaera (circa 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 gynaikes (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 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 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 disadvantaged in Greco-Roman society. They had fewer 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).[6] 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. [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. 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 that unmistakably highlights the mutuality and equality of Christian husbands and wives.[7]

The New Living Translation 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 NLT

Peter also gives a warning to husbands. He writes that if they do not give their wives honour as co-heirs, as equal partners, their prayers will be hindered. Paul J. Achtemeier makes this comment about husbands and prayer, “The point is clear: men who transfer cultural notions about the superiority of men over women into the Christian community lose their ability to communicate with God.”[8]

Harmony and Humility

The 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.[9] Submission in Christian relationships is not to be understood in the military sense of subordination, but more in the sense of loyalty, cooperation, 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. This is what Christian submission between all of God’s people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status looks like.


Footnotes

[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] The main verb for “submit” occurs in 1 Peter 2:13; it is an imperative passive verb. “Submit” in 1 Peter 2:18 and 3:1 are participles which may indicate they are linked to, and are dependent on, the verb in 2:13. The same verb as in 2:13 occurs again in 1 Peter 5:5. (In some Greek texts, “submit” occurs twice; see 1 Peter 5:5 NKJV.) You can see the exact forms of these verbs and participles here.

[3] Here is a simple, straightforward example. In Ephesians 5:24 “being submissive/submit” is mentioned in the first clause (in the Greek) and not repeated, but implied, in the second clause. English translations, however, often include the word “submit” in both clauses so that it makes good sense to English speakers: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24).
There is a note on leaving out (eliding) verbs in New Testament letters at the end of my article looking at other “likewise” passages, here.

[4] 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’. (Source)

[5] This quotation from Against Neaira has been traditionally attributed to Demosthenes. While it dates from 340 BC, the view of women described in this speech was also prevalent in the first-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. I compare Plutarch’s and Paul’s views on marriage here.

[6] Edwin A. Blum briefly discusses the meaning of “vessel” (skeuos).

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, Frank E. Gaebelein (ed) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 238.

1 Peter 3:7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:4 both contain the word “vessel” (skeuos) and “honour” (timē). In 1 Thess. 4:4, Paul writes 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, nor 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.)

Here is definition II of skeuos in Liddel, Scott and Jones’ lexicon (LSJ), the most exhaustive lexicon of ancient Greek.

II. τὸ σκεῦος the body, as the vessel of the soul, a metaphor clearly expressed in 2 Cor. 4:7 ἔχομεν δὲ τὸν θησαυρὸν τοῦτον ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν, cf. 1 Thess. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:7. (Source)

[7] 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, assigning honour to them as co-heirs of the gracious gift of life [or, life of grace], so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

[8] Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 218.

[9] In Ephesian 5:25-33, 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)  In fact, he uses the word “love” six times when addressing husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33. 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 (italics added) cf. Colossians 3:17


Postscript (Last edited on April 6th 2020)

Since writing this article, I have come across similar interpretations of 1 Peter 3:7 that take into account the Greek word homoiōs, which means “in the same manner” or “likewise.” Admittedly, a couple of these interpretations are given tentatively.

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 . . . ”
Davids, “A Silent Witness in Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1-7” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebbeca Merril Groothius (eds) (Leicester: Apollos, 2004), 237

Dennis R. Edwards writes,

Verse 7 opens with “in the same way (homoiōs) which is also how 3:1 begins, and as I noted at the outset, is the word that connects 2:18-25 with 3:1-7. Christian husbands are to take their behavioural cues from Christian wives, who in turn take their cues from slaves. The submissive actions of slaves follow the righteous example of the Lord Jesus who endured torturous treatment without retaliation.
Edwards, 1 Peter (The Story of God Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017) (Google Books)

Donald P. Senior’s states briefly,

The husbands, too (i.e. “similarly”), fall under the same principles for Christian life in the world as the slaves and the wives . . .
Senior, “1 Peter” in 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter, Daniel J. Harrington (ed) (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008) (Google Books)

The Common English Bible translates 1 Peter 3:7 as,

Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her, knowing that she is the weaker partner. Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.

Back in the late 1800s, A.J. Mason acknowledged that Peter told husbands to submit to their wives but that Peter didn’t like to use “submitting” language when addressing the men. This is part of Dr Mason’s notes on “likewise” in 1 Peter 3:7:

Likewise, ye husbands. The subjection is not to be all one-sided, though the husband’s subjection to the wife will be of a different kind from the wife’s to him. We are hardly to take this [instruction to husbands] as a separate paragraph from the foregoing, but rather as a corollary added to it . . . Peter does not like to say to the husbands “submitting yourselves” (though it is implied in the “likewise”), and conveys the deference which the husbands are to pay under other terms: such as [dwelling together] “according to knowledge,” “giving honour.”
Mason, “1 Peter,” in A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, C.J. Ellicott (ed.) (London: Cassell and Co, 1897) (Source: Bible Hub)

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