The Weaker Vessel?- 1 Peter 3:7

In His first epistle, Peter refers to women, in the verse at hand, as the “weaker vessel”. This verse has sometimes been interpreted as referring to the female partner in a marriage as inferior to the male, as inferior physically, and in many other ways as well. We will examine this phrase in context in order to understand exactly what Peter means in using this phrase, and in what sense the female is indeed the “weaker vessel”. We must begin by examining the context in which this phrase is used. It is used by Peter in a section of his letter which refers to various authority structures and the necessity of submitting to those authority structures. This section begins in 1 Peter 2:13-18, in which Peter tells believers of the necessity of submitting to the governing authorities, that an authority structure is necessary for the orderly functioning of any society. The authority structure is established by God and the believer is to submit himself to this authority. He then moves on to mention the necessity of authority structures in the workplace, that slaves should submit themselves to the authority of their masters (employees to employers in our modern context), for an authority structure is also necessary for the proper functioning of any organization. He then refers to Jesus, in verses 21-25, mentioning how Jesus also submitted Himself to the authorities for our sakes, and how Jesus also submitted Himself to the Father in going to the cross for all of us. We see also the presence of an authority structure within the trinity Itself, with the Son submitting to the authority of the Father. Peter then, in Chapter 3:1-7, applies this principle of the necessity of the establishment of an authority structure in the marriage, for he begins this passage by telling wives “in the same way” to be submissive to their husbands, in verse one. The phrase “in the same way” links this back to what precedes it, to the authority structures referred to previously. The wife is to submit to the husband in the context of the necessity of an authority structure within the marriage, with the husband as the God ordained final authority within the marriage. He tells us here that the witness of the Gospel is more important than ego gratification, and that self fulfillment comes not from any “power” we have in an organization, but in submitting to God’s order in all things, just as Jesus did. Wives here are to submit first of all to God, then to their husbands as God’s established authority in the marriage. He then tells the wives, in verse 3, that true beauty is inner beauty, that true beauty is the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”. The Greek word gentle here is prautes, which refers to authority and ability under control. The woman is no less able than the man, but she submits her ability to his authority, just as citizens to the government, employees to employers, and Jesus to the Father. The Greek word quiet here is hyschos, tranquil or peaceful. It is used here to refer to the internal state of the woman, of a spirit at peace with submission, as one who understands the necessity of an authority structure within the marriage, and who also understands that she is not “less than” the man in any way but in position within the authority structure. It is a spirit which understands that the idea of submission here is rooted in the trinity itself, that the Son submits to the Father, but this submission in no way makes Him “less than” the Father. One who sees things in this way is described here as being “very precious” to God. Peter then brings up the example of Abraham and Sarah, how Sarah submitted to Abraham. Abraham was her “master” only in terms of the authority structure, he makes the final decision on the issues they deal with, but she is not his “slave” or property, which is how women were commonly seen in that culture. The wives are then told not to “give in to fear”. What Peter means by this is that fear often keeps the woman from trusting the husband to make the right decision, afraid he will make the wrong decision, and sometimes he will. The wife is to trust God anyway, for God has established this authority structure, and is more than able to handle the husband’s inevitable blunders and make them turn out right. He then concludes by instructing husbands to “be considerate of” their wives. The Greek word “be considerate of” is “kata gnosis” literally “according to knowledge”. Husbands then are told here not to dominate their wives, not to run roughshod over them, but to make them a part of the decision making process, to get their input and consider their wisdom, knowledge and insight, to make them a part of the decision making process. This is reinforced by Peter’s command to treat them with “respect”, Greek time, literally “worth or value”, to esteem them properly, to understand their true worth and value, to value then as a partner who is not “less than” them in any way but authority within the marriage. We then come to Peter’s use of the phrase “weaker vessel”, and it has been shown here that the context of this phrase is within the authority structure of the marriage. The wife and husband are co-heirs with Christ, they are considered to be “one” by God. This means that they share in each others failures and successes, the failure of one is the failure of both. Seeing things in this way helps ensure each will do all possible to help the other succeed. So we conclude then that the wife is described as the weaker vessel here only on terms of her position within the God ordained authority structure in the marriage. It does not mean that the husband is in every way “superior” to the wife. They are equal in every way but one, which Peter tells us here is rooted in the trinity itself, and that submission to does not equal less than.

No Comments Biblical Psychology  //  Epistles  //  Living with a Purpose

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