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Peter Encouraged Men and Women (1 Peter)

What does Peter say in 1 Peter?

Did Peter tell women to submit to men and men not to submit to women? No

Did Peter tell women to be silent and not say a word? No.

Did Peter tell men that they were the head of the household? No.

Did Peter tell women and slaves to put up with all bad treatment for any reason? No.

Did Peter tell women to use their gifts only with women and children? No.


Look again and you will see that Peter is encouraging the weak in this letter.


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Context

The letter was written by the apostle Peter, likely after AD 64, when the Roman Emperor Nero blamed Christians for a fire in Rome and actively persecuted, arrested, and killed Christians (1). It may have been in 70 AD after the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Peter addresses the letter to the exiles who are scattered through Asia Minor.


Many scholars believe that Peter was in Rome as he wrote the letter, calling it Babylon because he was in hiding (1 Peter 5:13). Jewish Christians may have compared Rome to Babylon because the Romans attacked Jerusalem as Babylon had in the past. Ancient art typically identifies Peter by showing him holding the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19). Since early records describe Paul as bald, Peter is often shown with thick hair and heavy bangs.


1 Peter 1: Be set apart for God

Peter addresses all the men and women Christians in Asia Minor (today's Turkey). He opens by praising God's mercy for giving Christians new life, new hope, and an inheritance in heaven. Peter quotes from the law of Moses about setting yourself apart to be clean (Leviticus 11:14-45, Leviticus 19:1)

"Be holy, because I am holy" 1 Peter 1:16

However, God revealed to Peter in a vision that being holy is not about eating clean food or associating only with believers. God shows no favouritism (Acts 10:34). Since God judges people according to their actions and not by outward appearance, conform your behaviour around obedience to God, rather than around your former desires (1 Peter 1:14-17). You can be self-disciplined, holy, and prepared for action, living as foreigners here on earth because the outcome of our faith is your salvation. You as Christians will set yourselves apart from others by your obedience to God and your love for each other (1 Peter 1:22).


Egalitarian Reflections

Peter is introducing the concept that Christians have a new life growing from the seed of God's Word, Jesus (1 Peter 1:23). John also calls Jesus God's Word (John 1:1). When Peter refers to those who do not know God's Word, he is referring to those who do not know Jesus. Peter is encouraging the believers that although they will go through distress and persecution for their faith, their faith will be strengthened and they will be rewarded in the end. Peter encourages believers trapped in difficult situations that their actions will set them apart and show their faith.


1 Peter 2:1-10 Same Mandate

Stop pursuing what you used to desire, and instead desire God's Word (Jesus). You are each like living stones that build a spiritual temple with Jesus as the chief cornerstone of the new living temple.

"the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner," (1 Peter 2:7 KJV).
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Jesus is the cornerstone

A chief cornerstone connects the whole structure in all directions, strengthening and holding together a building. Think of the Benben stone or capstone at the peak of a pyramid or obelisk. Similarly, a keystone or capstone is the stone at the peak of an arch, holding the arch together.


A chief cornerstone may also refer to the first stone in the foundation, with all future stones and walls oriented to the chief cornerstone.


The chief cornerstone is the foundation and origin of a building, as well as the peak or final stone, holding it together.

"When our sons shall be as plants grown up in their youth, And our daughters as corner-stones hewn after the fashion of a palace." Psalm 144:12 ASV

Both women and men are living stones, essential in constructing the new, living temple. Peter may be comforting the Jewish Christians who are feeling the loss of the Jerusalem Temple after it was destroyed in 70 AD.  


Peter addresses all followers of Jesus, both women and men, when he says they are being made into holy priests offering sacrifices to God.

"... you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What's more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God." 1 Peter 2:5 NLT

Egalitarian Reflections:

Peter gives the same mandate to all believers, women and men. Each believer is a living stone in God's new temple; each believer is a holy priest offering sacrifices to God. Peter uses the word 'head' as a way of saying that Jesus is the foundation or origin of this new, living temple. Jesus is the head and foundational stone of the church, the source or beginning of the church. Peter is not using the word 'head' to mean a boss or authority.

1 Peter 2:11-17: Living as foreigners




Believers are citizens of a holy, spiritual nation. Since you are now living as God's people, you are like immigrants and strangers in the world. They want to defame you, speak against you and call you evildoers. So live honourably, having honest conversations and doing good works because you represent God's holy nation.

"having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12).

Note that Peter tells the Christians to ensure both their conversations and their actions glorify God. Some translations used the word 'conversation' while others say 'conduct', or 'behaviour'.


Peter does not address governments or how to change societal structures. He addresses Christians, a persecuted minority, telling them how to survive as foreigners in an unfriendly country. Peter never condones or tells believers to lord it over another person as an authority or master. He never tells those in authority to demand deference or obedience. Instead, Peter suggests that all believers are equal co-heirs, and Jesus is our master. Peter essentially advises all believers, both men and women, to voluntarily defer or yield to others out of love. Seven times, Peter tells believers to voluntarily submit themselves in order to glorify God.


1. Submit yourselves to human institutions

"Submit yourselves to every human authority, becaue of the Lord, whether to a king, as the highest, whether to governors, as to those sent through him.... because, so is the will of God, doing good, to put to silence the ignorance of the foolish men;" (1 Peter 2:13-15).
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Men and women: submit to human governance

There is no indication that women submit more than men, nor that all women submit to all men. All believers are to be subject to human governments. The reason to willingly submit to governments is to silence the insults against God's people and to survive or avoid persecution. It is not because God designs a hierarchy or commands servitude.



2. Submit yourselves to your masters (1 Peter 2:18)

This passage has been read by slaveowners as a reason to own and make demands on slaves. However, Peter does not address masters or slaveowners. He does not condone abuse or remaining in abusive situations. Peter does not address societal structures. Peter addresses slaves, telling them how to survive through persecution. He does not give masters the authority to command servitude. Peter explains that slaves and citizens are co-heirs in God's family. Paul tells masters to treat slaves as equals in other passages (Philemon 1:16, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1).


Peter reminds slaves that if they suffer for being Christians, God will reward them. Peter echoes what Jesus told his followers "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10). Peter suggests that servants who submit to human authorities will silence the insults against God's people and reduce the chances of being persecuted. He reminds them that Jesus also suffered after doing nothing wrong, providing an example for us of how to live as foreigners in this world. Servants or slaves honour God when they are Christ-like, suffering for doing no wrong, honouring their master in heaven. This does not mean they should stay in that environment. It tells them how to cope if there is no way out. This also does not mean wives should stay in abusive environments. Peter is not addressing wives here and certainly is not telling husbands to treat wives as slaves.


1 Peter 3

3. Likewise, wives, submit yourselves

This passage does not tell women to be second-class or permanently subject to husbands. Peter does not tell husbands to be masters over their wives. Peter does not condone abuse. Peter does not address husbands at all in this passage or tell husbands to dominate or lead.


Acknowledging persecution of Christians for their beliefs does not condone persecution and certainly does not condone persecution for the sake of greed, ambition, or power. Peter is not addressing the person with power, but the vulnerable person.

"Likewise, wives, submit yourselves to your husbands so that if they disobey the Word, by your conduct and conversation they may be won over to the Word (1 Peter 3:1)
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Likewise, wives: win over husbands who are without the Word

The word 'likewise' ties back to 1 Peter 2:13-15 and 1 Peter 2:18 where all believers are encouraged to be subject to others in order to silence insults against God. Peter acknowledges persecution against Christians for their beliefs. According to the pagan household codes, the husband was the authority; but in Christ, there is no longer a male or female. In the Greco-Roman world, the wife was in a vulnerable position, especially if her husband did not obey God's word. If she converted to Christianity without her husband's consent or used her Christian freedom to divorce him to avoid being married to an unbeliever, it could bring slander against God or God's people.


Peter addresses all wives but specifically tells wives who are married to husbands who know not the Word (Jesus), that their conduct and conversation may win the husband to know the Word (Jesus). Many translations entirely omit 'the conversation of the wives' (1 Peter 3:1), translating it instead as 'behaviour' or 'conduct'. In contrast, word-for-word translations say that husbands may be won over for Christ by their wives' conversation. Peter addresses wives who are married to husbands who are 'disobedient to God' and "without the Word" (Jesus). It is not a Christian wife who is "without a word" but the unbelieving husband who is 'without the Word'. Peter is not telling wives to suffer in silence, to be silent, or to not say a word. Peter is not telling Christian wives to accept abuse but to expect persecution for their belief in Jesus.


Earlier, Peter tells Christians to ensure both their conversations and their actions glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Here, Peter lists the actions a wife may take to win her unbelieving husband to Christ (1 Peter 3:3-6). Actions and conversation give credibility to each other and help attract others to Christ.


What about when Peter tells wives to obey like Sarah? It appears that Peter picked this historical example when addressing wives of unbelievers because Sarah's husband Abraham acted like an unbeliever.


There is just one occasion where Sarah calls her husband lord, and at that time she is not subjecting herself to him or obeying him. She was simply laughing to herself at the prospect of becoming a mother when both she and her husband were old:

"Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" (Genesis 18:12 KJV).

So where does Sarah obey Abraham? (2) Sarah submits when Abraham acts like an unbeliever and selfishly uses Sarah as a shield, risking her life and virtue to save his own life and enrich himself (Genesis 12:13-18 and Genesis 20:1-18). In these stories, Abraham disobeys God's will. Wives of unbelieving husbands will relate to this story of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah went into a dangerous situation in Pharaoh's palace, just as the Christian wives are in a dangerous situation when they converted to Christianity while married to an unbeliever. By telling wives of unbelieving husbands to be like Sarah, Peter is encouraging wives who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Peter says they honour God when they are Christ-like and suffer while they have done no wrong. He encourages the vulnerable wife, telling them that they are like Christ when they suffer while they have done no wrong. They bring honour to God and may even bring their husbands to know God.

When Abraham is obedient to God, God specifically tells Abraham to obey his wife (Genesis 16:2-6, Genesis 21:11-12).


4. Likewise, husbands, submit yourselves

"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." (1 Peter 3:7 KJV)
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Likewise, husbands, honour your wife as an equal co-heir

In using the word "Likewise", Peter is telling all Christian husbands to submit to their wives. (3) Peter gives believing husbands the same instructions as:

🟰believing wives: honour your marriage partner (1 Peter 3:1),

🟰Christian servants (1 Peter 2:18), honour your masters

🟰Christian citizens (1 Peter 2:13-15), honour the government.


Husbands, likewise, submit yourselves to others. The husband was the "paterfamilias' in a Roman family, responsible for protecting and providing for the family, yet Peter tells a husband it will glorify God to honour his wife, love her, and yield to her wants, defer to her. Peter does not indicate a wife should be under her husband's authority.


Peter tells a believing husband to live according to his knowledge of God's Word to win over a wife who does not know the Word. The unbelieving wife is a weaker vessel until she knows God's Word (Jesus). The weaker vessel is not likely a reference to her being physically, emotionally, or mentally weaker. Peter is telling them that the believer is in a stronger position than the non-believer. (4) Similarly, Paul says we are weak when we are ungodly or not yet believers (Romans 5:6). While others are told to submit in order to silence insults against God, a husband is told to submit so that his prayers won't be hindered. It is unclear if this refers to all of the husband's prayers or his specific prayers for his wife's salvation.


Peter tells husbands that once their wife becomes a believer, honour her all the more because then she has become an equal co-heir of God's grace. Women and men are told to submit to one another as equal co-heirs.


1 Peter 3:8 Be of One Mind

Peter now addresses all the believers, telling them to be of one mind, to love one another, to be compassionate and humble, and to avoid giving insults or revenge. In 1 Peter 3:10-12, Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16 exhorting believers both to speak kindly and act kindly. Their conversation and their actions need to work together to bring glory to God. He says if they are eager to do good, others are less likely to harm them. Anyone who tries to insult them will be put to shame as everyone can see their good lifestyle and respectful words.


Peter ties actions to words as two important components of representing God to the world. He tells them they are Christ-like when they suffer in order to bring others to God. He encourages those who are suffering or persecuted for the sake of righteousness, saying God will bless them (1 Peter 3:14). Peter does not advise that we put up with mistreatment or abuse, or that believers should suffer. He certainly does not tell powerful people to abuse weaker people. Peter does not even address those in positions of power. His message is to encourage those who are suffering for their belief in Jesus.


1 Peter 4: Use Your Gifts

Since Christ suffered, Christians should prepare to also suffer for their faith. Again, this is not advising Christians to suffer under abusive people. It is talking about being persecuted for being a Christian, a holy priest, or a foreigner in a world while your homeland is in heaven.


The letter is written during a time when Roman soldiers were actively pursuing, imprisoning, and killing Christians for their faith. Peter encourages the believers to stop pursuing their former desires and obey God, even if others slander them for it. Be self-controlled, sober, and pray. Love one another. because love covers a multitude of sins.

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10 KJV)

Peter repeats that Christians should expect trials, as the world may mock them for living differently. Do not be ashamed of suffering for doing what is right, as this honours God. Rejoice when you are being like Christ, sharing in Christ's suffering, and you will have overwhelming joy in the end.


Egalitarian Reflections

All believers - men and women - should use their gifts to honour God. Peter encourages both male and female believers to speak, serve, and act to glorify God. He sets no hierarchal restrictions based on gender. Peter's wife was a co-worker with him (1 Corinthians 9:5). The early historian Eusebius recorded that Peter's wife was martyred for her faith on the same day as Peter. Preaching publicly is the most likely reason for her martyrdom.


1 Peter 5


5. Elders: submit yourselves voluntarily to the needs of your flock.

I appeal to the elders as a fellow elder... be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them... not pursuing dishonest gain, eager to serve, and not domineering over those entrusted to you, not trying to rule over them with pwer, but showing them how to live by being a good example... (1 Peter 5:1-4)

This is a clear reference to Jesus telling Peter to be a shepherd (John 21:15-17), and now Peter is encouraging elders to be like shepherds. The word shepherd, in Latin, is pastor. Being a shepherd means feeding and taking care of the flock of believers. Peter knows that being a shepherd may mean persecution (John 21:18).


Egalitarian Reflections

If a pastor or church leader is in a position of power, the position should not be used to boss others around, to be a tyrant or lord over your congregation. You should not be cheating them or overstepping your authority. You should not be preventing others from using the gifts God has given them. Share the leadership tasks.


6. Youth, submit yourselves

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. (1 Peter 5:5 KJV)

Like all believers, youth are encouraged to defer to human governments, including the church elders. This behaviour will silence the insults against God and God's people.


7. All of You: Submit yourselves

"Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)
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Likewise, youth: honour your elders. Likewise all believers: be subject to one another

Some may think that 'all of you' refers only to the youth since it is in the same verse, but there are three separate thoughts: elders submit to the flock, youth submit to elders, and all of you submit to one another.


This verse clarifies all of the preceding discussion about submission and affirms that all believers should be subject to one another, putting the needs of others before their own. No one is in permanent subjugation. There is no hierarchy.


🙃This is another reminder to men to submit, like other believers. Peter overturns the male hierarchies so dominant in the Greco-Roman world.


Egalitarian Reflections

Some may say men only need to submit to other men or men in authority, but Peter tells all believers to submit to one another: men to women, women to men, men to men, women to women.


How? By loving. By listening. By taking turns. By honouring the one who has gifts in a certain area. By submitting ideas to peers for review. By praying for one another. By building consensus. Loving means sometimes submitting to the wishes of another person. Paul also tells all believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).


Jesus also told his followers to submit to one another and showed how to submit to others. When Jesus washed Peter's feet, Jesus said he did it as an example, so that we serve one another and wash one another's feet (John 13:4-17). Jesus told Peter and his other students that in Jesus's realm, rulers would not show off or insist on having authority over others but would become great by serving (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:25-28). Peter tells all the believers to be humble so that God may raise them up on the last day.


Peter tells them not to be anxious about trials or persecutions, but to throw their cares on God because God cares about them. Be vigilant, because the devil is looking to destroy you. Stand firm, knowing that your fellow believers in other places are enduring the same trials. God will strengthen and support you. Peter closes with the affirmation that believers can stand firm in God's grace. He sends the letter with the help of Silas, sends greetings from fellow believers in the church in Babylon, and encourages them to greet one another with a kiss and to have peace.


Conclusion: What Did Peter Say in 1 Peter?

Peter encouraged believers to submit themselves voluntarily to one another out of love and to honour God. Believers are citizens of God's realm, foreigners in the world; Christians everywhere are persecuted and suffer for righteousness. God's grace will help you to stand strong.


  • Jesus is the head, origin, and foundation stone of the church

  • All believers are holy priests and living stones in the new temple

  • All believers are citizens of God's realm and foreigners in the world

  • Honour all believers as equal co-heirs in God's family

  • Ensure your conversation and your actions represent God's realm in a positive way

  • Suffering for your faith is being Christ-like and may bring others to know God (this does not mean suffering for an abuser).

  • Believing wives by both their conversation and their behaviour may win over a husband who disobeys God to know God's Word (Jesus).

  • Believing wives may imitate Sarah, suffering for righteousness as Christ did, bringing her husband to know God's word. Sarah's husband disobeyed God and selfishly risked Sarah's life and honour for his personal enrichment. Later, God told Abraham to obey Sarah. Sarah and Abraham mutually submitted to one another.

  • Believers have strength in knowing God's word and should be considerate of those who are weaker, being without God's word

  • Each believer, man or woman, should speak, act and use their gifts to glorify God.


Submit yourselves voluntarily, out of love, to glorify God

  1. All believers are to submit to human institutions so that God is not slandered.

  2. Submit yourselves to your human masters

  3. Likewise, wives, submit yourselves

  4. Likewise, husbands, honour and defer to your wives

  5. Like Peter, elders are to submit themselves to the flock

  6. Youth, submit yourselves to elders

  7. All believers are to submit themselves voluntarily to one another; men and women both to submit; they serve one another to follow Christ's example of serving others.


 

Elaine Ricker Kelly uses her experiences as a woman in business to inspire and empower women at home, church and society. She was an investment and insurance advisor for thirty years, has three grown daughters, and is passionate about writing to encourage girls and women in leadership. Elaine R. Kelly lives near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and lap dog. She and her husband have hiked the 900 km Bruce Trail and enjoy hiking, nature, tennis, music, history and culture.

Books by Elaine Ricker Kelly:

Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold - biblical fiction offering hope and healing to anyone who feels forgotten, belittled, or out of place.

The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role - provides 104 flashcards with an objective, memorable look at the rationale for diverse views on gender roles.


 

Footnotes:

(1) Stephen M. Miller, The Complete Guide to the Bible, (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 2007).

(2) Michal Beth Dinkler, “Sarah’s Submission,” CBE International, July 31, 2007, https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/sarahs-submission/.

(3) Marg Mowczko, "Submission and Respect from Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7-8", Marg Mowczko, September 11, 2011, https://margmowczko.com/submission-respect-1-peter-3_7-8/

(4) Heather Celoria, “Wives and Husbands in 1 Peter: Who is the Weaker Vessel?” The Junia Project, October 2, 2015, https://juniaproject.com/wives-husbands-1-peter-who-is-the-weaker-vessel/.


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