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

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.5–6: Sarah’s Eschatology
As I suggested in the previous post, in our egalitarian, post-feminist culture, the language of verses 5 and 6 is bound to be difficult to accept. My concern is that there is a tendency in too many quarters—even in ostensibly evangelical congregations and institutions where there is a professed devotion to Scripture as God’s inerrant Word—simply to ignore (or mentally delete) such passages. e.g., 1 Timothy 2:12–15 or 1 Corinthians 6:9. The same temptation to bow the neck to prevailing cultural attitudes might tempt us to ignore these verses or to file them as “culturally conditioned.” Frankly, of the two responses, ignoring them is a more honest approach since all of Scripture is necessarily “culturally conditioned.” It is not as if some passages dropped down out of heaven (like the Qur’an or like the Book of Mormon is supposed to have done) and others emerged and were unduly colored by their original context. All of Scripture was given by the Spirit (2 Pet 2:20–21; 2 Tim 3:16), to and through human writers. Those writers used the language and of their time. They were necessarily products of their time. The notion that some parts of Scripture come straight from heaven, without human mediation, without culture is Gnostic, not Christian. There is an analogy between Scripture and the incarnation. God the Son became incarnate. Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son incarnate. He was and remains true man and is nevertheless true God. He is one person in two natures. Jesus had a culture. He did not drop down out of heaven. The eternally begotten Son, who, in the beginning was with God, who is God (John 1:1–3) took on, in the womb of the virgin, a true human nature. He had an umbilical cord. He grew up in an otherwise ordinary household. He spoke the same languages as everyone else. He dressed as everyone else. He used familiar, culturally conditioned, figures of speech. He ate the same food as everyone else in his culture. It was these realities that caused many to doubt that he was or could be the Messiah. They knew his parents. So it is with Scripture. It comes to us by the Spirit, through culture, in culture. It must be read in that light, of course, but it remains God’s Word. We must bow to it and we may no more dismiss it as “culturally conditioned” than we may dismiss our Lord himself. We are not superior to Scripture. We are not the judges of Scripture. God’s Word judges us.

The temptation to dismiss those parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable, that create tension with the culture is frequently grounded in bad exegesis, i.e., a poor, ill-informed interpretation of Scripture. Such a temptation here is to assume that we, as (late) modern, post-Enlightenment people are morally superior to ignorant, unenlightened ancients. Particularly, the temptation is to assume that they were so unenlightened as to be unable to see the evils of ancient patriarchal ways of thinking and to conclude that we, because we are so enlightened, see the world more truly that Peter was able to see. That is part of the set of assumptions under which many modern liberals and critics have read Scripture for more than two centuries and it is just as arrogant and wrong today as it was then.

Peter does not ground his instruction to women in patriarchal assumptions but in eschatology. He appeals to redemptive history. What qualifies the examples he has in mind (he mentions one, Sarah) is that they were “hoping in God” (ἐλπίζουσαι εἰς θεὸν). Peter does not say that they were sinless. We know that Sarah was not sinless. She doubted and laughed at God’s promise (Gen 18:12) and then denied that she had laughed (Gen 18:15). Nevertheless, God was faithful to his promise (Gen 21:6), and Sarah laughed again in faith. She believed and is remembered in Scripture as a faithful believer (Heb 11:11). She adorned herself as she did, she conducted herself as she did, she submitted to Abraham as she did not out of natural inferiority but out of faith. Her hope was set on a heavenly city. Like Abraham, the father of all believers (Rom 4:16), she was looking for the Savior, for Jesus (John 8:56).

Sarah was one of an entire class of women in Scripture who submitted to their own husbands (τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν) because of their hope in heaven and in the Savior. Note that Peter qualifies this submission. It was to their husbands. There is a creational order, to which Paul appeals elsewhere (1 Tim 2:13), which is to be reflected in the visible, institutional church. We should be very cautious about extrapolating from the order of grace (redemption), reflected in the church back to nature or creation. To be faithful both to natural revelation and to special revelation we must assert, against our culture, that there is such a thing as nature, that there are two sexes (not genders, which are grammatical, not natural categories) and that there are genuine differences between them. We ought not, however, over-react to our culture by exaggerating those differences by denying the great areas of similarity or by trying to turn the clock back to the Victorian social order, by which evangelicals seem particularly enthralled.

We must also remember the context. Peter is exhorting holy women in the New Testament period to emulate Sarah by living graciously with their husbands, particularly with their unbelieving husbands. See the previous installments for more on this. When Christian wives regard their husbands as Sarah regarded her husband, for the reasons she did, they become Sarah’s children (ἧς ἐγενήθητε τέκνα). As such, Christian women are to be characterized by “doing good” (ἀγαθοποιοῦσαι) and by not being unduly afraid (μὴ φοβούμεναι) of whatever makes one afraid. Peter seems here to refer to the uncertainty that naturally occurs generally in family life—1st century Christians had bills to pay just as we do—but also perhaps to the particular challenges resulting from living with a non-Christian husband. The answer to the doubt lies refocusing one’s attention away from the present to the ultimate. Sarah’s life was marked by a series of events that might have created no end of uncertainty. Her husband twice passed her off as someone other than his wife. That created jeopardy for Sarah and for those to whom he represented her. Then there was the time when the Lord told Abraham to take her son up the mountain to sacrifice him. Your husband may be a source of anxiety but most wives will not have to face what Sarah faced.

A firm conviction, grounded in God’s Word, strengthened by the ministry and witness of the Spirit, that this life is not ultimate nor the end, that, for those who trust Christ promised eternal communion with God, in Christ, in the Spirit, changes one’s perspective and the way one estimates one’s value and sense of worth in the world. If heaven is real, what someone next to one, even one’s husband, thinks of one (or what one suspects or guess he thinks) is less important. That one belongs to Christ, that Christ is faithful, that Christ is trustworthy, those are the shaping, ultimate realities to which Peter appeals here.

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

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  1. Dr Clark, did you MEAN 1 Cor 6:9? You might have done, but I’d be surprised at your bringing in an additional subject like the weakening of many churches towards sexual perversion, and not expanding on it. At the moment I assume it was a typo – which verse DID you mean?

    In the 1 Peter passage it is clearly wives that are meant, but many Reformed people take the line that the 1 Corinthians passages apply to all women, whether married or unmarried, which to my mind would make nonsense of 14:35 and demand an interpretation of the “your” in 14:34 that would be, errm, interesting, to say the least (e.g., OK for visiting women, like Phoebe when she’s in Rome, to speak in church, but not for the local ladies; or maybe, don’t restrain an enquiring female outsider). As a Greek scholar what would you say?

    • John,

      1. 1 Corinthians 6:9 is what I typed. What am I missing? I’ve explained 1 Cor 6:9 before.

      2. It seems clear that 1 Cor 14:35 refers to husbands. It’s the same expression as in 1 Peter 3:5-6: “your own husbands.” The best explanation I’ve seen is that Paul is addressing a particular problem, e.g., women speaking out of turn. It’s not an absolute prohibition of female speech in church. Reading between the lines in 1 Cor in challenging since we do not always know exactly what the issue is or was.

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