1 Peter: Lesson 8: How the Christian Lives, Part 3


In 1 Peter 3:1-7, Peter finishes his focus on how the Christian is to live within a non-Christian household.  Like his earlier instruction, we can find this section also comprised of three parts:

  • How to live or be, here being subordinate
  • Unfolding of what is pleasing to God, and
  • A reason for the attitude or behavior he is extolling

The overall context is how to live as a Christian though doing so may bring you verbal abuse or displeasure by the head of the house.

In Peter’s day, the protocol was to address the slave owner of husband.  If the slaves and wives were to be addressed at all, the words for them were to follow.  Peter, however, departs from this, addressing slaves (in the previous lesson) and, here, wives first.  This structure served two purposes:

  • Emphasizing the one being oppressed, and
  • Showing in his epistle’s structure that the kingdom of God operates differently from the world


Read 1 Peter 3:1-2

“Likewise, wives”: A direct address to wives, not their husbands.

“be subject”: hupotasso, a passive participle, “subordinating.”  This refers to occupying one’s vocation or place in society, not some type of unreflective subjection.

  • What does the passive voice reveal about the Christian wife “being subordinate” to her husband?
  • If a passive, what enables her to be so?
  • What is the motivation Peter gives for such behavior?

“do not obey the word”: a present-active verb, apeitho, meaning “disobey” and/or “disbelieve.”  Just like the word for “faith” and “faithfulness” are the same, so is disbelieve and disobey.  This is not the lack of obeying but being disobedient.  As a present and active verb form, these husbands are in an active state of unbelief.

“respectful”: Greek, phobos.  This is fear, not of the husband, but of God.  

What’s going on with the verbs?  The husband is in an active state of unbelief.  God, however, can use the wife’s demeanor and behavior to convert the husband (note: “convert” is a passive verb, the wife doesn’t convert him) as he is observing her (a participle).  In an active state of unbelief and watching his wife, both are present-tense realties for the husband.  So, those who were earlier impervious to the proclaimed Word may be changed by the unspoken words (by the lives) of their wives.

So, the husband appears to be “large and in charge,” for he is doing the verbs.  Still, in God’s hidden way of things, He will use a passive verb from the wife, for she’s not trying to out-husband her husband by being His spiritual head, and convert him.  Rather than taking the role of Eve (even for the “good”), she serves faithfully, recognizing her vocation of “wife” (being subordinate, but subject), allowing God to use her actions for His ends.  The wife’s aim is not to manipulate her husband into believing the Word.  No, she takes up the gracious action of subordination because this is the way of Jesus Christ and, through such, she proclaims the Gospel.

Read 1 Peter 3:3-4

“Do not… but let”: An imperative, command.  A Christian woman is not responsible, or can, convert her husband.  However, she can choose how she dresses and conducts herself.

  • Concerning her adornment, what is the Christian woman to avoid?

In Asiatic Greek, Peter busts out with some poetry, using rhyme to reinforce that external beauty is just that, external.  Note the repetition of “ah” sounds:

Emplokas trixon: “braiding of hair”

Peretheseos crusion: “putting on gold”

Enduseos himation: “wearing of clothes”

  • Concerning her adornment, what is the Christian woman to embrace?

“but let your adorning”: Peter writes “but whose adorning,” referring to the wife’s respectful and pure conduct.  The wife’s outward conduct is meant to reveal what is in the heart.

  • Why does the wife’s inner adornment matter? (consider both the previous passage and this one)
  • If this beauty is imperishable, what are the implications of that?

“in God’s sight is very precious”: Earlier, Peter used timios for “precious” (1 Peter 1:7, 19; 2:4, 6).  Here, he uses polyteles, which means something lavish or luxurious.  What is from a human standpoint quiet and self-effacing is “in God’s sight” wonderfully lavish and extravagant!  Honoring Peter’s own vocabulary usage, this “imperishable beauty” is luxurious to God, mirroring what awaits us in eternity.

Here, Peter conveys an ongoing truth for Christians.  For Paul teaches the same to Pastor Timothy.

In the context of suffering: 1 Peter 3:3-4 In the context of worship: 1 Timothy 2:9-12
Do not let your adorning be external [kosmos, shaped by this world]   whose adorning is the hidden …  imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet [hesuchios] spirit, which is luxurious God’s sight.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves [ekosomon, shaped by God] women should adorn [kosmio] themselves … not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.  Let a woman learn quietly [hesuchia] with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet [hesuchia].

Peter says a Christian woman’s gentle and quiet spirit is something luxurious to God.  But he doesn’t explain why, only teaching that this is part of a husband being converted “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1).  In 1 Timothy, however, Paul does: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:13-14).

Read 1 Peter 3:5

  • To whom does Peter direct Christian wives to pattern their behavior?

Read 1 Peter 3:6a

  • Peter moves from the general to the specific.  Who is this specific example and why?

In the Septuagint, in Genesis 18:12, we find Sarah calling Abraham “lord,” kyrios.  However, her usage is disrespectful, of him being too old to father a son.  What’s crazier is the Septuagint only uses “obey” (hupakouo) in relation to Abraham and Sarah twice.  The first is in Genesis 16:2, with Abraham obeying Sarah, in this case, to sleep with Hagar to have a son.  In Genesis 21:12, God tells Abraham to do whatever Sarah tells him, using akouo, “to heed.” 

So, it seems, Peter is using the wrong example!  Or is he?  Let’s peek into the texts he draws upon.

The setting is that Abraham and Sarah and outsiders.  Abraham fears others may kill him to take Sarah because she is still good looking, one of those sexy senior citizens.   And he’s just some foreigner without his people to protect him.  Afraid, he lies and tells the people of Gerar that Sarah is his sister.

  • How did Sarah “obey” Abraham?  What does she believe her actions are doing?

Hupotasso vs. hupakouo: To finish this sections about wives, Peter switches from hupotasso, “subordinate,” to hupakouo, “obey.”  In Asiatic Greek, Peter’s taking us for a ride.  Yes, hupakouo means “obey” but Peter wants us to relish the nuance: to show respect to give one greater honor.  This, Jesus did for God the Father, to save us.  This, Sarah did, to save Abraham.  This, Peter extols Christians wives to do, to save their unbelieving husbands (or respecting the “passive voice,” for them to be saved).

However, Abraham illustrates a husband who is disobedient to the Word, becoming like Adam, not choosing to protect his Eve, Sarah.  Thus, Peter is saying, become a “Jesus” to your husband even if he’s a loser, in this one case, like Abraham.

Read 1 Peter 3:6b

Without knowing the Old Testament story Peter is referencing, this verse would make no sense. 

  • Like Sarah, what is Peter calling Christian wives to be?
  • How can sleeping with another man to protect your husband be “good”?
  • Who are Sarah’s children specifically and in general?

“children”: Note the Greek, techna, children, not daughters.

“if you do good and not fear…”: Greek, “doing good and not fearing…” The Greek doesn’t have “if” and moves straightaway into a participle, explaining what “children of Sarah” do.

Scripture portrays Abraham as the father of believers (Luke 19:9, John 8:39, Romans 4:11-12, Galatians 3:7, Hebrews 2:16).  Here, Peter speaks of Sarah the mother of believers (Isaiah 51:2, Romans 9:9, Galatians 4:23-30, Hebrews 11:11).  This is not because she laughed at God being able to use Abraham to produce children but for her willingness to suffer to save Abraham.


Read 1 Peter 3:7

  • Like’s Peter’s address to wives, to whom, and not to whom, does this verse apply?

“live with”: Greek, synoikeo, built on the root word for “house.”  This emphasizes the interdependence of a relationship: The husband’s responsibility is defined by the nature of marriage, not himself.  If it were defined by himself, it would not require understanding.

“live with your wives in an understanding way: Not understanding but gnosis, knowledge, which the KJV gets right.  Perhaps, modern-day translations shy away from this because translators think this could imply women are stupid (after all the praise Peter heaped on Sarah?).  In line with Peter’s thinking of pointing people to God, he means, “Live with your wives according to the knowledge of God,” not your knowledge.

  • With the story of Abraham and Sarah still in our minds, how did Abraham fail to show honor to Sarah as the weaker vessel?
  • In what way are women generally weaker than men?  Thus, what is a husband never to do to his wife?
  • What’s radical in Peter’s day about a woman being an “heir”?

The wife as an “heir” means she is an equal, though husband and wife still serve differently and in different spheres.  Being over or under is not a sign of inferiority or superiority but the place where someone serves.  Jesus does this by becoming the “lowest” though He was the “highest.”

“heirs with you of the grace of life”: Being an “heir” and “grace” are actions of God toward the person.  Someone can only become an heir of God by His grace (gift), which God does for us because we are weaker vessels, unable to achieve our salvation.  As Jesus does for His bride, the Church, the husband is to honor his wife as the weaker vessel. 

Since God honored the husband as the weaker vessel by saving him, when the husband does the opposite, it “boomerangs” back to God, dishonoring and abusing Him.  Thus, the fracture taking place in the horizontal human relationship fractures the vertical one with God, hindering the husband’s prayers.

Scripture is full of “be-reconciled first” admonitions.  Here’s just one:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24]

Excursus: The Pragmatic vs. The Theological

The Pragmatic

In last week’s Lesson and today’s, Peter explored the tensions existing because one member of a household converted to Christianity.  What created this tension was the head of the household, or the household as a whole, not also being Christian.  These instances put Christians up for criticism.  For:

  1. A Christian is following what society (or a Jewish husband) considered a malformed cult claiming to be a religion.
  2. corrupting and reversing social and household norms.
  3. failing to conform to the social expectations of household members following the head of the household’s patterns of religious belief.

Yet, if a Christian doesn’t need to go against the Faith, he is to accommodate society in general—to help confess the Faith.  So, Peter encourages Christians to conform as closely as possible to accepted social norms, without compromising their confession and commitment to Christ.  In other words, if someone becomes angry with you, let it be because of your belief in Christ, not some other reason.

The Theological 

  1. Peter bases his instruction on the Christian doctrine of vocation, serving where one is placed to serve (thus, being subordinate in this role).
  2. Such behavior bases itself on the Christian’s fear of God and holiness, recognizing God is still God and will take care of the Christian, here, but most of all, for our eternal good.
  3. Choosing to ignore one’s faith in living out his life can interfere with one’s prayer-life with God.  In other words, deliberately choosing to sin in this matter affects one’s spiritual life. (1 Pet 3:7b).
  4. This also includes a “missionary motive,” for helping to bring another to Faith is not simply a matter of apologetics. 

So, concludes living as a Christian within a household.

Link to the next Lesson.