1 Peter 3:1-7 – Instructions to Wives and Husbands
SummaryMarried women and men receive instructions about how to live in relationship with their spouses in ways that reflect certain first-century values yet are motivated by an understanding of who people are before God.
AnalysisWhen considering this passage, a key phrase in 3:1 should be noted: "in the same way." This requires readers to look at what comes earlier in the letter. In 2:11-12, acting honorably is for the sake of bringing Gentiles to glorify God. In 2:13, accepting the authority of emperors and governors is to be done for the Lord's sake, that by doing right Christians will overcome the ignorance of unbelievers (2:15). In 2:16, all obedience is to be done in Christian freedom. In 2:18-25, slaves are said to be acting in accord with God's desires as revealed in Christ. So, then, in 3:1, "Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands." Why? Because, in this specific case, the wives are married to unbelieving husbands, who did not believe the verbal witness of Christians, but who now "may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives" (3:1-2). This is not some eternal law, but a context-specific counsel, which honors the existing social order for a Christian reason, and which very well might be different in a different situation or context. In addition, the word in verse 1 translated "accept the authority of" literally means "subject yourself" or "subordinate yourself" to your husband. The point is that the wives themselves are to do this in Christian freedom, not for other reasons.
In 3:7, husbands "in the same way" are to "show consideration" for their wives. In this case, the author addresses Christian husbands. The Greek words translated as "show consideration" literally say "according to knowledge"--perhaps referring to the knowledge of God and of people (including women) as God's creatures. While in the first-century Gentile context husbands customarily had the dominant role, Christian husbands are instructed to act not simply according to custom but in the knowledge that both husband and wife are created by God and both are heirs of new life in Christ. In the instructions to Christian wives and Christian husbands alike, the theological basis is the constant, while the particular acts of obedience are related to specific times and places. Today's readers must make the connections to their own social contexts.