Summary: What is the proper framework for a marriage?
I said before that the subject of authority itself is a minefield because of the emotional reaction we have towards the subject. Even the most conservative of us recoil at the idea of ourselves being under authority. We may acknowledge that we are under authority in certain cases, such as in a job or at school, but even then we would assert that we agree to the arrangement voluntarily or temporarily, and always to meet our own goals – to support ourselves, get the education we need, and so on. We especially recoil at the idea of someone being over us merely because of his or her position. That’s why the immediate question or objection that comes to our minds is, “What if the authority person is bad or incompetent?”
This innate resistance to being under authority contributes to the difficulty of today’s subject – wives submitting to the authority of husbands. But the subject is made more difficult by several other factors.
The first, and the one that is particularly galling, is that this authority is based merely on gender. With the previous two cases – governor and master – you could at least take some kind of solace that you may someday get into such positions. It was possible. At least the other person’s authority did not reflect differences in your very nature. This one does. Because he is a he, and for no other reason, he is in authority.
The second factor is related. This passage may never have made the top ten of Favorite Bible Passages of Women, but up until the past century the concept of the husband being the head of the home was the predominant custom of most cultures. The only thing that may have raised the eyebrows of the women whom Peter was addressing was how to respond to unbelieving husbands who probably were mistreating them. Today, the predominant view is that no one should be under any authority in a marriage, period. To even suggest such an idea is to invite an avalanche of disapproval and mockery. The Southern Baptists received widespread condemnation for recommending wives to “graciously submit” to their husbands.
Peter compounds the problem. He seems to believe that wives should have the same relationship with their husbands as slaves to masters. See verse one, Wives, in the same way be submissive, and verse 6, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. He doesn’t want them looking pretty (3-4); they should keep quiet (1-2); and, then, even his admonition to husbands to be considerate seems to be a patronizing way to say women are a weaker sex.
Furthermore, there is the difficulty of making application in a far different culture from the one to which Peter was writing. This passage was written to women of a culture in which marriage was the means of support. There were no schools of higher learning and few options for earning a living. Women were not doctors or lawyers. In public the appropriate behavior for women was to be silent. They were not encouraged to give their opinions. Would Peter have written the same words in a different environment? What would Peter have said in a sermon on marriage then, and what now?
Which leads to one final note: Peter is not giving a formula for How to Have a Happy Marriage. He has been dealing with the broad issue of authority and how Christians in their different situations are to respond to it. In this case, it is authority in marriage. What are the appropriate marriage roles? Or another way to phrase the question: What is the proper framework for a marriage?
With all of these red flags and caution signs standing up, let’s proceed.
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands. The phrase in the same way is a single connective word meaning “likewise,” as the KJ translates it or “also.” Peter is not saying, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands the same way as slaves are to their masters.” Rather, he is saying, “Now, regarding marriage, wives also should be submissive to husbands as the authority.” The word for “submissive” is the same used in 2:13 and 18.
He then tosses in an additional element to the marriage, that of having unbelieving husbands: so that, if any of them do not believe the word. We have a scenario of women coming to faith, thus leaving them in an unequally yoked marriage. How, then, are these Christian women to act towards their nonChristian husbands? Are their relationships with their husbands the same now that they have become holy? This was the same question raised for the relationships between Christian citizens and nonChristian government officials, and the same between Christian slaves and nonChristian masters.
Submissiveness and Its Reasons