Strangers And Aliens (13b): Living Among The Pagans (1 Peter 3:1–6)

1Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (ESV). 1Ὁμοίως [αἱ] γυναῖκες, ὑποτασσόμεναι τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα καὶ εἴ τινες ἀπειθοῦσιν τῷ λόγῳ, διὰ τῆς τῶν γυναικῶν ἀναστροφῆς ἄνευ λόγου κερδηθήσονται, 2ἐποπτεύσαντες τὴν ἐν φόβῳ ἁγνὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶν.3ὧν ἔστω οὐχ ὁ ἔξωθεν ἐμπλοκῆς τριχῶν καὶ περιθέσεως χρυσίων ἢ ἐνδύσεως ἱματίων κόσμος 4ἀλλ᾿ ὁ κρυπτὸς τῆς καρδίας ἄνθρωπος ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ τοῦ πραέως καὶ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ πολυτελές. 5οὕτως γάρ ποτε καὶ αἱ ἅγιαι γυναῖκες αἱ ἐλπίζουσαι εἰς θεὸν ἐκόσμουν ἑαυτὰς ὑποτασσόμεναι τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, 6ὡς Σάρρα ὑπήκουσεν τῷ Ἀβραάμ κύριον αὐτὸν καλοῦσα, ἧς ἐγενήθητε τέκνα ἀγαθοποιοῦσαι καὶ μὴ φοβούμεναι μηδεμίαν πτόησιν.

vv.3–6: Adornment True And False
Just as soon as Peter completes one thought, which is bound to be quite controversial in our late-modern culture of identity politics, he plunges us into another potential controversy: how we present ourselves to the world. In our culture, few things are as valued as they power and freedom to change the way we present ourselves to the world. Both businesses and individuals are said to have a “brand.” We carefully craft social-media images to create an impression about who we are. For some years now there has been a trend toward tattoos and body piercing and any criticism of these practices is strongly resisted.

Nevertheless, Peter does touch on this area. In the Greco-Roman world, as we noted in the previous installment, marriages were contracted between older men and younger women. In our culture women are postponing marriage until their late 20s and or early 30s. In the ancient world, however, they were likely to be married, in our terms, just out of middle school. They faced a temptation to adorn themselves ostentatiously in order to get a husband and economic security.1 Respected Stoic authors such as Seneca and Epictetus warned against this practice as did the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 2:9).2

Of course, as Peter Davids notes, not everyone would have been able to so adorn themselves. What we think of (post-Marx) as “class divisions” were not to be evident among the Christians in public worship. God is not a respecter of persons nor should we be. By contrast Christian women are not to employ specially braided hair (ἐμπλοκῆς τριχῶν) or the wearing of gold (περιθέσεως χρυσίων) or the putting on (ἐνδύσεως) of what we might translate as “worldly clothes” (ἱματίων κόσμος). Peter puts this in the imperative mood. These are not mere suggestions. Of course there is necessarily a degree of subjectivity here. There are cultural and generational differences about what constitutes the wearing of gold and worldly clothing. I think we can agree that Peter is urging Christian women not to dress ostentatiously or in a sexually suggestive manner. All of us (men and women) should learn to be critical of the degree to which we influenced by the surrounding culture. Are we called to dress like the Amish or like the old Anabaptists? That would be equally ostentatious in its own way. The point is not to call attention to our outward appearance.

“But” Peter says (v. 4) we ought to be concerned rather with the “secret (κρυπτὸς) person (ἄνθρωπος) of the heart (καρδίας)…”. Whereas some of the pagans (though not all) were obsessed with the exterior image (their “brand”), Christians are to be concerned about the interior. That is what is to distinguish us: the incorruptibility (ἀφθάρτῳ) of a meek (πραέως) and quiet spirit. The ESV and other English translations supply what might be an implied noun after the adjective “incorruptible” but the Vulgate translates the adjective as a substantive (incorruptibilitate), as a thing, as I have done here. The contrast may be between external clothing and interior beauty (ESV) but what all those things that the world thinks are so important are, in Peter’s view, fading and subject to destruction. What lasts, what is eternal are the virtues that are formed within us by grace alone, through faith alone. He uses the same adjective used by our Lord in Matthew 5:5: Blessed are the meek. That is what is costly (πολυτελές), he says, “before God” (ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ).

Peter is not a revolutionary but, as I noted last time, he does teach a program of quiet subversion and that program is grounded in his eschatology, his understanding of the relations between heaven and earth and between the present and the future. Christian women had the power to subvert the existing Greco-Roman social order, from within the established social structures, not by throwing off the shackles of the oppressors as some Marxists might like but rather by embracing the final age as a reality present through faith, in Christ and then allowing that presence to shape their self-perception and thus their demeanor, appearance, and relationship to their husbands with the hope that their husbands, by the grace of God, would see who Christ is and the nature of his kingdom and embrace that king and kingdom through faith.

More next time on vv. 5–6.

Here are all the posts in this series on 1 Peter.


  1. Peter Davids, “1 Peter,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 4.136.
  2. Davids, ibid.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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