Saturday, June 25, 2016

Who Are The Weaker Vessels?

I think we have it backwards. I think we've made a terrible mistake. By "we", I mean the church. By "we" I mean church tradition. By "we" I mean the traditional way we've interpreted 1 Peter 3:7. By "we" I mean most commentators who've commented on 1 Peter 3:7. I mean "we" in a collective sense. By "we" I also mean me, as I've accepted the traditional view of this passage without questioning what I've heard. Peter writes:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
The traditional interpretation of this passage goes something like this: husbands need to remember that since their wives (and women in general) are weaker than they are, they need to be nice to them and show them honor. But I don't think that's what Peter means and in fact, I think that interpretation falls under its own weight in light of the context here. The context goes all the way back to chapter two:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17, emphasis mine)
And also in chapter two:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:18-19, emphasis mine)
Do you see the theme developing in Peter's letter? It's one of voluntarily subjecting or submitting oneself to someone else. First he tells everyone to "be subject" to every human institution which is a tangible way to "honor everyone", including the emperor. Then he tells servants to "be subject" to their masters which is a way of showing respect. The context is voluntary submission to another. When one is voluntarily subjecting themselves to another, they are placing themselves voluntarily in a weaker position than those they are submitting themselves to. This "be subject" theme of voluntary submission to another continues in chapter three where wives and husbands are instructed to be in voluntary subjection to one another. The word "likewise" continues this theme:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1-2, emphasis mine)
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, emphasis mine)
In the context of 1 Peter, one shows honor to another by voluntarily subjecting and submitting themselves to that person or to that institution. In doing so, the one being subjected to is shown honor and the one voluntarily subjecting themselves is the weaker vessel by comparison. It is no different in this verse and it is the context that drives our interpretation. There is no punctuation in the original Greek text, but I personally think there should be a comma after woman in this passage. I think Peter is saying to husbands, put yourselves in the weaker position by showing honor to your wives. Live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman, as the weaker vessel, because she is an equal partner and a joint-heir with you. Show honor to your wives husbands, by becoming the weaker vessel and voluntarily humbling yourselves, becoming a servant. It's what Jesus would do. Oh wait, it's what Jesus did!
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)
-Mike

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