This past Sunday I attempted to work through 1 Peter 3:1-7. Incidentally, I actually spent most of my time making a case for the Complementarian position. Complementarianism is the belief that men and women are created and valued equally by God and yet men and women serve in differing roles that complement each other. I’m aware that Egalitarians would offer other insights, but my point isn’t to debate the merits of either position. Plus, I’m more of a “soft” Complementarian than an “old school traditionalist” (Dan Wallace wrote an excellent article, Some Reflections on the Role of Women in the Church: Pragmatic Issues, that seems to reflect my thoughts well).

Well, I didn’t really spend any enough time on the Petrine text’s point – submission. In fact, the whole flow of Peter’s thought, from 2:13 to 3:1-7, is on the topic of submission. In 1 Pet. 3:1-6, Peter was laying a foundation for wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to live understandably with and to honor their wives. Why? Because “they are heirs with you” (3:7).

To simplify the text we would argue that wives are instructed to submit to their husbands, especially if the husbands are unbelievers, so that the unbelieving husbands would be led to the Lord. Husbands may in fact come to the Lord as a result of the submissive lifestyle demonstrated by their wives! Furthermore, Godly beauty comes from internal qualities of the heart and not on the external appearances that women specifically so often spend their entire lives worrying about. Example? Observe the Patriarchs: Sarah’s relationship with Abraham. But this doesn’t let husbands off the hook. They need to be Godly in how they interact with their wives, who are valued the same as their husbands.

This seems to be the overall flow of the text. Obviously more commentary could be added and essential points could be made regarding the Greek and the overall context of the epistle. Perhaps we’ll do that at a later date (or within the comments). Today I want to address several practical questions/problems and hopefully get your thoughts regarding this issue after I’ve shared mine.

It is a well known fact that people can fool each other. I’m quite sure that there are husbands who have the appearance of being Godly in how they relate to their wives but are, for all practical purposes, extremely abusive (physically, emotionally, or spiritually). Perhaps they aren’t even “extremely abusive.” Maybe they are just “semi-abusive.” Regardless, this does not relate to Paul’s commandment that husbands would love their wives (Eph. 5:25).

Yet many of these “Christian husbands” play what I refer to as the “submit card.” When their wife disagrees with them or won’t obey their every beck and call (e.g. “get me a beer”), they make statements like, “Women, you need to submit to me because the Bible says so.” If these husbands are really on their game they’ll even note that Eph. 5:24 states that “wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

So does this mean that wives need to obey their husbands in every area? There are many, many variables that need to be taken into consideration here! I’m sure most wives would agree. So, when 1 Pet. 3:1 and Eph. 5:24 state that wives are to submit to their husbands, does the text really mean in everything? I believe this text needs to be understood in the same way that we understand submission in regards to other situations. For instance, when Paul says in Rom. 13 that the Christian are to submit to the government, we understand there are exceptions. So, what are the exceptions to “everything” in regards to marriage relationships? David Guzik gives four exceptions:

(1) When the husband asks the wife to sin, she is free from her obligation to submit. This applies in a place of clearly Biblical sin – such as signing a fraudulent tax return. It also applies in matters of true Christian conscience. But we must be very careful to distinguish between true Christian conscience and mere opinion. But the wife does not have to submit to a request to commit sin.

(2) When the husband is medically incapacitated, or insane, she is free from her obligation to submit. A wife does not have to submit to the requests a husband makes when he is insane or medically incapacitated.

(3) When the husband is physically abusive, and endangers the safety of the wife or children, the wife is free from her obligation to submit. She does not have to submit to his violence.

(4) When the husband breaks the marriage bond by adultery. Obviously, a wife does not have to submit to her husband’s adultery, and just accept it. The Bible says she has the right to “come out from under his rank” in such cases. “If the husband has been guilty of adultery the wife is no longer bound to give him obedience in everything. She can divorce him, she is allowed to do so by the Scripture. She is entitled to do so because adultery breaks the unity, breaks the relationship. They are now separate and no longer one. He has broken the unity, he has gone out of it. So we must not interpret this Scripture as teaching that the wife is this irrevocably, inevitably bound to an adulterous husband for the rest of her life. She may choose to be – that is for her to decide. All I am saying is, that this Scripture does not command it.” (Lloyd-Jones)

Here’s the questions that I have both asked and have been asked: (1) Should a women submit to a husbands request that she not fellowship with other Christians? (2) Should a women allow a “nominal” or “carnal” “Christian” husband to be the spiritual head of the home? (3) Should a women submit herself to the theological beliefs that her husband holds? What if he goes from being Protestant to Roman Catholic? Pentecostal to Cessationist? Baptist to Greek Orthodox?

I’ve observed that far more often than not, people make poor decisions. For example, wives will “submit” to their husband and no longer fellowship in a community of Christians (Church) and yet they unfortunately lose ground in their spiritual journey. Others will allow their “Christian” husbands to abuse them (physically, emotionally, or spiritually) and not do anything to prevent it, all for the sake of submission. On the other side of the coin, there are wives who openly reject the leadership of their husband and refuse to allow him to take a leadership role.

What are your thoughts? How do you answer these questions? What questions would you add?

By the way… to answer the question of this post: no woman should ever stay in an abusive situation. So if a husband is telling her that she needs to “submit” and by “submit” he means “take abuse,” I say, “Hogwash!”

Editor’s note (Oct. 10, 2015): For an updated perspective on Luke’s views concerning women in ministry, read “On How I’ve Changed My View(s) on Women in Ministry, AKA, “Farewell Luke Geraty””