“Therefore a man forsakes his father and mother and clings to his wife . .” Genesis 2:24
“Likewise, you husbands, dwelling together with your wives according to knowledge, .” 1 Peter 3:7
It is unfortunate that Christianity has been slandered with the idea that wives are the submissive slaves of their husbands. Only sloppy exegesis could have distorted the concept of submission in this way. Any careful scholarly treatment of the usual texts will show that the submission (hupotasso in Greek) is a concept central to every Christian’s life because it was central to the life of Christ Himself. Submission is not gender sensitive nor is it restricted to marital status. It is the mark, indeed the obligation, of every believer. Without it, Christian living is a farce.
It is not my intention to focus on the inflammatory invectives of the current politics aimed at dislodging this central theme from the lives of Christians, whether they are wives or husbands. Instead, I want to show that the statements in Peter’s first letter contain potent strategies designed to assist both husbands and wives in the only goal of marriage that matters – becoming one.
In order to accomplish this task, I believe that we must carefully regard the obligations placed on husbands before we attempt to understand the strategy offered to wives. Peter establishes those obligations in one short verse. But the implications are deep and demanding.
Peter begins his exhortation to husbands with an important but often overlooked conjunctive. Likewise is the Greek word homoios. Notice that this same word is used to introduce the discussion on the behavior of wives, a discussion that clearly involves the concept of submission (hupotasso). In that previous discussion, the word homoios connects us to the thoughts of Chapter 2. Homoios acts as a relational bridge. It literally says “in the same way”. In what same way? To answer this question, we must look back at the material in Chapter 2. We discover that Chapter 2 is concerned with the purpose of suffering as participation in the same pattern demonstrated by our Lord. In other words, Peter is echoing Jesus’ very words, “If they persecuted the Master, will they not also persecute the followers?” Peter is telling all Christians that fellowship with Jesus is a fellowship of suffering and that we are to engage in this suffering in the same way that Jesus did. We are to submit our lives into the hands of the Father, just as Jesus did, without reprisals, without threats and without complaint because there is a purpose here. For Christ, that purpose was the redemption of men who were enemies of God. It is exactly the same for us. The purpose of submission for Christian wives is the redemption of their disobedient husbands.
Now Peter draws on this context again. He introduces the topic of the obligation, purpose and goal of being a husband with a word that refers the reader back to the discussion in Chapter 2. “Likewise”, he says to husbands. In just the same way, and for the same reasons, husbands are called to submission. It is the voluntary act of putting themselves under authority for a purpose. This submission has the same theological base as the submission of wives – God is in charge. God’s sovereignty is the final authority in the universe. Jesus demonstrated the proper attitude of submission under the Father and we are called to follow His example.
dwelling together according to knowledge
“Likewise” establishes the purpose. “Dwelling together” establishes the goal. The verb “dwelling together” is sunoikein. The LXX translated the Hebrew yada with this verb in reference to sexual intercourse within marriage. This is a fully active marriage relationship. There is no doubt we are within the context of “one flesh”. In this context, certain requirements are placed on the husband. Notice that there is no mention of the wife being a believer. Where the previous discussion targets wives with unbelieving husbands, this verse does not discriminate. A Christian husband is to act this way regardless of his wife’s spiritual condition.
But Peter adds something of incredible value to this exhortation to husbands. He says “according to knowledge”. There are several words for knowledge in Greek. Understanding the differences between them is critical. One is ginosko. It is a word that means knowledge that comes from experience. This is knowledge that we gather from living, observing and testing. This knowledge comes through the process of education. By contrast, the Greek word oida has a different implication about knowing. This is knowledge that comes intuitively. It is not pieced together slowly by gathering information. It comes complete. It is a fully formed insight, a personal revelation.
Here Peter uses a form of ginosko. This word means, “present but fragmentary knowledge gathered from experience” in contrast with “clear and exact knowledge”. Peter connects the idea of “dwelling together” and “knowledge” with the Greek word kata. This word tells us that there is a relationship between the two thoughts. Our dwelling together must be regulated by a certain kind of knowledge. So, the sense of this phrase is “living together in marital harmony according to the best understanding you have at the present”. Notice that it is the obligation of the husband to be as informed as possible – to have as much of this kind of knowledge as he can about things that matter in marital co-habitation. And Peter has hidden some treasure here.
Peter is a Hebrew writing in Greek. In order to understand his thoughts, we need to look at the Old Testament, not the Greek culture. It is clear that this letter was written to Messianic believers. They were also thinking in Hebrew thought forms. When Peter tells the husbands reading his letter that they must “dwell” (Hebrew: yada), every Jewish man knew exactly what he was saying. This is about contentment and peace in the marriage bed. Now Peter says, “kata gnosin”. The same root word that would have been translated with the Hebrew yada is present here. Peter is literally saying “yada according to yada”.
How would a Hebrew husband hear this phrase? The key is in the multifaceted word yada.
Yada is used 944 times in the Old Testament. It is used for God’s knowledge of Man, for Man’s knowledge of and for animals, for distinguishing good and evil, for knowing a person either as an acquaintance or with deep intimacy, for sexual intercourse, for personal relationship with the divine and for prophetic understanding of God’s character. The critical context in Peter’s reference is knowledge of God’s intentions and purpose.
Yada places Peter’s exhortation within the context of the Hebrew understanding of marriage. That context is permeated with the symbols of the covenant relationship. If yada drives us back to the first couple, it also drives us back to the first marriage – a de facto marriage instituted by God.
The essence of that marriage is found in Genesis 2:24. Marriage is a two-fold movement – away from parents and toward the beloved. Notice the curiosity of this announcement of the relational movement in marriage. The Hebrew culture was patriarchal in every way. With few but notable exceptions, its history is the history of males. But here the verse instituting marriage clearly defines the movement of a man leaving his parents and joining a woman. We would have expected just the opposite. In fact, the history of Israel and the customs of the dowry and bride selection all show the opposite movement. Nevertheless, God describes the relational transformation as the movement of the male.
Peter may be making use of this interesting unexpected curiosity. Peter’s concern in this verse is with the husband. No Hebrew husband could have missed this allusion. The use of “dwelling with” in Greek employs a sexual connotation that could only be expressed in the Hebrew thought yada. And yada would immediately remind the listener of the first sexual encounter (“and Adam knew Eve his wife”) and the context of that encounter. It would drive the husband deep into his own heritage and the knowledge he had of the original marriage referenced in Genesis 2:24.
Genesis 2:24 provides more than a note on marriage. Its emphasis is found in the two verbs it employs for the change in relationship. Those verbs are forsaking and clinging. “Forsake” is the Hebrew root azav. It is used extensively in the metaphorical sense as apostasy from God. We find it in Deut. 28:20, Judges, 10:10, Jeremiah 1:16. The prophet Isaiah describes Israel’s idolatry with this term. Hosea uses the same word to describe the adultery of Israel. In its negative use (not forsake), it describes the promises of God within the covenant relationship. “Cling” is the Hebrew root dabaq. It is used to describe close affection and loyalty between human beings. But its most important application in Hebrew is the idea that Israel clings to God. This word expresses the required action of the covenant obligation. We find it in Deut. 10:20, 11:22, 30:20, Joshua 22:5 and Jeremiah 13:11. Both words deal with the concept of loyalty. One means to sever the connection, the other means to establish it.
God establishes the marriage covenant as a living human witness to the actions He requires in His covenant. We are to “forsake” the old family loyalties – our ties to this world – and “cling” to the newly created union. Properly understood, marriage is God’s sacramental symbol of His covenant. This is “yada according to yada”. It is covenant, sacred, holy and symbolic. Clearly, the husband’s obligation in covenant relationship with his wife carries a very heavy spiritual weight.
Of course, in a Christian household, the first order of business is the spiritual condition of the marriage and that entails the full submission of the husband to his Lord and Savior. The covenant relationship that he enjoys with his Lord is to be transferred in like behavior to the covenant relationship with his wife. This requires complete loyalty, fidelity and exclusivity. Without this first step, all the rest of the knowledge he gathers is wasted.
With this background in mind, we can look at the actions that a Christian husband must take. First, he must recognize that his wife requires consideration for no other reason than she is a woman. She is not to be treated as a man. She is special.
Secondly, he is to grant her honor. The word for “grant” is aponemontes. It means “to assign, to bestow or to give”. All of these terms are expression of recognition of position. The word for “honor” is timen. Peter uses this word when he describes the final revelation of our faith at the return of Christ. Obviously, this is a word of some importance. We do not grant honor or assign honor to those whom we consider inferior. Clearly, Peter has no notion of superior and inferior ranking. The two words together indicate recognition of proper position – a position that is worthy of honor. The husband is to deliberately give by consent honor to his wife. The full range of meanings for timen includes respect, value, dignity and worth. In the context of Peter’s letter, the Old Testament image of honoring God must have been on the minds of his readers. Furthermore, such a word would recall the commandment “Honor your father and mother”, an ethical stipulation that carried tremendous weight in ancient cultures. The import of this phrase can be seen in the next thought, “as a fellow-heir of the grace of life”.
“Fellow heir” is really “co-heir” (sugkleronomoi). This word comes from two Greek words which mean “allotments together”. It is even stronger than “fellow-heir”. It suggests one allotment shared by both parties. It is not an equal lot but the same lot. Here is a word that perfectly pictures God’s plan for marriage – one flesh sharing in one purpose. In this case, the husband is to ensure his partner is sharing the same allotment in “the grace of life” – charitos zoes. Charitos is from charis, the word for grace, rejoice, joy, pleasure, gratification, acceptance, kindness, benefit, thanks and gratitude. We can see how all encompassing this expression is. Marriage is a single allotment of grace, rejoicing, joy, pleasure, gratification, acceptance, kindness, benefit, thanks and gratitude. The husband is responsible to ensure that all of these attributes of charitos occur in his marriage. This is the result of “yada according to yada”. These are covenant attributes.
Peter concludes this verse with a thought that should cause every Christian man to sit up. He says that just as there is a purpose (“likewise”), there is also a goal. The strategy Peter outlines for wives (purpose and goal) is repeated. In both cases, the goal is intensely personal. For Christian wives, it is the redemption of their unbelieving husbands. For Christian husbands, it is so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The goal of bestowing honor and acting according to knowledge within the marriage is so that your prayers may not be ekkoptesthai (literally, “cut off”). The picture here is cutting a branch from a tree. This is a clear reminder of Jesus’ analogy of the vine and the branches. The result of “cutting off” is to render the branch incapable of producing fruit. The phrase actually says, “that your offering of prayers may not be cut off”. What an amazing claim! Peter is saying that marital harmony, the responsibility of the husband, has a direct affect on the effectiveness of prayer. There is a saying, “Happy wife, happy life”. But according to Peter, more than life in this world is at stake. “An honored wife yields a spiritually effective life”.