(1 Pet. 3:6) When did Sarah obey Abraham in the OT?

CLAIM: Peter writes, “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Pet. 3:6). Some interpreters argue that this refers to Sarah obeying Abraham, when he chose to lie and have her sleep with the Egyptian Pharaoh (Gen. 12:13) and later to Abimelech (Gen. 20:5, 13). Some interpreters argue that we should submit to authority—even if it means sinning against God (i.e. committing adultery). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Sarah refers to Abraham as “lord” (kurios) in Genesis 18:12 in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT). However, the text isn’t clear in which way she “obeyed” Abraham. Since Peter never specifically mentions these events of lying in Genesis 12 and 20, we shouldn’t assume that these are the events he has in mind. Carson writes,

On the whole, however, it is best to conclude that we cannot be certain what was in Peter’s mind when he penned these words, except for the explicit allusion to “lord” in Gen. 18:12 LXX, and the general way in which that form of address is in line with the rest of the account of Abraham and Sarah.[1]

Since it isn’t clear what event Peter is referring to in Genesis, we shouldn’t make any assumptions. Moreover, the Bible always teaches qualified leadership. The Bible never teaches that we are justified in sinning by following a human leader, when God says differently (Acts 4:19; 5:29). The verb tenses and participles in 1 Peter 3:5 “all indicate a continuing pattern of conduct during one’s life.”[2] Therefore, in our estimation, Sarah followed Abraham in general, rather than in any specific, particular event.

For further reading, see our earlier article “Christianity and Women.”

[1] D. A Carson and G.K. Beale, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007), 1036.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 149.