Yesterday I provided an interpretation of 1 Peter 3:1-2 from the complementarian perspective. In the spirit of friendly discussion, I asked my friend, Erin O’Neal, to provide an egalitarian view. After reading her post, I was surprised by how much we agreed. Take a look for yourself and please be sure to comment and let us know what you think!
1 Peter is all about being holy. Peter tells Christians at the outset of the book that they must be holy, as Christ is holy (1:15). Keeping this in mind is critical for any interpretation of any passage of the book. Peter’s main message is loud and clear: Be holy.
So when discussing passages like 1 Peter 3, you can’t come to a relevant interpretation without understanding how it relates to Christians being holy.
Egalitarians like to focus on the historical context of gender roles.
During the time of the New Testament, families were run based on Greco-Roman household codes. What were these codes?
A series of writings and laws that dictated how the family was supposed to be run. These codes indicated that the husband was the sole head of the household and that everyone in his household—from his children to his slaves to his wife—were his property. For Peter and other Biblical authors like Paul, these household codes were an essential part of how the world worked. It was the system in which they were born and lived. To challenge that system, especially in a time when Christians were under heavy persecution, was in some cases literally breaking the law.
Egalitarians view the commands that Peter and Paul made regarding husbands and wives within the context of these codes. Just as neither author demanded an outright abolition of slavery, they don’t demand women be given full rights of personhood and independence under the law. Instead, they take the cultural system they know, and turn it towards a more holy alternative.
The cultural norms that influenced Peter and Paul are part of the world, and will perish with time. But the imperishable truths that point husbands and wives towards holiness will stand the test of time.
So what does holiness look like for the women Peter is addressing?
In a time when Jesus’ message was readily available for those who were oppressed and marginalized, it only makes sense that women found Christ appealing. He offered something better than the world. He had the greatest gift of all. So with plenty of women coming to faith in Christ, it comes as no surprise that some of these women were married to men who weren’t Christians.
At the same time, Peter lived in a society where women were property. Submission to a non-Christian spouse was a sacrifice that some women were called to make. It wasn’t easy. Peter doesn’t give this command lightly, but compares it to the suffering of slaves under harsh masters just a few verses earlier. But this wasn’t submission for the sake of submission or a reasonless command.
Peter’s words point back to the main idea of the whole book: Holiness. Peter told wives to submit because that was already expected of them in society. Just as Jesus commanded his followers go the extra mile if a Roman soldier demanded them carry his pack, Peter commands his readers to do more than what is already required by the law. What he adds—what he says will win over non-believing husbands—is the respect and pure conduct wives exhibit in their lives. Husbands were already expecting submission from their wives, what they weren’t expecting was holiness.
Peter’s command may begin with submission, but the focus is always holiness.
Let’s not forget that only a few verses later, Peter commands the same thing of husbands: Behave in the same way that Christ behaved; be holy as Christ was holy. And when Peter tells husbands to treat their wives with respect, he’s calling them to go above and beyond what the culture of the time expected of husbands.
Peter takes the Greco-Roman household codes and reveals them to be insufficient for the Christian life. Wives submitting is not enough. Husbands ruling is not enough.
Emulating Christ is enough.
The Egalitarian interpretation of passages like 1 Peter 3 see these verses as mutual commands to submit, but also recognizes that Peter was calling husbands and wives to be more than what the culture expected.
What about the rest of the Bible?
Ephesians 5:21 is probably one of the most important verses for Egalitarians when reading about gender roles. “Submit to one another” is the central thrust of the Egalitarian position. Many people think that to not hold a Complementarian view is to insist that wives must be over husbands, but many Egalitarians have long said that the solution to patriarchy isn’t matriarchy, it’s equality.
Paul prefaces his household commands in Ephesians 5 with a command to submit to one another. He, just like Peter, tells Christians to be more than what the culture already expects. Mutual submission is one part of being holy. Marriage without emulating Christ just isn’t enough.
Galatians 3:28 is also an important verse for Egalitarians. It sums up so much of what the gospel means. Christ died for all, not merely the Jews, not merely the free, not merely the men. In Christ, we are all one. And because of that, we are all to submit to one another as we strive to be more like Christ.
Egalitarianism isn’t about denying submission. Instead, it’s about recognizing the humanity and the image of God in everyone, and submitting to one another as an act of holiness.
Some final thoughts.
The biggest thing to remember when dealing with passages like 1 Peter 3 is to remember that while Scripture is the infallible word of God, our individual interpretations of Scripture are fallible. No pastor, theologian, teacher, or individual Christian has all the right answers all the time. That’s why we have so many different denominations in Christianity. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love our brothers and sisters in Christ any less if they hold a different interpretation than we do.
Some of my closest friends and important teachers in my life hold to a different interpretation of 1 Peter 3 than I do. Do I think I have the best interpretation: Yes. If I didn’t, I would believe something else. But if we as Christians are to work towards loving God, being holy, and sharing the gospel, then I think there’s enough room for disagreement.
Wherever you stand in regards to 1 Peter 3, remember: We are to be holy as Christ is holy. If this looks like mutual submission, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. The goal is always holiness. We should strive first for that, before all else.