Living Together with Understanding

living together

c) 1 Pet 3:7–9In this letter primarily concerned with how to interact with authority figures prone to oppressing others, Peter addressed husbands last and in only one verse (1 Pet 2:13–3:6).[1]

People in Greco-Roman society expected a wife to automatically adopt her husband’s religion.[2]

However, a woman may have appeared to embrace her husband’s new faith without experiencing true conversion.[3]

Christian husbands could enforce external conformity, such as outlawing the worship of household gods. Yet, Peter charged them to live counter-culturally, in submission to the needs of their wives (Cf. Eph 5:25–30).[4]

The apostle wrote, “Husbands, likewise, live together with understanding—as with a weaker vessel—with your wife, paying her respect even as co-heirs of the gracious gift of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

A “vessel” (skeuos) can refer to a container, object, or implement (John 19:29; Acts 10:11; 2 Tim 2:20–21). Figuratively, it can mean a person’s body as a housing for the spirit (2 Cor 4:5–10; 1 Thess 4:4).[5]

The Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 100–160 AD) admonished:

Be…long-suffering and prudent and you shall have power over all evil deeds and shalt do all righteousness. For if you are courageous, the Holy Spirit which dwells in you will be pure, not obscured by another evil spirit, but will dwell at large and rejoice and be glad with the body (skeuos) in which it dwells….[6]

The term “weak” (asthenēs) can refer to illness, to emotional inadequacy, or to physical frailty.[7]

Greco-Roman law and social codes enforced the subordination of women to men, as people considered males inherently superior to females.[8]

According to Aristotle ((384–322 BC):

Divine Providence has fashioned the nature of man and of woman for different purposes. For they are distinguished from each other by the possession of faculties not adapted to the same purposes but, in some cases, for opposite ones, though contributing to the same ends.

For Providence made man stronger and woman weaker (asthenes), so that, in virtue of his manly prowess, he may be ready to defend the home, and she, by reason of her timid nature, may be ready to keep watch over it.[9]

While praising one woman, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BC–40 AD) claimed:

The minds of women are, in some degree, weaker than those of men, and are not so well able to comprehend a thing which is appreciable only by the intellect…but she, as she surpassed all her sex in other particulars, so also was she superior to them in this, by   reason of the pure learning and wisdom which had been implanted in her, both by nature and by study; so that, having a masculine intellect, she was so sharp-sighted and profound.[10]

Despite that cultural background, New Testament authors give no hint of women as intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually weaker than men (Cf. Acts 16:13–15; Acts 18:24–28; Rom 16:1–12).[11]

Paul employed an entirely different word in 2 Tim 3:6–7. He used the diminutive term “little women” (gynaikariov) to describe specific people in Ephesus whom false teachers led astray (1 Tim 2:8–15).[12]

Furthermore, in the preceding verses, Peter exhorted women married to unbelievers to exhibit strength of character as they adhered to God’s commands. He called them to yield to their husbands’ desires when they could yet live in a manner contrary to Greco-Roman cultural expectations (1 Pet 3:1–6).[13]

Consequently, “weaker” (asthenēs) in this context most likely refers to physical strength.[14]

The Greek philosopher Xenophon (430–354 BC) wrote:

Since all work, both indoors and out, demands labor and diligent attention, Heaven, I think, so ordered our nature as to fit the woman for things demanding labor and diligent attention within, and the man for such things as demand them without.

Heaven so made their bodies, and set their lives, as to render man strong to endure cold and heat, journeyings and warfare, so laying on him the works of the field; but to the woman, he gave less strength for such endurance, so laying, I think, on her the works of the house…

It was made the duty of the woman to guard the things brought into the house; so Heaven, knowing that for the guarding of goods a fearful heart is nothing ill, gave to the woman a larger share of fearfullness than to the man; whilst in the knowledge that he who works in the field must defend himself against all injury, there given to the man the greater share of courage.[15]

“Weaker” may also allude to a lack of social standing in a civilization which devalued women (Cf. 1 Cor 1:26–29).[16]

Women in the Greco-Roman world—as in ours—remained vulnerable to exploitation.[17]

In that culture, the head of a family (paterfamilias) held absolute power over his household, even determining whether a member of it should die or be permitted to live.[18]

Therefore, Peter commanded Christian husbands to treat their wives with respect (timē) (Cf. Eph 5:33). In fact, he may have expanded that admonition.[19]

By writing “live together with understanding…with the female” (gynaikeios), rather than the typical term for a wife (gynē), the apostle likely included all women in the household.[20]

In Greco-Roman culture, the male head of a household was free to seek sex for pleasure with his male and female slaves, prostitutes, or any unmarried woman. He reserved sex with his wife primarily for procreation.[21]

Demosthenes (384–322 BC) asserted this:

For this is what living with a woman as one’s wife mean: to have children by her and to introduce the sons to the members of the clan and of the [city], and to betroth the daughters to husbands as one’s own.

Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.”[22]

Greco-Romans expected wives to assent to their husband’s extramarital affairs with good will.[23]

Typically, when women reached 14–15 years of age they married men close to thirty years old.[24]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The sexual abuse of slaves occurred so rampantly that Jewish rabbis ruled that female slaves must have been released by the age of three in order to marry as virgins. Otherwise, they were “amenable to the accusation of non-virginity” (m. Ketuboth 1:2)”[25]

These religious leaders believed that enough time would pass for the bodies of such women to return to a state as if they had never been violated. They took for granted that a female slave in a Greco-Roman household experienced rape by the age of three.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Men who claim to know Christ must treat those around them with the respect due to people they love.[26]

Peter stated that a Christian husband must not be demanding or selfish in his marital relationship. Instead, he should practice consideration and sensitivity as he serves his wife,[27] rendering appropriate honor (aponemō timos) to her.[28]

This includes expressing respect verbally and exhibiting appropriate deference due to her increased physical and societal vulnerability as “a weaker vessel.”[29]

Christian men who fail to treat their wives lovingly—even where cultural expectations permit authoritarianism—cannot expect God to hear their prayers.[30]

Similarly, Paul asserted that abusive behavior is incompatible with a true relationship with the Lord.[31]

One of the terms he employed in 1 Cor 6:9–10 (loidoros) means “reviler, abusive person.”[32]

Peter described both partners as “co-heirs of the gracious gift of life.”

In God’s eyes, a husband and wife share equal standing (1 Cor 7:1–5; Gal 3:28).[33]

A man who desires a close connection with God must cultivate a healthy relationship with his wife (Cf. Matt 5:23–24; Matt 6:12–15; James 4:1–12).[34]

The Lord shuts his ears to the prayers of abusive people.[35]

Greco-Romans believed that the well-being of a household depended upon the prayers of the paterfamilias to the family gods.[36]

Xenophon recounted this statement by Socrates (469–399 BC):

Heaven is lord of agriculture as much as of war. And in war, I think, you see men propitiating Heaven before setting forth on any warlike enterprise and inquiring there with sacrifices and oracles what they must do and what avoid.

And in agriculture, think you there is less necessity to win the favor of Heaven? For, know this well, he added, that good men offer prayer about every kind of produce—about oxen and horses and sheep—yes, about all that they have.[37]

Peter alluded to that cultural thought while forbidding domestic violence.[38] According to the apostle, access to God is both the goal and the test of a man’s faith.[39]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:7–9. Why would Peter write this corrective to Greco-Roman Christian husbands? What makes Peter’s threat to men who fail to treat their wives with proper honor and understanding so severe? Compare the Equality Wheel to the Power and Control Wheel.[40] How can you identify a healthy relationship? What constitutes abusive behavior?





Go to Introduction to Chapter 9

Go to Marriage throughout Redemptive History


[Related posts include A Minority Religion (1 Pet 3:1–2); In the Spirit of Sarah (1 Pet 3:3–6); Not Good! (Gen 2:18); A Parade of Animals (Gen 2:19–20); An Equal and Adequate Partner (Gen 2:21–23); A Transfer of Loyalty (Gen 2:24); Slaves and War Brides (Exod 21:10–11 and Deut 21:10–14); God Hates Violence (Mal 2:13–16); Be Reconciled to Your Brother (Matt 5:23‒24); Partners in Ministry (Acts 18:1–3, 18–20, 24–26 and 2 Ki 22:11–23:4); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); It is Good Not to Touch (1 Cor 7:1‒5); Marital Separation (1 Cor 7:10–11); Concerning Mixed Marriages (1 Cor 7:12–13); Contagious Holiness (1 Cor 7:14); Dissolution of Marriage (1 Cor 7:15–16); Three Heads (1 Cor 11:3); Interdependence (1 Cor 11:11–12); Unity in the Spirit (Eph 5:18–21); Submissive to One Another (Eph 5:21–24); Sacrificial Love (Eph 5:25–30); and Prayer without Anger (1 Tim 2:8)]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage throughout Redemptive History; Introduction to Chapter 9; or to Chapter 8: Pain and Desire (Genesis 3:16, 20)]


[1]Schreiner, 1,2, Peter, Jude, 159.

[2] Michaels, 1 Peter, 169.

[3]Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 207–8.

[4]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 122.

[5]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “σκεῦος” (skeuos), BDAG, 927–8.

[6]John Lightfooot, trans., “The Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 2 (ed. J. R. Harmer; London; New York: MacMillan, 1891), 5.1–2, 87,

[7]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἀσθενης” (ashtenēs), BDAG, 142.

[8]Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 67.

[9]Aristotle, “Oeconomica,” Pages 323–426 in Metaphysics: Books 10–14 (trans. Hugh Tredennick and G. Cyril Armstrong; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), 1.1343b,

[10]Philo, “On the Embassy to Gaius,” in The Works of Philo Judaeus, Vol. 4, 99–180, 169,

[11]Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude, 160.

[12]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “γυναικαριον” (gynaikarion), BDAG, 208.

[13]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 123.

[14]Danker, et al., “ἀσθενεια” (astheneia), BDAG, 142.

[15]Xenophon, The Economist of Xenophon (ed. John Ruskin; trans. Alexander D. O. Wedderburn and W. Gershom Collingwood; Bibliotheca Pastorum; London; Kent: Ellis and White; George Allen, 1876), 7:22–5, 47, Https://

[16]Silva, “ἀσθενης” (ashtenēs), NIDNTTE, 1:420–4, 423.

[17]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 123.

[18]J. Ryan Davidson, “Family Relations in the First Century,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, no pages.

[19]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 160–1.

[20]Jobes, 1 Peter, 207.

[21]Roy E. Ciampa, “Revisiting the Euphemism in 1 Corinthians 7.1,” JSNT 31, no. 3 (1 March 2009): 325–38, 326, Http://

[22]Demosthenes, “Against Neaera,” in Demosthenes with an English Translation (trans. Norman W. DeWitt and Norman J. DeWitt; LCL; Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1949), 59.122,

[23]Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 71.

[24]Baugh, “Cultic Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” 456,

[25] Mishnah, Ketubot 1:1–3,

[26]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:7.

[27] McKnight, 1 Peter, 186.

[28]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἀπονεμω” (aponemō), BDAG, 118.

[29]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 122.

[30]Jobes, 1 Peter, 209.

[31] An official statement of the theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church of America states, “The Committee believes that when there are words and actions on the part of one spouse that threatens the life of the other spouse and/or children, that the one(s) threatened should be counseled by the [elders], or representative thereof, to remove themselves from the threatening situation and the abuser should be urged to seek counsel.  Such a procedure will protect those threatened.  When the abuser does not cease these words and actions, the [elders] should investigate whether these words and actions are in effect breaking the one-flesh relationship by ‘hating’ the abused spouse and not ‘nourishing and cherishing’ this one (Eph 5:28–29). In counseling the abuser, the reality of his Christian faith should be ascertained. When it is determined by the [elders] that the abuser does not appear to them to be Christian and the abuse continues, the Pauline teaching about an unbeliever leaving a believer should be applied [1 Cor 7:12–16].” (PCA Digest, “Report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Divorce and Remarriage.” (To the Twentieth General Assembly, 1992), Appendix 0,, 291–2.

[32] Danker et al., “λοιδορος” (loidoros), BDAG, 602.

[33]Silva, “γυνη” (gynē), NIDNTTE, 624.

[34]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 123.

[35]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 161.

[36]Jobes, 1 Peter, 209.

[37]Xenophon, The Economist of Xenophon, 5.19–20, 34–35,

[38]Jobes, 1 Peter, 209.

[39]Edward G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1981), 188.

[40]Used with permission of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.