Are Wives Really the Weaker Vessel (1)? By Babatunde Olugboji
What does Peter in 1 Peter 3:7 mean when he referred to wives as the ‘weaker vessel’? We will begin examining this question this week.
In his letter to the church, Peter addressed husbands and wives, admonishing them to create healthy, God-honoring relationships between them. We find similar household instructions in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:22—6:4) and the Colossians (Colossians 3:18–21).
After addressing the wives, Peter told the husbands to ‘live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.’ (1 Peter 3:7)
Often, our first reaction to hearing women described as ‘weaker,’ especially in the context of marriage, is to believe that this verse encourages the continuation of a patriarchal system that restricts women because women are regarded as less valuable than men. And this verse has unfortunately often been misused to do just that. However, such an idea is not only contrary to the meaning of this passage but also to what the Bible teaches more broadly.
Rather than portraying women as inferior to men, when put in context of the rest of the passage and the rest of Scripture, this verse does just the opposite. Peter here encouraged husbands to love their wives by living with them with understanding and honor.
The word Peter uses for honor here means ‘a value by which the price is fixed.’ This means that God has valued women, and that value is fixed: no man can change her worth. As people who have been valued by the creator as worth the death of His Son, women are due a certain amount of respect and care.
Part of the reason that wives are due special honor from their husbands is because they are the ‘weaker vessel.’ This phrase most likely refers to the fact that, in general, men are physically stronger than women. It is possible that women could be considered ‘weaker’ in other ways as well.
For example, and again related to the physical body, women are more physically vulnerable to certain acts of violence because they are the ones who bear children. They are also more physically vulnerable when pregnant.
And in many societies, even today, women do not enjoy equal privileges as do men. But rather than treat their wives as society would suggest, Christian husbands are to honor their wives, serve and protect them. A husband is instructed to esteem his wife and care for her, even to the point of laying down his life for her (Ephesians 5:25–29).
The ‘weaker vessel’ is not to be treated as something of lesser value, but as someone to love and honor as an equal in Christ, since they are heirs with their husbands.
The word translated here as ‘vessel’ is the Greek word ‘skeuos,’ meaning a vessel or implement or some kind of tool. The word is completely gender neutral, neither masculine nor feminine, good nor bad. Other places in the New Testament use this word to refer to all Christians” ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Have a great week.
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