Those committed to male leadership in marriage love to quote I Peter 3:6, which reads, As Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. They fail, however, to look at the whole story of Sarah and Abraham; nor do they examine the entire message of I Peter 3:1-7. If they would do so they would find a beautiful picture of mutuality and partnership emerging.
Here are 3 reasons this verse cannot be used to teach male hierarchy in marriage.
1) The word used by Sarah that is here translated as “lord” was a term of respect and did not necessarily denote submission to a superior.
2) When we read the complete story of Sarah and Abraham we find that not only did Sarah show respect for Abraham, but he (and God) showed an equal respect for Sarah.
3) Peter balances out 3:1-6 with 3:7 where he tells husband to honor their wives, with “honor” being from a Greek word that refers to the respect that is shown to someone of a higher rank.
The Meaning of “lord” in this Passage
The New Testament translators have tried to alert us of the diminished authoritarian content of this word by translating it in all lower case letters, i.e., “lord.” Indeed, the word that was used by Sarah (Genesis 18:12) was the Hebrew adonai, a word that expressed respect, but did not necessarily denote submission to a superior. For example, Aaron called Moses adonai (Numbers 12:11); Jacob called Esau adonai (Genesis 32:40); David called Saul adonai (I Samuel 24:8); and Hazael, who became king of Syria, called Elisha adonai (II Kings 8:12). In each of these verses, adonai is translated in all lower case letters as "lord."
Adonai was also used by individuals in the Old Testament when addressing God or when referring to Him, where it is translated with the first letter capitalized, as in “Lord.” Yahweh, the personal and covenant name of God, is translated with all caps, i.e., “LORD.” It is obvious that adonai is not a name for God, but was a term or designation of honor and respect
As pointed out above, adonai was also used by individuals in addressing one another when they wanted to show honor and respect; but it did not indicate an inferior status for the one using the word, or the superior status of the one being addressed. It was merely a word of respect, which is why, in such cases, it is translated in all lower case letters as "lord."
There is a similar situation in the New Testament. The Greek word used by Peter in this passage is kurion, which is from Kurios, a word that is used of Jesus Christ in the New Testament and is translated as "Lord." But in the larger Greco-Roman world, the word was used as a word of respect similar to “sir.” For example, the Philippian jailer used this word in addressing Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30. Overwhelmed by the sequence of events, including the earthquake, he fell down before Paul and Silas and cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “Sirs” in this verse is a translation of the same root word that is translated “lord” in I Peter 3:6.
So Sarah showed respect to Abraham. Respect is, indeed, an attitude that should be present in all Christian marriages and amongst all believers. And when we look at the full story of Sarah and Abraham, we find that there was equal respect shown by Abraham toward Sarah.
God Required Abraham to Obey and Respect Sarah
In Genesis 21:9-12, Sarah confronted Abraham over his passive and tolerant attitude toward Ishmael’s destructive behavior toward Isaac. She insisted that he get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham was reluctant to do so and the Scriptures say that Sarah’s demand was very displeasing to him. Nonetheless, God took Sarah’s side and said to Abraham, Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. It was not a matter of who had authority over whom; it was a matter of what was right in that situation. Sarah happened to be right and God ordered Abraham to carry out her desire.
In her book, In the Spirit We’re Equal, Susan Hyatt points out that in Genesis 20:3 God referred to Sarah as Abraham’s baal, which is normally translated as “lord,” “master,” or “owner.” In a few places baal is translated as “husband,” as in Proverbs 12:4, which says that a virtuous or excellent wife is the crown of her husband, or baal. But Genesis 20:3 is the only place in the Old Testament that baal is ever translated as “wife.” Perhaps the translators cannot bring themselves to translate the word literally, for that would be saying that Sarah was Abraham’s “lord.”
It is true that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, but the question is why did God not say she was a man’s ishshah, the normal Hebrew word for wife? Why did He say she was a man’s baal, a word carrying obvious connotations of authority, honor, and respect. The answer is probably to be found in the context in which the word was used.
The setting of this verse is when Abraham, in fear for his own safety, told the people of Gerar that Sarah was his sister (she was his half-sister). He let Sarah down out of fear. As a result, the king of Gerar, Abimelech, took Sarah and made her a part of his harem. However, before he could go any further, God spoke a severe warning to him in a dream, saying, Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken for she is a man’s wife (baal).
As pointed out above, this is the only place that baal is translated as “wife.” So whatever meaning we may seek to derive from its use in this passage, the bottom line is that God used it to communicate to this pagan king that he was in big trouble for the woman he had taken was a woman deserving of great honor and respect, first of all from her husband and then from him. She was a man’s (Abraham’s) baal. God Himself defended Sarah and gave her the favor and status that she needed by calling her a baal.
Ladies, even when those closest to you let you down, you don’t have to have to fight in the flesh and toot your own horn. Trust in God, walk in obedience to Him, and He will be your shield and your defense. He will honor you and raise you up.
Peter Tells Husbands to Honor and Respect their Wives
Peter balances out his instructions to the wives in I Peter 3:1-6 with instructions to the husbands in 3:7. Peter tells husbands to give honor to the wife as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
The word “honor” in this verse is translated from the Greek word timen, which Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines as “to honor, revere, venerate,” and as “the honor of one who outranks others.” This is the attitude Peter instructs husbands to show toward their wives. They are to show their wives the kind of honor and respect they would show to a boss or superior.
Peter, in this passage, refers to the wife as the “weaker vessel.” This cannot be a reference to a moral or intellectual weakness. It is likely a reference to the weaker status of the woman in the culture of that day where she was demeaned and treated as a second-class citizen, and often as a child. Peter is instructing husbands to treat their wives the very opposite of how the pagans treated their wives in that culture.
This is probably the source for the custom in Western societies of men opening doors for women, allowing them to go first, saying “Ladies and Gentlemen” rather than Gentlemen and Ladies.” Indeed, Peter is instructing the husbands to minister an opposite spirit of what they see in the world toward their wives. He goes on to tell the husbands that their wives are “co-heirs” with them of the grace of life. If they do not treat their wives in this manner, Peter warns, their prayers will be hindered.
So, when all the verses of this passage are considered together, Peter is obviously not concerned with setting up a male-dominated hierarchy, but is calling for mutual respect in the marriage relationship.
So, on one occasion, Sarah showed respect to Abraham, calling him “lord.” On another occasion God showed the respect that was due Sarah by calling her Abraham’s baal, or “lord.” Mutual respect in marriage, or any relationship, is an absolute necessity in establishing a healthy, life-long relationship. And men, it will also help you obtain answers to your prayers.
by Eddie L. Hyatt
by Eddie L. Hyatt