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The Real Truth Behind "Wives Submit to Your Husbands"

Updated on July 4, 2015
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by Amber Maccione

1 Peter 3:1-9

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

3 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

The Debate

For numerous years now I have heard the debate over wives submitting to their husbands and what that actually means. I remember when I was in the ninth grade riding the bus home, the other kids on the bus started that debate. Of course the guys were like, “You have to obey us!” And the girls of course countered that by saying, “Are you kidding me?!!? That is not what it means!” So everyone decided to turn to the Christian girl on the bus to settle the debate. With great anticipation from the girls thinking I was going to side with them and the boys thinking I had no other choice but to side with them since I was a Bible is The Only Truth kind of person, I sided with neither. I confirmed that yes wives (emphasis on that) were to submit to their husbands (emphasis on that), but also husbands were to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Of course, neither the boys nor the girls were happy with that answer because it meant that each had a difficult role to fulfill once married.

Now 15 years later, I was hit with the same debate. I have a friend who is from Lebanon. He and I got into a discussion about his girlfriend whom he had after his wife divorced him. He said that he could never marry this girl because she was too opinionated for him. Then of course he let me know that a woman should submit to her husband. I asked him what he meant by that. His reply was, “A man has the final say. I don’t care if I say the sky is purple when it is really blue. The woman must agree with me and not fight me on what I say or decide.” I laughed a little and told him that a woman should also have a say although I do agree that the man has the final say. But since that day, I have been taking a lot of time to think about what the Scripture really says about wives submitting and husbands loving.

First Peter chapter three starts out with a phrase, “In the same way”. That phrase means that there must have been something else said because it is comparing what it is about to say with what was just said. Therefore, we should begin in chapter two of First Peter to understand what Peter is about to say:

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"In the Same Way"

1 Peter 2:18-25

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Books Addressing the Biblical Sense of Submission

Wives Submit to Your Husbands

The first part of this section talks about servants being submissive to their masters. We can kind of see that today as employees submitting to their boss at work. And then Peter goes on to explain what submissive looks like on our part – respect for those who are good and even for those who are unreasonable.

After that, Peter talks about suffering. His point is that when we suffer because we are following God’s instruction, there is great favor in God’s sight for that because Christ also suffered from injustice when he was mocked, spat upon, and hung on a cross to die for our sin.

Therefore, once we understand these verses, we can understand that in the same way that servants are to submit to their master’s and we are called to suffer, the next part is quite clear about what Peter was saying when he said, “You wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” So in part, my friend was right. Wives are to submit to their husbands even when their husbands are unjust or wrong. Out of respect for them, wives must suffer and endure it because that is what Christ has asked you to do. A great book of a celebrity putting this into practice is Candace Cameron-Bure, who wrote Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose, which touches on the role of the wife as a submissive partner in the marriage.

Husbands Love Your Wives

On the flip side, Peter explains to the husbands that they are to love their wives. Another place in the New Testament that also talks about wives submitting and husbands loving is in Ephesians 5:22-33:

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

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Paul in Ephesians explains the love that a husband should have for his wife; that love is the same love that Christ showed to us when He died on the cross for our sins. Therefore, when Peter says that husbands are to love their wives in an understanding way and as the weaker sex, he is saying that the husband should love his wife despite her shortcomings and sins.

Therefore, there is balance. If husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, then it will be easy for the wife to submit to the husband. If the wife is submitting to the husband respectfully, then it will be easy for the husband to love the wife.

I know some of you will say, well you don’t know my wife or you don’t know my husband. I could never love them like that or submit to them like that. Well, there is another verse that is rather important in the Christian way of living:

I Can Do This

Philippians 4:13

13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Christ gives us the strength to do what He calls us to do. Even when it is difficult, God will give us the strength to push through and honor Him.

And when we do honor Him, we will be blessed.

1 Peter 3:8-9

8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

The Love Story

Secondly, as we follow Christ’s instruction on whether to submit to our husbands or to love our wives, we will win them over to Christ. 1 Peter 3:1 says, “they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives”. And the flip side of this is also true. Loving your wife as Christ loved you will draw her in just as it drew you into Christ.

There is a book I read once called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It is about a girl who lived the life of a prostitute even after a loving man married her and cared for her unconditionally. It is based on the book of Hosea in the Bible where God tells his prophet, Hosea, to go and take for himself a prostitute to be his wife. Throughout their marriage, the prostitute never stops being a prostitute. Yet, Hosea continues to go after her and bring her back loving her unconditionally. God instructed Hosea to do this to show the Israelites what they were doing every time they forsook God and lived as the pagans worshipping idols. Like Peter and Paul said, husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. And wives are to submit to their husbands. By doing so, we show God’s love and grace to the other person. That same love and grace won our hearts and it is sure to win their’s as well.

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