By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
Originally published July 28, 2009
This is the second part of two articles (in a longer series of articles), dealing directly with what I Peter 3:1-6 is intending for the behavior of wives. The first article addressed only the mistaken understanding that the word “likewise” implies that wives are to submit to disobedient and abusive husbands as slaves are to submit to harsh masters.
So, if this admonition to wives is not referring back to slaves being told to suffer for righteousness sake, how do we understand what it means when it says disobedient husbands may be won without a word, as they observe our meek and quiet spirit? What does it mean when it says we should obey like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord? Remember, we have to take away from our understanding of this context any presupposition that it is implying wives are to submit to harsh masters.
There are some very interesting things to note in this passage. I Peter 3:1 says, “…if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (life) of the wives…” I have always heard this taught to mean if a husband disobeys the Word of God he may be won without the words of his wife but instead by her manner of living.
This understanding is grammatically inaccurate. It is not clearly indicated whether the “word” here is the Word of God or the word of the wife – but one thing we can know for sure, both times “word” is used in the same sentence, without any distinction made, they must both mean the same thing.
So either this verse means that the husbands are disobeying the Word of God and may be won without the Word of God by observing the lives of their wives OR the verse means that the husbands are disobedient to the word of their wives and may be won without the word of their wives by watching the lives of their wives. You can’t slice and dice, and mix and match when the verse doesn’t give clear reason to do so.
It could make sense that this is talking about husbands “disobeying” the word of their wife, if by disobeying it means “acting contrary to.” In other words, if the wife has asked for the husband to do something (obviously this would be something in agreement with the Word) and he refuses, she shouldn’t continue to nag.
However, it seems to make more sense if it is talking about the husbands being disobedient to the Word of God. But if this is the correct way to understand the first half of the statement, we must interpret the second half in agreement with the first half. That means the second half of the statement is not saying wives are to be silent. It is saying that the example of the wife should be such that she is a living, breathing expression of the Word, and as such, the disobedient husband can be won back into agreement with the Word of God by watching the behavior of his wife.
This does not disagree with the rest of the passage, either. When the Word talks about a meek and quiet spirit, it does not mean the wife must be silent and never say anything about either the issue at hand or any other subject. If we take out of consideration the idea that this verse said “without a word” to the wife, then we have to take it out of consideration altogether! So this passage never says the wife is not to say anything about her husband’s choices.
From Strong’s Concordance:
Meek – humble
Quiet – undisturbed, peaceable
So a meek and quiet spirit is one which does not rise up in pride or self-seeking, even if offended. Nor is it one that doesn’t speak. It is humble and peaceful. That is all we can read into the statement about a meek and quiet spirit. To imply it means anything more than that is to add to what the Word says.
The fact that this does not mean a wife should not speak out to her husband is, in fact, underscored by the use the Sarah as an example. In Genesis we are given several examples of times when Sarah spoke out to Abraham, and he listened to her. Obviously, this was an understood part of their relationship. But, since she is used as an example here, it is evident that she did so with respect.
We also must look at the word “obey” in this passage. The English language uses the word “obey” twice – first talking about the husbands who disobey, then talking about Sarah’s obedience. However, these are not the same word.
In referencing the behavior of husbands, the Greek uses the word apeitheo which means “to disbelieve (wilfully and perversely):–not believe, disobedient, obey not, unbelieving.” So the husbands in questions are willfully disobedient to the Word and to God.
In referencing Sarah’s behavior, which is being held up as an example for all godly wives, the Greek uses the word hupakouo which is a combination of two words meaning literally “to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively.” By deliberately using a different word for obedience in such close proximity to the other Greek word, it would seem that strict, absolute, unquestioning obedience is not the intended meaning of this word. Instead, it implies a behavior which would be consistent with that meek and quiet spirit – a heart that is attentive to the needs and desires of the husband. God does not command wives to obey their husbands to the exclusion of obeying Him. We have one God – and it is not our husband. Where his desires demand direct disobedience of God, we have to obey the higher authority.
We also can remember the larger context referenced in the previous article about this passage – submitting to the ordinances of man. During the time of Sarah’s marriage to Abraham women did not have the legal right to do anything other than submit like slaves. But the picture we have of Abraham and Sarah’s relationship indicates he did not treat her like a slave. Twice he asked her to put herself in danger to protect his own skin. And she did it.
These incidents are not directly referenced in this passage so we cannot assume they are intended to be examples of good choices. But at the same time, in the culture of the day, Sarah had little choice to anything otherwise. And in her desire to protect her husband’s life, she may well have been willing to sacrifice herself.
That would not have made adultery an acceptable option, however. Ungodliness is still ungodliness, as we do not get a pass on our sin choices. Given the fact that the ordinances of man give us more choices in our culture, we cannot just expect God to miraculously step in and rescue us from our choices, like He did for Sarah. We do need to follow her example of not being afraid, but we must do so within the context of also obeying the ordinances of man and the law of God.
It is also important to note before leaving this passage, that it does not say that a disobedient husband will be won. It says the disobedient husband may be won. So to teach that all a wife has to do is blindly submit and her husband will eventually turn to God, is a huge untruth. God addresses a process for dealing with a persistently unrepentant sinner in the church and for marriage to an unbeliever (disobedient is defined as unbelieving), so there is recourse beyond this passage if a husband should persist in gross disobedience to the Word.
When the church teaches women to obey their disobedient husbands absolutely, in silence, and without question, they are teaching in violation of the direct context of this passage (submitting to the ordinances of man) and are putting women in a hopeless dichotomy. How do we absolutely obey a man who demands that we violate the Word? This cannot be. That is a demand of idolatry and one we cannot obey.
On the other hand, it is possible to “hear under, listen attentively” with a meek and quiet spirit to the heart of a disobedient husband. We can do good to those who despitefully use us. We can remain in peace even though he agitates for discord and strife. We can walk in the power of the Spirit (which includes the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering, meekness, self-control, etc.) regardless of the behavior of the disobedient husband. In so doing, our lives will be that living, breathing expression of the Word of God, by which the disobedient husband may be won. This does not demand that we obey him by committing unrighteousness, since to do so would be direct violation of the immediate context (submitting to the ordinances of man) and the law of God which forbids idolatry.