What to Say When Someone Says that Wives Should Stay with Abusive Husbands

On September 19, 2019

1 Peter 3 is a tricky passage. It’s often been twisted to pressure abused women to stay with their husbands as a sign of submission. But this passage is not meant to subject women to fear or violence. Rather, the passage is supposed to encourage primary loyalty to Christ, not to husbands.

So, what should you say when someone tries to use 1 Peter 3 to suggest that wives should endure abuse to win over husbands?

The Purpose of 1 Peter

The situation of 1 Peter is a crisis—the persecution of the church (1 Pet 4:12). Slander and suffering are major themes in this letter. 1 Peter also teaches that Jesus is in authority over all things. Suffering can have dignity because the all-powerful Christ suffered on the cross and rose. However, human suffering doesn’t accomplish redemption. Only Jesus’ suffering can do that.

In the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands (3:1)

Reading passages about women in isolation often leads to confusion. Verbal clues like “in the same way” point us back to another part of the argument. This helps to understand the reasoning and context.

1 Peter 2 is a long discussion of suffering and submission in persecution. The author tells these persecuted Christians to submit to human authorities to “silence ignorant talk” (2:15). In Greek, the verb “to submit” in 2:13 is then referred to by three participial phrases: “slaves submitting to your masters” (2:18), “likewise wives submitting to your own husbands” (3:1), and “likewise husbands living with your wives…assigning honor to them as a weaker vessel” (3:7). These are instructions to persecuted Christians to keep them safe and make the gospel look good. The goals are the same for all three groups, tailored to their social position.

So that if any do not believe (3:1)

The reason for the command to submit is so unbelievers can be “won over” to the faith. This is consistent with the rest of the letter. These Christians are to live with normal, proper social behavior, and submit to human authorities (2:13). This will attract people to the gospel and silence those who slander them. This isn’t because all authority is just. It’s for the sake of the persecuted church. Being able to identify with Christ’s suffering is a comfort but suffering itself isn’t inherently good.

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