Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened our series by looking at 1 Peter 1:1-2.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:3-9.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:10-12.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:13-21.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 1:22-2:3.
- Zach wrote on 1 Peter 2:4-10.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 2:11-17.
- Dave wrote on 1 Peter 2:18-25.
- Today Dave writes on 1 Peter 3:1-7.
1 Peter 3:1-7, “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.”
The message of 1 Peter 3:1-7, with its double call to submission (1 Peter 3:1, 5), might strike the casual reader as chauvinistic or degrading. The passage lacks symmetry, since it has six parts instruction for women to one part for men. 1 Peter 3 says that wives should submit to their husbands, beautify themselves with good deeds rather than fine garments, and imitate godly women like Sarah, who called her husband “lord.” What shall we make of this?
Above all, we can’t miss Peter’s message as a temporary command, a concession, or an adaptation to the times that the church would out grow. The message of Scripture always transcends its occasion. Furthermore, the text has no hint that it is temporary counsel. Still, a firm grasp of this passage’s occasion—its historical, culture, literary, and canonical contexts—is vital. First, historically, while Peter’s message applies to all, he addresses Christian women who are married to unbelieving men. He teaches these wives how to conduct themselves, that they might win their husbands to the faith (1 Peter 3:1).
Second, culturally, Peter draws on norms admired by Greco-Roman moralists as he counsels wives in winsome behavior. Ethicists often urged women to be chaste and respectful, to shun gaudy clothes and hair, and to show a meek and quiet spirit.[i] Wherever biblical and Greco-Roman norms agree, Peter urges Christian women to behave in ways that both God and their pagan husbands would approve. Furthermore, that age assumed that wives would adopt the religion(s) of their husbands. A Christian woman upon conversion to the faith, could no longer participate in pagan worship rituals. Since the Greco-Roman wife was expected to share her husband’s faith, that refusal would seem subversive. Thus, Peter tells godly wives to conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate respect for their husbands and so to mitigate the potential tension caused by their faith.
Third, from a literary perspective, we recall that 1 Peter taught Christian converts how to be faithful disciples in a pagan world. Peter opens by calling his people “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1). In the long section on social behavior, he adds that they are “aliens and strangers” in the world and therefore must “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). But, he continues, Christian virtue has an apologetic function: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). So the good conduct of the believer is missional. A good life silences accusers.
Yet Peter also knows that Christian conduct will seem disruptive, since, at least in principle, it undermines the hierarchical relationships that structure society. The thinking person knows that every Christian is a potential rebel or subversive. When the Christian calls Jesus Lord, he or she denies that title (in its fullest sense) to all others—whether kings, husbands, fathers or masters. The Christian seems to disrespect the emperor by refusing to worship him. The Christian wife appears to dishonor her husband because she refuses to join the worship of his deities, whether the emperor or the local gods that allegedly sustained the social fabric.
Because Christian volition can always foster dissident behavior, Peter stresses the need for respect. He has already told his church to submit to every human authority, including the emperor, whom they also honor (1 Peter 2:13, 17). The believing slave or servant also submits to the master “with all respect,” whether the master deserves it or not (1 Peter 2:18). The word to wives begins in the same way, with a call to submit with respect or fear (1 Peter 3:1-2). In each case, Peter commands the social subordinate to show honor, respect, and obedience to the social superior. That is how they silence accusers, as Peter said they should (1 Peter 2:11-12).
It might seem that Peter’s instructions burden women and excuse men. But it is more accurate to say that Peter aimed to guide Christian women who were married to pagan men. Further, simply by addressing them, Peter honored the women of his church.es the literature of the day normally ignored the subordinate partner in a relationship. Authors addressed governors, masters, husbands, and fathers and overlooked ordinary men, plus slaves, wives, and children who were judged unworthy or incapable of receiving instruction. By guiding wives, children, and slaves, Peter (like Paul in Ephesians 5:21-6:9) has already elevated them.
Further, we locate Peter’s message in canonical context when we examine how he applies general biblical principles for marriage to the union of Christian women and pagan men. Peter assumes that the wife will aim to preserve the marriage, because even a mixed marriage is good (1 Cor. 7:1-16). Marriage is a creation mandate, ordained for mankind in our innocence, to provide companionship and partnership as we bear children and govern God’s creation for Him (Gen. 1-2). Divorce was well known in Israel and in the empire, but because marriage is a covenant, the law, prophets, and apostles oppose divorce (Deut. 24:1-4; Mal. 2:14-16; Matt. 19:3—12; 1 Cor. 7:10-13).
Since marriage is a covenant, husband and wife commit to each other. By contrast, Solomon says that he unfaithful women “forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God” (Prov. 2:16-17). And Malachi condemns the man who arbitrarily divorces his wife, since “she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal. 2:14).
Both Peter and Paul understood the problem for the wife who converts to Christianity when her husband does not. Neither said that a lack of faith is the basis for divorce. Paul stressed that marriage is permanent and the bonds hold, unless the unbelieving husband or wife abandons the marriage (1 Cor. 7:10-16). Peter focused on wives, since they implicitly challenged cultural norms by adopting a faith that kept them from joining their husbands’ religious practices.
To summarize, 1 Peter 3 applies enduring biblical principles to an urgent contemporary issue. The apostles often did this. Today’s church leaders should follow that strategy by applying teaching to the challenges of our day. In that spirit, a preacher might tell young, unmarried Christians to resist cohabitation and to embrace marriage and childbearing as essential elements in God’s plan. He might exhort them to commit, without fear, to intentional relationships that could lead to early marriage and parenthood. But now we turn to Peter’s message for his day and strive to lay aside our preconceptions so that we may hear his message.
A Countercultural Wife.
Peter’s command, “Wives… be submissive” (1 Peter 3:1) will divide, even offend, contemporary readers. When Peter tells wives to obey their husbands and call them “lord” (1 Peter 3:6), skeptics groan. Sadly, men have fueled the critics by abusing their God-given authority and physical strength. If husbands loved their wives as they should, this passage would not be controversial. It is controversial, yet we will not read Peter accurately if we let contemporary gender debates become the lens for our interpretation. It is better to acknowledge our preferences and let Scripture test them (1 Thess. 5:21), since God’s Word is infallible and we are not. The prevailing mind-set of our age does influence us. Therefore, if our Bible-reading never challenges us, we probably aren’t reading well. A faith that never upsets us is a designer faith, with the self as designer.
So, then, hear Peter as he begins and (nearly) ends with an exhortation to submit (1 Peter 3:1. 5). Be begins in 1 Peter 3:1-2, “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.” While the command has a purpose—the winning of unbelieving husbands—it has no restriction. Peter commands all wives to “be subject to your own husbands,” not me in general. Thus all wives submit, and some have a distinct circumstance and goal—to win an unbelieving husband.
The idea of submission, as we’ve seen in our study of 1 Peter, did not have the negative connotation that it has today. Submission does entail the concept that authorities give orders that subordinates follow, but submit is a milder term than obey for two reasons. First, a wife who submits to her husband’s guidance may still decide how to follow his direction. Second, a believer’s submission to human authorities is always qualified, never blind. If a husband commands his wife to do evil, she is to heed the Lord, not the man.
Peter addresses all wives, but especially Christian women whose husbands “do not obey the word” (in this case, to “obey the words” means to believe the gospel). As we have seen, since wives were expects to adopt their husbands’ religion, Christian women could seem rebellious if they abandoned familiar gods. Because that culture assumed that adults could subscribe to multiple religions, wives could adopt new religions in addition to the faith of their husbands. And some women, attracted to the ethic of Judaism, adopted it as a second religion. But when the gospel came to the synagogue and wives believed, dual allegiance became impossible. It was vital, therefore, that believing wives submit whenever possible, since they seemed rebellious in religious affairs. (If a man converted, he had a greater chance of carrying his pagan wife with him, and if not, he at least did not disrupt the social order when he practiced his chosen religion.)
Again, Peter commands wives to submit to their own husbands, not to all men. Submissiveness manifests in several ways: in revert and pure conduct (1 Peter 3:2), in modest clothing and inner beauty (1 Peter 3:3-5), and in respectful speech (1 Peter 3:6).
Unbelieving husbands will be won by observing their Christian wives’ respectful, pure conduct (1 Peter 3:2). Wives should conform to social conventions and fulfill expected duties in order to win their pagan husbands “without words” (1 Peter 3:1). Peter doesn’t mean that the wife never speaks. Nor does he mean that speech is pointless. She does not speak because Peter did not expect her words to be helpful in that context. He knew that others might be more persuasive. Even today, a believing wife often finds it best to be (relatively) quiet and let others engage a skeptical husband As a believing woman longs for her husband’s conversion, Peter tells her how best to proceed. C.E.B Cranfield notes, “She must be ready to speak about Christ. But to persist in talking to someone who does not want to listen only hardens. The gentile and quiet way may be more effective than what seems like nagging. And “those who hearts are proof against preaching may at least be softened by her behavior.”[ii] Whether this results in a conversion or not, godly wives can please the Lord (1 Peter 3:3-4) and follow the footsteps of godly Sarah (1 Peter 3:5-6).
Peter urges women to pursue the highest beauty. 1 Peter 3:3-5, “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,” Paul give similar counsel in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” For both Greeks and Jews, extravagant dress could signify promiscuity or disregard of a husband’s authority.[iii] “Rejection of external adornment was part of a woman’s submission to her husband.”[iv] Modesty is the principle. The problem does not lie with the braided hair or gold per se. A gold wedding band is a simple symbol of commitment. But elaborate hair took hours to prepare and so became a conspicuous display of wealth and rank. Inner beauty is what counts. “Virtue is the one garment any woman can wear with pride.”[v] Peter singles out a gentle and quiet spirit. He blesses amiable friendliness, calm peace, a refusal to quarrel or show bad temper.
As a test of Peter’s principle, we may ask ourselves how much time we spend on our physical looks and how much time we spend on our mental and spiritual strength each day. If we give more attention to hair and clothes than to mind and heart, something might be wrong. We justifiably pay close attention to physical appearances when we first meet someone. Face, hair, posture, height, weight, proportions, clothes, and voice tell us whether this new person is male or female, young or old, confident or awkward, friendly or closed. But the longer we know someone, the less appearances matter. And in God’s eyes, “a gentle and quiet spirit” is true beauty.
Surveying statues, relief carvings, and references to hair in Greco-Roman culture are consistent.[vi] In portraits (stone cravings, feasible only for the wealth), adult women (typically wives) wore their hair curled or braided and up on their heads.[vii] When husbands and wives are shown together, the women’s heads are usually covered by cloth shawls on top of the head (not face veils).[viii] Girls, maidens, and immoral women went bareheaded.[ix]
Peter singles out hair, gold, jewelry, and find clothes because people displayed wealth in them. Today, people display their wealth through houses, cares, and vacations more than clothing. Another set tends face and hair or hones a fabulous body from neck to bones, but the point remains. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” And Peter encourages disciples to seek “the imperishable quality of a humble and quiet spirit.”
If spiritual virtue is imperishable and all bodily strengths perish, let us therefore spend less time on our bodies and more time caring for mind and spirit, pursuing love, justice, and truth. Of course, we should be good towards of our God-given bodies, but what would a tally of our hours spent say about what matters most to us? Alan Stibbs says that a Christian wife should seek to please God by her conduct, not her clothes, especially by cultivating a gentle spirit. He says, “This will reveals that her behavior is governed by a new standard of value,” by “characteristics highly esteemed” by God rather than men.”[x]
Ordinary human wisdom suggests that we should work on our character, if only because a beautiful spirit lasts a lifetime and a beautiful body lasts a few decades. Even if the rate of decline varies, the body does fail and finally die, but the spirit need not. Time inexorably weakens and slows the body. Entropy dulls, then erases, the differences between strong and weak, with God’s Spirit increases the capacity to love, to show mercy. Even a self-interested person should therefore tend the spirit.
A believer is especially pleased to learn that a beautiful spirit “is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). We should long to please God more than to gain applause or admiring glances. We should pursue God’s favor more than human favor, since His appraisal is more accurate, generous, and gracious.
As Peter exhorts women to cultivate inner beauty, he assumes that this is the proven path for godly women. 1 Peter 3:5-6, “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.” With this statement, Peter repeats that godly women should pursue spiritual beauty and submit to their husbands. But he adds that while they might be exiled from their culture of origin, they now belong to a new family. They hope in God, like holy women past. They are Sarah’s daughters, beautiful women all, for they like Sarah, adorn themselves with righteousness and good deeds. Yet they (literally) do not fear terrors, that is, the thing that terrify others, for they trust God (1 Peter 2:23; 3:14-15). Some women are afraid of submitting to their husbands.
While this sense of belonging surely cheered the godly woman of Peter’s day, the verse troubles the secular and perhaps even godly woman today. Perhaps her husband, or another man, has acted sinfully or foolishly, so that she hesitates to trust him. Or perhaps she simply wants the freedom that is so highly valued in this age. Yet Peter not only commends submissiveness, but also notes, “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:6). If wives balk at submission, how will they react to Sarah’s authoritative example? Calling a husband “lord” seems heavy-handed. But lord is not Lord. In that culture, viewing her husband as “lord” meant that a wife must acknowledge him “with due deference, as her husband and master.” That is how Sarah used the term in Genesis 18:12. More importantly, this recognition of Abraham’s leadership did not keep Sarah from speaking her mind to Abraham. And with god’s approval, he complied (Gen. 21:8-13).
Sarah was submissive to a believing husband, so that her duty was lighter. But Peter argued by analogy: if Sarah, a forceful woman (Gen. 18:12), obeyed Abraham and called him “lord,” all women should respect their husbands.
Peter began to name the social duties in chapter two by directing, “But subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). As he worked through social relationships, he repeated the call to subjection or submission. Residents submit to governors (1 Peter 2:13-17), servants to masters (1 Peter 2:18-25), and wives to husbands (1 Peter 3:1-7). Later, Peter says that young men must submit to church elders (1 Peter 5:5).
His commands to husbands, and later to elders, round out the discussion. Peter commands leaders to serve others, but not in reciprocal language. He does not instruct husbands to submit to wives, or elders to submit to the church. Rather, they must be tender and respectful. Peter tells elders that they should lead from beside, not from above, “not domineering…, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Peter models his own point by calling himself a “fellow elder,” even though he is an apostle and could claim superiority. Husbands should be even more tender. 1 Peter 3:7, “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.” Four vital points emerge from this statement.
First, husbands “live with” their wives. Peter expects husband and wife to live in the same house. It also means that they should sleep in the same bed, since the verb “live with” (sunoikeo) was used for sexual relations in the Septuagint (Det. 22:13; 24:1). Peter assumes that physical intimacy is an element of married life. Husbands love their wives by living in one house, sharing one bed, in physical intimacy. It tears the fabric of a marriage when husband and wife deprive each other of physical love. We are accustomed to the principle that sexual union seals the love and covenantal commitment that leads to marriage. But we must also know that husband and wife can drift apart, and when they do, sexual love can rekindle our emotional attachment and commitment. Sexual union both seals and strengths marriage. Separation weakens affection.
Second, husbands live, literally, “according to knowledge.” Peter expects husbands to know their wives. Men occasionally excuse careless leadership by pleading ignorance, “I don’t understand women.” But a man doesn’t need to understand women; he needs to understand his wife. Husbands are scientists with a narrow field of inquiry. A man should know the preferences, moods, needs of his beloved, so that he can love and care for her.
This is important because, third, “the woman is the weaker vessel.” The Greek word translated “vessel” (skeuos) is used for sundry material objections, especially jars and vessels, but sometimes for the human body. Peter simply means that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. There are many exceptions, but taken as a whole, men are larger and stronger than women. Some say that women are more vulnerable emotionally, although that is disputed, and in most societies women are economically dependent on their husbands. In Peter’s age, Jews and Greeks commonly also viewed women as being weaker morally and mentally. But Scripture never says that, and no part of the Christian tradition promotes it.
On the contrary, a Christian husband must honor women, and especially his wife. Physically, she is probably weaker, but spiritually she is a join heir of grace. At a minimum, husbands must never bully, threaten, or strike their wives nor should they demean their wives for being weak or slow-footed. Marriage is a union of two weak and sinful people, even if we are weak and sinful in different ways.
Fourth, marriage believers are join heirs of the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:7b). Grace is the first and last word of (1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 5:2). The prophets predicted a gracious salvation (1 Peter 1:10), and the Lord Jesus fulfilled the promise when He suffered for us. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The cross of Christ is the great equalizer. How sweet is it for both husband and wife to know that their comfort in life and hope in death is the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. Respect makes prayer easier, but how can a harsh husband pray well, except in repentance? When husband and wife both know Jesus, prayers flow freely. Each is humble over his or her sin, each gives thanks for God’s grace. Both present requests confidently, for if the Father “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8;32).
The challenge of marriage and the challenges to marriage are numerous enough that we should take the opportunity to label Peter’s abiding lessons.
Peter’s Principles for Marriage
First, the believer should hope to convert an unbelieving spouse if he or she has one, not by lecturing fervently, but by living well. There is a time to talk, but pushing and harping hardens people. Peter knows that an unbeliever can have misgivings about his or her spouse’s faith. Peter says in essence, “Live so well that he is glad that you follow Jesus.” Submission a fairly prominent theme in Peter, because it is one part of living well. Submission to authority is one way in which we do good and so “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15). When we submit to proper authorities, free, actively, and willingly, it is harder for them to slander the faith.
Second, we must comment on submission. Sadly, the command to submit has been abused by men who attempt to justify selfish demands. But “doing whatever I’m told” is not the biblical concept of submission. To submit does mean that one person ordinarily yields to the will of one in a position of authority. A submissive wife accepts her husband’s leadership in general. She listens. She expects him to lead and does not chafe under the burden of following. She understands that submission does not undermine her dignity but expresses it. This is her unique opportunity to model Jesus, who submitted to the Father in the plan of redemption, even though Jesus is coequal and coeternal with the Father. We could mention again the need for husbands to lead with Christlike love and sacrifice. Instead, let’s consider how the contemporary zeal to prevent abuses of authority can cause a different problem.
Today, our culture constantly laments the absence of strong, marriageable men. But men need to be stronger within marriages, too. For every home that is crippled by male abuse of authority, several suffer from husbands and fathers who refuse to lead. For every man who dominates, several abdicate. They come home, flop down, plug in, and ignore everyone. The sins of domination are more catastrophic, especially if they include violence, but sins of passivity are more common. Pastors know: more wives lament an absentee husband than a domineering husband.
Of course there are limits to submission. It is reasonable, and no sign of disrespect, to question our leaders. Moreover, we don’t obey wicked commands or endure boundless oppression. Paul told slaves, “If you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor. 7:21). Yet in general, it’s right to follow leaders and obey authorities. Loving leadership is a common path to blessing. Happy the nation with just governors, blessed the home with a Christlike husband, peaceful the worker who trust a fair supervisor.
Third, we must locate Peter’s counsel within the biblical understanding of marriage as covenant. He doesn’t urge wives with pagan husband to escape them but to win them. This, of course is contrary to contemporary Western culture, in which too many people think of divorce if their dreams are not realized.
Sound theology will serve us well here. Marriage is difficult and disappointing because it unites two sinners. As Stanley Haeuerwas notes, we imagine that there is someone “just right” for us to marry. We dream that “if we look closely enough we will find the right person.. but we always marry the wrong person. If we pause, we know that we are the wrong person, too. Furthermore, we never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change.” If nothing else, marriage itself will change us. In short, no two people are compatible. Flaws that once seemed tiny, even endearing, loom large. The crucible of an intimate relationship, where everything matters, reveals the fault lines of character. Haeuerwas concludes, “The primary problem… is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourselves married.”[xi]
What happens when married strangers dash each other’s expectations and make each other unhappy? Many think divorce will restore happiness. But the sociological study “Does Divorce Make People Happy? Finding from a Study of Unhappy Marriages” concludes that “Divorce. appeared to reduce adult happiness and increase adult depression in the majority of cases.”[xii] On the other hand, the study found that “most unhappy spouses who avoided divorce ended up happily married.” Specifically, 64 percent were “happily married five years later.” Surprisingly, the success rate was higher (78 percent) if a marriage had been rated very unhappy. The study found that the essential element was what it called endurance, which Christians might call covenantal commitment:
Many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness… why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? A marital endurance ethic plays a big role. Spouses said that their marriages got happier, not because they resolved problems but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With time.. many sources of conflict and distress eased.”[xiii]
To be clear, the goal is not mere endurance, but the restoration of a real marriage. Peter does not advocate a contractual arrangement in which each party contributes to a functional but impersonal relationship. We want more than happy children, a nice house, and an escort for parties and vacations. We want abiding love.
In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller observes that biblical covenants blend law and love, the legal and personal.”[xiv] Covenants are both personal and legal. They rest on loving affection, but they are also binding an unconditional. By telling wives to strive to win their husbands, Peter reaffirms the covenantal view of marriage. He balances the personal and the legal aspects of marriage. Traditional marriages tend to be legal and contractual. In a traditional marriage, the family arranges a match that seems advantageous for the family as much as for the prospective spouse. Parents seek a spouse from a respectable family to gain connections that promise to strengthen the clan. The ideal for a traditional marriage is that the union of a strong man and woman also unites two strong families, to the benefit of all. By contrast, the romantic marriage seeks the perfect partner, the soul mate who animates our passions and ennobles our spirit. Sadly, there is no perfect romance, and the contractual marriage can be duly materialistic. The romantic model temps husbands and wives to quit via divorce if- or when- the romance cools. If a traditional marriage falters, the bonds of social expectations might keep the coupe together legally, but they can live separate lives, even under the same roof.
But if marriage is a covenant, we don’t aim for the perfect romance or for the contractual arrangement. A covenant is a personal bond of love in a lifelong relationship, sealed with vows, taken with God as witnesses Indeed, to take public views is an act of love in itself. If someone says, “I love you, but I don’t want to marry you,” the person probably means, “You’re not quite what I had in mind, and I don’t love you enough to end my search with you.” Some people claim that wedding vows and covenantal commitments contaminate romance and passion by mixing it with duty. Love flourishes, they state, only when it is free, when it is unconstrained by promises. But without the pledge of fidelity, what happens when feelings change? Or when the ravages of time, illness, and unequal maturation make one partner look weaker?
Someone noticed that when two people are in love, they don’t simply declare their affection. They say, “I will always love you.” They talk about growing old together. True love wants to endure. As Solomon said, “love is as strong as death.. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song 8:6-7). God’s covenantal faithfulness is our measure and norm. Jesus does not love the Church because it is pure and spotless; He purifies the church in order to make it spotless. Similarly husbands should love their wives as Christ love the Church—despite their blemishes, not until they get blemishes (Eph. 5:25-27).
We see, therefore, that Peter applies the great principles of biblical marriage to a pressing question for his churches: How shall a Christian woman live faithfully within the bonds of marriage to an unbelieving husband? He answers that she must live a beautiful life, winning him by faithful deeds rather than faithful words. Peter emphasizes submissiveness for a reason: the very act of choosing to follow Jesus puts the wife’s loyalty to her husband in doubt. The ground of Peter’s counsel is the biblical view of God and covenant. The Lord has pledged Himself to us in a covenant relationship. He is faithful to that covenant, even when we are not. If we trust the Lord, and His life shapes ours, then we, too, must be faithful to our spouses, even unbelievers. That is how we show that the faithful, enduring love of the Lord has redeemed us and transformed us.
[i] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press, 1993), 715-16).
[ii] C.E.B. Cranfield, 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (London: SCM Press, 1960), 89.
[iii] Juvenal, “Satire 6,” in Juvenal and Persius, trans. C.G. Ramsey (Cambridge, MA :Harvard University Press, 1965, 121-125.)
[iv] David Scholer, “Women’s Adornment: Some Historical and Hermeneutical Observations on the New Testament Passages,” Daughters of Sarah 6, 1 (1980): 5.)
[v] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 118).
[vi] Cynthia Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth (Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988): 99-115.)
[vii] Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings,” 101-11.
[viii] Gill, Importance of Roman Portraiture,” 252-54
[ix] Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches, 82.
[x] Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (London: Tyndale, 1959), 124.
[xi] (Stanley Haeuerwas, “Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and ‘Human Sexuality’ Christian Century (April 19, 1978): 417-22; Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the wisdom of God (New York: Dutton, 2011), 37-43.
[xii] Linda J. Waite et al. Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages (New York: Institute for American Values, 2002), 12-14
[xiii] Ibid., 6, 30-31
[xiv] Keller, The Meaning of Love, 80-87.