Huh? Doesn’t it go the other way around?

Unhappy couple having an argument in living room at home

“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 Pet 3:1).

It would seem so, but hear me out.

One of the most abused words in Biblical exegesis is “context.” The Bible says something plain such as “woman ought to have a sign of authority over their heads” and people yell “CONTEXT!” Then, they go about butchering the context of what was written with false historical “facts” and unrelated Scriptures.

Let’s get back to what the word “context” really means. There are two meanings: one is less important for us and the other more important.

The less important definition of context is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” Why is this less important? Well, when applying this definition of context to the Scripture it requires that we have a basis in extra-biblical information to understand what is really being said. I need to know the historical setting of an event, be privy to ideas about Greek thought or first century Judaism that are not in the Bible, and other contextual factors.

Now, such a context can be useful and interesting, but it should not be necessary simply because the Bible never tells us it is. The Bible says that it is useful for teaching, reproof and all good works. If it is good for everything, why do I need outside information? Unless we can extrapolate such information from within the Scripture itself, I believe that it is not necessary to know in order to correctly apply a passage. Some call this the doctrine of perspicuity.

The more important definition of context is “the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning.” Obviously, if Peter writes that women should submit to their husbands without a word and then goes about and gives an example of profuse submission, then we have a firm grasp that Peter meant what he said unequivocally.

Such an understanding of context helps us counter some really-bad cherrypicking of Scriptures. For example, those who reject the Biblical doctrine of predestination quote passages such as “God…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). Yet, they ignore the previous sentence which says:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men…(1 Tim 2:1-4)

Obviously, the context is that God desires all sorts of men to be saved, including kings. This is not a statement that contradicts Romans 9-11, as if such a thing were possible. Do not take this to mean that I am not aware that the Scripture teaches that God desires not the death of the sinner but that he may repent, but that’s a topic for a different article.

We may all agree that context, when properly understood, is very useful. So, what cockamamie reading of context allows me to say it is men that need to win over their wives in the same sense women should win over their husbands?

Let’s look at 1 Peter 2-3.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God… (1 Pet 2:13-15)

We are to submit to the government.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable (1 Pet 2:18).

A certain class of people, slaves, are to be submissive to their masters…even if they are bad people! Peter then gives us the reason why:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Pet 2:21).

Christians have been called to suffer for the sake of righteousness, like Christ! I am sure none of this makes us jump up and down with a happy dance, but the Scripture tells us “[c]onsider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). It is something of immense honor to suffer for the sake of His holy name.

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, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior (1 Pet 3:1-2).

Whether it is in the same way as the slaves, or in the same way as Christ (or likely both), Peter obviously makes a connection between what he just taught about submission in the previous chapter and submission between wives and husbands. It helps us to remember there were no verse and chapter distinctions when Peter originally wrote the epistle. So, if the ideas flow naturally between one another and are connected by specific phrases, our context radar should be signaling us to pay attention!

Okay, we already all agree women should submit to their husbands in the sense that the Scripture says it. But, where do we get the idea that men too do the same thing?

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered (1 Pet 3:7).

In the same way as what? In the same way as the wives, the slaves, and as Christ. We are all adopting the same attitude. Christ suffered for sinners. Slaves suffer at the hands of unreasonable taskmasters. Wives submit to even disobedient husbands. We all suffer and submit ourselves in a similar way.

So, if wives win over their husbands without a word but by their behavior, aren’t husbands supposed to live with their wives in the same way? I mean, that is plainly what the text says!

In the end of the day, it does not mean wives never talk to their husbands, and it certainly does not mean husbands do not talk to their wives. Husbands are the spiritual heads of their homes. They ought to be teaching.

However, we should not try to win over one another by harsh argumentation or “I am the man, shut up and do as I say.” That’s winning someone over with words. Rather, husbands are called to adopt the attitude and gentility of Christ and win over their wives with their behavior, not by their words.

Hence, the title of the article rings just as true for men as it does for women. God, in His providence, emphasizes the idea more for women perhaps because they are more talkative. But just as a woman ought not to look at men with lust for she would be committing adultery in her heart, men ought to win over disobedient wives without a word.