Sarah’s Obedience and the submission of women
How does 1 Peter 3:5, 6 with the Bible’s use of the word “obey” affect wives and in particular women in ministry?
Some say that wives are to “obey” their husbands in everything and that this makes the husband the “lord” or “master” of the wife. Many hierarchists will reason that it follows then that if a wife is to obey everything her “master” tells her, if she were to be in a leadership position, then the husband would be in the position to control her decisions and her position as he is the wife’s “lord”. But is unquestioning obedience and a role of the husband’s “lordship” what Peter is speaking of in 1 Peter 3:5, 6?
To determine the meaning of these two verses, we must first look at the complete context of the book of 1 Peter. The book starts with a statement by Peter that Christians are chosen to obey Jesus Christ. Obedience is a big part of Peter’s instruction, and it is always ultimately an obedience to Christ.
1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens,…who are chosen…to obey Jesus Christ…
Another important theme from 1 Peter is service toward others. In 1 Peter 1:10-12 Peter reveals that the Prophets were not serving themselves, but they were serving us.
1 Peter 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you…
In this service, Peter tells us that we are called to holiness in our behavior.
1 Peter 1:15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;
1 Peter 1:16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
We need to note here that all of us are called to obedience to Christ. All of us are called to serve others, and all of us are called to holy living. We are also called to a sincere love for the body of Christ.
1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
Peter then goes on in chapter 2 to describe the Christian’s behavior before the unsaved. In 1 Peter 2:12 he writes:
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
While Christians are to live an exemplary life among those who are not saved, we are also called to submit to human institutions set up to govern the people. The reason we are to submit to the governing authorities is because it is the will of God that we do what is right. Submission to the government will also silence those who look for something to accuse us of wrongdoing. It is a witness to the unsaved.
1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
1 Peter 2:14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
1 Peter 2:15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
However even though we are called to submit to human governments, we are free to act as though we are indeed free men. In 1 Peter 2:16, the Greek word for the word “free” means “political and social freedom allowing for self-determination.” That self-determination is not meant to be used for doing what is wrong, but the freedom is to be used to align ourselves with Christ.
1 Peter 2:16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
A bondslave means one who serves in obedience to another’s will.
Next Peter admonishes Christians to honor, love, fear.
1 Peter 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
While we honor all people and honor the governing authorities, the only one that we are to fear is God. In chapter 2, Peter admonishes servants. The term “servant” here means one who is within the household, one who belongs to the family. These servants were to honor God by being submissive to their masters with a respectful attitude. While service normally was to be a “duty” that was owed by a servant, Paul makes it a service that is given freely to the master and done in honor serving God. The service is given not only to the good masters but also to those who are unreasonable whose personal behavior is unscrupulous, unfair or dishonest.
Then in 1 Peter 3:1 Paul says “in the same way” wives are to be submissive to their own husbands.
1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
1 Peter 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
The term “in the same way” means likewise, of equal degree or manner and denoting perfect agreement, similarly, in like manner. In context, the “likewise” means to show honor, love, respect in the fear of God. The reason is given is that if any husband is not a believer, that husband may be won to a faith in Christ through the respectful behavior of his wife. “In the same way” would also connect what Peter has already said about submission showing that the wife is free, allowing for self-determination, yet that self-determination is not meant to be used for dishonor and disrespect towards her husband. Instead, she is to freely honor her husband and is so doing she honors her Lord and Savior. In this way she is putting on the Christian character that is precious to God.
1 Peter 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
1 Peter 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
This is where we can take all that we have seen in 1 Peter and apply it. Let’s take the first part of 1 Peter 3:5 –
1 Peter 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves…
“For in this way” means the way of respect, honor, love and fear of God. These were women who hoped in God. The term “hope” means an attitude of looking forward to, usually, a trusting, confident hope. It was a trust in God that He would take care of them.
1 Peter 3:5 …being submissive to their own husbands;
These women voluntarily submitted to serve their own husbands. Verse 6 shows several ways that Sarah served her husband and honored him.
1 Peter 3:6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham…
The term “obey” has a basic meaning of “listen to” (Vol. 4: Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament library). Sarah honored Abraham by listening to him. In much the same way, Abraham was instructed by God to listen to Sarah when she instructed Abraham to drive out Hagar from their midst.
Genesis 21:9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.
Genesis 21:10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.”
Genesis 21:11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.
Genesis 21:12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named.
Not only did Sarah respect Abraham by listening to him but she also called him “lord”.
1 Peter 3:6…calling him lord…
The term “lord” was a cultural term that was “a form of address showing respect sir, lord” Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Not all godly women called their husbands “lord” but Sarah did. This is one form of respect. It was her way of showing respect. There are other ways. Today, it is not culturally correct in our society for a woman to call her husband “lord”. However, it would be very respectful for her to call him dear or sweetheart. Sarah calling Abraham “lord” was a term of respect but calling him “lord” was not the description of his “role”. If the husband was to be the “lord” over his wife, where is such a “role” stated? There is no second witness that a term of respect was to be interpreted that God Himself gave the husband the ability to “lord over” over his wife. In fact, the disciples were told that there was to be no “lording over” the others in the body of Christ. (Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:3)
1 Peter 3:6…and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
In this verse, Peter encourages wives to be respectful like Sarah. Sarah is not the standard of reverence and respect. She is an example of respect while Jesus is the one who is the standard.
It is also interesting that Peter shows that the wife’s actions are not to be coerced since the term “without being frightened by any fear” according to the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, it is preferable to be taken in the active sense (as not fearing human intimidation). The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament also says this –
1 Pet 3:6, in the exhortation to Christian women married to non-Christian men: “fear no intimidation [from the men]”
Peter is emphasizing that Christian women are to fear God and not to fear intimidation from their husbands. The submission then is not something that is forced on them or demanded by the husband. Instead, it is loving acts of kindness in service to their husband that flows from their service to God.
Peter doesn’t stop with the wives. He goes on to make it clear that husbands also must give honor to their wives.
1 Peter 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
It is such an important issue to Peter that men show honor to their wives, that he tells them that their prayers will be hindered if they do not honor their wives as fellow heirs of God in the grace of life.
Peter sums up everything that he has written so far.
1 Peter 3:8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;
1 Peter 3:9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
Honor, then is to be given one to another in humility, in brotherly love and in blessing each other in the fear of God. This is required from all Christians.
What 1 Peter 3:5, 6 does not say:
1. Peter doesn’t say that the husband is the wife’s master. As Christians, we have only one Lord and Master, and that is Jesus.
1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
2. Peter does not say that the husband has authority over the wife. Instead of being slaves of other humans, Peter shows that all Christians are free in the spirit and have the ability to have self-determination, yet that self-determination is not to be used for evil.
3. The wife is never said to be the bond-servant of the husband. A bondslave (or bondservant means one who serves in obedience to another’s will.) A wife is never said to be one who serves in obedience to her husband’s will. Rather than being subject to her husband’s will, the wife has self-determination by owning her own will and she is not to be intimidated by her husband. Instead, she is to freely serve him by doing good for him as an active service to her Lord. The difference is free-will service, not bondage.
In conclusion, we should not see in 1 Peter 3:5, 6 as a husband taking over the will of his wife so that her use of her gifts of leadership in the church, would actually be her husband controlling her decisions. There is simply no way that we can take this passage as the husband controlling his wife’s decisions. She is the one who as a fellow heir of God also has self-determination, and as one who is equally made in the image of God, she is able to exercise her God-given gifts by her own will submitted to Christ. This passage does not prove that women cannot serve in leadership any more than it proves that men cannot serve in leadership because they are told to honor their wives.