1 Peter 3
Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight. 5It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. 6Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you.
7 Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex,* since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.
It was common for writers in Greek and Roman cultures to include a “household code”, instructions directed to specific members of the household delineating their roles and duties, although the patriarch, or husband and father, was not generally included. Here, the author adapts the Greek idea of a household code to the communities to whom he writes. He has already addressed slaves; now he addresses the wives, but then he also has instructions for the husbands. Remember that this is a general letter, to a number of churches; the instructions are general, not intended to be specific.
This author is writing to people who live in a specific culture. He is still giving examples of how they can live within the prevailing culture without drawing attention to themselves, how they can “stay under the radar”, as we said earlier. Women in the early Christian church had more strength, independence, and authority than they ever had in the past. But that created outrage in the surrounding communities; people often thought the Christian women were too bold, too independent. And so, this author is telling them to live within the cultural norms, where they can. Some are married to men who are not Christians; these women have already committed a courageous act of defiance by becoming Christian. It then becomes their task to “kill with kindness”, to be subordinate and dutiful to their husbands, as becomes a wife in that day. Perhaps, their husbands will wonder about such goodness and kindness and come to accept Christ. Note: women had no choice in that day; the entire society kept them subordinate to the husband, who ruled the household without question, could divorce them with a word, and throw them out. In Roman (not Jewish) households, he could even kill a wife or child who was disobedient.
They are not to call attention to themselves by the way they dress – the Romans were suspicious of cults, some of whom dressed in ways that were intended to be attention getting. (Think of the days when people in yellow robes approached you in the airport.) True beauty, the author says, is within, with a gentle and quiet spirit. I remember my grandmother saying, “Pretty is as pretty does.” That says what he is saying here. He then gives Sarah, the wife of Abraham, as an example, although she makes a poor example for, if you read the Genesis story, Sarah is quite assertive. (see Genesis 16:1-6, 21:8-11, and 23)
He then gives instructions to husbands – quite a step away from traditional household codes. They should show consideration for their wives, respect them. In the society of the time marriages were arranged, not founded on love, although love often grew over time, and there were exceptions. The author believes women to be the “weaker sex” – the footnote says that the Greek here is “weaker vessel”. I think we won’t go there, except to say the author’s personal and cultural bias is evident. At any rate, he (we can be pretty sure the author is male, even if it is not Peter) says the husbands should honor and respect their wives, remembering that they as well are heirs to Christ’s gift of life, and denying them or mistreating them might interfere with the husband’s prayers – hopefully, would leave him at least feeling guilty when he began to pray!
The bottom line here, the thing for us to take home today, is to love and respect one another. No one can find fault when we are doing what is good and right without criticism or condemnation of others, when we love God, and one another, and our neighbor.