As God’s exiles, the Apostle Peter commands Christian wives to live a life of moral excellence. One of a wife’s duties is to respect His marriage ordinance by coming forward to take her place responsibly within it.
The exhortations in Peter’s “Survival Manual for Christian Exiles” just keep coming. He began by exhorting us, as the New Israel, to live lives of moral excellence among our Gentile hosts (2:11-12). He then walked us from the public civic sphere into the private household sphere, and in each he’s emphasized the Christian’s fundamental duty: “Live your life,” he says, “as freed servants of God for His sake and His favor” (2:12, 13, 16, 19-20). Consistently, his message has been “respect God’s ordinances and take responsibly your places within them to commend to others the ultimate lordship of Christ and our accountability to Him.” Having shown how our duty to “honor everyone” (2:17) is worked out in the ordinances of civil government (2:13-17) and of labor (2:18-20), he now shows us how it’s worked out in the ordinance of marriage (3:1-7). Stressing the parallels (likewise, 2:18; 3:1; 3:7) with our duties within God’s other ordinances and with Christ’s example, Peter calls on spouses to take their proper places within marriage. For perspective on this relationship—and especially since the Apostle’s commands offend many today, we need to appreciate the husband-wife relationship in Peter’s first-century Greco-Roman world.
Looking at the Greco-Roman view of husband and wife, it’s remarkable to see the extent to which the ancient world did and did not share the Apostle’s outlook. For example, students of Roman antiquity have found evidence from the early empire of the husband’s compassion for his wife alongside his children and slaves. Evidence has also been found of expanding roles for women in the affairs of the ancient household and in the public sphere, expanding roles tied to the rising status of men. Social change notwithstanding, the household remained the basic unit that ordered life within the empire: with places for everyone and everyone in their places, it was “the center that shaped the world.” Within the household, the husband’s place was one of authority and the wife’s place was one of submission (subordination), and one of her duties was to adopt her husband’s religion. Given this background and Peter’s specific interests in household relationships (2:18–3:7) and in social conduct in general (1:13–2:17), we have to ask: did the Apostle simply adopt and promote the marriage and family values of the Greco-Roman world? Or did he engage critically with them? The contexts preceding 3:1-7 make it clear that Peter has been engaging critically with or even undermining the values of his age. So, what can we say about his handling of the marriage ordinance?