1 Peter 3:1-4 is a continuation of ideas set forth in earlier sections of Peters epistle. Just as Christians are to be subject to civil authorities (2:13), and servants are to be subjects to masters (2:18), wives are to be in subjection to their own husbands. While it may seem, at first, that this scripture contradicts our modern society’s sensibilities on the subject of women’s independence, taken in context, the Bible actually encourages strong women. Grand praises are heaped upon confident, strong individual women (Proverbs 31), and the Bible places obligations on husbands (and men, in general [1 Timothy 5:2]) to honor women (Deuteronomy 24:5, Ecclesiastes 9:9). What makes today’s text so interesting, in its cultural context, is that it must have come as quite a surprise to the Gentile readers that Christianity offered religious freedom to women. In that society, women were expected to follow the religion of their husbands. Peter, however, addresses women as independent moral agents, whose decision to turn to Christ is their very own. After all, the souls of women are prized as much as the souls of men in the eyes of our Lord (Galatians 3:28).
“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 3:1).
The subjection is in like manner to our subjection to secular authorities, or employers. What this shows is that women alone are not to be submissive, but all people submit to something. Paul outlines this arrangement in 1 Corinthians 11:3, which says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Notice a few practical applications about submission:
Submission does not show that a person is weak, but strong. One might go so far as to say it takes more character, moral fiber, and fortitude to submit to authority than it does to rebel against it.
Peter does not give women an excuse by telling them, “Wives, you are off the hook, because we all know that you are too weak to handle the responsibilities of submission.”
Morally, women are not in a class all their own. They are not too delicate to deal with sin, nor are they too mousy to stand up for what is right.
“Be submissive” – There is volition in this statement (“be”). Similarly, submission to Christ does not demean, debase, or degrade a person, but exalts him or her in God’s image (1 Corinthians 11:1). There is a lot more to submission than the “villainous” idea that modern thinkers attribute to the word. In fact, submission may not mean obedience at all, in the sense we would understand it. Submission carries with it the idea of assisting, agreeing, supplementing, complimenting, and even advising a husband. A man should seek his wife’s advice because he understands that she has personal and unique strengths. A husband may defer to his wife’s opinion because it is a meaningful component of a fully-functioning marriage and family. Through all this, a wife can maintain a sense of submission and respect for her husband’s authority, even in the expression of her independence and expertise.