Sunday, July 5, 2009

Itching Ears, part 11 (Coupled with fear)

Another passage the itching ears crowd likes to use to teach husband authority is I Peter 3:1-6, which begins with “Likewise, ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands.” If a verse begins with “likewise” or “therefore” the reader has to start back further to see what is being included in the verse. In this case,"likewise" is referring to what is told to servants, that they are to be subject to their masters, even to the nasty ones. The problem with making a case for total wife subjection to her husband out of it, is that husbands also have a “likewise” in the directions to them, and their likewise would include what is said to both wives and to servants. Since the passage for the wives tells them to be in subjection to their own husbands, and the husbands are told to do likewise, they balance each other out. So if the likewise in I Peter 3:1 makes wives the absolute slaves of husbands and gives husbands permission to commit domestic abuse, then the likewise in I Peter 3:7 also makes husbands the absolute slaves of wives and gives wives permission to abuse their husbands. This is why we don’t hear the point embedded in "likewise" pushed from this passage.

But what we do hear is that when the husband is nasty, (this is what they extract from “obey not the word”) the wife should say nothing about it and win him over by her chaste and holy behavior.

But is this what the passage is saying? What clued me in is that the word fear or afraid is mentioned twice in the verses to wives. There is “coupled with fear” in verse two, and “are not afraid with any amazement” in verse 6. Now why would Peter tell wives to be afraid—in this case, #5401,the word means exceeding fear or terror—in one verse, and four verses later tell them that they are Sara’s daughters if they are not afraid. In this case #5399 meaning either reverence or exceeding terror.

So I looked at the surrounding words to find a clue to the discrepancy. The answers are in verse 2. “While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” “Behold” in this case is much stronger than we would think it in our knowledge of Old English. #2029 (this is the only time this form is used in the NT.) It is from 1909 and 3700 and means to inspect or watch.
The words this word came from make the meaning much stronger. 1909,Superimposition of time, place, order, etc. (I add interest to the list) because 3700 means to gaze with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable.

The way this passage was taught, I always thought it was the wife who was to have the chaste behavior and it was to be coupled with fear. But the meaning of coupled suggests this is not so—especially since a few verses later wives are commended if they have no fear. “Coupled” is taken from the Hebrew, instead of the Greek, and means to join, specifically by means of spells, to fascinate or charm. It doesn’t make sense that the Christian wife would be fascinated with fear. But it does make sense that as the husband watches something remarkable with wide open eyes and inspects his wife’s new Christian behavior, that it fascinates him and because it is so different, it makes him very afraid.

In a book I once read, “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken, the husband’s experience bore this out. The husband loved his wife dearly, deeply, and when she began to submit to everything he asked, he became very concerned about her submitting to everything like that and grew afraid lest he ask her to do something that would harm her or destroy her love for him. He began to be very careful of what he asked of her.

Eugene H. Peterson agrees with me in his translation. “The same goes for you wives. Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God will be captivated by your life of holy beauty.” (emphasis mine.) And in the later verses that contain the word “fear,” his translation is “Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as ‘my dear husband.’ You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated.”

Note that a husband who desires to control his wife, will not be captivated by her holy beauty, nor by her submission. Instead, his focus is to get all the power he can, and to get it at the expense of his wife and children. His behavior is much like a con-artist, and it escalates over time. It is extremely rare for abusers to choose to be loving, cherishing husbands, especially if they have wives who cater to their every whim, and a church that refuses to hold husbands accountable. Because abusers are usually narcissists, their love is aimed at themselves, and they have no concern about the destruction they do to their wives, except in areas where they are aware it may come back to bite them. As the husbands experience life with super-submissive wives, their nasty behavior is being rewarded repeatedly. They are reaping good even though they sowed evil, so they keep on sowing because the benefits are so great. As a result of the wife’s super-submission and the church’s endorsement of the doctrine of male authority in everything, the husband’s belief in his rights to privilege and supremacy become even more ingrained and nearly impossible to eradicate.

In many places the Bible tells us to be wise and discerning. I Peter 3:2 is a passage that requires one to apply discernment. In the time of Peter’s writing slaves did not have the option to leave their masters, therefore, Peter was recommending a thought pattern that would help them live godly lives and also help them handle the abuse they were suffering. New research suggests Jewish wives may have had the option of pushing for divorce, IF they could prove their husband had been guilty of neglect, adultery, or desertion. One of the messages I heard on the subject said a Jewish wife would go to the priests with her complaint, the priests would call in her husband and beat him until he voluntarily gave her a writing of divorcement. However, the first epistle of Peter was written to the new Christian strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, etc. These were not under Jewish law. Even if the law allowed women to divorce their abusive husbands, if a woman did not have the means to care for herself, that would not have been an option.

Therefore, the I Peter directions that advise a wife to stick it out in an abusive situation should be read as advice appropriate for Peter's day when there were few "outs," and discernment should be used for the current day. As a friend pointed out to me, I Peter 3 is not a guarantee that the holy behavior of the wife will win her husband over. It is merely pointing out that it is a possibility. It is also a possibility that the husband will harden his heart and that he will NOT be won over. Each woman must appeal to God and to godly counsel, preferably to those who are very knowledgeable in how abusers behave and think, and from all the information at her disposal make the most discerning choice for herself and her children.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit

1 comment:

  1. Dear Waneta,

    I am enjoying this series very much. Thank you for posting your insights about 1 Peter. I spent a good deal of time over the course thinking about Sarah and looking at her role model and found some very interesting things. Perhaps you would enjoy reading. I have posted my findings in a "Sarah series" which starts here: