1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:1-7 ESV).
1 Peter 3:1-7
Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, honor your wives.
This is the last passage in the several that I’ve talked about on a FB Live, about how women and men should live godly lives, specifically as women and men.
See 2:11-12, which exhorts believers (“beloved”) to live holy lives among unbelievers, so that they will see their good deeds and glorify God on the last day. (These verses are themselves built on the truth of 2:9-10, which describes the reality of believers’ status as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” [v. 9].)
This is followed by 2:13-17, which exhorts believers to be “subject” to human authority, and 2:18-25, which exhorts servants to be “subject” to masters. It is significant that 3:1a uses the same phrase, “be subject,” and its use of “likewise” shows that Paul is continuing his discussion of how believers should live in the world.
I’m sticking with 3:1-7 because of my goal of discerning how men as men and women as women should live out Christlikeness. (See Jonathan Leeman’s excellent article on living in a Christlike way as men and women.)
After our passage, Peter next uses the word “beloved” in 4:12. And all the verses in between the end of our passage and then “continue the larger theme of doing good and not evil, with respect to how we treat one another” (see discussion of the context here at Knowable Word, a great site for learning how to read Scripture in context).
So the larger context is about living out our status in Christ, whatever our status on earth.
I’ve divided the text into two pieces; this was simple, since Peter addresses wives in verse 1, and then husbands in verse 7.
Now, within the lengthier section to the wives, I can see an exhortation to submission (v. 1-2), followed by an explanation of submission (v. 3-6). Notice the words “subject” (1a) and “submitting” (5d) which tie the two sections together (it is the same verb in Greek, ὑποτάσσω).
Notice the main phrases in each section: 1a is the exhortation to submission, and 4a is the exhortation to inner adornment.
Let’s talk first about the exhortation to submission (1-2).
1b limits the submission: “to your own husbands,” not to men in general.
And 1c makes the submission purposeful: “so that … they may be won.” No doubt there were many mixed marriages in this day, where the wife had been converted but not the husband. If the wife acted respectfully toward him, and lived in moral purity (2), some would be won to Christ even without verbal witness by the wife.
Now let’s go through verses 3-6. The main phrase, 4a, is supported by a Negative phrase, and its subordinate phrases (3). Rather than focusing on outward beautification, Christian women should focus on inward beautification.
And that “beauty” that lasts and doesn’t fade (4c) is “a gentle and quiet spirit” (4d) - notice the Epexegetical genitive relationship.
The relative phrase in 4e has a deeper logical relationship, I think, that of Ground (and I would label it as such if this were an arc). Godly women should make themselves beautiful in their hearts because God values this beauty so highly.
This is Christlike: See Matthew 21:5, where Christ is described as “humble.”
Then there is a clear Ground in verses 5-6, starting with “for,” that supports the main phrase in 4a. This is how “holy women” of the past adorned themselves.
And notice the specific way they did this: “by submitting to their own husbands” (5d-e), exactly the same description in Greek as in 1a-b! (So really, 5-6 should be subordinate to 1a, but this isn’t possible to show in the Phrasing module.)
Women of Peter’s day (and ours) are the “children” of Sarah (reminiscent language to being a descendant of Abraham - interesting!), if they “do good” and live fearlessly (6c-f).
Secondly, let’s look at verse 7.
The specific Manner of how husbands are to treat their wives is shown in 7c-d: “in an understanding way,” and “showing honor” to them. So husbands need to understand their wives specifically.
(Another possibility is that 7d is an Explanation of 7c.)
And they need to honor their wives. Why? Two Grounds are given: they are “the weaker vessel,” and “they are heirs with you of the grace of life.”
The word “weaker” and its cognates is used more than 50 times in the New Testament. The adjective here can mean “sick” or “ill,” or to describe someone or something who is “experiencing some incapacity or limitation” (BDAG 142, s.v. ασθενής). The NIDNTTE says that “weaker” here “prob[ably] alludes to (averaged) differences between men and women in physical strength” (423). However, Karen Jobes is quoted, who makes an excellent point: "[T]he immediate context makes it clear that the female is also weaker in the sense of social entitlement and empowerment. Peter teaches that men whose authority runs roughshod over their women, even with society’s full approval, will not be heard by God” (K. H. Jobes, 1 Peter , 209, emphasis mine, in ibid.).
I like what Schreiner says about the second Ground: “The language of heirs points toward the eschatological gift (cf. 1:4; 3:9) that both men and women who believe will receive on the last day. Men should honor women because they share the same destiny—an eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom” (1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 161).
1. Toward wives:
It is a “warrior” spirit that is “precious” in the sight of 21st-century culture; see modern female superheroes, for example! But it is what God values that is truly precious.
This is how God wants you, specifically, to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). Do you respect and submit to the leadership of your husband? If he is unsaved, you may lead him to Christ in this way; if he is saved, you are helping him obey God’s Word in honoring you.
2. Toward husbands:
Do you know what your wife loves and dislikes, what helps her the most, what she needs from you? You must if you are to obey 7c.
Do you use your greater physical strength to bear your wife’s burdens? Real men use their capacities for endurance to suffer and help others, not to serve themselves. Real men treat those weaker than themselves with honor, not contempt.
3. Toward parents:
We ought to train our daughters to have this “gentle and quiet spirit” toward their parents, specifically their fathers, to prepare them for submission to their husbands.
We ought to train our sons to honor their mothers and sisters specifically, above the honor they should give to all people generally, so they can be prepared to live this way with their wives.