Notes on 1 Peter 3:1-7
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
1Peter 3:1-2, KJV 1 Likewise, ye wives, (be) in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation (coupled) with fear.
Several observations. First, Peter is speaking to married women, exhorting them to be in subjection to their own husbands, not some other person. Second, these wives seem to be believers married to men who are not yet believers. This could be because both were unbelievers when they married but the wife later became a Christian; or the believing woman was given (more or less willingly) to an unbelieving husband (let it be remembered that women had few rights in those days); or a believing woman married an unbeliever in spite of the plain warnings like 2 Corinthians 6:14 (do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers—paraphrased).
Finally, Peter gives a suggestion to these wives, namely, to win them (to the Lord) without using the Word but other communication. He’s reminding them to behave in a chaste way of life together with “fear” or due respect for the husband.
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward (adorning) of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
This is not to forbid having a nice hair style or modest amounts of jewelry or even wearing modest articles of clothing. In other words, Peter is exhorting the wives to not resort to the externals—overdoing, it, perhaps?—in order to win their husbands.
4 But (let it be) the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, (even the ornament) of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
Clothing may wear out, jewelry may lose its luster, and other things may happen but a meek and quiet spirit is something that endures for a long time. The hidden “man” of the heart simply refers to the inner person, the soul-spirit that lives forever. It has nothing to do with gender.
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Seldom in the Old Testament is there a mention of a wife being less than subject to her husband. Clearly there were women and wives with “issues”: Solomon, in Proverbs 21:9 stated “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house”, and in 21:19, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” He further wrote in Proverbs 27:15, “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.” He would have known plenty about this: he had married 1000 different women, many of whom were not Israelites!
Contrast this with wives who did dwell in subjection to their own husbands: Sarah, going along with most everything Abraham did; Rebekah, who left everything she knew to marry Isaac, a man she had never seen; the wife of Manoah, mother of Samson, who definitely listened to the Lord and her husband; Elisabeth, mother of John the Baptist; and others, many of whom are not mentioned in Scripture but their deeds are clearly manifest before God! None of them were perfect, none were sinless, but they were believers in God and honored their husbands.
Interestingly, one of the few times, perhaps the only time, in Scripture where Sarah did call Abraham “lord” was in Genesis 18:12, after God had promised them (Abraham and Sarah) a son. Humanly this was not possible: Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah 89-90, so both of them were long past the normal time of child bearing. Even so, God honored His promise and about a year later, Isaac, the son God promised, was born!
7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with (them) according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
Now Peter begins a new section, dealing with husbands. These are most likely believers, married to believing wives but possibly some Christian men were married to non-Christian women. Reasons might be similar to the situation with Christian wives married to non-believers; in some cases, marriages were arranged and neither party knew whom they were marrying until the ceremony took place. This custom still takes place in some societies unto this day.
Whether or not the wife was a Christian is not the question here. Peter does not mention living a life of trying to win her to faith in Christ but he does exhort the husband to give honor to the wife. If this had to be communicated to the men, does this give us a suggestion that it wasn’t taking place ordinarily? The sad thing is that few women, Christian or otherwise, genuinely want to be in subjection to their husbands and few husbands, Christian or otherwise, show honor to their wives. This can change, and must change, if the Church wants to demonstrate true Christian love to an increasingly pagan world.
One additional comment that is almost overlooked is that in Peter’s lifetime, there were some very rigid distinctions: between Jews and Gentiles, between social classes (slave vs. free), between genders (male vs. female) and who knows how many more. The grace of life Peter mentioned is something that can be shared by all believers, regardless of who they were!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)