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Submission, Respect and Weaker Vessels

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

Peter pummels his readers with a string of common thematic punches in the first few chapters of his first letter. All of them are the one-two punches of submission and obedience. He starts with a light tap of a fairly uncontroversial command, when he urges followers of Christ to submit to the gospel, and to obey a new nature centered around holiness (1 Peter 1:13-25). In many ways, this means rejecting what are sometimes characterized as “natural” urges, behaviors and desires. But he doesn’t stop there. His readers get a disorienting head shot when he tells them to submit to potentially incompetent, brutal, or even evil authorities for the sake of the Lord, and for the reputation and credibility of his people (1 Peter 2:13-14). He then follows with a gut punch when he tells slaves that they must submit to their masters, even if they are wrongfully beaten. He explains that this is living out the example of Christ and identifying with him in real ways (1 Peter 2:18-25).

But the hardest punch of all – the one that seems to have been the most controversial in modernity – is the one he gives to women when he tells wives that they must submit to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1-6). Although he doesn’t disagree with Paul that wives submitting to husbands is God’s desired order (Ephesians 5:22-24), he does provide very different reasoning. Peter argues that such submission may win over a husband who is not in obedience to the gospel. But perhaps even more personally important than that, is that Peter argues a woman’s truest beauty is in the condition of her heart, her spirit, and her gentleness (1 Peter 3:4). These after all are examples of Christlike qualities. Peter is recognizing the daunting and beautiful task that women have when they are around spiritually weaker men who do not easily recognize Christlikeness. Such a task requires supernatural strength.

Peter follows that punch with a quick second jab when he says that husbands should honor their wives, because those wives are the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7). Some have abused this verse and use it to teach that wives are morally, spiritually, or intellectually weak. This certainly is NOT what Peter meant. He calls both husband and wife vessels. Vessels contain things. Peter recognizes that human bodies contain human spirits. In the case of Christians, human bodies contain holy spirits. In general, it is undeniably true that female bodies are physically weaker than male bodies. Therefore, husbands should honor women because those weaker bodies contain supernatural beauty and strength. To borrow and amend an idea from one Christian thinker, the captain of a fishing boat can be just as competent, strong, moral, strategic, and important as the captain of a modern battleship. Peter’s statement isn’t one about moral strength, but one about honoring and respecting the container because of what it contains. High value packages, afterall, are marked as “handle with care,” for a reason.

So Peter isn’t really punching us. He’s making us aware of who we really are, and waking us up to follow a supernatural example.

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