Written by Ron Hutchison - March 10, 2005

In a previous article, we studied what Peter taught about,  "What Every Husband Should Know About The Marriage Relationship." In this article we are going to study what Peter had to say about "What Every Wife Should Know About The Marriage Relationship."  Just as Peter spoke in a clear and pertinent way about the responsibility of the husband in marriage in 1 Peter 3, he also spoke clearly and pointedly about the responsibility of the wife in marriage in the same chapter.

Peter has two things to tell wives about: duty and beauty -- the duty of a wife, and the beauty of a woman. He begins with the duty of a wife in First Peter 3:1-2.

"Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. (1 Peter 3:1-2).


No matter how often one reads this, it always comes out the same. It focuses on the phrase, "be submissive,"  One translation says, "accept the authority of your husbands (NRSV). Another says, "place yourself under your husbands' authority" (GW). Another says, "follow the lead of your husband" (NIRV). The Greek word for "submissive" literally means "to stand under," and it means to take a position under the leadership of your husbands.  This is not speaking of a master-slave relationship. The Bible clearly indicates that it is not when it teaches husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:23, 33; Colossians 3:19).  But it does mean that the wife is willingly to abide by the husband's decisions in matters concerning the family and the home.

This necessity of the wife to submit herself to the husband's authority has been emphasized by many as a negative thing. But dwelling on the negative is like disliking roses because they have thorns. Yes, roses have thorns, but they also have beauty and a pleasing smell. The relationship between the wife and the husband may have some thorns or negative aspects, but it also has beauty and can be very pleasing.

There are three important points that Peter makes about a woman's submission:

Submission is necessary so that a man can be a man.  We saw in our study of Peter's teaching to husbands that the first responsibility of a husband in marriage is to exercise understanding leadership. One thing we all realize is that there cannot be two leaders.  If one is the leader then one must be the follower. Since it is the man's responsibility, because of what God has built into the male nature to be that leader, then the wife cannot also be the leader -- there can be only one.

Sometimes we jokingly say that "in marriage husband and wife are to be one, but the Bible does not say which one."  But that is not true. The Bible does say which one. It is true that neither partner can be completely dominant in marriage, because when two lives are joined in marriage they become "one" (Genesis 2:24).  Every married man knows that he is not the same man that he was when he was single.  Every married woman knows the same.  A new life emerges, but, in this new life, the male is given the responsibility of leadership and final decision. Therefore, marriage cannot be, as we so often hear, a fifty-fifty proposition.  If that were so, there would be a divorce the first time a couple had a disagreement in their point of view.  One must give in, one must let the other make a final decision.  The teaching of the Bible to the wife is that, in fulfilling her responsibility in marriage in obedience to God, she is to yield to her husband's decisions. 

The degree to which the man is successful in his leadership depends on the wife! Isn't this always true no matter what area of leadership it might be in? Whether it be leadership in business, the military, or whatever?  No leader can go farther than his followers will follow him.  If he gets too far out in front he's no longer a leader, he's alone and you can't lead when you are alone.  It's the followers who make leadership possible.  Therefore it is only as the wife is willing to permit, and even to encourage her husband to lead, that he is able to fulfill his responsibilities as a man.

Men have differing degrees of ability to be leaders.  For some it is easy to lead and a wife finds she can relax and enjoy her role in the home.  Other men are timid and uncertain in their leadership. In this case, the wife must hold back and whatever leadership she finds she must take, she must relinquish immediately when he begins, however timidly, to give direction. Some men are bold and presumptive, even dogmatic, in their leadership, and a wife must learn how to gently soften this leadership.  She must never try to displace it, or to assume it herself, for among the things a woman loves in a man are not only those particular qualities which distinguish him from other men,  but simply the fact that he is a man.  She loves his manliness.

An essential element of manhood is leadership.  Therefore, if a wife destroys her husband's leadership, she destroys something of his manhood and thereby diminishes her own love for him.  This is certainly one of the reasons behind this plain and practical teaching on the part of the apostle that wives are to learn to be in subjection to their husbands.

Submission is necessary for the woman to be a woman.  This corresponds to the man being a man. If the husband is going to be a man, and it takes a wife's submission to make it possible, then it also takes this for a wife to be a woman.  No woman is ever really content in the role of a man.  One of the dirtiest tricks every played on women was the Feminist Movement.  Not that it may not have had some value as a protest against some longstanding and deep-seated injustices against women, but, as in almost all protest movements, it went way too far. The claim that women should be free to do everything that men do, and thus to express freedom by imitating men,  is a total rejection of what the Bible teaches about the relationship between men and women.

This does not mean that a married woman cannot work in business and industry. It means, however, that she will never find there the satisfaction and fulfillment that she can find in her home and family, if the conditions in that home are as God intended them to be.


Women often ask questions about this. They ask, "How far should I go?"  "What if he isn't right?" "What if I disagree with him totally, how much then should I be submissive to him?" These are very practical questions and need an answer.

The answer of Scripture is contained in one word, the very first word in this passage, "likewise." That word indicates an example has already been given and that women are to conform to that example in their subjection. It is the example of Jesus Christ in His subjection to the circumstances in which the Father had placed Him. It is described in chapter 2, verses 20-23: For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously...  As Paul set before husbands the example of Christ, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25) so Peter sets before wives the same standard.

Wives are to be submissive to their husbands as Christ was submissive to the Father in accepting the circumstances in which the Father had placed him. He did not quarrel with his circumstances, he took them as from the Father's hand. "He endured them," as we read in Hebrews 12:2, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,"  He accepted them with joy because of what was involved; so it must be with the Christian wife.

Paul puts it in the same way in Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." The wife's submission to her husband is a kind of gauge or measure of the degree to which she is submitted to Christ. 

In practice, this means the wife is to agree to and abide by the husband's right to make final decisions. The nature of his work, the place where he chooses to live, the friends he picks, all these are part of her commitment in marriage when she marries that particular man.  It does not mean that she cannot have her own friends, but it does mean that she does not exclude her husband's friends from her life.

Using the example of Christ, it's clearly evident that the wife's submission to her husband has limits. She cannot abide by her husbands final decisions if those decisions require her to do something that's contrary to God's will or that causes her to violate her conscience (Acts 5:29).  No husband has the right to require his wife to disobey God or to violate her conscience.  Jesus never violated His conscience in his submission to the circumstances the Father had placed Him in.  He never lowered His moral standards though it meant that there were a lot of things which He did not enjoy or like that He put up with because they were the Father's choice for Him.  So wives, in submitting to their husbands must never disobey God's will or violate their consciences.

To put it in a more positive way, wives are to trust and follow their husbands where they can and as far as they possibly can. Where they cannot, in good conscience, they are still to love them and obey them in every other way.  


At this point, Peter hints at a false concept of submission in the phrase, "without a word." In this case we have a situation where women are married to non-Christian husbands. Perhaps both were non-Christians when they got married, but the wife has obeyed the gospel, and is now married to a non-Christian.  "Wives," he says, are to "be submissive to your own husbands, that even is some do not obey the word [i.e., the Word of God], they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives."  "Without a word," does not mean she never speaks to him about Christ and about spiritual matters, it simply means she is not to nag him. It seems to me that nagging is what is in view here.

I heard of a man who called his wife Peg although she really had another name. Someone asked him why he did this and he said, "Well, Peg is short for Pegasus, and Pegasus was an immortal horse, and an immortal horse is an everlasting nag so that's why I call my wife Peg!"

What is nagging, anyway? When you analyze it, nagging is a subtle way for the wife to evade her responsibility to submit to her husband. It is an attempt to take over the reins without really appearing to do so under the guise of concern for some worthwhile end.

Nagging does one of two things to men:  Either the man becomes stubborn and rebels, or he forms a habit of giving in to keep the peace.

Now, if his reaction is one of stubbornness, it's because he feels his God-given responsibility for leadership has been threatened. Perhaps very few husbands will actually look at it this way for this is often a subconscious reaction on their part, but the stubbornness is a sign that a man is fighting to retain his leadership.

A friend of mine told me about the time he was remodeling one of their bathrooms.  He had an old, ugly pink commode that he took out of the bathroom and he put it out on the front porch. He fully intended to move it and get it out of the way. However, his wife  begin to nag him asking him when he was going to get rid of "that old, ugly thing."  When she kept this up, he sat it out in the front yard. It stayed out there for weeks before he finally moved it. His wife thought He was just being hardheaded.  He was, but the problem was not so much with him (although his conduct can't be condoned), but the key lay in her nagging threat to his leadership.

If a man does not react that way, his other reaction is even more deadly: He gives in to keep the peace. He finds it is easier to do what she wants rather than make an issue of it, and if this goes on long enough the wife suddenly finds herself placed into a role that she is unfitted for and unhappy in -- the role of decision-maker.

Out of such situations arise problems of henpecked husbands. It is this reaction that creates the spineless men who have lost proper authority in the home, and as a result, lost the respect and love of their wives. Both of them are to blame for this, but the solution usually lies with the wife because, as I suggested earlier, no leader can lead unless the follower will follow. These are powerful forces in marriage and these warning words of Peter are illuminating, insightful, and true.

 Now Peter moves from the duty of a wife to the beauty of a woman in First Peter 3:3-4:

Do not let your adornment [decoration, or what one does to be beautiful] be merely outward; arranging the hair [elaborate hairstyles], wearing gold [i.e. expensive jewelry], or putting on fine apparel [expensive clothing, or clothing that draws attention to the physical]; rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

This is one of the most important passages in the New Testament for women because Peter here points out the unique contribution which women can make to the world. It is the glory of beauty. Visit the average bachelor's apartment, and, in many of them, you find dirty dishes in the sink and dirty clothes lying around the floor.  Even if the apartment is in order it has a pragmatic atmosphere.  Everything is functional. Things are there only because they are of use.

But let that bachelor get married and his wife move into the same apartment, and you will find immediate changes. There are flowers in a vase, curtains on the window,  everything is cleaned up, the furniture is rearranged more tastefully. This is what is called, "the woman's touch," and what a bleak and dismal world this would be without it.  It is woman's unique ability to contribute beauty to life.

Every woman needs to know that the beauty she is expected to contribute to life must be at all levels.  This is why Peter says, "your beauty must not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and expensive clothing, but that it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God's eyes" (HCSB).

 Woman is to be more than physically attractive. Her real power does not lie in seductiveness or flirtatious acts and actions;  it lies in her inner beauty. The great contribution that women can make to this world is beauty of spirit. 

Looking at this world of ours, with its sham and emptiness, its glittering superficial and hollow lives, do you know anything that is in more short supply than beauty of spirit?  What a challenge to women in every age.

 Peter closes his teaching to women with the illustration in First Peter 3:5-6.

For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.

Here Peter emphasizes the supreme role of a wife.  It is in her willingness to yield to her husband that a woman fulfills the function of supplying beauty, that gentle and quiet spirit of great value.

Sarah is one of the most remarkable women of all time.  She certainly deserves far more fame than she has had. She is much more remarkable than some other women of history --  like Helen of Troy or Cleopatra.  Sarah was strikingly beautiful.  One of the most amazing things ever recorded about women was written about this woman.

At the age of sixty-five she was taken by Pharaoh of Egypt for his harem, when Abraham her husband had foolishly jeopardized her safety by a half lie that she was his sister.  The amazing thing is that this whole thing was repeated again under Abimelech, the King of the Philistines, when Sarah was ninety years old!  What an amazingly beautiful woman she must have been.  But her fame in the New Testament does not rest on her physical beauty but on her beauty of spirit.  By a gentle and quiet spirit, she bound the heart of Abraham to herself so strongly that, when she died at the age of 127, Abraham was simply inconsolable. He wept and mourned for Sarah for days.

 Now, it does not suggest in this passage that it was Abraham's idea that she call him "lord."  If any of you husbands try to force that upon your wife, I can tell you now what the results will be!  This was Sarah's idea.  It was what she felt to be an expression of her willingness to be in subjection to her husband.  But I would like to ask you husbands, which of you would willingly miss an evening at home if your wife expressed the same attitude of respect and love for you that Sarah did for Abraham. 

 Abraham is one of the great names in the Bible; in fact, he is one of the universal names of mankind. Abraham's name is still known all over the earth and is one of the very few names that can claim such distinction. The Bible is surely suggesting here that the greatness of this man is due, in part, to the wonderful wife he had. She set an example for women everywhere. Like him, she entered into the life of faith and became one of the very few women to be listed in the record of the heroes of faith in Hebrews eleven. May I encourage you wives to become daughters of Sarah! The old saying that "behind every great man is a great woman" was certainly true in Abraham's case.


Ladies, if you want your marriage to be successful; if you want your marriage to please God and to give you joy and fulfillment in the most essential areas of your life; then follow Peter's teaching in this great chapter of God's word. Some wives have failed to submit to their husbands leadership, and as a result, they and their husbands are miserable and unhappy.  Do you want your marriage to be great? Follow Peter's teaching.

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