In ancient Greece, and then later also in the Roman world, there were these bizarre rules about women. They were typically not allowed out in public. Most often, if they were in public, they were with their father or husband, and they were not allowed to talk. If they were by themselves and speaking to others, they were probably a prostitute. Aristotle taught that a slave is no more than ‘a tool of his master’. Together with the wife and the ox, a male or female slave is a householder’s indispensable beast of burden. He or she should be kept well — for simple economic reasons. But slaves have no right to leisure or free time. They own nothing and can take no decisions. They have no part in enjoyment and happiness, and are not members of the community.
In case you weren’t sure, yes, Aristotle believed that a wife was simply a slave to her husband. She was barely recognized as higher than an animal. Plato said, “It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may continue through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment; the best a woman can hope for is to become a man”
In this same line of thought, Aristotle then teaches: ‘It is the best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For this is how they are kept alive. In the same way, the relationship between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is ruled’ (Aristotle, Politica, ed. Loeb Classical Library, 1254 b 10-14).
Now, there is this crazy idea that the people of old were “primitive” and that we “refined” individuals don’t act like that. Yet, we find many of the verses in the Bible about women being quoted to set them apart from the man in the same sort of manner. As one who believes the Bible, and yet doesn’t subscribe to this Greek mentality, how do I handle these kinds of statements against women?
There is a passage in 1 Peter 3 that I would like to go through. “Wives, in the same way be submissive to you husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
How many of you read that and want to vomit? Me too. That is why I went on a word hunt in the Greek. First word: “be submissive to”. To start, notice that it says “likewise”, or in the version I quoted, “in the same way”. Same way as what? 1 Peter 2 ends by explanation of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of us. So, when Peter says, “be submissive to”, it has something to do with that. The Greek is hupotassomai. The word “hupotasso” means to place oneself under – voluntarily and not begrudgingly. Yet, this is hupotassomai, which has a different case ending. This is a willing submission, however, the point of this kind of submission is because you are the one supporting. The idea would be “be supportive of” or “tend to the needs of”. The whole idea being conveyed is that your husband needs someone to lean on, and you need to be there for them. It is not about subjecting your will to theirs, and what they say goes.
Second word: obeyed. The word for “obeyed” in the Greek (Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her master) is hypekousen. It comes from the word “hupakouo”. Once again, notice the hupo. Hupo is “under”. The word means to listen, or to attend to. The idea behind it in this passage is not that you have to obey you master as a slave, but rather that you are partakers in the same journey as your husband, and you need to treat them like you’re walking together.
Third word: master. The final word to look at before backing up and reexamining the whole text is kurios. This is sometimes used as the word to mean “the Lord”. Other times it is simply used as a slave who calls his master “lord”. Other times it is used to express one of willful submission to. Think of Paul calling himself a bondslave of Christ. This is not Paul saying that Christ is lording over Him, but rather that he has given all to Christ. Once again, this goes back to hupotassomai.
So, lets look at this again. Wives, just like Christ Jesus submitted Himself to suffering and bearing humiliation and shame on your behalf, submit yourself to your husband to support him and tend to his needs. If any of them do not believe the word, maybe they will be won over without words by your behavior, in purity and reverence of life. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, like braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way that the holy women of old made themselves beautiful: by putting their hope in God.* They were supportive of their husbands, like Sarah, who listened to Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
In this context, what is the beauty that Peter is speaking of? Peter is seeing the beauty of holiness. He is seeing that outer beauty fades, but the wife of noble character is to be praised. Now, in what Peter says to them, it almost seems like these women are at their wits end. Something is happening that is causing them to feel disheveled. We might get a better understanding in the next verse in what Peter says to the husbands: “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.”
What’s going on here? What is obvious is that Peter is telling the husbands to back off – whatever they’re doing to cause their wives to feel less than and dehumanized, they need to stop. Just like the wife is told that she is walking together with her husband, the husband is now reminded that she is walking alongside of him, and not behind. But what is this about the “weaker partner” crap? This is one of those times when the NIV words it absolutely terribly. First, the word partner is not there in the Greek – the word “vessel” is found. Is it the “weaker vessel” – specifically a vessel that would be filled with liquid. Most likely what Peter is saying is that these husbands have driven their wives to the brink of brokenness, and Peter is warning them that their wives are fragile – like a bottle of perfume. You don’t throw glass bottles around; you nicely and gently handle them. Likewise, husbands should not be treating their wives as the weaker sex like the Greeks do, but should rather tend to the needs of their wives.
What is this inner beauty that Peter is speaking of for the wives? The inner beauty is the essence of womanhood. It is what makes you so irresistible. It isn’t about having the right “dimensions” and knowing how to dress up to cause boys to look in the right places. This inner beauty is one of mothering, of supporting the husband, of being the completion necessary for Adam, of thinking in a manner that we men just don’t seem to get – but we need to. This is what God has made you to be. You are beautiful because He has created in you a gentleness and sobriety to see and experience life in a manner that is necessary for the man. Remember, Eve was created for the man, and not the man for woman. What Paul is saying when pointing that out is that it was Adam who needed the suitable helper, and not the other way around.
If you read this, I want you to take one thing away.
You are sexy on the inside.
You are beautiful simply because of who God has made you to be.
Don’t dress yourself up with makeup and tight clothes and all of the other kinds of ornaments used to get the boy’s attraction. You are attracting the wrong boys.
If you are the kind of woman who does dress like Hollywood tells you to, you don’t have to live like this. There are other options.
You are sexy on the inside.
*Notice that Peter’s ultimate purpose in this is not that the wife is under the husband, but rather that the woman/wife should put her hope in God.