(1 Pet. 3:7) Does Peter think that women are inferior to men?

CLAIM: Peter writes that women are “someone weaker” (1 Pet. 3:7). Is Peter speaking in a derogatory or condescending sense here? Did Peter believe that women were inferior to men?

RESPONSE: Peter isn’t claiming that women are inferior to men. In the very same verse, he calls women a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (c.f. Gal. 3:28). Instead, he is saying that women are physically weaker than men. Scholar Karen Jobes writes, “In the context of 1 Peter, the weaker vessel is primarily understood as physical weakness relative to men’s strength.”[1] Of course, this isn’t universally true for every marriage relationship (i.e. sometimes the wife is stronger than the husband), but it is generally true for most marriages. It is actually less progressive to deny our differences whether in race, sex, or ethnicity. Instead, we do better to embrace our differences and learn to appreciate them. Clearly, men are (on the whole) stronger than women, which even some feminists will grudgingly admit.

In this culture, men would use their relative physical prowess to intimidate and harm their wives (much like in our modern culture!). Peter is rebuking these men, telling them that they need to treat their wives with kindness and respect. Otherwise, God will cut them off from moving in their lives. As we reflect on this passage, it is interesting to consider how first century women would have found these words to be a sigh of relief –not an opportunity to be offended! Jobes notes, “And how ironic it is that the words that first-century… wives would have read as affirming and empowering are criticized by some today as enslaving and oppressive.”[2]

 

[1] Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (209). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[2] Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (209). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.