Feb 062012
 

In response to a popular pastor’s perplexing pronouncement that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” Rachel Held Evans asked Christian men to write a blog post “that celebrates the importance of women in the Church.” Here’s mine.

Lately, both from online creepers and respectable preachers, I’ve seen several comments that come back to one idea: Of course we give lip service to the idea that women are equal to men, but actually they’re inferior, because the Bible says that a woman is a “weaker vessel.” Here’s a composite portrait, based very closely on wording I’ve seen in various places:

There is a difference between men and women, regardless of what you would like to believe. The Bible makes this clear: 1 Peter 3:7– “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the weaker vessel.” Either this passage is true and women are “weaker vessels,” or it’s not. If it’s not, why believe any of the Bible? God says that because women are weaker, they are more vulnerable to deception and temptation. There are lots of things they don’t know or can’t deal with. That’s why God has raised up men to be the godly authorities they need to guard their hearts and spirits…..

I find that rather unsettling. Continually dwelling on how someone is weak and vulnerable and in need of help is disturbingly similar to what’s called “learned helplessness” (or sometimes “gaslighting” after the Ingrid Bergman film). In its worst forms, it’s a technique of psychological abuse. It works with a chilling simplicity: the more a feeling of helplessness is reinforced on you, the more likely you are to believe it. If every time you go to pick up a bag I say, “Let me get that for you; you’re too weak,” eventually you’ll start to say, “You’ll have to get that for me; I’m too weak.” Even if you’re not.

So it’s no surprise that this Bible verse about the “weaker vessel” is a favorite weapon in the arsenal of religious people who want to dominate and control women (see The Bondage of Betrothal.) Even when people don’t intend to put women down, though, it can have much the same effect. If you say “Women are inferior” with the very best of intentions and disclaimers, you’re still saying it. Learned helplessness works in either case. Some of the most belittling statements in the example above were taken straight from a blog post written by a young woman. It’s bad enough when misogynists belittle women; it’s distressing when women do it for them.

Belittling someone is not a good way to celebrate them. The way it’s presented there, though, it looks like we have to embrace some form of sexism or else throw out the entire Bible. As a Christian, I don’t especially like either option. So here’s the question: Does the Bible really say that all women are “weaker vessels”?

Well… it does use the phrase “weaker vessels.” But to quote the philosopher Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

R. A. Torrey’s remarks, which I’ve mentioned often, are more than usually relevant here:

A very large part of man’s difficulties with the Bible comes from not noting exactly what it says. Time and time again men have come to me and said, “I cannot believe this which the Bible says,” and then have quoted something which they supposed the Bible said. But I have replied, “The Bible does not say that,” and when we have looked it up, lo, it is some minute modification of what the Bible really says that has given rise to the difficulty. The Bible is always so absolutely exact, that I have found the best solution for very many apparent difficulties in the Bible to be to take the difficult verses precisely as they read. (The Voice of God in the Present Hour, pp. 11–12)

Just because someone begins a sentence with “The Bible makes it clear that…” does not mean that what follows is necessarily biblical, or even that it’s in the Bible at all. Torrey warns us to look out for “some minute modification of what the Bible really says.” In this case, though, there isn’t some minute modification. There are some major modifications.

Look at the actual words of the verse in question:

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, ESV)

Compare it to the way it was quoted at the beginning — which, I should mention, was taken verbatim from an (admittedly dubious) online source — and you’ll see three very striking differences that might make us reconsider what it means to be a “weaker vessel.”

First, it says your wives, not all women. The misquoted verse is used to make a point about how we should view all women. But it’s not about that at all. In Greek, context determines whether the word γυναικεῖος refers to women in general or wives in particular, and in the context of 1 Peter 3, there’s no question at all– the whole chapter to this point is about marriage. Every major English translation goes ahead and translates it that way: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives…” Even in the misquoted version it’s obvious. File it under Reading Comprehension 101: The verse is about how one particular man (a husband) should treat one particular woman (his wife). *

The recommended way to treat your wife is not, “Tell her to submit to your authority.” Rather, a husband should treat her “in an understanding way” — be considerate and empathetic, don’t set unrealistic expectations, be kind and compassionate and caring. Not just that, “showing honor” — treat her as valuable, special, priceless, precious; be respectful and deferential and courteous; treat her as more important than yourself.

Honor is what you give people you look up to.

Honor is what you give people you admire for qualities you aspire to.

Honor is what you give people who are superior to you.

So why does it say “weaker”? That leads to the second major modification:

It says as, not is. The misquoted version leaves out the terribly important word as (Gk. hōs.) The Bible doesn’t say, “The woman is a weaker vessel.” It says, “Show her honor as a weaker vessel.” Those little letters make a big difference. It’s not an equivalency but a comparison. Consider another Scriptural example:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

If someone said that the Bible makes it clear that we need to have wool, slither around, and lay eggs, you’d say they were nuts. You’d be right. The word “as” shows that Jesus is using a simile, a figure of speech. We’re not doves; rather, we’re like doves in one particular point for the purposes of an illustration. (Namely, we should be gentle and innocent in our dealings with others.)

In what way is a wife like a weaker vessel? She’s certainly not weaker mentally, spiritually, emotionally, giftedly, or any other way that really matters. Speaking as a not-at-all wimpy human male, I know women who are more athletic than I am, better educated than I am, more successful than I am, and have emotional and spiritual strength I can only dream of aspiring to.

That’s not some feminist dogma; it’s a simple observable fact. Lindsey Vonn has won an Olympic gold medal; I haven’t. Jane Yolen has published over 300 books and won a hatfull of major literary awards; I haven’t. My old boss, the VP of a large publishing house, is a single mom with a doctorate in theology, which I don’t have. And I wish you could have known my friend Evangeline, who earned a master’s degree in her 60s and was editing the next volume of a Bible commentary the day she died after a 20-year fight with cancer. Weaker? I think not.

Thus a lot of commentators take the view that it’s merely about physical strength, considering that Peter was likely writing to an audience where husbands were manual laborers while wives ran the household. That’s somewhat sensible, at least if you’re thinking about heavy lifting, but most women can take just as much physical strain as men in other ways. I don’t know any men who want to take on the pain of childbirth, for instance. Even running a household is no job for a weakling; the Proverbs 31 woman has enough skills to rival any business executive. And domestic work is downright intimidating to lots of manly men I could name.

So I wonder if there’s more to it than that. Remember, the structure of the phrase is, “Show her honor as a weaker vessel.” The central word is honor, a term of value, worth, and respect. The illustrative word, vessel, is a term for pottery, often used as a metaphor for people since God is compared to a potter (see Romans 9:20-23).

What’s the connection between honor and pottery? We tend to think of weakness in terms of inferiority. But in pottery, the finer a vessel is, the more valuable it is. Anyone can make a bulky old piece of stoneware for everyday use, but a Grecian urn — a Ming vase — a Tiffany lamp — Waterford crystal — that’s the work of a master. You handle that with respect and care. You put it in a special place where people can admire it. You make sure nobody does anything to break it. In a word, you honor it.

Its weakness doesn’t mean it’s more dependant. It means it’s more valuable.

The point of the verse is not, “Remember that your wife is weak, like a piece of china.” It’s, “Treat your wife with honor, just as you would treat the fine work of a master craftsman.”

The idea that “weaker” should be understood as “inferior” is demolished once and for all when we see the last major modification:

It says heirs, not inferiors. The misquoted version above leaves out the entire second half of the verse. That’s suspicious. Once we see what the omitted part says, the game is up. The reason husbands should treat their wives with understanding and honor, according to the verse itself, is this:

“…since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…”

They are heirs with you. They’re not your inferiors or subordinates or dependants. They don’t need your protection or covering or authority to stand before God. They stand shoulder to shoulder with you as equal recipients of God’s grace. They get the same divine adoption as you. They get the same spiritual life as you. They get the same inheritance as you. According to the very same verse that’s been manhandled to say that women are inferior to men, women are equal to men.

The irony is spectacular. Like Proverbs 31, this verse is written to tell husbands to be uplifting and affirming to their wives, to treat them well, even to look up to them. (Yes, that Proverbs 31; see In Search of the Ideal Proverbs 31 Single Man.) Yet for inscrutable reasons, it’s used to put women down, used as a bludgeon of learned helplessness. Misusing and twisting the verse that badly is like interpreting “Give me liberty or give me death” as an affirmation of slavery.

Far from being a trivial point, this is tied to a husband’s spiritual well-being: Do this, says Peter, “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” To belittle your wife — to fail to be understanding, to see her as less than equal, to dishonor her, to teach her helplessness — puts a serious cramp in your spiritual life. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,” says the psalmist, “the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). God takes a very dim view of it when we treat people inequitably.

Listen up, men: To treat your wife, or any woman, as though she is inferior to you in any way is to commit a grave and terrible sin. It maligns the very image of God. To put such sentiments in the mouth of God is to blaspheme. If you’ve ever thought or acted otherwise, now would be a very good time to repent. Repent for believing and propagating the unfair treatment of God’s image. Accept God’s view of His creation as valuable, honorable, precious. Treat your wife right — with understanding, honor, respect, and dignity.

Repentance brings us back to the Gospel. Beyond this verse, the context of the chapter is the Gospel itself: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Read the verse without seeing the context of the Gospel, and you might get legalism or chauvinism or misogyny. Focus on the Gospel, and suddenly you find the unbroken threads of love, grace, and mercy.

The Gospel is directly and deeply related to the way husbands treat their wives. God has chosen His people to be the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). “This is a great mystery,” writes Paul regarding marriage, “but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). “I will betroth you to me forever,” God says through the prophets (Hosea 2:19). “For your Maker is your husband,” says Isaiah (54:5). “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). “‘Return, faithless people,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am your husband’” (Jeremiah 3:14).

That means we all are “weaker vessels.”

And that means the way that verse says husbands should treat their wives is the way our Bridegroom treats us– with understanding and honor and self-sacrifice.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Christ, our Bridegroom, takes weaker vessels and puts them in places of honor. God transforms vessels of wrath into vessels of mercy. God fills earthen vessels of weakness with His Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter if you’re weak or strong, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. We all stand side by side as joint heirs of the grace of life.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. …

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18 NASB)

 

Image sources: [1], [2], [3]

I’m honored that this post has been picked up by some popular websites, including No Longer Quivering and Rachel Held Evans. If you’ve found your way here through one of them, welcome! I hope you stick around. This might be a good time to mention that I’m a musician and you should check out my CD New Creation.
* Edited 2/9. My thanks to a Greek scholar who kindly gave me a constructive suggestion for fixing a wording mistake in this paragraph.
  • I hadn’t seen the “as” before in that verse “as the weaker vessel..” so many times we are told it is, “is”. But what a difference one, wee little word makes. Thank you Eric for speaking of Christ’s true headship for ALL people {and genders}.

    • It’s my honor to do it, Tammy! Thanks for commenting.

    • Walter

      Actually, Tammy, it’s the same word used to say women are fellow heirs of the grace of life. So if women are “like” weaker vessels, then they’re only “like” fellow heirs of the grace of life.

      This is just horrible exegesis all the way around. And sloppy Greek is convincing, but it’s still sloppy.

      • Walter – As I freely admit above, Greek exegesis is far from my strong suit (which is why this article isn’t presented as anything like a formal Greek exegesis!). However, I think it still makes sense to believe that we are dealing with two different kinds of comparison, since a woman is not literally a “vessel” except by analogy, but is really a “joint heir” by adoption.

        I do appreciate the pushback, but let’s try to keep the comments constructive.

        • rulingsword

          I know I’m commenting on a post that is 2 years old but I wanted to reply:
          You are vindicated by Jerome’s Latin text which translate “os” two different ways-“quasi” (as if) for “weaker vessel” and “tamquam” (just as) for “heirs”. It seems the 4th century translator understood the difference as you did.

          • Thanks; that’s fascinating!

  • Kristian Erik

    This is one way of putting it, certainly. A point, as I have noted, is that, right there, at God’s judgement in the fall, there is enmity between the serpent (who CONSISTENTLY twists the bible to mean what it does not mean) and woman – so many areas where women are see, within the Church, or within culture, as inferior, the bible, which says the opposite, has been twisted in interpretation to say so, whether this passage, or 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which has been twisted and mangled, almost as through witchcraft, to mean a something completely different from what Paul said.

    • Interesting way of looking at it, Kristian. Certainly, wherever false doctrine is rampant, women in particular tend to get a raw deal. All the more reason for us to get our heads on right. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Oh, Eric. When I saw that Carrie had linked this article, I knew it would be tremendous. I grabbed my coffee, kissed my man goodbye, and settled in. And this is amazing. I’m so glad to see you respond to Rachel’s invitation…love your breakdown of the verse and even the dash of Inigo Montoya. Blessings to you.

    • I’m touched, Hillary. Thanks for everything.

  • Insightful!

    May I add that being “as a weaker vessel” is not a design flaw or put down by God. God knows that wives are vulnerable to our husbands in ways which apply to no other human being on earth…. When he treats me as you have written, it helps me bloom instead of wilt.

    • Good thoughts, Charis. Taking the time to seriously reflect on how Christ loves the church (sacrificial service and humility, not asserting His authority) has been really beneficial to my marriage as well. Thanks for your comment!

  • Victorious

    Wow! I can’t remember when I’ve read such a beautiful, inspirational, in-depth explanation of a scripture verse! My spirit is rejoicing! Thank you so very much!

    • You’re very welcome! Thanks for your encouraging words.

  • Keetcha

    Brilliant post!

  • PLTK

    Enjoyed the post–a nice analysis that I hadn’t heard before.

    • Glad to hear it.

  • I love when I read writing that makes me look at something in a new way. The “weaker vessel” verse has always been used so poorly, but I love that you took the time to stop and examine it thoroughly–your reading of it is clear and straightforward. I’m also excited to have found your blog!

    • Thanks for your encouraging words, and welcome to my blog! I hope you find my other writings interesting as well.

  • The thought that – instead of something irreparably cracked and flawed – I was meant to be treated by a husband as the fine, rare, beautiful crystal in the accompanying picture made me cry.

    Thank you.

    • I’m touched to hear it, SarahK. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. I wonder if you have any comment on the way this verse is translated in the NASB, NLT, NIV, and RSV. If you are correct, it seem that all these translations obscure the meaning at best, and mislead at worse.

    • Jonathan– Very good question. I chose the ESV for my study because it’s (apparently) the one that was misquoted in the example, and it also happens to be a favorite of many complementarian theologians. As far as I can determine (admittedly Greek scholarship is very far from my strong suit), it sticks closest to the vocabulary of the original in this case; compare the Interlinear. I gather from scholars that Peter’s Greek grammar and vocabulary is uneven and thus a bit tricky to translate properly, so my guess is that some paraphrasing comes into most translations to make it more accessible to English readers. The phrase “weaker vessel” does have some unfortunate connotations to many readers, though it’s debatable whether the other wordings are improvements. All the more reason to do our homework when interpreting the Bible.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Beautiful, Eric! Thank you for this post. 🙂

  • I enjoyed your article. I was blessed to see you calling on husbands/men to repent. Women also need to repent of this thinking, since I find, as you mentioned, these ideas are fostered by women even more often than men.

    Without any in depth study – it occurred to me that the “as” could even be referring to the husbands. Since wives are called to be helpers to their husbands, “helper” being the same word that Jesus uses to refer to the Holy Spirit, perhaps Paul was emphasizing how much men need their wives help. –just a thought.

    Thanks for your article!

    You might find my blog post on a similar subject interesting. “Unsubmitted?” http://influentialparenting.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/unsubmitted/

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbie! Yes, of course women who perpetuate this teaching (which is disturbing in many ways) do need to repent as well– though, as a man, I feel better suited to build them up than to call them out. I’m glad more women are getting a backbone.

      I like the blog post at your link a lot. Too often people miss that “submit” is used in the immediate context of “to one another.” Good work!

  • Context is everything. Thanks for pointing out the whole Truth on this, Eric!

  • Jessica

    very thorough and well written. I’m glad I took the time to read this. I can’t help but wonder though, Eric, what is your point of view concerning the role of women in ministry, specifically as pastors or other significant church leadership roles?

    • Jessica: That’s a fairly complicated question, actually (not to mention a bit of a powder-keg!). I tend to back up even further and reconsider how we understand “ministry”– see my post “Godly Authority: A Flight to Topsyturvydom” for instance. In brief, ministry (which comes from a Latin root word shared by ‘minus’ and ‘diminish’) is not about having “significant leadership” or control or authority, but about the practice of humbling ourselves and serving others like Jesus did. Men and women alike should do that, of course. How it works out in practice, though, is something I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the bottom of yet– it’s always a challenge for stuck-up people like me! 🙂

      Thanks for your encouraging words and comment. If I come to any more definite conclusions, this website will be the first to hear about it….

  • Jessica

    I’m just curious if this glimpse into how God designed the husband & wife relationship ties in with God’s intention of the role of men and women in ministry but I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it either; that’s why I ask. Yes, it is a complicated question, sorry.

    I belong to, or probably should say grew up in, a church denomination that stresses the importance of the humble leader, or servant pastor. So I completely understand what you’re saying. Thanks for bringing in that aspect to the subject, too. Food for thought.

    • No worries, Jessica. I’d be a bit wary of extrapolating the marriage relationship to church relationships — a more direct parallel there is the “Bride of Christ” verses, which apply to all Christians — but there may be more to that than I’ve studied. Food for thought is quite right, and I’m sure I’ll be turning it over in my head a lot in the coming days.

  • heidi

    hey, i have a random question…did you post anything on Jehovah’s witnesses at any point in time?

    • I did a long time ago, on a Xanga blog that I don’t keep up anymore. (I’d say it quite a bit differently if I were writing on them today, I expect.) Watchman Fellowship has some informative material on them, among others.

  • Emily

    This is beautiful, and helps me, and I am grateful that you wrote it.

    • Those are the three things every writer wants to hear. Thanks!

  • I love this. I had never thought of these passages in this way–I had always chalked it up to unspired word filterimg through human writers reflecting the prejudices of their time. I like this much better!

    • I’m glad! Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  • Amy

    Eric-
    Thank you so much for the clarity here. I had never even thought of any of this in this way. “As.” Wow. Crazy that it’s so easy to miss something so simple.

    • You’re welcome, Amy! I’ve often remarked that my blog posts are “keen insights into the obvious.” 🙂

  • Greek Geek

    Because both ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει and τῷ γυναικείῳ are in the dative case? That’s the reason why all the translations of the Bible has rendered “weaker vessel” in respect to the wife, because the grammatical construction quite explicitly indicates as such. Mr. Pazdziora doesn’t argue otherwise, but I’m seeing comments on here that really jump on that and start implying things that the Bible doesn’t say.

    Might be because the post makes much ado of the word “as” being not-“is” but you do realize it’s an equivalence, right? It’s a rhetorical equivalence, which you also reinforce with your reading of Mat. 10:16. It’s not some mistranslated gem, either; ὡς = “as” has been in every translation since the KJV. In fact, I think the KJV has the best “Greekly” rendering here: “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel…” That’s exactly what the grammar looks like.

    • Greek Geek (nice name!) : Yes, I think that’s essentially a more erudite way of saying what I was getting at. Many people (see the misquoted version I quote in the intro) misread the equivalence of metaphor as one of identity, hence my dwelling on “as.” Sometimes the translated gems can be just as much a revelation as the mistranslated ones. Thanks for your input.

  • Heather

    Excellent article, Eric. I wish this was the predominant teaching in the church. It is such a sadness so many men and women have to live under the heavy burdens of the “masculine church” teaching.

    “Its weakness doesn’t mean it’s more dependant. It means it’s more valuable”

    Thinking about fine crystal: the value comes from being a genuine creation of the maker and having beauty, clarity, precision, perfection, etc. It is not the “weakness” of crystal that makes it valuable, but all the other qualities.

    It is incidental that it is weaker than a crock.

  • Jpdubbs

    In light of the Greek word for “weaker” being “asthenes” (composed of “a” = without; and “sthenoo = without strength or powerless); could it be that “weaker” refers to the woman’s POSITION (seen in light of the web posting “10 Bible reasons why a wife must submit to her husband regardless of culture”?  Having 5 daughters and a wife, I am very sensitive to the women’s/wife’s role in Christianity. Thank you for your efforts in bringing clarity to Christian understanding. 

    • @d3d6c336f78eb0d9a2460a929a9c9a48:disqus – That is the meaning of the Greek word, yes, but we have to bear in mind the context in which it’s used. As I explain in the article, the structure of the sentence is not “Women are weak” but “Here’s a metaphor for the way you should show honor to your wife, because she’s just as much an heir of God as you are.” Of course a woman’s social position is often disadvantaged, but that’s very much a problem we inherit from culture. Galatians 3:28 should certainly preclude any discrimination among Jesus’ followers.

      I wasn’t familiar with that web posting, but having seen it I’m less than impressed. Conspicuously, it ignores the facts that in Scripture (1) all believers, not just wives, are told to “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), and (2) all people are described as “weak” before God (Romans 5:6, 1 Corinthians 1:27– asthenes in both verses, by the way). 

      Certainly for me, thinking through these issues helped strengthen my relationship with my wife (and hopefully with my daughters, if I’m ever lucky enough to have any). Glad to see you’re making the effort. Thanks for your comment!

  • Jpdubbs

    addendum needed by Jpdubbs to correct mistaken type in post.  The Greek word “asthenes”  is composed  of  “a” = without; and  “sthenoo” = strength or power.  Translated,  a/sthenes means “WITHOUT strength or power.”  

  • Jpdubbs

    Thanks again for your all your efforts…and the food for thought.

  • Guest

    I’m just really blessed to have found this blog…being a Christ-follower, a musician, and a woman, and having been in some pretty fundamentalist circles…my world is being opened up over the past few years…and stumbling upon writings like these are like pouring water down a dehydrated throat. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for your comment.

  • Erica

    I loved this post! Makes so much sense!

    • Thanks, Erica!

  • thank you, thank you thank you!!! you put into the right words my feelings for so long. I was always uncomfortable with the misenterpretation of this verse. It almost broke my faith. But I knew, I knew God was not like that! I just cant believe He created us to be weak when we are so obviously not. Thanks a million times for writing this!

    • You’re very welcome, Lily! Happy to hear you found it encouraging.

    • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

      Amazing revelations occur when one gets to know God better by seeking Him first rather than looking to the Bible as some sort of ‘to do’ list or ‘how to do’ manual.

      In seeking to know God I have found discomfort with many traditional interpretations, which has encouraged me to search for alternatives.

      Some have said that my ‘discomfort’ is from ‘culture’ rather than God, but in continuing to seek God and truth I am only more discomforted by many traditional interpretations.

      Four years on since you posted here Lily, how is your journey going?

  • Guest

    I have found that my wife is given so much from the Lord and for a while she has it and then it is gone! I can never live up to her expectations because I have a hard time with her emotions!

    • From the way you tell it, though, it sounds like there may be issues with your own expectations, too…. That said, if I were you I’d get advice about it from a trusted friend or counselor, rather than some guy on the internet who doesn’t know either of you. Sorry!

  • Karla Holton

    Very thought provoking! Thank you…excellent post!

  • Anonymous

    You have made a grave mistake! It does not say “as A weaker vessel”, it says “as THE weaker vessel”! (You have made the same mistake you were trying to avoid.)

    So yes, there actually is a sense of inferiority being protruded here – maybe (ok, definitely 🙂 not in every sense (depends on the man/woman being spoken of), but *at least* in a spiritual one. We (men) are to show honor to our wives in the sense that we should honor them even though sometimes they are more susceptible to deception than we are. This is further expounded upon in 1 Timothy 2:12-15:

    “12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

    You don’t have to believe as I do, but honestly I’ve laid it all out pretty straight…

    • Anonymous – Sorry, but that doesn’t hold up: unlike English, biblical Greek doesn’t have separate articles for “a” and “the.” Though I have to wonder why you chide me for that supposed mistake, then quote a verse saying “I do not permit a woman…”! Isn’t that the same mistake you were trying to avoid?

      The verse from 1 Timothy 2 merely says that a woman should not exercise authority over a man; nowhere does it indicate that men should exercise authority over women. Thus it is not an argument in favor of male headship but in favor of the Bible’s teachings that all Christians, male and female alike, should submit to each other in the Lord (Ephesians 5:21), and that none of us should exercise authority over anyone else (Mark 10:42-44, Matthew 20:25-27):

      “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25-26)

      I think a much graver mistake is reading a verse that says “they are heirs with you of the grace of life” and concluding that it means “they are spiritually inferior.” How much straighter could it have been laid out?

      Although I find your argument unconvincing, I do appreciate the pushback. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • THANK YOU!

    Wow…this is amazing. This blog post brought me to a place of healing very quickly. I have known God for a while and that verse always stuck out like a thorn to me because it seemed to carry a condescension that I know God does not speak to me with. Other people have tried to tell me that this was God’s character and it hurt so much to try and believe it. I didn’t even want to get married because I was afraid of being shoved away as something weaker, and not being allowed to do what God has called me to do. So thank you so much for helping me understand what the Bible really says. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have no idea how much this post means to me. I literally felt a sort of sickening weight lift from my stomach that I didn’t even know was there. I feel healthier. God bless you a thousand times over for hearing his voice and revealing the truth. And may God bring us to a day where there are no sexist translations of the Bible. I will share this post with every woman and girl I know!

    • This comment completely made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad the Lord used my little writing to heal you.

  • Paula Fether

    Dr. Ann Nyland holds that “weaker vessel” means having a less stable income; that is, the wife has little to no self-sufficiency in that culture and thus is more vulnerable. The context is about inheritance, and even though it is spiritual, the tie-in with the physical is clear. So Peter is using a play on words between physical/social and spiritual support.

    • I hadn’t heard that one before, very interesting! Thanks!

  • Brad Andrews

    So all the obligation is on the man?

    • Well, this particular verse happens to be addressed to the husband, but wives’ obligations are discussed other places in Scripture. 🙂

  • messanger

    Let not many be teachers…

    This is an antibiblical message.You have peditalized women and upended the order of creation and thrown down Christ. It is idolitry.

    • If I was going to write an anti-biblical message, it would have been much easier to say what the commenter I quoted said: “This verse says women are weaker than men, and that’s obviously untrue, so we should just throw out the Bible entirely.” Consider for a moment why I didn’t write that! Also, if I was going to throw down Christ, it would be odd of me to spend the last part of the article explaining the Gospel. I think you may need to re-examine what you mean by idolatry. Thanks for taking the time to comment, though.

  • Ella gamberi

    Hi Eric,
    Thankyou so much for this article. I spent 15 years in a church which pretty much treated women with disdain and blamed them for every ill in the family. This article has been very enlightening.
    I have one question however. In the New King James bible edition which I own, there is a reference attached to the 1 Peter 3:7 verse which relates it to 1 Corinthians 12:22. I am not sure how these verses connect since Paul is talking here of differing gifts and abilities, and later in this passage he talks about our less honourable parts and how they are covered up but given greater honour.
    I am wondering if you can shed any light on this, thanks.

    • Hi Ella!
      Very good question. From a glance, my hunch would be that the commentator who put together the cross-references is pointing out how the word “weaker” (asthenes, mentioned elsewhere in this thread) is used in another context–“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” That is, we could make the point biblically that “weaker” isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Our livers aren’t as hard as our fingernails, but they do a lot more toward keeping us alive! As I tried to show in my article here, it’s actually a sign of prejudice, quite foreign to the text, to interpret “weaker vessels” as “inferior to men.” Same with “weaker” in 1 Corinthians.

      Also notice that Paul goes on in the next few verses in 1 Corinthians 12 to make the point that there should be no distinction in the body of Christ between people with different strengths and abilities– “But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” So even if we did (which I don’t) draw the conclusion that women were literally “weaker” in some sense, we still wouldn’t have grounds for saying that that makes anyone inferior to anyone else.

      I’m glad my article helped you; thanks for letting me know!

      • Ella gamberi

        You’re welcome. And thankyou for taking the time to answer my question. Your explanation makes a lot of sense.
        I am glad more men are taking the time to stand up and speak out on these issues.

  • Fulgencio

    I believe it is not the weaker vessel portion that is so disturbing now but the unwilling men to do God’s will that is really in question. The wife can only follow the husband if he is doing right by God or else why would she follow him? God has called men to be leaders! How many are answering? As a husband I have concluded that when I submit to Jesus my family submits to Him through me as well. But when I do not submit to Jesus then that is when disorder reigns. There is an order here on earth for which you will have to answer to God one day.

    • God calls everyone to serve and submit to one another, husbands and wives both included—”Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Jesus said that the one who has the most authority is the one who serves and submits the most; after all, Jesus Himself washed His disciples’ feet, and we are not greater than Jesus. I wrote another article that goes into more detail about this: Godly Authority: A Flight to Topsyturvydom

      “My family submits to Him through me” may sound good at first glance, but we need to remember that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5). That means that everyone can submit to God directly on their own. We don’t need to submit “through” anyone else, whether pope or priest or prophet or pastor or parent.

      That said, I totally agree that a lot of the problems we see would be cleared up if more men were really submitting to Jesus— loving our neighbors and our families the same sacrificial way that Jesus loves us! Thanks for your comment.

    • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

      Mutual submission is the the key per Eph 5:21; not ‘follow the leader’. Nowhere does the Bible state that wives must follow husbands. Together they follow Christ.

  • motorsportsnz

    Why sir do you not cease from intellectualising this and let the scripture interpret its self
    Eve was less decerning, Sarah was too, so was mrs job, there are possibly more.
    It’s not making woman less desirable but saying they are different and we compliment each other when we know each has been made differently.
    Clearly we find man obliged his wife and disobeyed God.
    Is not the man a leader or do you want all men to be nancies as the PC brigade ask.
    Put your apron away be what a woman wants and that’s as her man not Nancy

    • I can’t “cease from intellectualizing” because God gave me a brain, so it would be insulting to Him not to use it! 🙂

      The Scripture gives dozens of examples of foolish and un-discerning men. The “fool” in Proverbs is a masculine character. Or think of Herod, Haman, Judas, Simon the sorcerer, Diotrephes, Pilate, Saul, all the bad and idolatrous kings in the OT… the list goes on and on. Those men were “leaders,” but that was not a good thing.

      On the other hand, Abigail was wiser than her husband Nabal (whose name means “fool!”), and by listening to her advice David was persuaded not to commit a foolish act of revenge. Mary believed God more quickly than her husband Joseph did; it required an archangel to appear to him in a dream and tell him that she was right. God even specifically commanded Abraham, “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you” (Genesis 21:12).

      If we “let the Scripture interpret itself,” then we see that neither men nor women are the problem or the solution. All of us can be foolish and weak sometimes, so we all need to rely on God’s grace all the time. That’s exactly what the Scripture is saying in this verse, as well.

      One of the kindest and most gracious women I ever knew was named “Nancy,” so I would be honored to be compared to her.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • fluffybabybunnyrabbit

      What a rude and offensive comment in so many ways! Kudos to Eric for responding graciously.

  • Gwen Jorgensen

    I love how well you constricted this article. Wonderful job!

    I fortunately had a pastor, who though surrounded by some erroneous ideas in his denomination about ‘weaker vessels’ , encouraged me to be strong, and know that I was as well crafted and capable as a husband is. He used the teacup analogy. He passed to heaven, this last summer. I’m so grateful for his teaching.

    I’m very grateful too, for how well you explained these Biblical interpretations.

    Thanks!