What Scripture really says about the role of women in marriage:
For years, the Christian church throughout the world has insisted that the role of women is to do what men (or at least their husbands) want instead of calling women to the fullness of life for which they were created. Over and over again, the same proof texts have been used to back these positions and to attempt to convince women that service to God is all about subservience. The irony is, those texts are always much better support for the exact opposite case. One of the most aggressively abused is First Peter. We may as well start with the favorite:
First Peter was written by the cultural equivalent of a longshoreman with all of the linguistic and social niceties that said cultural standing may be presupposed to convey. There is no subtle nuancing, no long winded explanations, no philosophical rambling and nothing but an in your face assault upon a diseased society, marital and family structure by an apostle of Jesus who had finally had enough of what these residents of Asia Minor were doing to each other.
Rome was fond of destabilizing cultures through random removal of people and the introduction of other ethnic factions. The people they removed were contained in an almost Soviet Germany style of quarantine where there was little resembling the rule of law and even mail was censored.
This book was written to a group of Jewish people who had been force-marched by the Roman army from their homeland and were being kept in one of Rome’s cultural dumps — where they were even more isolated from their culture in that they had converted to Christianity.
It was written to a fear and violence based culture that regarded women as cattle, gave legal permission for their husbands to beat or even to kill them/their children. It was a culture where in divorce was nearly instantaneous and usually resulted in the termination of a woman’s rights to ever see her children again — and often forced her into a life of prostitution.
It was a sexually twisted culture wherein it was permissible for a man to have sex with nearly anyone he wanted and for a woman to have sex with her husband’s brothers if she so desired. This was in addition to a husband’s right to rape his own wife/children.
The very social context of this letter should create significant suspicion about any idea that Peter was simply writing to give them a pat on the back, tell them to keep up the good work and to suggest that women should continue in their fear and subservience. Common sense also states that it would have been a waste of time…
Peter fires his opening shot in verse 13:
1Pet. 1:13 ¶ Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This verse could easily be translated as, “Prepare for battle.” Just in case any one were delusional enough to think that he was writing them with congratulations, Peter quickly removes all illusions with a direct call to action – a call to change their lives and, eventually, to change their world. How?
1Pet. 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Peter then goes on to define his target — they were a sexually twisted society. He seems to feel that they were living out those broken lives as a result of a lack of knowledge and the purpose of this letter was in part to teach. However, it initially was to very firmly confront.
The remainder of Chapter one is simply a reiteration of the gospel of Christ that had already been taught to them — that they already knew and had not been following.
Chapter two opens in no less aggressive style as Peter addresses the difference between their call in Christ and the lives they were actually living:
1Pet. 2:1-2 ¶ Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
Peter is stating very simply that those who lived lives of malice, guile, hypocrisy envy and slander were children who didn’t even desire milk — let alone solid food. Remember, Peter is writing a letter here to a known people group – not some random theological work. This is a direct accusation against their culture and their lives. His call to them was blunt: Grow up.
1Pet. 2:3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
This is the first of Peter’s characteristic explanations by way of slap across the face. (He isn’t planning to explain it.) It’s an order and, to Peter, it should be self evident that you will change from a path of cruelty to model Christ if your life has been touched by Christ. He goes on address what that looks like as he talks about the building of the opposite: a holy priesthood.
1Pet. 2:9-11 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
Peter was presenting a new vision for a new culture. It is an undying and almost absurdly radical vision that nearly 2000 years later would be again referenced in the Roman Catholic document of Vatican II under the heading of, “The priesthood of all believers.” In it’s most condensed form, he’s calling them to live exactly like Jesus did.
He goes on to reference their status as both ex patriots and then as outcasts even from the other exiled nationals as a picture of how separate they were to be from their broken cultures. Just how far that was to go?
1Pet. 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
As a people joined this struggle for a new culture, Peter’s contention was that being slandered was not a possibility, it was a certainty. All he was concerned about was that, when that slander happened, that the worst that could be done is to call them names like, “Do-Gooders,” or, “Bible thumpers.”
It is this unrelenting framework for a new culture of mercy instead of cruelty and love in the place of power under which Peter then begins to lay his blueprint for a new community.
This blueprint for a new community is laid out in a BBABB argument style wherein the first two statements (B’s) added to the explanation (A) form the foundation for the last two statements (B’s). None of it can stand alone.
Part #1 (First statement.)
1Pet. 2:13 ¶ Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
The word submit is a compound Greek word (hupotasso) like Egg-plant and figuring out what it means from the sum of its parts is just as difficult as trying to figure out what an egg-plant would look like from the words, “Egg,” and, “Plant.” It is usually used as a metaphorical word describing the pouring out of something that is not a physical fluid. Peter is calling people to pour out all of themselves for the good of their country. (Same word used for employers and for women in 3:1)
1Pet. 2:14-17 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Again: Peter is writing into a land where he knew his mail would be censored. If he were even to suggest that the Roman emperor should not be honored, his main and messenger would likely both be terminated. So, in his street smart way, he tells the authorities what they wanted to hear – in his own way…
Peter is laying out a formula here for how we are to prioritize our world: Honor everyone, (Timaw — to fix a price), Love the brotherhood (Agapao love), Fear God (Phobeo — Mortal dread of the soul) and to again – as required — honor the king (Timaw.)
In other words:
(2). Other believers.
(3). Everyone else and the King.
He continues this ranking formula as he goes through the rest of his argument.
Part #2 (Second statement)
1Pet. 2:18 ¶ Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
The word submit is the same compound Greek word (hupotasso). While the English language runs this together, the next part of it is actually split. Essentially, the first sentence means, “Servants submit to masters — out of respect (Phobeo) to God.” The same ranking of priorities is maintained — God on top, the brotherhood second and everything else third.
1Pet. 2:19-20 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Part #3 (Explanation to be compounded with parts one and two to create a foundation for the last two parts.)
1Pet. 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
The word example (Upogrammo) means to create an exact copy. We have a picture of a, “Gentle Jesus meek and mild,” but they saw Jesus as a political revolutionary and Peter was calling for act two.
1Pet. 2:22-23 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
None of us manage any of the above — we fall into the same broken patterns that shatter our world.
1Pet. 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
The forgiveness any of us offer to another is substitutionary — we take the sin of another, bear it in our body and chose not to inflict the same. Just as Christ did above.
1Pet. 2:25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
Part #4 (The first part based upon the above three)(Conveniently cut off from them by the graces of the monk who found it necessary to impose his theological presuppositions upon the division of the text into chapter and verse.)
1Pet. 3:1 ¶ In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
“In the same way,” is a linking word like, “Because.” Chapter 3 can not stand without chapter 2.
The word, “Submit,” is the same compound Greek word (hupotasso). The term could be used in two ways: Within a military context, it could imply hierarchy and power but this is not anything close to a military usage. In ALL other usages, it described a completely voluntary surrender, cooperation, the shouldering of responsibility for or assistance in carrying a burden. Again: in normal usage this was a metaphorical word describing the pouring out of something which was not a physical fluid — pouring out one’s self. It was NOT about power.
There is obviously more intent for this word being here — but the salvation of a truly brutal culture was definitely part of it.
1Pet. 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
Chaste — sexually pure or virginal. Respectful — fear of God (Phobio) Once again, the same ranking of the fear of God directing your entire life.
1Pet. 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
In other words, go all out on the physical beauty — but don’t stop there…
1Pet. 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
Quite the opposite of the control women the world over play out…
1Pet. 3:5-6 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
The Greek word for fear used here is at the other end of the spectrum from Phobio and describes a mild fluttering. That’s all these husbands should be able to create in their wives through their power to legally kill them if compared to their fear of God.
In other words, this first part reads as follows: You women, just like Christ lived, you pour out your entire lives for your husband (If they are not believers, this should convert them.) You live lives of sexual purity (In contrast to your screwed up culture) and you live lives where you fear God above all. Go all out in terms of physical beauty but don’t stop there — abandon the control you have used to protect yourself with since the beginning of time and adopt the beauty of a stance of relational rest and responsiveness. Here is your definition of true submission: The fear of God is to so govern your actions that you will do what is right regardless of your husband’s ability to kill you.
Part #5 (Second part based on the first three.)
1Pet. 3:7 ¶ You husbands in the same way,
In the same way is the same linking word like because. Chapter 3 can not stand without chapter 2.
live with your wives in an understanding way,
The Greek word for understanding (Gnosis) means either the knowledge the Holy Spirit has of us or the knowledge we get from a dissection. Quite the opposite of the heart level avoidance the men of the world have treated women with since the beginning of time.
as with someone weaker,
They had two kinds of vessels in their home — vessels of honor (The fine china) and vessels of dishonor (The heavy clay pots they took out the slop in. Because women had menstrual flow, they were thought to be the unclean slop buckets. Peter is saying, “No, women are the fine china.”
since she is a woman;
Another of Peter’s explanations by way of a slap across the face. He’s not going to explain it.
and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life,
The word honor (timh) is a very different word. It is a word describing something incredibly precious — a gem stone or a diamond. In a culture where women were basically considered cattle and where many debated if they ever got near heaven or just faded away like an animal, this was a stunning comment.
so that your prayers will not be hindered.
This last comment is written in the form of an ancient curse. Do the above, or God will not hear your prayers.
In other words: You husbands, just like Jesus lived, you get to know your wives at a molecular level. You treat her like fine china for no other reason then that she is a woman. You treat her as a precious diamond who stands on level ground with you at the foot of the cross or God will not even listen to you.
For centuries, the church has been telling women that their role is to do what their husbands want and, if their husbands happen to be Godly, they will like it.
It’s time the church woke up and realized that if we are to continue demanding that women do everything men say as a definition of submission, then we also have to demand that people abandon their labor unions to do everything their employers say and bow to atrocities like abortion or mass murder that governments are perpetrating.
Jesus came to set us free from the bondage we were all under and part of that bondage was the war of power and control that is on between men and woman. He came to set men free to be the powerful, relationally initiatory and passionate beings they were created to be and for women to finally again stand as the beautiful, relationally responsive and powerful life giving beings they were created to be.
He is still calling us to be like the radical cultural revolutionary He was – not to be puppets. He came to tell us that the greatest among us was to be the servant of all. He came to teach us to love – not to avoid or to control. He came to declare war on injustice, on oppression, on the legalistic control that had enslaved His people and destroyed their hearts. He came to set the captives free to be fully human and fully alive. That applies equally to both men and women.
I just wonder if we in the church will ever stop shooting at each other long enough to stand side by side as sons and daughters of the Most High King and finally mobilize for the real war for the hearts and souls of the world.
Copyright 2004 Cal H. Henze, All rights reserved.
“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
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