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. 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; 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. 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. 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.
Likewise, or as we are all to be in subjection to Christ so does Peter ask that the wife be in subjection to her own husband that if any husbands are not saved they may be won by the behavior and speech of their wives, living before them as an example. This will be achieved by the wives’ chaste conversation coupled with fear, not of the husband, but of God, as mentioned in 2:17. The wife is not a slave to the husband, a pack animal, or an object, a resource.
For instance, in early America’s Puritan New England marriage was viewed as a covenant between husband and wife. Other relationships were viewed as covenants also, such as between God and the congregation or a political leader and the people. In these relationships one partner was subordinate to the other and acted upon the lead authority of the other. Within this framework the partners in a covenantal relationship had rights and they also had responsibilities. In human relationships, while the relationship was a hierarchy, the duty of the subordinate party to obey was conditional on the superior partner’s fulfillment of their part of the covenant. Divorce was technically permitted for abuse, neglect, and adultery. (7)
What Peter is calling for here, though, is a sacrificial attitude, one willing to be subjected to negative behavior in order to be a witness to the truth. Presumably, it would be up to the individual’s ability and personality just how much they would or should take, especially if children’s welfare was involved. Remember the conditional aspects of some New Testament admonitions.
Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.…18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Keeping in mind what Christ and Paul permitted;
Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
1Corinthians 7:10 ¶ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
17 ¶ But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
The woman who stays with a hostile husband as an example of faith to save him is commended before God. But, only those ministers of Satan, a preacher of unrighteousness, would demand that to do so a woman must place herself in danger or place her children in danger. If your unbelieving husband has left you for another woman you are not bound to him any longer. You’ve done all you can do. Read again what Paul said above;
15a But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases…
Peter calls these women, so much like the women in modern society, not to regard their worth by how they look, how they ornament themselves, but by their possession of a meek and quiet spirit. This is certainly not a boisterous and loud woman, always about someone else’s business, or trying to control, not only her own family, but others. Notice how Paul defines Christian womanhood, what it is and what it is not, in several places.
1Timothy 5:9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some are already turned aside after Satan. 16 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
Also, note the specific women that the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Bible writers, lifts up in the New Testament. First, there are those who have a specific ministry;
Acts 21:8 ¶ And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
There are those who have the gift of hospitality.
Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us…40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
There are those who are officials of the church from which they are sent, apostles, and fellow-workers.
Romans 16:1 ¶ I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.[See Acts 18 to note that this husband and wife were tentmakers by occupation as was Paul.] 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. [The traditional KJV notes that the letter to the Romans was sent to them at the hands of Phebe. For you Greekophiles, the word translated as servant in reference to Phebe is the same word translated for deacon and minister elsewhere and, indeed, history teaches us that there were female deacons in the early church as well as in the early Baptist churches of the 1600’s in England.]
Finally, note that God uses Sara as an example, as he is talking specifically to Jewish Christians and they are her daughters, so to speak, in her submission to her husband which is voluntary and not from fear of violence as in not afraid with any amazement. They were to do right and not live in terror of their husbands. He added that as an important caveat. The lives of Christian women in the first century were very rich and they were important to God. They fulfilled functions in the church that no American fundamentalist today could tolerate. But, they were not to fight against the order that God put in place for the family, nor were they to depend on outward shows of ornamentation to show their beauty but were to display the true beauty that comes from the heart in obedience to Christ.
Likewise, or in the same manner, husbands were commanded to live with their wives with knowledge. Knowledge is a synonym of understanding and wisdom.
Proverbs 2:6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
Isaiah 11:2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
The husband is to show his wife honor and respect, which are Biblical synonyms,...
Leviticus19:15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
…for two reasons. One, the wife is physically weaker, which is what the weaker vessel refers to…
Romans 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
1Thessalonians 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
2Timothy 2:21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
[It is an absurdity to insist that women are weaker mentally or spiritually as women tend to score higher on IQ tests than men when educational opportunities for them are more level and most of the congregants in churches are women. It is almost laughable to regard someone as weak who can endure multiple childbirths and has the patience to raise children and will pray for children by name for decades daily. Women are simply physically weaker than men on average.]
…and two, because the husband and wife are heirs together of the grace of life.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Regarding each other as inferior, having that competitive aspect that some marriages have, bitterness, envy, domestic abuse, and other negative aspects of marriage are hindrances to prayer.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
(7)Ann Taves, ed., Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989), 11.