Peter Encouraged Believers: Men and Women
Updated: Feb 7
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 only use their gifts with women and children? No.
The main point of 1 Peter is to encourage believers that they will be blessed if they suffer for doing right (1 Peter 3:14). It is not advising that we put up with mistreatment by abusers. It 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).
The letter was likely written 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. 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.
1 Peter 1
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. Since God judges people according to their actions without favouritism, shape your actions around obedience to God, rather than around your former desires (1 Peter 1:17). You can be self-disciplined, holy, and prepared for action because the outcome of your 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). You have new life from the seed of God's Word (1 Peter 1:23).
I believe Peter is introducing the concept that Christians have new life in God's Word, with reference to Jesus being God's Word, the good news. Those who do not know God's Word do not know Jesus and are not Christians. Peter is encouraging the believers that although they will go through distress and persecution for their faith, it will only strengthen their faith, and they will be rewarded in the end. Their actions will set them apart and show their faith.
1 Peter 2
Stop pursuing what you used to desire, and instead desire God's Word. You are each like living stones that build a spiritual temple with Jesus as the 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).
Peter may be comforting the Jewish Christians who are feeling the loss of the Jerusalem Temple after it was destroyed in 70 AD. I see Peter using the word head as a way of saying that Jesus is the foundation or origin of this new living temple. Jesus is the head of the church: the foundational stone, not a boss or authority.
Christians are each being made into holy priests, citizens of a holy 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.
Next, Peter begins a list of ways that Christians can survive as foreigners in a worldly culture. Peter lists six times when Christians must submit to others to glorify God.
1. Be subject
"Be subject, then, to every human creation, 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 YLT).
Please note that this does not tell women to be subject to men; it says all believers are to be subject to human governments. The reason to submit to governments is to silence the insults against God's people and reduce the chances that they are persecuted. It is not because God commands servitude. Peter says that they should be subject to human norms of their own free will, not as a slave.
2. Be subject
"Servants, be subject to your masters" (1 Peter 2:18 KJV)
This passage has been used through the centuries to say that masters should have servants and slaves and that masters can treat them as they wish. However, Peter is not talking to the masters. 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. He reminds them that Jesus also suffered after doing nothing wrong, and Jesus did not reply with insults or threaten revenge. This passage does not show Jesus or the abused person giving any respect to the abusive master. Peter is telling the servants to be subject to human governments to silence the insults against God's people and reduce the chances of being persecuted. Peter is not addressing wives in this passage. Jesus is our example of how to live as foreigners in this world, serving others, and focusing on the reward in heaven. Servants or slaves are honoured as being Christ-like, suffering for doing no wrong, for the sake of gaining their master's salvation.
1 Peter 3
3. Be subject
"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," (1 Peter 3:1 KJV)
This passage has been used through the centuries to say that wives are second-class citizens, and all wives must be permanently subjugated to their husbands. However, 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 human governments and masters in order to silence insults against God. In Christ's realm, there is no longer male or female, but in the Greco-Roman world, a wife was in a vulnerable position. If she converted to Christianity without her husband's consent or used her Christian freedom to overrule her husband or divorced him to avoid being married to an unbeliever, it could bring slander against God or God's people.
Peter specifically addresses wives of unbelievers and tells them how to win over a non-believing husband to Christ. Many translations entirely omit 'the conversation of the wives' and preachers tell the women to suffer in silence, without a word. However, many word-for-word translations say that husbands may be won over for Christ by their wives conversation. Peter is not telling wives to suffer in silence, to be silent, or to not say a word. 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'.
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 others be attracted to Christ.
What about when Peter tells wives to obey like Sarah? There is just one occasion where Sarah calls her husband lord, 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 are 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 who put their needs above hers 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 these wives of unbelieving husbands, to be Christ-like, suffering in order to win their husbands over to obedience to God. When Abraham is obedient to God, God specifically tells Abraham to obey his wife (Genesis 16:2-6, Genesis 21:11-12).
4. Be subject.
"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)
In using the word "Likewise", Peter is telling all Christian husbands to submit to their wives. (3) Believing husbands are to follow the example of believing wives and honour their marriage partner (1 Peter 3:1), the example of Christian servants (1 Peter 2:18), and of Christian citizens (1 Peter 2:13-15). Even though the husband was the "paterfamilias' in a Roman family, responsible to protect and provide for the family, he is told to love his wife. Loving is putting a priority on the wants of the other person, very similar to submitting to the other person.
Peter underlines the fact that the believing husband is to live according to his knowledge of God's Word. The unbelieving wife is weaker because she does not know God's Word. Referring to the unbelieving wife as a weaker vessel is not likely a reference to her being physically, emotionally, or mentally weaker and is no indication that she should be under her husband's authority. Peter is telling them that the believer is in a stronger position than the non-believer. (4) The unbelieving wife is a weaker vessel until she knows God's Word (Jesus). 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. 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 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.
1 Peter 4
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, a foreigner in a non-Christian world. The letter is written during a time when Roman soldiers are actively pursuing, imprisoning, and killing those who are Christians. 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)
All believers - men and women - should use their gifts to honour God. Peter gives no restrictions on how men or women may speak, serve, or act.
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.
1 Peter 5
Peter addresses the elders of the churches, telling them to tend the flock like shepherds. This is a clear reference to Jesus telling Peter to be a shepherd (John 21:15-17). Being a shepherd means feeding and taking care of the flock of believers. Peter tells the elders to be shepherds voluntarily, not greedily. Elders should not rule over those entrusted to their care, but be an example to them. Peter knows that being a shepherd may mean persecution (John 21:18).
5. Be subject
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. (1 Peter 5:5 KJV)
Youth are encouraged to be subject to human governments, including the Greco-Roman norms of respecting elders. This behaviour will silence the insults against God and God's people.
6. Be subject
"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)
Some may think that 'all of you' refers only to the youth since it is in the same verse.
But Peter is telling all believers to submit to one another. It is two separate thoughts in one verse: youth submit to elders, and all people submit to one another. How do people submit to one another? By taking turns. By honouring the one who has gifts in a certain area. By submitting ideas to peers for review. By listening. By loving. Loving means sometimes submitting to the wishes of another person.
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. 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). Peter was there when Jesus told his followers that in his 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 is sending the letter with the help of Silas, sends greeting 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?
Jesus is the head, origin, and foundation stone of the church
Believers are holy priests and living stones in the new temple
Believers are citizens of God's realm and foreigners in the world
Ensure your conversation and your actions represent God's realm in a positive way
All believers are to submit to human institutions so that God is not slandered.
Suffering for doing good 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 their husbands to know God's Word.
Sarah obeyed her husband when he disobeyed God and selfishly risked Sarah's life, and later God told Abraham to obey Sarah; Peter advises wives to imitate Sarah, suffering for righteousness as Christ did, to bring their husband's into God's realm.
Believing husbands are stronger by their knowledge of God's Word and should be considerate of wives who do not know God's word; husbands submit to wives to win them over to Christ.
Believing husbands, once their wife also knows God's word, should honour their wives as equal co-heirs in God's realm.
Each believer, man or woman, should speak, act and use their gifts to glorify God.
Elders should not rule over others but be an example, feed and care for others
Youth are to honour elders
All believers are to be subject to one another; men and women both to submit; they serve one another to follow Christ's example of serving others.
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.
(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/.