Submission in First Peter

Submission in First Peter October 8, 2019

What about the paradigmatic text of all? Genesis? Andrew Bartlett, in his new book Men and Women in Christ (MWiC), explores Genesis 1-3 and beyond.

Where Bartlett begins is right, and if one reads 1 Peter front to back one sees he’s right. Christ as paradigm shifts all relationships.

1. Peter’s view of life is Christ-centred. The example of our Lord’s humble love and submission is prominent in Peter’s first letter.

2. Peter discusses how this applies to a variety of situations in which Christian believers should give honour to others, including marriage.

Unilaterial authority, leading at times to authoritarianism in the hands of authoritarian males, is not the way of the NT though many read it that way.

3. Peter’s reasons for submission of wives to husbands include: (a) to win them over; (b) a gentle spirit is pleasing to God; and (c) the example of holy women of the past, such as Sarah. She is a wonderfully encouraging illustration of submission to God, and therefore also to her husband, in adverse circumstances (3:1-6). Peter’s analogies for wives’ submission are the call to all believers to be submissive (2:15—17), the instruction to slaves to be submissive even to unjust masters (2:18—21) and the example of Christ’s submission to those who unjustly caused his suffering (2:21-24). His reasons do not include that God’s design has placed husbands in a position of unilateral authority over their wives. This would have been a highly relevant reason for him to give if he had believed it to be true. There is no scripture anywhere in the Bible which instructs husbands to exercise unilateral authority over their wives.

4. Husbands are to behave ‘in the same way’, with gentleness, and paying honour to their wives (3:7). This points to mutual submission.

5. To be named as an heir of the true God is the highest possible honour status. Husband and wife are equally ‘heirs of the grace of life’.  Accurately translated, carefully read and rightly understood, 1 Peter 3:1—7 does not endorse a unilateral authority of husband over wife.

Once again, authoritarian males love patriarchy because it legitimates their getting what they want: control. Those who talk the most about it this are the ones who most want the authority. Scrape the surface and you will find authoritarianism as a pattern.

6. Patriarchal culture has misused 1 Peter 3:1—7. Husbands should not coerce their wives. Where there is domestic abuse, steps should be taken to bring it to an end.

7. Mutual submission in Christian relationships is consistent with appropriate leadership. Christian leadership in the church does not involve the exercise of forcible coercive power over other people. Where church discipline is required, the strongest proper sanction is exclusion and nothing more.

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