(1 Thess. 4:4) Does “vessel” refer to our wife or our own body?

CLAIM: Some interpreters[1] argue that the “vessel” refers to a Christian man’s wife (see RSV translation). Peter uses the same Greek word skeuos in 1 Peter 3:7 to refer to Christian wives. Is Paul commanding Christian men to “possess” their wives?

RESPONSE: Paul is commanding men to “possess” their own bodies—not their wives—with purity and sanctification. 1 Peter 3:7 uses the word skeuos to refer to the woman’s body as a “weaker vessel.” Yet even this implies that men are a vessel as well (i.e. a stronger vessel). Moreover, Peter doesn’t say that we should control or possess his wife, but rather “honor” her. On other occasions, the term skeuos merely refers to someone’s body (2 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 9:22-23; Acts 9:15). The NT does not teach that men are in control of their wives. F.F. Bruce writes, “There is no NT parallel for calling a man’s wife his [skeuos].”[2] Instead, they are supposed to love and lead their wives (Eph. 5:22-28).

[1] Thomas, R. L. (1981). 1 Thessalonians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 271). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] F. F. Bruce, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary, 83-84 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).