“Husbands, Honour Your Wives” (1 Peter 3:7)

Andrew Bartlett, QC of Crown Office Chambers, London, is a highly-rated international arbitrator, and also a Deputy High Court Judge in England and Judge of the Upper Tribunal. He has a BA in Theology (University of Gloucestershire) and has served as an elder or churchwarden in various churches. This post is excerpted from his new book Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (IVP, 2019).

The paying of honour to the wife in I Peter 3:7 is not a concession to her relative physical weakness but a recognition of her high status.

The honouring of another person may take place either in a situation where the person honoured is in authority over the person who pays honour (as in I Peter 2:17 – honour the emperor) or where there is no such authority (again as in I Peter 2:17 – honour everyone). An instruction to pay honour does not necessarily imply that such authority exists.

Honour was a concept of central social importance in the Mediterranean societies in which Peter lived and ministered. This is not the case in Western societies today, so it is easy for us to miss the force of what Peter writes about it. A person could gain great honour by being adopted into a high-status family. For example, Octavian’s honour status rose enormously when it became known that Julius Caesar had adopted him as his son and named him as his heir. Octavian subsequently became the Emperor Augustus, and as Caesar’s son styled himself ‘son of god’. There was no higher honour status than this in Gentile society. To be born into or adopted into the true God’s family, and named as an heir of the true God, was even greater than this: it was the highest honour status imaginable. This is the Christian believer’s position (see, 1:4 ‘inheritance’; 1:23 ‘born anew’; 2:9 ‘a people belonging to God’; cf. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, 23–29).

In most English versions the connection of 3:7 with 2:17 is not apparent: one would not appreciate from those versions that Peter says ‘honour [timaō] everyone, honour [timaō] the emperor’ and then ‘men, render honour [timē] to your wives’. But this would have been clear to Peter’s first readers, who should not have misunderstood 3:1–7 as affirming that men have a God-given status of being lords over their wives. He has told wives to submit to their husbands. ‘In the same way’ husbands are to pay honour to their wives.

Thus in 3:7 Peter is instructing husbands to show their submissive conduct, like that of wives (3:1), of Christ (2:21), of household slaves (2:18) and of all believers (2:13). They are to do this by honouring their wives in view of their shared highest possible status as God’s heirs in God’s family. This speaks of equality between husband and wife as fellow Christians, and a voluntary giving of honour by husband to wife.

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3 Comments on ““Husbands, Honour Your Wives” (1 Peter 3:7)

  1. Thank you for posting this. In the book I also find honor-shame to be important for accurate understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2.

  2. I appreciate this insight into Peter. I have not seen it before. A similar viewpoint emerged for me in Paul’s admonition to husbands and wives to “mutually submit to one another” in Ephesians 5:21 so far as to suggest that a husband “die for her as Christ died for the church”. I certainly reveals a challenge to the traditional roles we play.

    I am also convinced that the opposite of honor is shame so to honor would mean that we see our wives as equal in personhood and calling as a Christian. May we see a blossoming of women’s gifts and talents unleashed in the church and world.

  3. What an interesting word to ponder, has so much depth in it. Surely honoring your woman has a blessing of its own & a prayer can just be hindered by simply not honoring her. understanding her as a weaker vessel but yet strong. A reminder of proverbs 11:6 “ gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches.” Which makes me to conclude a richer man with an honoring woman is richer in all ways.

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