The focus of this passage is usually ‘wives be subject to your own husbands’. Ephesians 5:22–33, Colossians 3:18–19 and Genesis 2:18–25 are more detailed passages on marriage. So what is the main message here in this passage.
‘Likewise’ – a follow on from instructions on authority and servants in 2:13-25;
‘with all respect’ – reverence for God is the motivation for submitting to her husband.
Peter is the writer and we know he was married; Mark 1:30 refers to the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Also, in Acts 2, we read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where we see the evangelist filled with the Holy Spirit. This is Peter’s main role in all his teaching – evangelism. This passage focuses a lot on believing wives with non-believing husbands. Evangelism under difficult conditions, I believe, is the focus of this passage.
Historical background of this Greco-Roman era
In Greco-Roman society the wife was expected to worship the gods of her husband, have no friends of her own and run the household. Anything else, such as being a Christian worshipper, would be seen as rebellion. This would damage the husband’s social standing in a society where an upward social climb was expected – CURSUS HONORUM (Course of Offices). Peter does not directly address any of the particular issues, but instructs the wife to submit to her husband. He leaves it to husband and wife to work out the specific issues. This is why I believe this passage is more about evangelism than a marriage manual.
It leaves the door open for social transformation. The husband would see Peter’s message in two ways:
- This Apostle of Jesus Christ instructs the Christian wife, a role normally carried out by the husband.
- This direct instruction to wives implies a measure of moral responsibility and choice unprecedented in Greek thinking.
The husband cannot object, since Peter affirms the man’s authority. On the other hand, he also sees in this affirmation that his wife’s submission is no longer motivated by the expectations of Roman society or the principles of Greek moral philosophy, but instead by the authority and example of the crucified and resurrected Christ.
This is the important message of this passage – Peter both upholds and subverts the social order. The good attitudes of the wife show the unbelieving husband the virtues of Christianity in a period where all sorts of wild accusations were made against believers. This protects Christianity from the accusation that it is a social evil, and fulfils an element of evangelism. Christians were described as turning the world upside down; they changed the world wherever they went.
Silence, but lifestyle, is the more effective means of communication here in evangelism. The lyrics of ‘Seen and not Heard’ by PETRA are “Seen and not heard, Seen and not heard, Sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard”. Likewise we should be ready at all times to give account of the gospel; but sometimes actions speak louder than words.
The wives Peter is speaking to, witness with a character that is focused on inner virtue. He is not forbidding certain things but ensuring the focus is on Godly character. Inner virtue was also encouraged over outward beauty by Greek philosophers, the difference being the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 31:30 – ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised’. 1 Samuel 16:7 – ‘But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”‘
‘Likewise, husbands’, v.7, ‘ Show honour [to your wives]’; weaker – how? The world finds this teaching offensive, but our lifestyle must show them Jesus. Chauvinism and feminism have no place in our lifestyle. The warning comes – so that your prayers may not be hindered!
There are lessons here for all not just the married.