Even if you reject radical feminism and are totally okay with the idea that the husband is the head of the household, chances are there’s still some small part of you deep down that bristles ever so slightly when you read Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” He has the audacity to call the wife the “weaker” partner! I mean, come on, Peter, what exactly do you mean by that? How are we weaker? Physically? In most cases, that’s probably true, but do we need to point that out? Or do you mean we’re weaker emotionally or even spiritually? Honestly, no matter which way he means it, it sounds condescending.
Okay, so what are we to make of that verse, exactly? First of all, understand this—Peter is not trying to be sexist here. Years ago, I read the book A Mother’s Time by Elise Arndt, and she explains this verse really well. Another way that the word “partner” is translated is “vessel.” In Jewish homes of that day, many different types of vessels were used. Big sturdy pots were placed at the entrance of each home and contained water for cooking and washing. These vessels underwent much use and abuse. Other vessels were more fragile and were used as vases and containers for valuable jewelry. Because of their beauty and delicacy, they were given places of honor in the home and were protected. In 1 Peter 3:7, women are pictured as beautiful, delicate, fragile containers that hold cherished items. Our husbands are required to protect us and give us a place of honor in their hearts and in the home.
Bear with me for a more modern-day analogy. I have two Bibles that I use on a regular basis. One is the Bible I received for Confirmation, a Concordia Self-Study Bible. The other is The Lutheran Study Bible, which my husband bought me when it came out more recently. I have had my Confirmation Bible for 22 years or so, and it’s seen its share of use. I have notes written sloppily in pen, some of the pages are creased or torn, and I don’t cringe if my children open it to find a Bible verse. But The Lutheran Study Bible, now that’s a different story. For one thing, the pages are much thinner, and I protect that Bible fiercely. It’s actually become a joke in our household, because even when my husband uses it I give him strict warning not to mess it up. I only write truly useful notes in the margins, and those only in pencil. I turn the pages slowly and carefully, and I keep it out of reach of my younger children. It isn’t meant to take the more vigorous use of a sturdier-paged Bible, and I protect it accordingly. I protect it because I love it, because it is valuable to me.
So do you see what Peter is really saying to husbands? He isn’t telling them that we’re weak. He is telling them to step up and be the men God intends them to be. God made men to shield and protect their wives from the abuse of the world. Husbands are to give their wives the honor God intends. And let’s not forget the rest of the verse, either. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Men and women alike are heirs of heaven, on completely equal footing in God’s eyes. We are all saved in the same way: through God’s wondrous grace. Don’t be ashamed of being the “weaker vessel.” Rather, thank God that He has placed you in such a position of honor in your household, and much more importantly, that He has made you a member of His household for all eternity.