Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Submission Is a Honeymoon Word!

Peter’s discussion of a woman’s relationship to her husband in 1 Peter 3:1-6 causes consternation on the part of many women who reject a relevant biblical principle of submission. They perceive it as a negative term, a “put down” of women.  However, a careful examination of the rhetorical development in verses 5-6 does not support this conclusion. In fact, submission is a positive and beautiful aspect of the husband/wife relationship.

 The rhetorical development of the passage is observed first by use of the correlative adverbs “in this way” (οὗτως) . . . ” just as” (ὡς) as translated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Second, Peter’s argument follows a general to specific pattern—“holy women” and “Sarah.” Third, the holy women of old adorned themselves inwardly (cf. v. 4) by “being submissive to their own husbands.” Submission, the central issue in the passage, is reinserted from verse 1 but left undefined in the general clause of verse 5. In the more specific clause of verse 6 speaking of Sarah, submission is defined by two things—obedience and respect.

 One Old Testament example of Sarah’s obedience can be found in Genesis 18:6 when she obeyed Abraham’s request to prepare a meal for his visitors. This correlates with the general Old Testament understanding that the husband is the “head of the household” with leadership authority (Genesis 3:16). The respect aspect of 1 Peter 3 arises from the word “lord” used in both the Old and New Testaments (אדון in Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 11; κύριος in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed., p. 578). It is a term of respect used by one person speaking to or about an authority figure. Genesis 18:12 records Sarah’s use of this word speaking of Abraham.

 These Old Testament reflections transfer into the present sphere of husband/wife relationships by Peter’s conclusion in verse 6, “and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear” (NASB). Here are two extensions of Sarah’s obedience and respect responses to Abraham—“doing what is right” and not “being frightened by any fear.”

 An adjusted NASB translation of “doing what is right,” stemming from one Greek word (ἀγαθοποιοῦσαι), simply means “doing good.” The second NASB phrase, “without being frightened by any fear,” requires some adjustments as well so as not to misconstrue Peter’s intent.

 This Greek phrase literally translated “and not fearing any fear” (καὶ μὴ φοβούμεναι μηδεμίαν πτόησιν) establishes the second aspect of submission being introduced with “and” (not included in the NASB translation).  The last word in this phrase (πτόησιν) is classified syntactically as a cognate accusative of the inner object (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 189), simply meaning that it restates and focuses the intended idea of the verbal to which it relates, in this case the participle “fearing” (φοβούμεναι).

 The participle root has two distinct meanings: (1) To have respect, so used in verse 2 where the wife is told that the husband may be saved as they behold the wife’s chaste and respectful behavior towards him, and (2) To have fear, being afraid. In verse 6 Peter desired the participle to be understood different from the way in which he used the root word in verse 2. In other words, so as not to confuse his readers as to the change in meaning he intended at verse 6, Peter inserted a cognate accusative of the inner object using a term that cannot be confused with respect but can only mean to be afraid. Thus, the wives are told that they are not to live in fear of their husbands. This is the respect aspect of the two-pronged submission idea that can be literally translated “not giving way to fear.” Translations that add contextually foreign concepts of “terror” or “intimidation” do not take into account Peter’s lexical reason for including this unique and unusual term.  The negatively constructed phrase, “not giving way to fear,” really does define what genuine respect is for the wife—living with her husband fearlessly believing him to be good who would not knowingly do her harm.

 A logical diagram of the above observations may help the understanding: Submission = Obedience and Respect; Obedience = Doing Good; Respect = Exhibiting No Fear

Submission of the wife to the husband as developed by Peter shines a light on what brought her to the altar to begin with—to do good for her chosen husband treating him with respect. To paraphrase the practical import of the passage, “Submit to your husband; keep the honeymoon current!” Suggesting that submission is a “put down” on women totally misreads Peter’s text and injects negativity into what God designed to be positively beautiful!

Not to be accused of one-sidedness, however, the husband too has a responsibility to “keep the honeymoon current!” Peter deals with the husband side of the marriage relationship in verse 7 wherein it can be unequivocally shown that his responsibilities are as great if not greater than that of his wife. But this will be another blogspot! Keep tuned in!