Why the 'Woman as the Weaker Vessel' Teaching is Wrong

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(Charisma archives)

By the way, the Bible is not here advocating slavery. Slavery came into the world with sin and the fall, and the Biblical writers merely describe things as they are in a fallen world. God instructs Hagar to return to Sarah and submit to her because in the fallen condition it was the safest thing for her at the time and the only way for her to see God's plan unfold for her and the child she was carrying.

God treated Sarah as an equal with Abraham. This is borne out by the fact that when God renewed the covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham he also changed Sarai's name to Sarah, thus make her a mutual partner with Abraham in His plan them and their posterity. Terence Fretheim, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, says, "Sarah is a made a co-participant in the divine promises given to Abraham regarding a son and his descendants. She has a promise in her own right, not simply through Abraham."

Peter was very aware of this aspect of Abraham and Sarah's relationship which is why, after admonishing the husbands to give honor to their wives, he reminds them that their wives are equal co-heirs with them in the grace of life, and if they do not treat them as such their prayers will be hindered (I Peter 3:7).

Sarah's Example – Whose Daughters You Are

The point here is that Sarah was not a meek, fawning subordinate wife. She was a woman of stature, faith and courage. She respected her husband but was not afraid of him and had no qualms about challenging him when the situation called for it. She was the kind of wife described by Jewish rabbis in their commentary on Genesis 2:18 where God said He would make the man a helper comparable to him, a translation of the Hebrew phrase ezer neged.

In the Chumash, a Jewish commentary on the Torah that is widely used in schools and synagogues throughout North America, the commentators say that the word neged, that is translated "comparable" or "meet," literally means "against." The rabbis insist that God said He would make the man a "helper against" him. They go on to say;

Many have noted that the ideal marriage is not necessarily one of total agreement in all matters. Often it is the wife's responsibility to oppose her husband and prevent him from acting rashly, or to help him achieve a common course by questioning, criticizing, and discussing. Thus the verse means literally that there are times a wife can best be a helper by being against him (The Chumash, Stone Edition, 13).

To summarize, in I Peter 3:6-7 Peter is merely encouraging Christian wives, who would be aware of their new status "in Christ," not to despise their non-Christian or imperfect husbands. At the same time he exhorts husbands to respect and honor their wives and to remember that they are coequal-heirs of the grace of life.

When all is said and done, Peter's exhortation brings a levelling and mutuality to the Christian home in the midst of a pagan culture where the woman was treated as a slave or a child, and where Christian women might tend to despise their "unspiritual" husbands. His utilization of Sarah as an example communicates with force that God is looking for women of faith, courage and character who will respect their husbands but not fear them. Husbands are to treat wives with the sort of honor and respect that they show to a boss or superior in the work place. These were revolutionary instructions for husbands and wives in the first century and are still so today; but if put into practice, they have the power to transform any marriage.

Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian and ordained minister. His books are available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. This article was originally published on the God's Word to Women blog at http://www.godswordtowomen.blogspot.com

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