Domestic Sojourning – 1 Peter 3:1-7
“Likewise, wives continuing to submit to their own husbands, so that, even if any keep disobeying the Word, through the conduct of the wives, without a word, they will be won upon observing your holy conduct in fear. Whose adornment must not be external braiding of hair and wearing of gold or the putting on of clothes, but the hidden man, which is the heart, with the incorruption of the gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God. For thus formerly also, the holy wives, who hoped in God, kept adorning themselves by submitting to their own husbands. As Sarah submitted to Abraham by calling him ‘lord,’ whose children you became continuing to do good and not fearing any intimidation. The husbands, likewise, continuing to live together according to understanding as with a weaker vessel, the wifely one, continuing to impart honor as also to joint-inheritors of grace which produces life, so that your prayers are not hindered.”
The theme of submission continues as Peter turns his attention to the wives of the congregations of Asia Minor. Broadly speaking, we should note that Peter has moved his discussion of submission from the context of society at large to the context of the home. This is significant because while various human governments (2:13-17) are necessary in a fallen world where men do evil and slavery (2:18-20) is an unpleasant reality in a cursed environment, marriage and the family were a part of God’s original good creation. With this in mind, we should also notice that of all the various contexts in which Christians are to submit, only within the husband/wife relationship do we see instruction for those who are to submit (3:1-6) as well as exhortation to those who are being submitted to (3:7).
Peter’s emphasis is upon the various duties of the Christian home just as his emphasis was upon the duties of Christian citizenship and service. As he addresses practical sojourning in the context of the home, Peter outlines the main duty for Christian wives and husbands.
Duty of Christian Wives: Submission (vv. 1-6)
The entire Christian life is a life of submission. This submission is not a groveling cowardice but a willing placement of self under another’s authority. Because God has graciously replaced our rebellious heart with a heart to know and love Him, we place ourselves under the authority of King Jesus. This humble submission should be a trademark of all Christians everywhere. As such, this humble submission should be displayed most obviously and abundantly within the Christian home. It has become popular especially among professing Christians to denounce and reject the clear teaching of Scripture on many of these points. The suffrage movement of the 19th century has morphed into nothing less than full blown rebellion against God’s good, created order. It is the duty of every Christian wife to reject the spirit of antichrist proclaimed by the world as she willingly submits to her own husband.
Duty of Submission (v. 1a)
“Likewise, wives continuing to submit to their own husbands”
The same participle found in 2:18 (ὑποτασσόμενοι) is used here (ὑποτασσόμεναι) and is still linked to the over-arching imperative in 2:13 (ὑποτάγητε). As citizens submit to those over them and slaves submit to their masters, wives are also to continue submitting to their own husbands. We must take note that this is not a sexist statement that makes women somehow inferior to men. Peter does not command women to submit to men, but for wives (γυναῖκες) to submit to their own husbands (ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν). There is something to be learned here about God’s divinely established jurisdiction. A citizen of the United States has no obligation (biblically or legally) to submit to the governing authorities of France. Nor does a slave have any obligation to submit to any other freedman who is not his master. Likewise, a wife is to submit to her own husband, not to just any male on the street. The nature of the husband/wife relationship was ordained by God where the man will be the head over his wife and she will be his helper (Gen. 2:18), not his partner. The family has but a single head and that head is the husband. Peter supports rather than challenges the root of Christian submission laid down in Genesis.
Extenuating Circumstances (vv. 1b-4)
But what if there is much to be desired in this husband? Does Peter allow for any loopholes if this man is a lousy husband? What if he is not even a believer? Should a Christian woman continue to submit to a rebellious and unbelieving husband? It is at this point where Peter turns from the general statement of submission to focus on just this problem.
Submission Reveals True Disciples (vv. 1b-2)
“so that, even if any keep disobeying the Word, through the conduct of the wives, without a word, they will be won upon observing your holy conduct in fear.”
As we read “so that” (ἵνα) we understand Peter introducing a purpose statement. The submission of Christian wives to their husbands serves a very important purpose, even if those husbands are unbelievers. The term from ἀπειθέω is stronger than “unbelief” but means “disobedient.” The picture here does not portray a husband who is in ignorance to the gospel and is thus an unbeliever. Rather, what Peter describes here is a man who has heard the gospel and has rejected it and continues to reject it. Meanwhile, his wife has heard the gospel and accepted it with joy. What is this poor woman to do?
In short, a Christian woman who is married to a gospel rejecting man is to continue to submit to him. This may seem alarming to many in our modern culture who have ceased to place any value on marriage but notice the reason why Peter gives this instruction. The duty of the submissive Christian wife is to let her conduct reveal the validity of the gospel. Peter returns to the topic of Christian conduct (ἀναστροφή – 1:15, 17, 18; 2:12). The manner in which these Christian wives conduct themselves will be the means by which their husbands will be won over. Peter does not mean that they will be converted apart from the proclamation of the gospel. The often-used statement, wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi, “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words” is completely antithetical to New Testament teaching. Unless people hear the good news, they cannot repent (Rom. 10:14-17). After all, these husbands are not ignorant to the gospel. They simply reject it. Peter here is telling believing wives to refrain from nagging their husbands, trying to convince them of the gospel’s power to save and transform and instead showing the validity of the gospel by their conduct.
Peter does not guarantee these husbands will be won. But if they are converted, it will be as a result of their observing the conduct of their wives. This conduct is holy (ἁγνήν) and motivated by fear (ἐν φόβῳ). Many translations weaken the conduct of these wives by calling it “chaste and respectful” (NASB). Ἁγνός (holy) indicates more than sexual chastity but describes behavior that is pure and unblemished. Neither is it correct to understand fear (φόβος) as mere respect or to understand the husbands as the object of this fear. These wives are motivated in the same way that slaves are motivated: because they fear God and not man. Believing wives are to submit to their rebellious husbands so that they might see their good works and give glory to their Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
True Disciples are Beautiful (vv. 3-4)
“Whose adornment must not be external braiding of hair and wearing of gold or the putting on of clothes, but the hidden man, which is the heart, with the incorruption of the gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God”
These verses form a single unit and thus must be taken together. Peter here addresses how a believing wife is to make herself attractive to her husband. The focus remains, for the moment, on those Christian women bound to a rebellious husband, though this truth should be embraced by all believing women. This is a future description of what holy conduct motivated by the fear of God looks like.
First, Peter describes the negative side, what holy conduct is not. A wife is not to adorn (κόσμος – adornment, decorate, make beautiful by putting things in order) or decorate herself externally. The various braiding of the hair, elaborate jewelry and the putting on of clothes all indicate an attempt to make oneself beautiful from the outside. It is important to note that Peter is not prohibiting a wife from dressing up or using jewelry, otherwise he would also be prohibiting a wife from getting dressed (the Greek text literally reads: ἐνδύσεως ἱματίων or “the putting on of clothes”). The point is not to prescribe a specific form or dress (though there are principles of modesty to be gleaned) but to forbid Christian wives from attempting to make themselves beautiful and attractive to their husbands by external means at the expense of internal and lasting beauty.
Peter follows his negative presentation with the positive. The strong contrastive conjunction ἀλλὰ introduces what Christian wives are to adorn themselves with. Rather than the external putting on of things, their focus is on the inner person (κρυπτός ἄνθρωπος) which is identified as the heart (τῆς καρδίας). Hair turns grey and falls out, clothes wear out, and even gold will fade. But the gentle and quiet spirit which God places within His people when He regenerates them is incorruptible and will never pass away. Gentle (πραΰς) describes an attitude of humility. A gentle person is not overly impressed with self. Quiet (ἡσύχιος) is more than describing one who isn’t loud but describes a life that is well-ordered and not chaotic. This kind of disposition is the result of God’s work of regeneration through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what makes a wife beautiful, and this is how she attracts her husband. But even more importantly, this is what is precious in the sight of God. “Whatever the world may think of such an unassuming and mild disposition, for the believer the final test is whether it wins God’s approval.”
Providing Biblical Evidence (vv. 5-6)
“For thus formerly also, the holy wives, who hoped in God, kept adorning themselves by submitting to their own husbands. As Sarah submitted to Abraham by calling him ‘lord,’ whose children you became continuing to do good and not fearing any intimidation.”
Peter now returns to his primary concern of submission. As he does so he turns to biblical examples of women who adorned themselves in exactly the manner that he has just described. These holy wives are the women in the Old Testament who hoped in God. They are called holy, not because of their own merits and deeds, but because they hoped (ἐλπίζω/ἐλπίς) and trusted God. They adorned themselves or made themselves beautiful by means of their submission. These Old Testament sister saints are attractive to us, not because of their physical beauty, but because of their submission and obedience. Peter even reproduces the phrase “submitting to their own husbands” (ὑποτασσόμεναι τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν) verbatim from v. 1.
As a specific example, Peter points to Sarah and her submission to her husband Abraham. Peter draws from the specific reference of Gen. 18:12 where Sarah refers to her husband as “lord,” revealing that she, even as she’s amused by the idea of copulating with her aged husband for the purpose of procreation, respects and submits to Abraham. The grander context of Genesis 18 is important to note if we are to make any sense of the rest of v. 6. Peter calls his female readers children of Sarah as a reference to their conversion. In what way are they to be considered Sarah’s children? It is important to remember who Sarah is and what her divinely appointed role was.
Ever since Gen. 12:1-3 we have had our eye on Abraham as the source God would use to bring about the promised seed that would undo and reverse the curse (Gen. 3:15). That promise was reiterated in Gen. 15:12-21 and yet we read in Gen. 16:1 that Sarah remained barren. Through several struggles and lapses of faith, it is in Gen. 18:1-10 where Yhwh appears to Abraham and, in Sarah’s hearing, reveals that she will be the one that bears the child of promise who will eventually produce THE promised seed. Sarah’s submission to her husband was supported by her hope (ἐλπίς) of this coming seed. She trusted Yhwh and so submitted to her husband. Blind submission is not what makes Christian women Sarah’s children. Submission that is informed and motivated by hope in the gospel is what binds us to this submissive woman of faith.
The actions that Peter lists do not determine whether Christian wives belong to Sarah’s spiritual lineage, but rather prove that they do. As they continue doing what is good (ἀγαθοποιούσαι), just as faithful citizens (2:15) and slaves (2:20) are commanded to do what is good. Likewise, they are also exhorted to not fear any intimidation. This final line comes from Prov. 3:25: “Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” – Prov. 3:35-36 (NASB). Peter’s point is very simple: continue doing what is right in the eyes of God and do not fear any physical retribution for doing good. It is possible that there will be times when a wife must choose between her husband and her Savior. It is likely that she will be forced to choose between what is socially accepted and what is biblically demanded. Fear of reprisals has no place in Christian conduct. Our fear is reserved for God alone.
Peter is not here condemning rebellious women but is exhorting those within these congregations to keep doing what they already are. There is no indication that the churches of Asia Minor are filled with undisciplined and rebellious hussies. But the pressure of persecution is coming, and in some cases may have already arrived. These are words of encouragement, exhortations to make strong more than correct. It is imperative that wives submit while displaying their holy conduct in fear of God without even a tremor regarding what man might do.
Duty of Christian Husbands: Stewards (v. 7)
Only here does Peter address those who are in a position of authority over those commanded to submit. There is no such thing as a Christian state and slave owning is hardly congruent with New Testament teaching. Yet there is a very specific purpose for Christian husbands. The role of a husband in the home is essentially the same role of the elder in the church. They are God’s stewards to care for those who belong to God. This is a call to remind Christian husbands of this stewardship.
Husbands Must Know What They’re Dealing With (v. 7ab)
While slaves and wives were given a single participle to exhort their conduct (continue submitting), the husband’s duty requires two. As the one who is placed as head over his wife, the husband’s charge encompasses more.
Caring for the Weaker Vessel
“The husbands, likewise, continuing to live together according to understanding as with a weaker vessel, the wifely one”
The first exhortation to Christian husbands is for their continuing cohabitation (συνοικοῦντες) with their wives. The term used by Peter is much more than a euphemism for sexual relations as it addresses all aspects of married life under one roof as one flesh. But this living together is modified by the phrase according to understanding as with a weaker vessel. Most modern versions downplay this phrase by rendering the noun γνῶσις as if it were an adjective (in an understanding way – NASB). The preposition κατὰ indicates a standard that should govern this living together, a standard of knowledge or understanding.
Many argue that there is no clear way of telling what this understanding consists of, yet Peter tells us exactly what is to be understood. Husbands are to live together with their wives according to the standard that they are weaker vessels. The knowledge that their wives are weaker must become the standard of their lives together.
Much ink has been spilt regarding what it means that wives are a weaker vessel. There is no doubt that Peter means wives by his reference to the weaker vessel, for he places τῷ γυναικείῳ (the wifely one) in apposition to σκεύει (vessel). Most argue that wives are weaker purely in a physical way. Yet the context is not in the realm of male versus female but of husbands and wives. To be fair, when Peter states that wives are the weaker vessel, he implies that husbands are also vessels, tools, and containers to be used by God for His purposes and glory. Wives (not women) are weaker because they are wives. They are not weak in form so much as they are weak in function, placing themselves in subjection to their husbands, and before that to their fathers. The woman is designed to be in a submissive relationship and as a wife, that relationship is under her husband. Husbands need to know and understand the full implications of this relationship. If she is weaker, and if she is living with him, then he is her protector, provider, shepherd, and overseer. A Christian husband must understand what God’s will and Word says regarding his duty to his wife. He must be as Adam was made to be not what Adam became.
Caring for a Joint-Inheritor
“Continuing to impart honor as also to joint-inheritors of grace which produces life”
The second action that describes the husband’s duty is that he must continue to impart honor upon his wife. The same term (τιμή) that was used of all people and the king (2:17) is used again here. The meaning of the term is the same in that he must value her. But the realm of this value is different. Regarding the king and people in general, Christians value or honor them because of who they are; namely, image bearers. But regarding his believing wife, a Christian husband values her because she is a joint-inheritor. “Wives, like husbands, believe in the same Savior, are redeemed by the same ransom, live by the same grace, and look forward to the same eternal destiny. Recognition of that reality will end domestic tyranny.” A Christian husband has, with his believing wife, more than just another ward under his care. He lives with a fellow Christian and is thus commanded to love her just as Christ loves him. It is by this love that all men will know that man and wife are Christ’s disciples (Jn. 13:34-35). If Christian husbands fail in this matter, the consequences are dire.
Husbands Must Know What is at Stake (v. 7c)
“So that your prayers are not hindered”
The Greek construction (εἰς τὸ with the infinitive ἐγκόπτεσθαι) introduces a result clause. Husbands are exhorted to continue living with their wives knowing that they are the weaker vessel and to continue imparting honor upon them as fellow inheritors of the kingdom with the result that their prayers will not be hindered. The implication here is that failure for Christian husbands to comply on this matter disrupts their fellowship with God. If a Christian husband fails to fulfill his most basic of duties, he is living in rebellion. “Husbands surely have here cause to consider why their prayers are not answered.”
It matters very little how perfect his attendance record is at the weekly gathering or how much money he gives or how many Bible studies he leads. If he fails at being a husband, he fails. If the mark of a faithful and beautiful wife is her submission to her husband in the fear of the Lord, then the mark of a faithful husband is how he leads and honors his wife. Failure in these areas must be seen for what it is, and that is sin.
The Christian home is supposed to be the foundation for all Christian ministry. Evangelism does not begin on the street corner, but around the dinner table, before bedtime, in the morning, and while doing daily chores (Deut. 6:4-9). The most obvious church growth strategy is for Christian husbands and Christian wives to have children and raise them to fear the Lord (Eph. 6:4). If our homes are not objectively excellent, then what is our testimony before the watching world (2:12)? The duty of Christian marriage is a high and noble calling that husband and wife must enter into with joy and zeal. The stakes are high, but so are the rewards. In any case, our motivation is not primarily to have a pleasant home life, but to please the God who has caused us to be born again. May our King find us faithful when He returns.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 195-6.  Ibid, p. 201.  Ibid, p. 207.  Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 111.