“… dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life …” 1 Peter 3:7 NKJV.
“… live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker partner, showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life … 1 Peter 3:7 CSB.
I have previously written an article about 1 Peter 3:7, the Bible verse that includes the phrase “a weaker vessel” here]. Since writing this article, however, I’ve come across a few references in Greek papyri where women are called “weak” (asthenēs). In these papyri, women use the adjective for themselves hoping to elicit pity, or hoping to ingratiate themselves, while seeking justice from men. A.L. Connolly comments on several of these legal petitions and notes that appealing to a woman’s frailty (asthenēs) “had become commonplace in the rhetoric of petitions.”
So what did Peter mean when he told husbands that their wives are a “weaker vessel”?
Peter calls wives “weaker vessels” because he wants husbands, not necessarily to pity them, but to be more understanding with their wives. Ancient women were, with few exceptions, disadvantaged economically, legally, and politically. They had less power and fewer rights in society than men. Peter wanted husbands to be considerate of the more vulnerable situation of their wives so that they would take care not to exploit them.
People in positions of privilege are often not fully aware of the disadvantages of those in weaker positions.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27b, Paul used the Greek word asthenēs to mean weakness in society: “God chose the weak of this world to shame the strong.” The context of social weakness is given clearly in the preceding verse, 1 Corinthians 1:26, where Paul wrote that not many of the Corinthian Christians were (1) wise according to the flesh: they did not have the wisdom that came with an advanced education; (2) not many were mighty: they did not have social clout or influence; (3) not many were well-born: they did not come from elite families with the social advantages of wealth, a name, and powerful connections.
Peter may have had in mind the social disadvantages that ancient women faced when he used the words “weaker vessel.”
However, asthenēs is used many times in the New Testament to mean weak, sick and infirm. Did Peter have physical weakness in mind? Interestingly, Paul, who readily admitted to his own weakness, used the word asthenēs many times to refer to physical weakness. He used the comparative form of asthenēs (= “weaker”) in 1 Corinthians 12:22 where he wrote, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Peter likewise uses the comparative form of asthenēs (“weaker”) in 1 Peter 3:7.
Physical weakness is not a disadvantage in the body of Christ, and it need not be a disadvantage in marriage.
Honour and Mutuality
Neither Peter nor Paul use the word “weaker” to insult or diminish anyone. In fact, they do the opposite. Like the women seeking justice, Peter uses the word “weaker” for its rhetorical effect, and he juxtaposes the phrase “weaker vessel” with the phrase “bestowing honour.” Peter wants husbands to regard their wives with honour and not consider them, or treat them, as social inferiors.
It was not unusual to hear women being called “weak” or “weaker” in the first century. On the other hand, some may have been surprised to hear Peter tell husbands to honour their wives. Furthermore, Peter gives the reason why husbands should honour their wives: because a Christian couple are co-heirs of “God’s gift of new life” (1 Pet. 3:7 NLT). Being co-heirs is a strong basis for mutuality and equality in marriage.
I’m not bothered that Peter called wives “weaker” considering it was part of the rhetoric of petitions. Moreover, I’m delighted that he appealed to husbands to treat their wives with honour and with understanding, and to acknowledge them as co-heirs. It seems Peter was advocating for justice in marriage.
 “30. ‘The Weaker Sex'”, G.H.R. Horsley with A.L. Connolly, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri in 1979, Volume 4 (The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1987), 131-133, 132.
Postscript (July 16 2021): I recently read a letter written by a woman seeking justice when someone took her donkey without permission. She ends her letter by pointing out she is a widow. No doubt she added this information to encourage action from the recipient of her letter. Petition to Zenon from Senkhons about a Donkey, PMichZen 29 (docketed 13–21 July 256 BCE)
 Edwin A. Blum briefly discusses the meaning of “vessel” (Greek: 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.
Blum, ”1 Peter,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12, Frank E. Gaebelein (ed) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 238.
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)
 These socially disadvantaged Corinthians were the ones who God selected, and he used them to shame the wise, the powerful, and the ones “belonging” to society. Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-30; it’s a remarkable passage of scripture. Paul uses “weak” again in 1 Corinthians 9:22f where he says he became weak, that is, he identified with the weak, in order to win them over for the gospel.
 The entry on asthenēs in the LSJ Greek-English Lexicon is here. It gives the primary meanings as “without strength” and “weak”, and lists other kinds of weaknesses, not just physical or bodily weakness.
 Note that Peter does not say that women are “weak.” Rather, his meaning is that wives are “weak-er” than their husbands.
 Peter writes that the Christians in Asia Minor should also honour the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17).
© Margaret Mowczko 2015
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Postscript: January 18, 2022
The Grammar of 1 Peter 3:7: Are men the weaker vessel?
Twice in the past month, I’ve heard someone suggest that Peter was really saying the men, not women, are the weaker vessel. However, this is a grammatical impossibility in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7. Let me explain.
The Greek words for “the men/ husbands” (οἱ ἄνδρες) are vocative masculine plural (or perhaps nominative masculine plural). “The men” are the subject of the sentence, and any articles, pronouns, adjectives or participles belonging to or describing “the men/ husbands” would need to grammatically “agree” and be nominative masculine plural. Thus we have the nominative masculine plural participles for “living together” (συνοικοῦντες) and “bestowing [honour]” (ἀπονέμοντες).
If Peter had wanted to say that the men were like, or as, (ὡς) weaker vessels, he would have used nominative masculine plural words for “weaker vessel.” But he didn’t.
The Greek words in the phrase “to/ with a weaker vessel” (ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει) are dative neuter singular. The words for “to/ with the womenfolk” (τῷ γυναικείῳ) are also dative neuter singular. These singular neuter dative words grammatically “agree” and indicate that “as to/ with a weaker vessel” and “to/ with the womenfolk” refer to the same group of people.
The law of grammatical agreement is basic grammar and is typically learnt in the first few weeks of learning Greek. The “agreement” in 1 Peter 3:7 is reasonably straightforward. “As with a weaker vessel” (ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει: dative neuter singular) cannot describe “the men” (οἱ ἄνδρες: vocative masculine plural) in an equative sense.
One thing that is unclear is where to place “to/ with the womenfolk” in translations of the sentence.
Some English translations connect weaker vessel with men being considerate of women.
“live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker partner” CSB
“treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners” NET
Others connect weaker vessel with men giving honour to women.
“giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel” NKJV
“treat them with respect as the weaker partner” NIV
Still others connect weaker vessel with women being coheirs with men.
“though the weaker vessel, they are joint heirs of the gracious gift of life” NRSV
“She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life.” NLT
I prefer the approach of the CSB and NIV.
Considering the continuing theme of submission (which I’ve written about here), 1 Peter 3:7 might be translated or paraphrased as: “The men, likewise [being submissive], live together with your womenfolk recognising they are like a weaker vessel, giving honour to them as also co-heirs of the gracious gift of life …”
I could say more, but I’ve tried to keep this explanation as brief and as comprehensible as possible.
Notes to Postscript
 Neuter nouns and substantives can function as collective nouns, which is the case in 1 Peter 3:7. Dative nouns, etc, have a sense that is usually expressed in English with words such as “to,” “for,” “in,” “with,” etc.
 The usual Greek noun for “woman, wife” is not used in 1 Peter 3:7. I have chosen to translate the adjective (that occurs only here in the New Testament) as a substantive, as “womenfolk.” However, the phrase ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ may mean “to/ with a weaker vessel in respect to the female condition/ situation.”
 The dative plural word συνκληρονόμοις (“joint-heirs, co-participants”) has the same form whether masculine, feminine, or neuter.
Submission and Respect from Wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6
Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8
All my articles on 1 Peter 3:1-7 are here.
Fear or Respect in Christian Marriage?
Equality and Unity in Ministry in 1 Corinthians 12
Are Men Physically Superior to Women?
Protecting the Weaker Sex