The weaker vessel?

1 Peter 3:7 – Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Our study this week includes 1 Peter 3.  There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of these verses and verse 7 in particular.  How are we to understand the designation of wives as the weaker partner or vessel?

In Greek, the word weaker is asthenēs (Strongs g772).  This is the same word that is used in other parts of the bible as a word for sick or weak.  Matt 25:43 When did we see you weak or in prison? Luke 10:9 Heal the sick.  Matt 26:41 The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

In the context of 1 Peter 3, clearly Peter is not trying to communicate that wives are a sickly lot.  Nor can it be that he is considering women to be weak mentally or spiritually because in verse 1 of this same chapter he acknowledges that wives are often quicker to understand and take hold of the revelation of the word than their husbands.  How else could a wife win over a husband to the word if she were not the one who understood it first?

As a result, some scholars fall to a literal translation and profess that Peter means women are physically weaker than their husbands.  Again, I can understand that many women have less upper body strength than men, but is Peter really calling on husbands to open jars and lift heavy boxes for their wives?  That simply doesn’t fit the context of the verses.  And I don’t think upper body strength can be equated to overall physical strength.  Seriously, if men had to give birth, humans would have died off as a species thousands of years ago.

So what then is Peter saying?  In the context of Peter’s writings as well as the letters of James and other apostles we see a reiterated message of encouragement to Christians to take on Christ’s example of getting under people and lifting them up.  We do not lay a foundation by pouring concrete on someone’s head, we do it by putting ourselves under them.  Christ was made lower than the angels.  Christ didn’t pull us up into heaven, he suffered death and descended into the grave to lift us up from underneath.  This was very contrary to the examples of religious leaders of their day who did not want to be soiled by sinners.

In 1 Peter 3: 1-6 Peter is speaking specifically to christian wives to model this behavior in their families – to speak louder with their actions than their words and to communicate with their inner spirit even more than their outward self.  Wives and mothers often make monumental sacrifices of careers, self interest, recognition and honors for their husbands and families.   This is not an easy sacrifice and one that, frankly, most men would not have the fortitude to make – men have a tendency to derive so much of their self-image from work and being able to provide, that it would be crushing to set it aside.

So, lookikng again to the Greek we see the etomology of the word asthenes is alpha (as in before or without) and sthenes meaning strength.  I do not believe Peter is talking about wives being weak by nature of their gender.  In the context of chapter 3, if they follow verses 1-6, they are willingly entering into a position which is without strength. It is a situational position of entering a state that willingly gives up a position of strength (which, arguably takes more natural strength to do).

The fact that verse 7 specifically calls out to men to be considerate and respectful of this position their wives are taking speaks less to any weakness of the wives and more to the denseness of the husbands.  We see this in verses 5 and 6 as well when Peter calls on wives to put their hope in God and to not give way to fear.  When wives willingly place themselves in a position of sacrifice and submission for their families, they naturally are exposed and vulnerable.  Ideally, they would be able to trust that their husbands would be considerate of this and respectful, but men tend to be far denser than that.  Wives know it, Peter knew it, God knows it.  Wives may not be able to always trust that their husbands will recognize and honor their sacrifice in these things, but they can trust that God does and will.

When families work together in this relationship with God, vs 7 also tells us that there are rewards for everyone.  He does not call on wives to abandon their thinking and blindly follow their husbands. Entering a position of submission is not to become a slave or to turn off the talents given by God. It is a position that more closely models the example of Christ and utilizes that intellect and those talents from the inside out. Wives are called to lead their families to God (vs 1) but in different ways than the world thinks of leadership.

With that, God calls on husbands and wives to be heirs together – joint land owners in the kingdom of heaven, receivers jointly of gracious gifts and by praying together that nothing will hinder their prayers.

While this may not be the message that many hear in relation to these verses, I believe it better reflects the context of Peter’s letter.

Comments are welcome.

P.S. Thank you to my Godly wife for helping lead and grow me and our family to be closer to God. I appreciate it and honor the sacrifices she makes more than I can show.

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