What Does the Bible Really Say? — Husbands Won Without A Word

By Danni Moss
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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.

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What Does the Bible Really Say? — Wives Submit Like Slaves?

By Danni Moss
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One passage in the Word that seems a conundrum for wives in an abusive marriage is I Peter 3:1-6.

1 Peter 3:1 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.

There are three issues in this passage in I Peter which appear to consign wives to remaining in an abusive marriage. First is the fact that this passage starts with the word “likewise.” When we look back in the context, it appears this “likewise” is stating that women are to submit like the Word tells servants to submit, even to wicked or harsh masters. Second is the specific statement that wives should be in subjection even to husbands who are being disobedient. Third is the comparison with Sara, whom the Word says obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. In this article, I am only addressing the first of these three. I will address the other two in a separate article.

First, let’s take a look at the word “likewise.” If we look at the Word honestly, we have to see that the entire context begins in I Peter 2:13 and continues through I Peter 3:7. This entire section deals with submission and authority. It is wrong to conclude that the “likewise” of I Peter 3:1 is directly referring to I Peter 2:18, where servants are admonished to submit to harsh masters. The entire context is much more broad than this sole application.

I Peter 2:13 starts by saying that we – believers – are to submit to every ordinance of man. Throughout the remainder of this section which continues through I Peter 3:7, Peter goes on to enumerate all the different ways believers are to submit.

1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Peter puts a qualifier on this entire passage right at the beginning of this passage. He says submit to every ordinance of man. So this entire context must also be evaluated in light of how the existing ordinances of man would have influenced each of the specific examples evaluated by Peter.

For instance, in the part about slaves, if we were to take the Word at bare face value, we could assume we have the right as Christians to own slaves. Now, obviously, saying this seems utterly ludicrous – because in our culture we consider the ownership of slaves to be morally repugnant. In our society, owning slaves is a violation of this passage, even though ownership of slaves appears to be an assumed right in these verses. The reason we know owning slaves is a violation of God’s Word, based solely on this passage, is because it would be a violation of the ordinances of man in our society. Slave ownership is illegal.

So, no matter what these verses seem to say to slaves, no slave in the United States should submit to a harsh master – because no one should be a slave in this country. If someone was enslaved in this country (and it does happen) that person should not submit to his master, but should escape at the first opportunity because slavery is illegal – it is against the ordinances of man – in this country. For such a person to obey what appears to be the clear meaning of the Word (submit to a harsh master), would in fact be a violation of the entire point of the passage, which is that we are to submit to every ordinance of man.

Another reason we know that the point of this passage is not that slaves should always submit to harsh masters is because of what the Word says in I Cor. 7:21 —

Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

The Word must be understood in light of the whole. This verse in I Cor. 7 indicates that if a slave has the legal opportunity to become free, he should take it. So God cannot possibly mean that slaves must always remain in submission to abusive masters in I Peter 2. The verses in I Peter 2 have to be understood in light of the qualification Peter put on the passage — submit to every ordinance of man.

Now, on to the section about wives. To assume that the word “likewise” at the beginning of I Peter 3:1 is referring back to slaves submitting to harsh masters is inaccurate. In actual fact, “likewise” makes it clear that the teaching about wives is another example of submitting to every ordinance of man – the point of the whole context. That is the grammatically correct evaluation of the passage.

This can also be supported by the fact that the word “likewise” also starts the verse about husbands.

1 Peter 3:7 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.

If “likewise” for wives is pointing to the teaching about slaves, then we would have to assume the same about husbands. But it makes no sense whatsoever to apply this to the verse about husbands – where there is no stated or implied command to submit to a harsh or disobedient wife. Yet, it does make sense to understand the word “likewise” ties the admonition to husbands back to the premise of the whole passage – submitting to every ordinance of man.

Again, as we did with the part about slaves, we must look at this passage to wives in light of the point of the context – submitting to every ordinance of man. At the time this was written, wives had less rights than slaves. Slaves at least had the option of buying their freedom or being set free by their owners. Wives had no such alternative. During this time, a wife had no legal (ordinances of man) recourse if she were faced with a disobedient husband. Wives might run away, but they would be returned to their husband if found because a wife was legally owned by her husband. So, this teaching is describing what a wife must do to submit to the ordinances of man regarding marriage, as those ordinances existed at the time this was written.

However, the ordinances of man are not the same in the United States today. And here is an example of why this distinction is critical. Women are taught by the church to submit to their husbands regardless of their husbands’ behavior. They are taught that this is literally submitting to God and to do otherwise is disobedience to God.

However, the result is that women in abusive homes are being required to disobey the ordinances of man to “obey” the assumed meaning of I Peter 3:1-6. A wife is legally responsible for the protection and wellbeing of her children. That includes not just protecting them from physical battery, but also protecting their emotional and social welfare. A wife can be legally prosecuted for allowing her children to continue in an abusive environment.

It is also against the ordinances of man in the United States for a husband to batter his wife – which includes more than just using his fists on her. It is against the ordinances of man for a husband to rape his wife – and this happens often in abusive marriages. A woman who enables her husband to violate the ordinances of man, even in his treatment of her, is herself violating the ordinances of man and God’s direct Word because God says to submit to the ordinances of man and He also is against those who afflict others.

The ordinances of man in the United States give wives recourse not to remain in danger under a husband who is disobeying the ordinances of man. Since the point of this passage is about submitting to the ordinances of man, it is more accurate to understand that the behavior of wives when dealing with an abusive spouse would be different than it was when this was written. To submit to the ordinances of man, a woman in the United States today may be required by God to remove herself and her children from the hands of an abuser. This is the more accurate understanding of the meaning of the entire context of this passage.

Paige Patterson On Domestic Violence

The Southern Baptist Outpost has an article with an excerpt from audio recordings and transcripts from a conference in 2000, in which Paige Patterson explains the counsel he gave one battered woman. Here’s the quote the Outpost posted:

I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”

And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came. And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.” And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?” And he’s a great husband today. And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can.

And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.

Now, the gross – and offensive – errors in this quote seem obvious to me. But just in case anybody doesn’t see them let me point out some things.

First, there’s an appalling brassy arrogance just in the repetition of this story and the verbage of its telling. It is all about Patterson patting Patterson on the back. Look what he did! Isn’t he so wise and a literal miracle-worker! Applause, applause. This tone is one of the things that in many people, particularly victims of clergy abuse or of clergy who have failed to stand up for them in domestic abuse, generates a nearly visceral reaction of disgust and repugnance. It can become virtually impossible to sit through church services because of this one “little” thing.

Second, this was spoken by a man who is adamantly insisting he has done nothing wrong in his part of the handling of the breaking SBC scandal of clergy sex abuse. This text is being used in examining an entirely separate issue — what he has or has not done to “bring Southwestern Seminary in line with the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention, as they relate to women’s roles.” This excerpt clearly shows Patterson’s attitude toward women and his view of their position in subjugation to men. A man who has this general attitude toward women is not going to view clergy sex abuse as a terribly relevant problem. At best it would deserve a slap on the wrist; tsk, tsk. Women (and children, since they are even “less” than women in a hierarchical system) are not as valuable as men, especially clergy who trump the average male on a power/importance scale. God’s work and God’s workmen are more important than “that little thing that happened to you back then.”

In this excerpt Patterson says, “…you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him…” He believes submission of the wife is paramount. According to Patterson, woman’s submission is the most important factor in marital success. If only she will submit enough, God will be able to change her husband. That is what he said.

Patterson is also expressing that the abusive husband is still deserving of elevation! The abuser is to be elevated regardless of whether he beats the life out of his wife. Shoot, compared to that, what’s a little clergy sex abuse? Elevate that man!

He sent a domestic violence victim back to her abuser, knowingly putting her in harm’s way. He felt it didn’t matter that she would be abused even worse than before; he expected that to happen. It was completely fine.

But it was all worth it because, since that women subjected herself to an abuser, prayed for him on her knees by the bed, and took another beating, God brought her husband to his knees in a dramatic, miraculous, life-changing conversion! Amen! Or not. Let me break it down.

While I don’t want to accuse Patterson of lying, this story has all the earmarks of one of those pastoral embellishments used to illustrate or emotionally manipulate the audience into “feeling” his point. Everyone wants miracles like that story. Since pastors believe God can and will do things like that, they can get a little generous with their “true” stories.

The fact is, this type of miraculous transformation does not happen. There’s a reason. The problem with an abuser is not just a matter of getting “saved.” There are deep-rooted issues behind and underneath the behavior. While accepting Christ might motivate a man to find out why he is making the choices he is and might open his eyes to see the value of his wife, it’s going to take a lot more than a single spiritual experience to transform an abuser. Not maybe; definitely.

Another problem is that this story demonstrates a commonly taught mistaken belief that God will force an abuser to change his behavior because you prayed about it (see my article God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages for more on this subject). If Patterson told this woman to do this, he was operating on erroneous theology and should be held accountable for the physical abuse she received. This is just as wrong as letting clergy sex abusers slide, and comes from the same root attitudes and beliefs. This is one example of why I feel the issues of clergy sex abuse and clergy overlooking domestic violence are fruit of the same tree. And in using this supposed event as a sermon illustration he is perpetuating a dangerous bit of wrong theology on his audience and on anyone they, in turn, encourage to do the same thing. It is not an overstatement to say someone could get killed trying to be obedient to “God” per Patterson, et.al.

In telling this story, Patterson is also perpetuating his horrific acceptance of domestic violence and subjugation of women to his audience, and through them, to how many others? This man is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is in a position of authority. People look up to him and follow his example. This is one seriously bad example to follow.

Now, I’m going to give Patterson one out. The ideas and theology he verbalized in this excerpt are not an expression of his own that he came up with single-handedly. I have heard this type of teaching from many preachers for many years, in a variety of churches and denominations. He is just one voice of many harmfully negligent voices speaking about the subject of abuse in the pulpit and in pastoral counseling. That doesn’t mean we can judge every preacher as being the same. And certainly, a large subset of preachers are not to be confused with God Himself. Again I will reiterate – God is not the problem. What these preachers are teaching is not even remotely what God and the Word teach. It has to be exposed and highlighted if it is ever going to stop.