Subjection of Wives to Their Husbands
1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word…


1. Duty stated. "In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." The space which is here given to wives, especially in comparison with what is given to husbands, points to the great influence of women in the early Christian Church. The injunction to wives comes under the being subject to every ordinance of man (1 Peter 2:13). Christianity was to be advanced by the subjection of Christians to magistrates placed over them. It was also to be advanced by the subjection of Christian slaves (who were comparatively numerous) to their masters. In like manner it was to be advanced by the subjection of Christian wives (who were comparatively numerous) to their husbands. The duty of subjection is here stated without limitation (which is only introduced in the following verse). It is, however, to be borne in mind that all the subjection enjoined is for the Lord's sake (1 Peter 2:13), so that we have virtually here Paul's injunction in Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. The subjection of wives is founded on an appointed superiority of husbands to their wives. It is not that wives belong to their husbands; for husbands also belong to their wives (Ephesians 5:28). There is a very great amount of equality between wives and their husbands; there is the closest of companionships in married life. But in the interest of order in family life, rule must be placed somewhere; and so it has been placed by God in the hands of those whose duty it is to provide for the maintenance and comfort of their wives. Where, then, there is a difference of judgment in connection with the joint management of a household (which ought not very often to occur), it is the duty of the wife to subject her will to the will of her husband.

2. Wives in a special situation. That, even if any obey not the Word, they may without the Word be gained by the behavior of their wives." Subjection is due in every case, even in so unfavorable a case as that which is now to be dealt with. This was the not infrequent case (all the more, therefore, calling for apostolic legislation) of Christian wives having heathen husbands. We are not to understand that it was open for Christian women to take heathen husbands; but after marriage it might happen (more than the converse) that the wives were converted to Christianity, while their husbands remained in heathenism. The principle of the apostolic legislation is that, even in an unfavorable position, subjection is due. It is implied that wives, when converted, would seek to gain their husbands by the Word. That would be the prompting both of natural affection and of Christian compassion. They could not keep Christ and their new-found joys to themselves. They must tell, in the first place, those in whom they had the deepest interest the gospel of Christ, viz. that as manifesting the Father's love, and impelled by love himself, the Son of God did not eschew human nature, but in it lived a perfect human life and died a death of atonement for sin, to [,ring men out of their sins to a glorious life with himself which is never to know an end. This had been a source of unparalleled joy to them; and they told their husbands about Christ, because they wished them to be sharers with themselves in their joy. The result might be the gaining of their husbands, i.e. first to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom, and then to themselves (to their deep and lasting satisfaction). It is one of Leighton's rich sayings, "A soul converted is gained to itself, gained to the pastor, or friend, or wife, or husband who sought it, and gained to Jesus Christ; added to his treasury [and, we may add, to his instrumentality], who thought not his own precious blood too dear to lay out for this gain." But the word of the gospel is not always obeyed. What if, with the telling and retelling of the Word (blessed and authoritative as it is), husbands do not obey the Word? What if the continued telling of the Word is only to be the occasion of domestic dispeace? Does the duty of subjection then cease? No; the duty of telling the Word then ceases, but not the duty of subjection. Another method is to be tried by them, which may result in the gaining of their husbands. This is behavior without the Word; i.e. acting the gospel, or the silent influence of the life, especially the earnest endeavor to show what gospel subjection is. The hope is held out that this method may succeed where the other fails. If, then, a wife finds herself yoked to a husband who is not converted (whether she has been to blame for her position or not), her duty is with all earnestness to press the Word on him, but not to force it to no purpose but only to produce dispeace; her duty is to cease mentioning the disagreeable subject, and to try the method of the utmost excellence of Christian behavior without the Word. The trial may be prolonged; but length will be forgotten if the Divine answer comes at last in the conversion of the husband.

3. Rules of behavior.

(1) Rule of purity. "Beholding your chaste behavior coupled with fear." The feeling from which good wifely behavior proceeds is fear. Wives are to have fear in the sense of reverence towards their husbands as placed over them in the Lord. They are also to have fear in the sense of shrinking from the not doing of all that is required in the relation. This limits the subjection in forbidding bad compliance, i.e. doing a wrong thing because the husband requires it. If a wife were required to give up her religion, it would be her duty not to obey out of regard to him to whom her husband is subject, and apart from whom he has no authority. But if wives feel that they are thus limited, they will be all the more anxious within the lawful sphere to do their duty. The quality of behavior here fixed upon is chastity, which is to be understood in a certain wide sense. It is a word which is appropriate to wifely behavior. Women are especially endowed with feelings of modesty. In the married relation, while they bestow all love and attention on their husbands, there will be nothing in word, in look, in dress, in act, inconsistent with what modesty requires. "Shamefacedness" is the word used by Paul. To this, then, Christian wives are directed in dealing with their heathen husbands after the Word has been ineffectual. Let their husbands behold, see with their own eyes from day to day, their modest behavior, springing out of the feeling which belongs to subjection; and when the Word-method has failed, this (especially when contrasted with the behavior of heathen wives) may succeed.

(2) Rule of a meek and quiet Spirit. "Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." The rule is expressed positively in figurative language. The negative may seem to be too literal. What has religion to do with the style of putting up the hair, or with what is put on the person? It is a fallacy to suppose that there is any sphere from which religion is excluded. At the same time, religion does not do violence to any natural feeling. It is implied here that it is natural for women to love to adorn themselves. A wife who has not some regard for ornament in her house or person, who is plainness, if not a slattern, who has not a flower to delight the eye, is not likely to have much influence with her husband even for Christianity. We must, therefore, understand the apostle as forbidding the things mentioned without proper subordination, or as ministering to womanly vanity. Especially are we to think of them as forbidden in this aspect, that as immodest, or as encroaching on time, or as heaping up expense, they form a temptation to a wife to be undutiful to her husband. If she would gain him for what is good, she must, without disregard of the lower ornamentation, show proper regard to the higher ornamentation. Let her adorning be not a conspicuous style of the hair, or conspicuous jewels, or conspicuous apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart - not that alone apart from moral characterization, but, while it has its seat in the heart, and is not attractive to the outward eye, let it be in and with the incorruptible. Plaited hair, jewels of gold, apparel, are subordinate as belonging to the category of the corruptible. The incorruptible in adorning that is singled out is a meek and quiet spirit. The first word points to not being easily provoked; the second word points to being in love with a quiet life. A Christian wife might have much to bear from her unenlightened husband, from his imperious temper, from his bad behavior, from his neglect; she might have to bear from him on account of her religion; he might resent her choosing her own religion and (by implication) condemning his; but let her be meek under his wronging of her, and let her say or do nothing to cause dispeace. This in the sight of men may be a very poor ornament; she may seem to be regarding herself as no better than his slave. But God is also looking on the spirit which she is manifesting, and in his sight (which is its highest recommendation) it is of great price. The way God takes to overcome evil in us is, under our provocations, to heap goodness on us. If a Christian wife would conquer her unbelieving husband for Christ, she must in this imitate the Divine procedure.

4. Models of behaviour.

(1) The holy women of old time. "For after this manner aforetime the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands." In heathen mythology, Penelope, Andromache, Alccstis, are regarded as models of wifely excellence. But Peter, saturated with Old Testament ideas, does not fall back on Greek aforetime, but only on Old Testament aforetime. He sets up as models to those whom he is addressing the holy women, i.e. those who were in covenant with God, and whose conduct was conditioned by the holiness of God. This implied their being believers, and as believers they are further described as those who bolted in God, i.e. raised their expectation from what they believed God to be, and from what they believed God to promise. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and to a future beyond death to be made glorious through his mission to earth. We have not much information as to the facts upon which Peter proceeds; but he plainly certifies it of the holy women as a class, that they adorned themselves after this manner, i.e. with a meek and quiet spirit. They were kept from thinking about mere outward ornamentation, because they looked for something substantial from God. They did this as what was proper to them as subjected to their husbands. Instead of being self-assertive, they were compliant, under the impelling and also restraining of fear. The rule for the holy women of the New Testament time extending down to our day is not different from what was the rule for the holy women of the Old Testament time, resting as it does on a Divine appointment in the earthly constitution. To the models set up by Peter we must add Christian models - women who, saturated with gospel ideas, have been adorned with that which in the sight of God is of great price.

(2) Sarah. "As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose children ye now are, if ye do well, and are not put in fear by any terror." The words founded on are to be found in Genesis 18:12. Sarah's calling Abraham her lord was not confined to the one occasion; it was characteristic of her, showed the habit of her mind toward her husband, and on that ground it is entitled to the weight which is here attached to it. The occasion was also closely connected with the history of redemption, bearing on the birth of Isaac. The apostle could not have found a better model; for Sarah was specially significant, even as Abraham was. If the one was father "of all them that believe though they be not circumcised," the other was mother. What constitutes daughterhood is here not faith, but the evidencing of faith. It is, on the one hand, doing well. Sarah did well in obeying Abraham, and also remarkably in that through faith "she received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised." It is, on the other hand, not doing evil, or, as it is here put in the way of consequence, not being nut in fear by any terror. This was what was to be avoided in Sarah as a model. On the occasion referred to she was made afraid by her evil-doing (laughing at the first mention of a child), and by her fear was led into more sin (in denying that she laughed), thus bringing shame not only on herself, but on her husband. Holy women will not thus compromise their husbands, but, mindful of what is due to them, will concur with them, where the blessing promised to faith is to be obtained.


1. Duty. "Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life." Having dwelt at length (in the interest of Christianity) on the subjection of wives, he feels it necessary to subjoin an injunction to husbands, which he did not feel it to be necessary in the case of magistrates and of masters (few of those being connected with the Christian Church). It is not said that husbands are in like manner to be subject; the likeness can only, therefore, refer to what lies over against the subjection. As subject, the woman is weak - the weaker vessel, not so strong as the man. In this lies a danger to the woman - the danger of being trampled upon. Hence the need of husbands being enlightened in their treatment of their wives. "Dwell with according to knowledge as with the weaker vessel the womanly," is the literal translation and the proper connection. Weakness in the woman calls for knowledge in the man. He is to love, says the Apostle Paul; and the idea is similar here. He is to act according to knowledge, i.e. of the Divine intention or order. He is to put his strength at the service of love, with his strength shielding her weakness and (generally) promoting her good. It is under this enlightenedness that honor comes. Honor is to be paid by husbands to their wives (both being regarded as Christians) on the ground that they are also joint-heirs of the grace of life. They are even, as we would seem to be taught here, to be honored on the ground of nature. "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked." But they are also to be honored as heirs together of the grace of life, i.e. as honored participators (for inheriting here points to honor) with their husbands in the grace that is needed for life or that makes life a blessing, both here and hereafter. It is only in the earthly sphere of things (which is also temporary)that there is not perfect equality; in the heavenly sphere there is no difference. Women stand in the same relation to God, have the same unction on their life, look forward to the same eternal home as their husbands, and by this consideration the honor otherwise due to them and to be apportioned to them must be regarded as greatly heightened.

2. Motive. "To the end that your prayers he not hindered." The duty enjoined must be attended to by husbands, that the prayers offered by them with their wives, and as heads of the household, be not hindered. There is a pointing to this that "the prayers of families are as often defeated by the want of any such concert in the aims, plans, tempers, works, and aspirations of the house, as are necessary to a common suit before God. The prayers should agree with as many other prayers and as many other circles of causes as possible; for God is working always towards the largest harmony, and will not favor, therefore, the prayer of words when everything else in the life is demanding something else, but will rather have respect to what has the widest reach of things and persons making suit with it. At this latter point it is that prayers most commonly fail, viz. that they are solitary and contrary, having nothing put in agreement with them; as if some one person should be praying for fair weather, when everybody else wants rain, and the gaping earth and thirsty animals and withering trees are all asking for it together. What is prayed for in the house by the father is - how commonly! - not prayed for by the mother in her family tastes and tempers, and is even prayed against, in fact, by all the instigations of appearance and pride and show which are raised by her motherly studies and cares. The father prays in the morning that his children may grow up in the Lord, and calls it even the principal good of their life that they are to be Christians, living to God and for the world to come. Then he goes out into the field, or the shop, or the house of trade, and his plans and works pull exactly contrary to the pull of his prayers and all his teaching in religion. What is wanted, therefore, is to put all the causes, all the prayers, into a common strain of endeavor, reaching after a common good in God and his friendship" (Bushnell). - R. F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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;

WEB: In the same way, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; so that, even if any don't obey the Word, they may be won by the behavior of their wives without a word;

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