I’ve begun a new series with the girls at church about the things people say of godly women and whether or not they are biblically sound. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be looking at jewelry and makeup, whether women should hold positions of authority, if women should be quiet in church, what it means to be submissive, and other things that people say about us.This week: Does the Bible actually call women weak?
I’ve heard it many times. “Women are weak, and the Bible says so.” The verse referenced is always 1 Peter 3:7
Husbands, likewise, dwell with your wives with understanding, giving honor to them, as to the weaker vesselI see a few major problems with using this verse to support the argument, so let’s break down the verse, piece by piece. First, though, please remember I am not a Bible scholar and all of the following is my own opinion.
1) Who is Peter writing to? Husbands and wives. He is not addressing all men and all women but just how a husband should treat his own wife. Let’s think about the cultural significance of this time period as well. The Bible is written for anyone in any generation, but we can’t separate the fact that Peter was also writing to a specific group of people. In general, men had the power and ruled over their households. Women were less educated and had fewer opportunities. In paganism and other religions, wives were seen mostly as instruments to satisfy the man’s needs and desires.
2) “dwell with your wives” – or live with them. Got it. Husbands, live with your wives.
3) “with understanding” – uh oh. Husbands, live with your wives with understanding? A man will never understand a woman (and vice versa)! What else could this part mean? First, the husband is to understand what God desires from the relationship. Second, he is to understand what his wife needs. This can only be accomplished with communication. The husband and wife must communicate in order to understand each other’s needs, and then meet those needs to the best of their abilities. Another translation says “living with knowledge” – so while men and women don’t understand each other, they seek to know each other, to know what each other wants and needs from the marriage. Here’s a personal example: Sometimes I cry for no apparent reason. Mr. T doesn’t yell at me “Shut up woman! There’s nothing to cry about!” Living with understanding or knowledge means, even though he doesn’t understand why I’m crying, he understands/knows that I need his comfort. Culturally (and for modern-day), this part was important. Peter was telling men that it’s not all about what the husbands want.
4) “giving honor to them” – I think this is the most important part of the verse. Women were seen as possessions, as means for gratification and someone to bear children. Christianity brought a different concept – one where the wives are honored. When you honor someone, you respect them; you look up to them; you admire something about them; you see something about them that is better than what you have; they are your superior in some way. Now, I’m not at all saying women are better than men, but think about how it works in a good marriage, where both partners are happy. They both think they got better than they deserve! Peter is not saying women are better than men, but is calling husbands to treat their wives as if they are—as if they’re something special.
5) “as” – One word can make so much difference. The verse says “giving honor to them as the weaker vessel.” Not is, but as. The verse never says wives actually are the weaker vessel, but that husbands should wives as if they are. If someone around you is weaker, what do you do? A caring person would help them however they could. For example, I’m perfectly capable of carrying groceries into our home, but Mr. T usually carries them for me. He treats me as he would someone weaker. Also, remember what was going on culturally. Husbands had the power, which meant they could beat their wives if they wanted to. But Peter is giving a call to husbands to not bully their wives or abuse their power.
6) “weaker” – An average-muscled man is fairly strong, but if he stands next to a body builder, one of them is obviously weaker. The Bible does not say “weak,” but “weaker.” 2 people can both be strong, but one will be weaker. Does the Bible say women are strong or weak? We’re told the Proverbs 31 woman “girds herself with strength and strengthens her arms.” (Proverbs 31:17) So nope, not weak.
7) “vessel” – Some scholars think the verse means women are weaker spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Or basically in every area. Personally, I think the verse is only referring to physical strength because even in the original Greek, the word is “vessel,” which is the outer shell. Some English translations have changed this to “partner” instead of “vessel.” Biblos.com is my favorite site for checking original texts since some things are lost or easily misinterpreted when translated. In general, men have the potential to be physically stronger than women. Our bodies are built differently, plain and simple. Some men don’t take advantage of it, though, and some women work out to become buff.
8) Finally, there’s more to the verse. When people quote it as proof that women are weak, they usually only mention the first part. The rest of the verse says “and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” Husbands and wives are heirs together of God’s grace. God doesn’t put the husband higher than the man or give him a greater portion. They’re equal. In the very last part, Peter says husbands better treat their wives well or else their prayers will not be answered.
Image from pixabay
My conclusion: Peter did not write this to say women are weak. He wrote it to address a problem among marriages and to tell husbands how God desires a marriage to be.
What are your thoughts on 1 Peter 3:7 and the view of "weak" women?